Hello and welcome to the sixteenth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.
Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).
Following my previous discussion of Kevin Smith’s Batman debut Cacophony; I will spend today writing about the second part of his Batman work, The Widening Gyre.
Cacophony was 3 issues long. ‘Gyre was double that length at six. With more space to play with, it is a lot wilder and more adventurous. Its a lot less enclosed and more sprawling. Its picked up on the most bombastic elements of its predecessor and used that as the default. Its also added a whole romance and couples-having-fun-and-being-silly-together angle, as well as taken a shining to highlighting the less realistic side of Batman comics.
The linear notes credit Walt Flannegan’s requests to draw numerous favourite characters as a reason for this as much as Smith’s initial story vision, and the fusing of these two goals creates something pretty memorable. If you are kind its a colourful (arguably gaudy), less-psychedelic and metaphore-filled version of what Grant Morrison was doing. If you are unkind, its an anachronistic mess and self-indulgent wish-fulfillment session by a duo with no taste.
Where do I sit, kind or unkind?
Batman – The Widening Gyre:
– Writers: Kevin Smith
– Art: Walt Flanagan
– Colours: Art Lyon
– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Timeline Position: Late Career, but Pre-Morrison’s story.
– Batman is: Bruce Wayne
– Villains: Baron Blitzkrieg, Atomic Skull, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Joker, Deadshot, Calendar Man, Crazy Quilt, Polka Dot Man, Cornelius Stirk, Black Manta, Funland, Mr Freeze,
– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police), Baphomet, Dick Grayson as Robin & Nightwing, Tim Drake as Robin, Catwoman, Superman, Aquaman,
– Bystanders: Silver Saint Cloud, Gavin Adam, Mulligan, Arvin Flemming, May, June, Dirty Dan Yellpoon, Barry “Stiff” Saunders, The Spade of Clubs, Dr. Wolper,
– References: Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, Mad Hatter, Onomotepeia, Riddler, Clayface, Connor Hawke as Green Arrow, Etrigan the Demon, Tweedledum, Two-Face, Evan Gregory, Toyman, Aqualad, Cyborg, Changeling, Kid Flash, Raven, Starfire , Wonder Girl, Black Spider , Doctor Phosphorus; Harley Quinn, Ocean Master, Planet Master; Captain Stingaree, Cavalier, Killer Moth, Kite-Man , Black Lightning, Geo-Force, Halo, Katana, Metamorpho, Baron Bedlam, Coldsnap, Heatstroke, New Wave, Shakedown, Windfall, Swamp Thing
– Story: [/Spoilers] Nightwing calls Batman to Bludhaven to view an old villain’s costume in a fit of sentimentality, as well as to inform him of a murder by Poison Ivy. Batman goes to meet Ivy in Arkham, where he finds out she is trying to hide from Etrigan the daemon. Etrigan turns on Batman, and Batman is overpowered, but saved at the last minute by new superhero Baphomet. Fearing Tim Drake will one day leave him just like Dick Grayson did, Batman starts toying with the idea of partnering-up with Baphomet, who is nervous and over-familiar, but likeable nonetheless. Bruce respects Baphomet’s lack of publicity-seeking or media interest, and Baphomet catches a villain that Bruce lets escape in order to save a hostage, making the two seem like a good team.
Multiple flashbacks to various periods in Bruce’s past go on through the story to underscore points. Scenes are saw of Batman with a young Robin, with a teenage Robin, with Robin becoming Nightwing, with Batman joining The Outsiders.
The other part of the plot is that Batman’s former lover Silver St Cloud returns and the two start a relationship that builds and builds until Batman eventually proposes to her, and the two get engaged. Silver allows Bruce to feel less obsessed with crime-fighting than usual and he starts to question his future.
Batman spends more time with Silver and leaves Gotham to Tim Drake and Baphomet. He is mistrustful of the new people in his life but after investigating them both all fears are removed. Life is good. Bruce is becoming a little too happy… maybe he’ll give up the Batman career in a few years.
I won’t spoil the ending because it is really, really strong.
– Art: Much less inconsistent than Cacophony in terms of quality, but fittingly inconsistent in style to reflect all the different eras of Batman. Its well done. There are hidden View Askew references (Buy Me Toys, Nails Cigarettes etc). There is a lot of detail, a lot of effort is clearly vissible. I don’t really like the style myself on a personal-taste level, but a lot of effort has gone into it, and it is functionally good as well as a huge improvement over the previous installment.
– My Thoughts: This is a real multiplication of the first one. Everything that was wrong with the first one (inappropriate language and swearing, jokes that don’t fit, dialogue Bruce would never say by any other writer’s choice, open discussions of sex, rude jokes etc) are here, way less subtly, way more often. If you don’t like the sound of that, you won’t like this book.
If you think it’s a bad idea for Catwoman to say “Wait, I’m not wearing any panties” then you won’t like this book at all. Because she does indeed say that in this book. Poison Ivy also tries to get Batman high on cannabis. Its Batman as written by Kevin Smith… so if you don’t think Smith’s personal taste fits in with the tone you want from Batman, then avoid, avoid, avoid!
Even I had huge problems with some parts, and found it difficult to continue reading at points. (And there’s a lot of Jewish jokes that seem a bit dodgy to me).
Once you get past the taste issue, the story is a big, colourful, bombastic tour of Batman’s history, as I’ve stated its very much like Grant Morrison’s “it all happened” style with a lot of references to the past and obscure characters and things like Batman’s work in teams (Justice League/Outsiders) with Superhumans. If you only want Batman to be realistic and only deal with humans… this isn’t the book for you…
Then there’s the love story. The Bruce can retire because he found love story. The Bruce lightens up a bit story. Depending on your taste this can be interesting or really lame.
As for the controversial “Batman wet himself” thing that people obsess over in this book… it is really not a big deal, or sacrilegious or anything like that. That issue is blown way out of proportion, and out of all the non-Batman things in the book, that is probably actually the least important. Its arguably handled rather well in the book actually.
On the plus side, some of the comedy is good (Calendar Man’s attitude to being sick was funny), some of the story is interesting, some of the references are neat (a young Dr. Wolper in particular). Baphomet is a good character and really likeable. The ending is superb. The ending is worth reading the book for alone. I won’t discuss it further to avoid spoilers or hype-disappointment-syndrome.
Overall; a very hit and miss book. It really depends on your mood and your sensibilities. It is intended to be colourful and fun and show off the bits of the Batman universe that aren’t over-done all the time in the grim and gritty era. Just like everyone praises Grant Morrison for. Smith definitely has a unique voice too. The ending is great, the amount of effort is great and the new guy is great.
However… there is so much just, un-Batman stuff in there that even with the biggest leniency and fandom for Smith, and a “this is his take on it, not mainline continuity” attitude, all the dirty jokes and drugs-talk and madcap ideas work way better on a podcast as a hypothetical than in the actual comic. Its kind of Smith-has-gone-too-far almost.
Its hard to get over that, and recommend it for being the very good book that it is, because I know fine rightly how awful it might seem if you aren’t forgiving of the sheer un-Batmanness. Smiling-Batman-of-the-70s as a fun book yes! Recall that spirit, good idea. A Bruce Wayne that isn’t psychologically tortured or borderline insane, yes! Refreshing, good idea.
Calling people “bitches” “turds” “emo-boys” “goths” and being overtly sexual… not for me thanks. That aspect, while again, it would be great to hear on a podcast with excitement in Smith’s voice and his co-host laughing, just doesn’t sit right with me in a comic.
So; In answer to the question, “where do I sit?” I’m afraid my answer is “On The Fence.”