"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Monday, December 3, 2012

'The Widening Gyre' of Batman Lore

Batman: The Widening GyreBatman: The Widening Gyre by Kevin Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With Batman: The Widening Gyre, Kevin Smith makes up for the ordinariness of his first Dark Knight work: Cacophony . This six-parter has a richness of character and theme that you often don't get from comic books, or from Kevin Smith for that matter. As an avid fan of his film work (most of it), I find Smith’s storytelling strongest when it stems from his personal experience (Clerks, Dogma, and Chasing Amy). In The Widening Gyre, I found this narrative strength emanating from some great scenes with Dick Grayson, formerly Robin and currently Nightwing.

Through slow boil plot construction, and evocative artwork, The Widening Gyre explores a mature, but past the pinnacle, superhero who is struggling to balance life in and out of the costume. There is plenty of action. The threat of violence, with its inevitable suspense value, kept me engaged. Only the love story between Bruce and Silver St. Cloud seemed distractingly clunky at times. Though thanks to Walt Flanagan and the art team, it’s easy to see why Bruce finds her so irresistible.

Still, where the story really grabs me is in the thoughtful look at Batman’s often turbulent collaborations with his various Robins. For me, the most absurd part of the Batman universe has always been Robin—specifically the notion of dressing a teenage boy in bright skimpy clothing and asking him to dodge bullets. By having a world-wise Nightwing take jibes at his former mentor’s behavior, Smith deftly explores the questionable nature of Batman’s use of pubescent sidekicks. With the possible exception of A Death in the Family , this may be the most I’ve ever enjoyed the inclusion of a Robin-focused subplot.

I won’t try to suggest this is a Batman classic. Still, I found it a deeply satisfying addition to caped crusader lore. Be aware that, a la Smith fashion, there is a deliberate crudeness present in the storytelling. The Widening Gyre is violent and sexual in a direct and often wanton way. I don’t mention that as a criticism, just as a heads up.

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