Review by Ian Keogh
Kevin Smith and Walter Flanagan previously collaborated on Batman: Cacophony, a car crash of a graphic novel, but this is far better, and were it not for a Smith’s inability to avoid sniggering smut and a major problem detailed later, The Widening Gyre would be an acceptable read.
Coherency is prioritised and Smith juggles three plot strands. The first has Batman frequently considering the past, represented by lighthearted glimpses back, but each with a point to make regarding his worldview. The past is resurrected by the return of Batman’s lost love Silver St Cloud, perhaps the only woman that could ever have him considering retirement. That’s coming into focus because a new hero has arrived in Gotham, and pretty well everything about Baphomet paints him as competent and dedicated.
After being credited on Cacophony as Walt Flanagan, the credit here is for Walter Flanagan. Under either name he has a decent eye for laying out pages to tell a story in a dynamic fashion, but the actual drawing lets him down. There’s a poor sense of depth, and the figures constantly draw the attention for being oddly proportioned. His women are better than his men, although they’ll often be too sexually provocative to be considered appropriate for a Batman graphic novel, and suggest Flanagan relies very heavily on visual reference, with Brian Bolland being an inspiration. However, the strength of the layouts go a long way to providing memorable images. This is also a graphic novel presenting Batman operating during daylight and brightly coloured, which is an unusual approach in the 21st century.
Silver St Cloud was created by Steve Englehart for a classic 1970s Batman run (Strange Apparitions), and was such a powerful character with such a defined role that she’s been very rarely used since. Her purpose here is equally defined, but Smith’s interpretation of her personality is extremely trivial, and connected to an inability to contain the smutty teenager within him it results in a version far removed from the original. That internal smutty teenager just won’t be suppressed and a final chapter confession should be plain embarrassing to Smith. Other character definitions are far better. Smith makes good use of Bruce Wayne’s wealth, paranoia and lack of humour, although allows a few wry touches, and with the exception of a deliberately provocative opening sequence, Robin’s appearances are all good. Smith also provides an enjoyable tour of Batman’s villains, including some real obscurities.
The title is puzzling and seems to have no direct relevance to the story. A gyre is old fashioned term for a vortex, and the term ‘widening gyre’ occurs in W.B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming, regularly quoted to indicate chaotic times. The only hint of a connection is the finale, and that’s where we discover we aren’t getting the entire story, and what we’ve just read has really just been the set-up. It’s a shocking ending, one that’s been relatively well concealed and is logical in context, although certainly controversial. This could have been Smith’s opportunity to redeem himself on Batman, but as he’s not bothered to complete the story, that ship has passed.