I like Kevin Smith. I think he's funny. (Not as funny as Scott Mosier, but that's neither here nor there.) I listen to his podcasts weekly, and watch his movies.
Kevin also writes comics. My favorite comic work of his was his run on "Green Arrow". It was a great read, and if you haven't checked it out yet, I would recommend it, as I find it has held up well over the last ten years.
I heard that Smith had done a Batman book. I had heard that it was critically panned, and Kevin mentioned it himself in a podcast, defending his work against the critics. And there were critics. John Barringer from A Comic Book Blog said:
"Kevin Smith, at least for me, has pushed Batman’s character past his envelope."
Chris Simms at Comics Alliance was less charitable:
"Kevin Smith's Batman stories are the worst Batman comics I've ever read, and while I haven't actually read them all, I've read enough that I'm pretty comfortable in declaring them the worst Batman comics ever."
Now, I like to think I march to the beat of my own drum, and I can get behind some projects that maybe are not the most popular. That, and since I generally enjoy the work that Smith has done, in and out of comics, meant that I would happily give "The Widening Gyre" a shot, and I ordered the hard cover and read the book.
I came to my conclusions about this book almost immediately, and I put off writing this review for almost a month now, hoping to temper them with time.
That didn't really happen.
"The Widening Gyre" is the worst Batman comic I've read.
I should have heeded the advice of the critics. It is achingly bad. As I read the book, I would audibly sigh or mutter in disapproval. It was a disappointment on every level save one, the fine cover art by Bill Sienkiewicz, and even that seems as wasted as lipstick on a pig. It also serves to remind you how poor the art inside the book is, as Walt Flanagan is often disappointing in his pencils.
The book disappointed me on nearly every level. The writing was juvenile and wildly inconsistent. The plot devices are seeped in frat-boy humour and show a lack of research, both in the outside world and within the DC Universe. (Poison Ivy tries to stop Batman by, essentially, getting him really high on marijuana. Worse yet, it nearly works.) It is overly rife with sexual innuendo that really seems to be played for laughs rather than to add to the story in any progressive way.
The entire book reads as if it were created by Jay and Silent Bob, legendary pot heads, and not professional writer Kevin Smith. There is nothing in this story of any substance, just an endless parade of sex jokes, drug jokes, and one instance where Batman admits to urinating involuntarily in his costume. (Kevin Smith took a hard stance defending that last point in his podcast, but it is really hard to take his defense seriously given the content of the rest of the book, i.e. Aquaman's dolphins eavesdropping on Batman getting laid in the ocean.)
On top of the poor art and ill-advised use of humour, there are several inconsistencies in the characterization of Batman himself. In one scene, Batman is paranoid that his new girlfriend may be a robot, so he assaults her and rips some of her hair out for testing. Yet he'll invite a stranger into the Batcave without so much as plugging the guy's name into google. The whole series is riddled with gaping plot holes like this. It's all over the place, and feels a little like Smith just doesn't care. He got it done, it made him laugh and he shipped it off. The editors, Janelle Siegel, Mike Marts and Dan DiDio should have their wrists slapped.
If I can make one recommendation to you about comic books, it would be to avoid "The Widening Gyre". If you like Kevin Smith and you want to read one of his comics, go pick up "Green Arrow: Quiver" instead.