By Kevin Smith (writer), Walt Flanagan (penciller), Art Thibert (inker), Art Lyon (colorist)

The Story: Some years ago, Batman and Robin (Dick Grayson) captured Baron Blitzkrieg and Atomic Skull. Flash to the present, where Dick Grayson, now Nightwing, has brought Batman to help him out in a bout, since one of the criminals he has been tracking has now gotten the Baron Blitzkrieg armor. There is more on Dick’s mind than nostalgia, when he shows Batman a body in the morgue that could only have been killed by Poison Ivy, who is still in Arkham Asylum. The Dark Knight goes off to find Arkham completely overgrown, as he penetrates it to puzzle out this mystery.

What’s Good: The cover by Bill Sienkiewicz was great, as it really drove me to buy this book.

What’s Not So Good: I had a bit of a hard time with this review, because I love Kevin Smith’s movies so much. His movies are original, manic, unexpected, irreverent and hypnotic. Unfortunately, this book was none of those things.

Right out of the gate, the art put me off. Some artists are so realistic that you can feel the texture and mood of what they draw. Other artists abandon realism for style, and weave compelling images that fascinate. The art in The Widening Gyre achieves neither realism nor style. It tells the story competently, but there is little to leave the reader breathless and swept up in the pictures. The figures, expressions, textures, and even light and shadows, have a plastic feel. The art made me much less receptive to Smith’s story.

As for the story itself, it never took off. I had major problems from the get-go with Smith’s long set-up scenes. We open on some adventure in the past when Dick Grayson was twelve years old. In the present, Nightwing gets Batman’s detective curiosity going, but then disappears. Batman didn’t need Nightwing to show him a body. Anyone could have done that and Batman would have been off to Arkham. Therefore, what was the use of that set-up?

The set-up is tied factually and mechanically to the story in the present, but thematically, there’s no apparent linkage for all the nostalgia. My hope is that Smith added the set-up scene with Nightwing not to fill the third of the book, but for a thematic purpose that will reward the patient reader later in this mini-series.

Nor did the set-up sequence crank up the tension for the reader. Quite the opposite. Both Bruce and Dick spent the flashback and the present fight ridiculing and belittling the villains. There was little sense of anything being at stake, or that this was more than a routine workout for the once and future dynamic duo. The old rule for comics is that the stature of the hero is proportional to the danger and menace of the villain. These foes are not people who raise the stature of Batman and Nightwing.

And the tension did not really pick up once Batman got in Arkham. Every villain he found was tied up, except for Killer Croc and a surprise villain. Ivy herself wasn’t really threatening, unless she has some death by coitus thing going on. The battles at the end don’t manage to pull the tension into positive digits.

Long story short, Smith and Flanagan never made me care about Batman. Not only that, I found it hard to get invested in a Bruce Wayne Batman story when I know he is “dead.” I’m actually quite happy and intrigued by his replacement.

Conclusion: A sub-standard bat-offering. Take your bat-money elsewhere. I will be back for Smith’s next movie. I won’t be back for Widening Gyre #2.

Rating: C-

DS Arsenault