Thursday, July 29, 2010

One Good Thing And One Bad Thing About Batman: The Widening Gyre #6

GOOD THING: I like Smith's take on Batman, which is very Bronze Age retro and not simply because of the inclusion of Silver St. Cloud in this storyline. Here is the Batman of Denny O'Neil, Steve Englehart and Len Wein - a Batman who can strike terror into the hearts of criminals but still crack wise in the heat of the moment. A Batman who tries to balance both his life as Bruce Wayne and his life as Batman. A man who recognizes the good that he does but does long - at least a little bit - for a normal life, even as he fears that he is completely unable to live normally. In short, Smith's Batman is all too human.

BAD THING: Smith has done his job too well. He has made Silver St. Cloud out to be such a likable heroine and her effect upon Bruce so positive that we want her to win. We want her to get Bruce out of the cave. We want her - and him - to be happy.

Of course we all know that can never happen. There must always be a Batman and he must always be a lone Dark Knight. But that still doesn't take away the sting when this happens on the final page.

When I first read this book yesterday, I was horribly depressed by this scene. I suppose it is too much to hope that - even today - we could have a storyline in which superheroes are allowed to enjoy themselves, if only for a little while before the blood of The Dark Age tarnishes the Bronze.

Now, having read the commentary of many another critic, I find myself depressed for another reason. I feared that Silver's apparent Fridging was the last act of a desperate writer or editor hoping to shock the readers into paying attention. But so far nobody, apart from myself, seems to have even noticed - or indeed - cared about Silver St. Cloud dying!

I've heard one voice raised in anger raised about the suggestion that Alfred might be gay.

I've seen a few angry comments about Kevin Smith paying homage to/"ripping off" Alan Moore, with the above flower scene and the nod at Swamp Thing.

I've even seen one whole column complaining about how Kevin Smith has besmirched the reputation and proud legacy of Frank Miller by writing a Batman story with sexual innuendo and crude humor, by revealing that Batman wet his pants after a pivotal scene in Batman: Year One after a too-hot flash bomb went off too close to "The Bat Pole".

And nobody - NOBODY - has complained about a smart, funny female character being killed off (or fatally wounded) for no readily apparent reason other than to milk the drama and drag Bruce Wayne back into the dark. The one person who even mentioned it didn't seem to think that was nearly as bad as Frank Miller's legacy being tarnished.

That, to me, is a very, very bad thing indeed. Not because of what it says about this story or Kevin Smith as a writer but because of what it says about us as readers.

The Final Verdict: Might be the most controversial book this year. It has me annoyed and pissed off but not for any of the reasons any other critic is likely to be voicing right now. Suffice it to say, if you're not a fan of Bronze Age Batman or Kevin Smith's movies, you'll want to stay away. The rest of you should be ready for a hammer of a story that will move your heart, if only by punching you in the gut.


  1. Awwwww silver. Also man he loves that villain. :( not that I mind he's wonderfully creepy, but *sigh* poor Silver.

  2. Yeah. Of course there's a chance - slim chance - she MIGHT survive this. This is only halfway through the story arc, after all, and I don't think Smith can get 6 issues out of Bruce being emo/dark hunter.
    But yeah... that's the worst part of this. I HATE the idea that such a cheap stunt should effect me... but Smith spent six whole issues building up the romance between Bruce and Silver and showing how gosh darn awesome she is... only to have THIS happen.
    I mean, on one level, I know that Bruce can never be happy and can never have a woman waiting for him at home. But the way Smith wrote them together... I wanted to believe!

  3. I spent the storyline eyeing Silver with suspicion, because I knew this couldn't end well.
    I still didn't expect a fridging. Oh, Smith.

  4. Maybe the reason people aren't so upset about Silver (probably) getting killed is that fridging is so common? Of course that's even more depressing than ignoring it.
    Another reason could be that most people saw this coming. They knew the status quo of Batman never being happy would prevail and something would happen to her. Which is depressing in a different way since this is (as far as I know) out of continuity and thus Batman could have had a happy ending here.

  5. Yeah. And it's deeply bothersome to those of us who like Smith's comic work because so many already dismiss him out of hand as a misogynistic hack because he retroactively made Felicia Hardy a rape survivor.
    It's sorta like the problems with me defending James Robinson to people who haven't read Starman and only know of Robinson from JL: Cry For Justice. It doesn't do me a whole lot of good to talk about how wonderful Smith's Green Arrow run was.

  6. Mia doesn't help there. I mean, I love her and everything, but her back story is... yeah.

  7. That's my point. In the comics right now, Bruce is dead. So either this story is taking place earlier in continuity or it is taking place on Earth 37 or some such.
    I kinda figured - given some of the other liberties Smith was taking with the continuity here and there (for instance, does Superman still have that giant key for the Fortress of Solitude?)- that it was an out of continuity tale. In which case any complaints about this besmirching anything are even more meaningless.
    I dunno. I know it's foolish for me to think Batman can have a happy ending. But the way Smith wrote the relationship between these two characters... I really wanted to believe. I wanted to see Bruce trying to balance the whole thing until he finally passes the shop over to Dick or Tim or someone. And then Bruce can still be an advisor... still do the detective thing on occasion... but still be spending most of his nights at home with Silver.

  8. Well, fair being fair, Judd Winick made it a lot worse.
    IIRC, Smith kept it vauge and just left it at her running away, figuring the streets were better than dealing with a physically abusive dad. Winick added in the details about Mia having a drug problem AND having been molested BEFORE she ran away from home.
    It does occur to me though... Introducing a heroine who is an ass-kicking prostitute to the Green Arrow mythos? That's a very Frank Miller thing to do. :P

  9. Winick did make it worse, but it did start with her being a prostitute who was regularly raped by the boyfriend-slash-pimp and gave her no other reason to suddenly end up living with Ollie.
    (and see? This is why I don't like Frank Miller's Batman work. I don't care if he's the best thing since3 sliced bread for everyone else)

  10. Yeah - as much as I love Ollie and I love that whole fight scene in general, I must admit as a feminist that it IS bothersome that Mia doesn't seem to see any way out or any hope of something better until he comes along and gives her a business card for the local community center.

  11. The sad thing about ongoing stories is that no one will get a happy ending because no one will get an ending. The only chance any of these characters have is in out of continuity stories.
    I think part of what got you to believe that Bruce might end up happy was that Smith could have done it. Smith could have written a story where Bruce stops being Batman and lets the next generation take over. I doubt editorial would have had a problem with it.

  12. No. I knew badness would come for silver. *sigh*

  13. Morrison, post-Return of Bruce Wayne, apparently is planning to turn Batman into some sort of 'franchise', hence the new title 'Batman Inc.'. Which I think is a new name for "The Batmen of All Nations"
    It -might- have been possible to fit this in post-Return, and make it so Batman is -happy-...
    then again, I doubt it'd ever be allowed to remain.

  14. I find it disappointing. Kevin is using elements, like Silver, from an era in which I didn't hate Batman. But in the end, he may be using this arc to "turn Bats into" the Miller-...-Dixon crabby loner psychopath Batman, whom I hate.
    But I've hated Batman for so long that griping about this is not my priority. My manga, my webcomics, & my continuing attempts to understand macroeconomic arguments eclipse old Brucie.
    And I was kind of waiting to see if this is really a killing-off, or a "wound that looks worse than it is."
    Sorry. Let me officially say this sucks hard.

  15. I've only read one issue of Starman that stayed with me. The others I've glanced at were midst long storylines, & blend together. Guess which one I always think of first? It doesn't make Robinson look good.

  16. Ollie and hal yeah yeah.. ollie's a sexy beast...
    But are you ever going to talk about the big blue box in the room.

  17. See, I thought this WAS an out-of-continuity story. Simply because trying to imagine where this version of Aquaman fits into anything recently is impossible.

  18. My point being that it isn't really fair to paint Robinson as "the master of killing off whole groups of people."

  19. See, that bugs me too. Because yes, while he did do the story where The Mist kills off nearly all of Justice League Europe, he wrote a lot of stuff that was much more... well, typical of DC Comics. Off the top of my head...
    * a Christmas special in which Jack helps "Santa" recover a stolen picture.
    * a story where Jack is saved from a beating at the hands of Captain Marvel... by an ordinary group of cops.
    * Issue 80 and the whole conversation where Shade denies being a superhero, even though he now has an arch-enemy who is a master thief and assassin.

  20. Well, I never said it was done masterfully.