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.