To a generation of film geeks Kevin Smith is either your beloved messiah who can do no wrong, or he’s a one hit wonder still living off of the good will garnered by a lightning-in-the-bottle indie classic. To a generation of comic geeks, he’s one helluva superhero writer when he’s delivering scripts in a timely fashion. His work on Daredevil and Green Arrow are fantastic representations of what these characters can be when the spirit of the comic is captured correctly, and now that he’s stepping up from lower tier characters* to tackle arguably the biggest name in all of comics – Batman. A few months ago we were treated with the information that two of the three issues were already through the writing phase and the third was well under way, so unlike many of Smith’s past projects, there was more optimism that Batman: Cacophony would ship on-time, and here we are with the first issue right on schedule! But, with a name such as Kevin Smith attached to a character such as Batman, expectations expectedly have been through the roof. So the question has been – Does it live up?
As you’d expect from any Kevin Smith project, this book is dialogue heavy, and that really is the highlight of this first issue. But don’t let the witty repartee fool you; this is a fairly dark book and I would only recommend it for teenagers and up. If you buy this for your kids and they’re any younger than twelve or thirteen, expect them to ask you some awkward questions about sodomy and naked guys. If that sounds like a conversation you don’t want to have with your children, steer them away from this title. It’ll save us all a headache. Anyways, for at least the first issue of Batman: Cacophony, this is above all else a Joker story. Now, the Joker is beyond a doubt one of the more fascinating fictional beings in all of popular culture, and after him sitting on the sidelines in the Batman mythos for a couple of years it’s nice to see him back in such forceful way with Batman R.I.P. (Grant Morrison), Joker (Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo), and of course The Dark Knight.
While Smith presents us with a more ‘jokey’ Joker, he doesn’t shy away from tackling adult themes, and taking a page out of Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth (Grant Morrison) he toys with the foundations of the Joker’s sexuality a bit. But, that’s not the point of this story so I don’t feel like I should dwell upon it, instead I’ll tell you about where this story is in fact heading, and that’s towards an emergence of Onomatopoeia as one of the DC Universe’s premier bad guys. If you read Smith’s Green Arrow, you’ll know this is one tough hombre, and with nothing known about the character’s origins or really anything beyond his cryptic yet literal dialogue and skills as a fighter there are plenty of stories begging to be told about him. But, as Smith’s creation it’s only fitting that he’s the one to bring him into the Batman universe as a force to be reckoned with, and I’d even like a Green Arrow cameo at some point, although I won’t hold my breath. With the Joker and Onomatopoeia, there is also a very creepy appearance by Victor Zsasz. How he’s going to play into the overall story is yet to be seen, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say this is the farthest anyone’s taken the character in a few years, and out of all the players in this comic, he might just be the craziest. And that’s saying something.
Another move by Smith that I felt was quite interesting was the idea to place Maxie Zeus as the head of a major crime family selling ‘chuckles’, a street drug that’s cut with the Joker’s patented poison. There’s a pretty daring pay-off at the end of this issue that I think will wind up being what sets the tone for the next two issues in the sense that I don’t think this story will shy away from anything, no matter how dark it might get. Which brings me to my only real point of contention with this issue; the art. For years, art is what made people buy comic books. It almost killed the industry in the 1990s and if it weren’t for the medium moving into a more story and character driven era, we might not even have comics anymore. Walter Flanagan is a guy who, personally, I’ve never heard of, and a quick look on his Wikipedia page tells me that I might not be the only one. He seems to be a mainstay in the Kevin Smith film universe and while I don’t have anything against getting your friends a paying gig, I think the book would have benefited a bit more from having a professional and named comic artist doing the pencils. Since it’s only three issues, and Kevin Smith, I don’t doubt there would have been a line around the corner to land this job, but they went a different route and I’ll just have to live with heads that are 1/3rd the size of the bodies in which they’re attached.
There’s so much more I feel I could put in this review because the book really was that jam-packed with story elements, and this might be one of the few books in recent memory that actually delivers content-wise on it’s $3.99 price tag. Smith might never be able to outrun the polarizing opinions about him in regards to his films, but there’s no doubt in my mind he’s one of the top level comic writers out there, and he could maybe benefit from stepping out of his collaborative comfort zone once in a while because the art is the only thing holding this book back from being almost perfect**.
*Green Arrow is my favorite character in comics, but there’s no denying he’s not exactly A-List. Same goes for The Man Without Fear.
**I also deducted a half of a Viking due to the Joker’s inclusion of the word “natch”. No snoochie boochie sightings yet.
3 and a half out of 5 Vikings
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