Batman's Slow and Painful Death at the Hands of Silent Bob, Pt. 1A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Alex Rodrik
Hey everyone, and thanks for checkin' out what I have lovingly dubbed the Pilot to what I hope to be my new biweekly column called...drum roll please… Working Title!
As the release of the “deluxe” hardcover edition of Kevin Smith’s Cacophony has come and gone and the release of issue 2 of The Widening Gyre fast approaches, I felt that we should take a look at the two miniseries and pick apart Smith’s stabs (pun intended) at the Batman franchise. In this, Part 1 of this 2 Part column, we shall focus on Cacophony and Smith’s complete disregard for character mythos. In Part 2, we’ll focus on The Widening Gyre and Smith’s futile attempt at portraying the mind of “The Batman.” So without further ado I present --
Aha…aha…aha…ahe…aha…aha…aho…where do we begin? A year ago, the Joker’s faceoff with Batman brought in $1,001,921,825.00 in worldwide ticket sales, making it the 2nd highest grossing movie of all time. I couldn’t tell you how many times I went to go see The Dark Knight in theatres, each time bringing a friend or dragging my wife with me to see it again. And you know what? It was worth every damn penny.
So why do I find the idea of parting with twenty of my hard earned dollars to buy a book that I can read countless amount of times, “enjoying” every moment of it, to be such a painful thought? It’s simple, Kevin Smith seems to have stopped giving a damn about the characters he is tackling, and the poor people that have to read what he puts out. As a fan of the one and only Batman (sorry…bitter moment…), Smith’s latest Batman titles are an insult on not only a fan level but also as a writer. Smith’s way of approaching these projects is the very reason everyone thinks they can be a writer, much the less a comics writer. “Hell, I can throw some stuff down on a page. We ALL know it’s JUST about the art anyways!”
In a recent interview with MTV, Smith is quoted as saying,
"It's a book that's clearly created by two geeky fans who were like, 'I would like to draw Etrigan,' and so it was, 'Okay, Etrigan is in the story now.'"
WHAT?! Are you kidding me? So let me get this straight…you and Walt are sittin’ around drinking beer, smoking some cigarettes and one of you looks at the other and says… “Hey! You know it would be really cool if we drew in Magilla Gorilla.” “Dude…what a GREAT idea!!!” There’s a process to writing a cohesive story -- a story that is both engaging and provocative. And that -- that is not it!
“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.”
- Aesop, The Dog and the Shadow
Smith later reveals, what I can only presume to be his real intentions at defaming one of the most iconic characters of all time…he wants to introduce a new vigilante to the DC Universe. Dear God! Couldn’t you have picked something more obscure…I don’t know…perhaps our new second rate line-up on the Justice League?
Moving on to the comics themselves, here’s an issue-by-issue breakdown of Cacophony, for those who didn’t read it.
(Or “Holy Crappy Story, Batman!)
After Onomatopoeia interferes with Deadshot’s assassination attempt on the Joker, the Joker finds himself out to right some “wrongs” done him by Maximilian Zeus, better known as the delusional crime boss with a Greek God complex, Maxie Zeus. Zeus has crafted Joker’s venom into a designer drug called “Chuckles”, subsequently demining Joker’s hard earned reputation. In the meantime Batman shows up in time to keep Zsasz from killing two kids, but is too late to save their parents. Joker then seeks out Zeus and blows up a school with a classroom full of children in it (Zeus’ nephew included).
The death of his nephew sends Zeus back over the edge and he returns to his infamous persona. We open to Joker lighting “Olympus” (Zeus’ nightclub) ablaze after disguising himself as the famous DJ Mite. Batman is quick to appear but so too is Onomatopoeia, who nearly kills him, allowing for both Joker and Onomatopoeia to escape. Soon after, Zeus -- with some “suggestion” for Batman -- turns himself in to Gotham Central Police. Meanwhile, Onomatopoeia kills a hooker and Joker plays right into Batman’s plan (luring him to Gotham Central). Knowing that the front door is not an option, Joker parachutes onto the roof where Batman is waiting for him. They fight a bit and then Onomatopoeia shows up.
As could be guessed, the three fight until Batman gets shot in the face. But thanks to some stolen armor techniques from Deadshot, he survives. Batman then ambushes Onomatopoeia which ultimately leads to Joker getting stabbed in the chest by, you guessed it -- Onomatopoeia. It’s then that Batman decides to save the Joker as opposed to chasing after Onomatopoeia. While the Joker is in recovery, Batman visits him to have a “heart-to-heart”. Unfortunately for Batman, Joker tells him that he only does what he does because he wants Batman dead and that he won’t stop until one of them is dead. Although Batman is disappointed he’s not surprised. We close with Onomatopoeia returning home to his white picket fence life with a wife, two kids and a dog. -- The End…
To the critique, Boy Blunder!
(Or “Why did we go this far to get HERE?”)
So by the end of issue one, we have what we could only presume to be several lines in the water. We’ve been introduced to Deadshot, Onomatopoeia, Joker, Zsasz and Maxie Zeus. And logically, we’re hoping that the outcome includes some sort of complex intertwining storyline. I mean, every panel of a comic should be carefully designed and thought out…right? Don’t the cardinal rules of storytelling say, “Don’t give the readers something they don’t need”? “Make sure every panel counts”?
“Never write a scene, or a single panel, that does not contribute directly to your plot.”
- Dennis O’Neil
With this in mind, I have one question… Why is this 3 issues long?
Let’s be honest, there are pages upon pages of useless exposition and dialogue littered throughout all three issues. Not to mentions, pages that could have been condensed into just a few panels or cut altogether…
To further explore this, let’s take a look at some of the lines in the water:
Deadshot: So by Page 24 of Issue 1 he’s effectively been detained by the police. Not a single foreshadowing element has been presented to make his return even a logical possibility. Soooo…BAM! Line’s been cut. Next --
Zsasz: By Page 21 of Issue 1 he’s been hospitalized by Batman, which makes his return highly questionable and extremely improbable. So now that line’s dead in the water. Next --
Maxie Zeus: Ok, so Maxie’s “reformed” -- the unlikeliness of which is too obvious to ignore -- so when his nephew dies and he returns to his delusions of grandeur, no one is surprised. Other than that, his “illness” seems to be an unnecessary plot device to help drag the story along. (Don’t worry; I’ll be touching on why much of his character development wasn’t really necessary had the story been more effectively crafted.) Needless to say he becomes a tool for Batman. Next --
Onomatopoeia: Question. Why is he even in this story? He could have been anyone. Actually, Zsasz would have been more intriguing really. Zsasz has all the qualities to make him capable of stabbing Joker in the chest. But Onomatopoeia’s appearances just kind of leave you hoping that he doesn’t show up again. Onomatopoeia serves more as a shout out to Smith as opposed to a necessary component of the story. Smith never gives us even a glimpse into Onomatopoeia’s plan or why we should connect with this character at all. It is the responsibility of a writer to make a character attractive to the reader. Just throwing someone in front of them and telling them “just go with it” doesn’t work. Onomatopoeia’s presence in the story is like throwing a rope in the water…you aren’t going to catch any damn fish with it; it’s just kind of there…
I just don’t understand why we are given so much for a climax that is really just the Joker getting stabbed in the chest. Not to mention the repetitive nature of the immediate circumstances that lead to Joker being stabbed -- he assumes he’s teamed up with Onomatopoeia, for a SECOND time. Why wasn’t the final “battle” during the fire at the club? Then we could have quickly moved on to our mushy wannabe deep, touching moment. The ENTIRE last issue could have been throwin’ out. This makes me wonder what the Editors were doing?
Didn’t they notice how longwinded this series was? And that’s saying a lot about a 3 issue miniseries. When 3 issues is FAR too long, there’s a serious problem. There are at least 3 pages where dialogue is merely repeated from a previous issue (while Onomatopoeia watches a recap of the Maxie Zeus interview that introduces the character in issue one). This repetition also ruins any hope of an implied plan by Onomatopoeia as he gets annoyed when he hears this. If he had planned all this, he would have been content that his plan was going, well…as planned. So this scene essentially kills off any hope of an implicated, well to be frank, almost completely reader implanted depth to the character of Onomatopoeia.
Then there’s our “touching” moment with Joker and Batman. The dialogue in this portion is so weak and clichéd, it seems as though they’re completely disconnected from what they are saying. As a writer it’s your responsibility to challenge your readers. Provide them with something they didn’t see coming, but something not so farfetched that they could never have seen it coming. This ending is exactly what you always hoped would NEVER happen at the end of a Batman comic. So why was this considered by DC to be a good choice?
If the presumption is made that Joker can be subdued by a high dose of anti-psychotic drugs (as he is in issue 3), then why isn’t he on the drugs constantly at Arkham? Psychiatric Hospitals keep patients medicated, so why wouldn’t Arkham keep one of Gotham’s most prolific serial killers on enough drugs to keep him from even walking straight without assistance? This choice by Smith seems ill thought-out and any fan of the Joker will tell you that the idea of The Joker being calmed so easily is too farfetched to accept.
So here is where I state my first challenge, and this one is to DC directly. I’d stake my reputation that I can put together a better story than this. I don’t feel enough people are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Well I am. So, by all means…my email’s above.
(Or “It’s crazy…it’s just like…I’m just like…Wow...”)
Now, forgive me if my priorities are out of whack but, as a writer, I feel that there is an extreme level of respect that must be paid to pre-existing characters, especially to those which yield such high regard. And keeping that in mind, I don’t think there is any more well-known rivalry than Joker and Batman. So it seems, to me at least, that to take on this project would require an immense amount of research and extreme attention to detail. (Assuming you want people to remember your work in a positive light…)
The character of The Joker is one of the reasons I got into writing in the first place. Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated by human rationality and what allowed people to live with some of the horrible things they did to others. My initial intent was to become an agent with the BSU for the FBI. But I felt it may not be the safest job if I wanted to have a normal family one day. It was in the Joker that I found my middle ground. Hell, in Arkham Asylum as a whole. The complexities of the Batman universe are what have kept this character at the top for so many years. Batman has always represented the “attainable power.” Even though unlikely, Batman seems attainable -- with the right amount of money, time, and resources. This realistic factor is what made his villains that much more accessible and frightening to read than other comics like Spider-man or Superman.
The complexities of such a character are so vast that one cannot pigeon hole either one of them (Joker or Batman) into one clichéd joke or one ill expressed code of honor. Batman/BRUCE WAYNE is such a funhouse mirror image of the Joker that their dynamic is one of great delicacy and, as a writer, should not be taken lightly.
The degradation of the Joker begins with the second line he sputters. “If I’d known you were coming, I’d’ve done my hair. Or at least put on my merkin. I’ve got a green one, natch. The curtains have to match the drapes, as they say.” (For those of you who didn’t stop at the word “merkin” and go Google it, it’s a pubic wig. For those of you who knew exactly what a merkin was -- aaahhh you sick puppies you…) Now, this line held independently of the rest of the story doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But it is the beginning of what will take the Joker from complex sociopath to common sexual deviant.
This is not to say that the Joker’s perversions do not extend to sexual perversions, but there is something about the idea of the Joker willingly offering himself up to be sodomized for a briefcase full of money that just doesn’t settle right with me. (This can be seen on pages 13 through 15 of issue 1.)
Here is where I state my second challenge. What in the Joker’s history would dictate that he would so easily allow someone to defile his body in ANY sexual manner, much the less releasing his role as the aggressor and taking on a role of submission? The Joker has never been a submissive character throughout all of his incarnations, so to so easily -- and mind you the sodomy was his own suggestion -- but to so easily throw that role of aggressor out the window shows poor insight into the mind of this character.
The degradation continues with the expression of the Joker’s desire “to one day murder Batman and defile his carcass sexually.” Again, we cut back to sodomy/sexual jokes? I reluctantly gave Smith the benefit of the doubt with this line, and I do understand the idea that sexual defilement is considered one of the most powerful forms of humiliation. However, the defiling of Batman’s “carcass” would implicate that Batman would be dead and therefore would suffer no humiliation at the hands of said defilement.
With this we hit a crucial inconsistency with the mythos behind the character. The Joker is a sadist and a narcissist. He is constantly starved for power and attention, so all of his actions are in an attempt to satisfy that need in one way or another. Had the Joker truly longed (and I use this word intentionally) to humiliate Batman in such a fashion, he would need Batman to be alive for it. The purist support to my claim comes from the moments the Joker and Commissioner Gordon share in The Killing Joke. He needs them alive. In the Joker’s mind, the joke’s just not funny if no one gets hurt, and their pain is where he draws his joy. (Not in the act itself!)
Smith’s definition of the relationship between Joker and Batman -- if accepted -- would cause a ripple effect over their entire, ironically, 69 year face-off. For those 69 years, what’s made Joker the fan favorite is that there is something about the way him and Batman interact that cannot be easily defined, something more than one beat.
The Joker and Batman, no matter how different the two may be, have always maintained something about them that is always and unchangeably unified. This, indefinable, something is the true star of their relationship, so suddenly defining their connection as some sort of sexual fantasy vendetta is cheap, forced, and artificial. Not to mention, it would effectively render the ambiguity of their need/loathe relationship halted.
So, based on the Joker’s long-standing history, I just don’t think that Smith’s “revelation” is in any way a bold choice. Nor could I stand by and allow for such an iconoclastic defamation to occur without calling the writer out on it.
Check back soon for Part 2 of my column discussing Kevin Smith’s stab (pun, once again, intended) at the Batman franchise. In our next installment we’ll delve into the mind of The Batman/BRUCE WAYNE in The Widening Gyre, which provides a better example of the shallowness in the understanding and interpretation of the many layers that entail Bruce Wayne.
The Disclaimer: Any and all opinions expressed herein are solely the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions of any other individuals affiliated with ComicsBulletin.com.
Also, to those who won't agree with the critiques and opinions expressed herein, by all means...bring it on! Feedback is always welcome as I find discussion really adds a new layer to columns like these. Nonetheless, brace yourself -- you may not like what you hear but I promise I won't slam anything without actually giving a reason, one which I would be willing to defend. Thanks and enjoy!!