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Sunday Slugfest: Batman: Cacophony #2

Posted: Sunday, January 4, 2009
By: Thom Young

Kevin Smith
Walter Flanagan (p), Sandra Hope (i), & Guy Major (colors)
DC Comics
In this issue, the Joker burns down Maxie Zeusís club, Olympus, killing the patrons inside--including Maxie Zeusís nephew, Aesop--causing a gang war to ignite. Batman starts to piece together the relationship between the Joker and this new player in Gotham City named Onomatopoeia, and decides he will capture the latter by using the former as bait.

Alex Rodriguez:

Kurt Taylor Lane:

Jon Judy:

Alex Rodriguez:

Shwa. Hoof. Swing and a miss. At the end of the first installment of Batman: Cacophony I was concerned that this series was going to be a disappointment. As of the end of this issue, I was right. To be frank, the issue is disappointing and forgettable. There is nothing about it that compels the reader to truly connect with the story. Itís one cheap trick after another.

Although Kevin Smith usually employs quips and provoking wit in adequate proportions, his script falls well short of its usual merit this time around. There was only one moment in the entire issue where classic Smith banter was effectively employed. It is a conversation between two of Zeusís guards. Unfortunately, theyíre quickly ďdealt with.Ē With their exit, so to does the witty and fun banter depart.

As for the art, it is less than special as well. At times, the physical structure of characters resembles that of Lego Batman. I donít find Flanaganís art style to be appropriate for Batman comics. The character has long pulled away from the silly, cartoonish, and campy style of Flanagan. It seems now to offer such a style of art--especially when such violent things occur in the story as the murdering of a classroom full of children--is an injustice to the character.

Now, this is not to say that Flanaganís style would not be appropriate for other types of stories--such as satirical comics--but I believe that it is surely not appropriate for a Batman arc with even the hint of such dark undertones.

Additionally, there is nothing about any of the character designs that make them believable. Batman is not menacing and the women are less than appealing--not to mention the overly exaggerated face of the Joker. I see now that it has been Smithís intention to knock the Joker down a few notches from his pedestal of ultimate villainy--depicting him as out of the loop and even mildly pathetic.

As a fan of the Joker--and, of course, there is one more issue for my mind to be changed--I cannot endorse Smithís iconoclastic decision to deface this character. Overall, I find the story (and the choices made within it) to be a contrived and cheap substitute for substance.

All-in-all . . . meh, at best.

Kurt Taylor Lane:

In the first issue of this long-anticipated run for the Dark Knight, I gave Batman: Cacophony a five-bullet rating. Maybe it was due to my unwillingness to completely commit to ďBatman: RIPĒ in the regular monthly title, or perhaps it was an overexcitement on my part to see Kevin Smith take on the iconic DC hero. Either way, I look back on it and stand by my rating of that first issue.

I know this issueís rating is a little lower, but it in no way reflects any dissatisfaction in the series. Itís just the result of the series having had a stronger lead-in issue.

Kevin Smith handling the Joker should be an obvious match to most people. Smith brings a sense of humor to his work, and some great witty banter between his characters. Even though those traits are no different here, Smithís take on the Joker is nothing groundbreaking.

the Jokerís diabolical antics have been written hundreds of times over--all with slight differences here and there depending on the writer. Smithís take on the Clown Prince of Crime is almost textbook, a stereotypical portrayal and borderline dull. The first issue had the Joker referring to the works of Objectivist novelist Ayn Rand--and remarking that it was a great laugh. I would have liked to see a little more effort from Smith in undertaking the character. However, for what itís worth, he didnít ruin any perception I had of the Joker.

The farther I read into the series, the more the blinding white light of realization hits. I finally got it: The Joker is a minor player in this series. Understanding that fact brings Smithís presentation of him more into context--and I did manage to get a few laughs out of him, especially after the beginning nightclub scene in this issue.

After a confrontation between Batman and Joker, Onomatopoeia interrupts to join the brawl. After a brief battle, Batman learns of the Jokerís escape with a note that reads, ďEat it, Emo BoyĒ--signed with a heart.

The dialogue is again the strong suit in this issue. Alfredís playful ribbing of Bruce is on par with Christian Nolanís interplay between the characters in Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. Alfred is the character whoís there to provide dry comic relief and who should bring a sense of normality to the story--no matter who the writer is. Kevin Smith just happens to be the writer here, and he does a great job of conveying Alfredís role.

Another example of bringing a touch of normality to the story is the relationship between Maxie Zeus and his henchmen. While Zeus retreats into his delusion of divinity, the repartee between him and his henchmen is refreshing. Rather than mindless drones that bend to his will, Smith presents the henchmen as actual people who think that their bossís Mighty Zeus persona is ridiculous.

In a scene in which Zeus is dwelling on how to deal with the Joker, two of his bodyguards get into a discussion about the difference between Norse and Greek mythology and Clash of the Titans, a 1981 film based on the myth of Perseus. Itís little conversations like this one that make it clearly a Kevin Smith work--drawing comparisons to his films, like Clerks and Mallrats, in which the characters converse on a wide spectrum of topics not entirely related to the plot.

In this series, Onomatopoeia continues to be my favorite character. As absurd as he might sound on paper, heís an originally odd gimmick that doesnít give much of himself away. Now I havenít read any of his appearances in Green Arrow, but after this run is all said and done, Iím looking forward to picking up more comics involving him.

Based on a little research I did on the character, it looks to me like his appearances in Green Arrow also offered no real evidence of his identify or origin. Maybe this limited series will be the one that finally reveals him.

Walter Flanagan, Smithís friend, once again does a decent job of keeping up with the story. Thereís nothing pioneering or flashy about Flanaganís art, but it works for what it is. After re-reading this issue a few times, I will say I enjoy the minimal approach Flanagan uses for the Batcave over the way that some artists present it as if it were a giant stadium. I would still like to see how the cover artist Adam Kubert would have penciled the series, but I wonít scoff at Flanaganís fine work.

After some disappointing endings for recent Batman story-arcs, Iím predicting that Batman: Cacophony wonít leave us flat.

Jon Judy:

Just stick with me, OK? Because even though Iím going to start out with Pulp Fiction and Raymond Chandler and then move on to Dark Knight before settling on Kevin Smith and Batman: Cacophony, this is, I assure you, a review of Batman: Cacophony #2.

I love Pulp Fiction. In fact, itís the only Tarantino film I do love. There are some I like and some I loathe, but I love Pulp Fiction, and one of the things--no, the thing--I love most about it is the dialogue. Consider this dialog, which is one of my favorite exchanges from the film (Iím taking this from IMDB as I havenít the time nor the inclination to dig out the DVD and check the accuracy of this passage, but I assure you itís at least close):
Butch: Starin' at something, friend?

Vincent: I ain't your friend, Palooka.

Butch: What did you say?

Vincent: I think you heard me just fine, Punchy.
Now nobody talks like that. Nobody. But thatís the point.

Pulp Fiction isnít about real life; itís about a universe created from whole cloth, a world where people do actually talk like that. Coming from Travolta and Willis, those lines seem right--natural even. However, if you ever actually met someone who talked like that, you wouldnít be able to stop laughing at them--whether or not they were a badass boxer or organized crime hitman.

Thatís also one of the things Raymond Chandler did so well. No one could ever be as quick-witted and smooth-tongued as Phillip Marlowe; it just could never happen. And his dialogue is unrealistic in another way, too; not only is there nobody who could talk like this, there is nobody who would talk like that. Read Chandler aloud sometime and youíll find that what seems gritty and hardboiled in your head sounds corny and ham-fisted in your mouth. Yet Chandler wasnít about realism, he was, like Tarantino, about style, and that old drunk bastard had it in spades.

Now writing dialogue as smooth as Chandlerís is a tough enough task, but it becomes even tougher to put it on film, because it does indeed sound so silly when spoken aloud. Tarantino and his cast manage to make that ultracool speak sound feasible somehow. For the most part, though, it simply canít be done. We can suspend our disbelief over such dialogue when it is in our head because we are, along with the author, constructing the scene. It is a collaboration.

Film is a much more passive medium. Itís up to the director and cast to pull it off all on their own--and if they donít, that stylistic dialogue will just drop like bricks and shatter on the pavement of your brain. That fact is one of the reasons I find ďseriousĒ superhero movies so often lacking.

A guy running around in a bat suit fighting crime is so implausible and ridiculous that when I see it unfold on the screen--when I passively observe a photographed depiction of such a man--I canít get past the absurdity of it. I mean, good god, there is a guy in a rubber bat suit doing a bad impression of a clichťd ďtough guyĒ while he is talking to a police commissioner in a bank vault.

However, put that same scene in the pages of a comic book, and Iíll go along for the ride and have no problem suspending all of my disbelief. After all, along with the creators, Iím constructing this world in my head. Put it on film, though, and it becomes one more problem in a very flawed movie.

Itís one of the reasons Iím dreading the Watchmen film. In the comic book, when Dan is standing naked in his hideout wearing Devo goggles and lamenting about how impotent he feels, I choke back tears. On the other hand, Iím fairly certain that if I saw an actor, sixteen-feet-high on a movie screen, deliver the same line in the same context, Iíd choke on my popcorn.

OK, OK, I hear you: get to Cacophony.

I love Kevin Smithís dialogue. I really do. I know itís one of those things you either love or hate, and I love it. It is--shades of Chandler and Pulp Fiction--silly and ridiculously stylish, completely unrealistic, and all the characters sound alike. Yet, I dig it.

It sounds right in the confines of the world Smith creates in his movies. I can somehow escape into the rhythms of the back-and-forth of the patter in his films. It should be like watching Dark Knight; I should be distracted by the preposterousness of it all. Instead, like reading a book, Iím somehow able to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy it.

As an aside here--and as Iím sure youíve figured out, Iím not one given to tangential remarks--I always thought Bill Watterson wrote dialogue like Smithís. Read Calvin and Hobbes aloud sometime. More often than not, Wattersonís comic strip has the exact rhythm as the dialog of Smithís films.

So back to the point: Smith on film, suspend disbelief.

Interestingly, the reverse happens for me in Batman: Cacophony. I should be able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the comic book easily--and yet I just canít. Batmanís dialogue here could just as easily belong to Randal or Dante or Banks or Binky--but Batman should be, well, Batman, a freaking force of nature, the most ultra of ultracool ass kickers. He should not sound like an unrealistically smart video store clerk:
ďneither your benefactor nor I have seen you as a playerĒ

ďno Leaguer should ever let someone else assume their mantle.Ē

ďWe could just view his sudden appearance as nothing more than fortuitous timing from which the Joker benefited.Ē

ďwhen the Jokerís at large, Iíll concentrate all my efforts on apprehending him.Ē

ďI knew your ego would trump whatís left of your common sense.Ē
Who talks like that?

Batman, apparently.

So here Smithís dialogue drops like bricks, so the rest of the book needs to fire on all cylinders for it to work. And it does--or at least it fires adequately.

Flannaganís art is competent, and the premise of the comic book--that a madman is gunning for Batman and using the Joker for bait--is suitably intriguing. On the other hand, Smith makes the Joker a joke, a predictable and incompetent kook rather than what he should be: Hannibal Lector with a smile.

So the Joker is a failure, Batman is verbose and unrealistically eloquent, the real antagonist has no established past or motive--he just wants to kill Batman--and the art is just OK.

Put it all together, and it doesnít quite work as either a Batman comic book or a comic judged on its own merits. Itís just an OK book, a creation of competent professionals with a few moments of cool-ocity, but nothing more.

You wonít hate it, but even if youíre a Smith fan you may be a little disappointed.

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