Waiting for the Trade – Batman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Batman: Cacophony

By Kevin Smith and
Walt Flanagan

Collects Batman:
Cacophony 1-3

Why I Bought This: Actually
I didn’t buy this. It was a Christmas present from my lady, bought when we are
at Kevin Smith’s store. She chose it because it is not just Smith writing but
also art from Walt Flanagan of the Comic
Book Men
TV show, making it a fitting souvenir of our visit to the Stash.
The Plot: Batman
battles the Joker while new super-villain Cacophony arrives in Gotham. (Spoilers after the break)

 
Chapter 1 – Deadshot breaks into Arkham to confront the
Joker. Deadshot has been hired to kill Joker by the parent of a teen who
overdosed a drug called Chuckles, which is made from a low grade form of Joker
Venom. Joker is horrified that someone would take his trademark weapon and turn
into a recreational drug. Deadshot blows the cell open but before he can put a
bullet in Joker he is attacked by Cacophony: a hit man who never speaks except
to imitate sound effects. Cacophony fatally shoots Deadshot in the head and
frees Joker from Arkham. He then hands Joker a suitcase full of money and
disappears. Meanwhile serial killer Zsasz has just orphaned some kids when
Batman arrives in time to stop him from killing the children too. Comm. Gordon
calls Batman about the Joker escape. Bats goes to the morgue where he finds
Deadshot rising from the dead. Batman examines and admires Deadshot’s trick
helmet that not only blocks bullets but then explodes blood and locks down body
functions to simulate death. He also questions Deadshot on what went down at
Arkham but Deadshot has no details on who Cacophony is or what his agenda may
be. We meet Maxi Zeus, apparently a D-list Bat-foe who is now pretending to
have gone legit but is in fact selling the Chuckles drug. Joker takes a middle
school hostage where Zeus’s nephew attends. Zeus tries to first cut Joker in on
the profits and later threatens him. Joker is unimpressed and sets off a bomb;
killing all the children within the school as Cacophony watches from afar.

Chapter 2 – Joker murders a nightclub full of civilians
because the club is owned by Zeus. Batman arrives and has Joker on the
defensive until Cacophony arrives and shoots Batman in the shoulder from
behind. Batman takes the fight to Cacophony, but Cacophony responds by
connecting with a slashing knife wound across Batman’s torso, thus giving both
villains time to disappear. Batman does some research and learns Cacophony
previously fought Green Arrow v2.0 (I suspect in the Smith penned series that
resurrected the original that I’ve never read) as well as killed some minor
heroes that Smith most likely invented just to be his victims. Batman deduces
Cacophony considers himself a hero-killer but that he only targets human
superheroes. He also figures out Cacophony freed Joker as a hunting tactic to
draw Batman out and keep his attention divided. Meanwhile Zeus has lost his
mind and gone back to his super-villain identity, which involves pretending to
be a Greek god sans any actual powers. Batman finds Zeus romping with some
ladies. He snaps Zeus back to sanity and gets him to agree to turn himself in
and testify out of remorse for his nephew’s death. Joker makes a run at the
police station to get to Zeus where Batman is waiting for him. They fight on
the roof until Cacophony arrives as well.

Chapter 3 – Batman has managed to handcuff Joker to the Bat
Signal, but Joker uses a shard of glass to stab him in the leg, which gives
Cacophony an opening to shoot Batman in the head. The villains gloat over his
dead body until Batman pops up and breaks Cacophony’s wrist to disarm him, as
Batman’s interior monologue reveals he stole Deadshot’s trick helmet tech.
Batman pummels the wounded Cacophony so he stabs Joker in the heart as a
diversionary tactic. Batman is forced to choose whether to pursue Cacophony or
save the Joker and he chooses the latter much to Comm. Gordon’s disbelief. Five
months later Batman visits Joker in the hospital and they have a rather intense
conversation that ends with Joker claiming his desire to kill Batman is what
makes him as crazy as he is. Finally in the epilogue we see Cacophony go home
where he lives a normal middle class life with a wife and kids but in the
basement he has a trophy case for the masks of heroes he’s killed and he gazes
at the empty spot reserved for Batman’s cowl.

Critical Thoughts:
I enjoyed this story overall but it isn’t perfect. In fact I’d say it serves as
a microcosm for both the best and worst of Smith’s writing tendencies.

On the best front, as his films often show, Smith is one of
the best writers of dialogue in recent film history. Chapter 3 in particularly
is captivating and it’s all due to the dialogue scenes, first between Batman
and Gordon and then the big extended verbal confrontation between Batman and
Joker. The conversations feel important on a character level and each has their
own dramatic tension. It really is excellent writing.

On the flip side Smith has a tendency to wallow in bathroom
humor and vulgarity. We see that in his films; and while sometimes it works (I
would still to this day consider Clerks one
of the 10 best films of the 90s), other times it does not and comes across as
jarring and excessive to the point that it derails the entire story (The finale
of Clerks 2 being the most obvious
example in his films; although I HATED his Spider-man/Black Cat limited series
a few years back for the same reasons). In this story it’s not nearly as bad as
those other two examples in that it never derails the story because it is used
in minor asides and not major plot points; but it is present throughout and in
every case it’s jarring because it’s not adding anything to the story; it’s
just showing the Smith is too big a writer for DC editorial to reign in and
edit. If anything it’s similar to Dogma,
which as a film has a strong story and good dialogue about interesting issues,
but would be a stronger film with a few less forays into bathroom humor. Smith
has fairly intense Batman crime noir story here: he doesn’t need to have Joker
offering gay sex to Cacophony, Zsasz cutting his own penis with a knife and
Joker telling Batman he saw his testicles because none of these things further
the story or the characters in any way; and plenty of other writers, who don’t
have Smith’s pedigree, have managed to tell Batman-Joker stories for years
without resorting to cheap and tawdry writing.

As far as the art, I like what Flanagan does here a lot. I
again go to chapter three, and for as great as the dialogue scenes in the
finale are, those scenes are preceded by a hell of a fight scene on the roof in
the rain with some big shocking moments and his art is a big reason the scene
works as well as it does. He also gets some nice facial shots, particularly on
Joker, for the conversation between Joker and Batman that closes the story.

I will say Cacophony is not much of a villain conceptually.
His shtick of imitating sound effects is more odd than interesting; although
this is mitigated by even Batman noting the Gotham
villains are “running out of gimmicks and kinks” when he first meets him. We
also don’t really get an explanation of why he is such an adept fighter: he
wounds Batman in every fight they have, and practically kills both Joker and
Deadshot with little difficulty. These aren’t major criticisms because if this
was a start of a longer run on the title for Smith, I’d say this is a good way
to introduce a new major villain if you were setting up to answer those
questions over time; but for a three issue limited series it feels unresolved.
I will add I like the finale that shows he is a family man when he isn’t being
a super villain as that is not something we see very often. 

One other observation that Batman saving the Joker even
after he kills middle school students in this story makes clear is how much
comics in general have let their heroes creep ever more hardcore over moral
lines. Batman is such an icon in pop culture that his no killing code has
become untouchable, whereas less popular characters aren’t so lucky. So that
while 20 years ago Batman was the darkest of DC’s major heroes, now characters
like Aquaman and Wonder Woman (who no casual follower of superheroes would
consider darker than Batman) are much more ruthless than he is: they both
casually stab people with tridents and swords now and have no problem letting
enemies die. My point with this paragraph isn’t to criticize Smith’s story,
just to point out what I think is a fairly damning trend in 21st
century comics overall.

 

Grade A-. Yea,
there are some unnecessary moments but the core story is well told in both writing
and art. You have four villains working at cross-purposes with clearly defined
motivations leading to a finale that feels high stakes to the hero on a
personal level. If you are someone who only reads Batman occasionally this is a
fine self-contained story featuring him and his greatest foe, making it an easy
trade to recommend.