by Kevin Smith, Walt Flanagan and Sandra Hope.
Way back in the day, this is the sort of storyarc that DC would put in the main Batman book. And to be honest, we wouldn’t have noticed it. Hell, back in the day, they put Batman: Year One into the main book. And Batman: Cacophony is no Year One.
But it does have Kevin Smith writing it. Which nowadays pretty much guarantees at least one of two things, huge publicity for a mediocre project or the potential for a series to be delayed beyond all reason. The good news is that this time DC have done the sensible thing and waited until they have all three issues of this series in the offices before putting issue 1 out. The bad news is they went for the mediocre option. Actually that’s a touch harsh. A better description may be just average.
Because, purely on the basis of this first issue, it’s nothing more and nothing less than an average Batman comic, with an average plot and average art. There’s a new mask with guns who, for reasons yet unknown, breaks the Joker out of Arkham, gives him cash and sets him off in a gang war against Gotham’s current crime boss Maxie Zeus. Oops, not quite true. Even with my encyclopaedic knowledge of DC Comics (yeah, right) I had no idea when reading it that the villain in question that speaks only in sound effects is one Onomatopoeia, created by Kevin Smith for his old Greeen Arrow series. But google and wikipedia are fine websites for finding out these sorts of things.
(Joker – not quite the individual guided by reason alone that Ayn Rand had in mind methinks. Art by Walter Flanagan, from Batman Cacophony issue 1. (c) DC Comics.)
There are some nice touches; the first few pages particularly, with Deadshot breaking into Arkham before the new mask to kill a wise-cracking, Ayn Rand reading Joker and the subsequent breakout once Onomatopoeia shows up.
But once Joker is out of Arkham the whole comic gets just a bit inappropriate. Because this is, unless I’m much mistaken, just a standard, all ages, popular with kids and grown ups Batman comic. But within a few pages we have Joker dropping his prison pants and offering himself to his rescuer, Zsasz brutally murdering the parents and violently threatening the children in a family whilst deciding the best way to mark his kills with his knife on the last bit of uncut skin on his body. (Not his feet. Think more in the gutter ….. yes, correct.) All of this is delivered with a knowing yet sordid little virtual wink to the reader by Smith’s script. And then we have Smith’s take on the Joker’s raison d’etre:
“All I’ve ever wanted is to have a good time. And to annoy Batman, whenever possible, of course. And to one day murder Batman and defile his carcass sexually. And a pony.”
Whilst the “And a pony” bit might be worth a childish chuckle, it’s the “defile his carcass sexually” that disturbs the most. It used to be that you knew the Batman was a complex character and there were stories that could be told for an older audience wanting to investigate the complexities. But there were also younger readers who just wanted good, solid superhero Batman stories. And for a long time it was pretty obvious which one’s were adult focused and which were all ages. Just look at Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Killing Joke to see two perfect examples. They look grown up before you start reading. But not Batman: Cacophony. It looks just like any standard Batman book. And that’s the problem with it. Before anyone suggests it, I have to say I’m completely against any idea of labelling books and comics, believing that content determines a readership and labels serve no purpose whatsoever. But a little responsibility is called for as well on the part of the publisher.
Does DC believe this is an all ages book? Well, why make it look like one then? The artwork by Flanagan and Hope may be better than a lot of the superhero artwork, but it looks too much like the artwork for a regular all-ages appropriate comic. And worse than that, the dubious adult content is nothing of the sort. It’s adolescent snickering, cracking stupid knob gags for your friends and the people who haven’t worked out that you really haven’t got that much to say.
As a Batman comic Cacophony isn’t necessarily that bad. Nor does it have much in it’s favour. It’s merely average. But within that average story, there’s evidence of a disturbing willingness on DC’s part to allow noticeably adult content into a Batman book that passes itself off as just an average superhero book for all. But when you get a big name writer on your book I guess saying no isn’t really part of the deal?