If you asked me where I fell in the various Kevin Smith camps, I’d have to say that I’m squarely in the middle. I’ve liked some of his projects over the years, not been crazy about others. In the political world of Smith fans and foes, I suppose I’d be one of the elusive independent or undecided voters, always ready to be swayed by a new issue, so to speak. It’s with all that in mind that I wanted to read “Batman: Cacophony,” because I knew I’d be approaching it with an open mind. Well, that’s not actually 100% sure, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Not only does “Batman: Cacophony” bring Smith back into the world of comics, but it also teams him with Walter Flanagan, probably more famous for his numerous supporting roles in Smith’s movies. After reading the first issue, it was nice to know that Flanagan didn’t get his job solely because he’s Smith’s friend. I’m not entirely convinced that Flanagan is the right artist for this particular comic, mind you. Smith’s script certainly gets dark in several places (Mr. Zsasz stalking and killing a sleeping family, for instance) and Flanagan’s art seems to come across a little too cartoonish to quite match the words. Likewise, his Joker has a bit too rubbery a face for my tastes; he comes across just a little too exaggerated and stylized to take terribly seriously. Flanagan’s art does work in other ways, though. He’s got a very good sense of motion and general storytelling; the action moves really well from one panel to the next, and there are little moments (like Deadshot whirling around when he hears a sound behind him) that feel fluid and smooth in the way they show movement.
As for the story itself, well, it feels all over the place. Some of Smith’s story ideas seem a little off-base on the very first page; the idea that Arkham Asylum would remove security guards from the front gate because no one would want to sneak into the Asylum seems a little too ludicrous to be taken even satirically, for starters, and it puts a bit of a bad taste in the reader’s mouth from the start. The funny thing is, it then redeems itself just pages later with the introduction of Deadshot, and that’s more or less a pattern for the rest of the book. One moment you’re nodding along, thinking that Smith has found his groove, a second later you’re wincing at something else. And of course, there’s no bigger wince-inducing moment than the return of Smith’s creation Onomatopoeia.
Often, a writer’s personal creation can come across as one who gets special favored status when interacting in a shared (or multi-creator) setting, and that’s exactly what happens here. Onomatopoeia, with his gimmick of saying the words that describe the sounds happening around him, goes head-to-head with one of the DC Universe’s greatest assassins. And as “Batman: Cacophony” isn’t a one-shot, I’m sure you can imagine how the fight ends. It just comes across as a strange moment of ludicrousness; pumping up your character by having him beat pre-existing toughest-of-the-heap characters never comes across well, and when the victor is the supremely annoying Onomatopoeia, well, it’s not good. I suppose Onomatopoeia must have some fans out there, but for most people it’s a big sour note in the story.
In the end, “Batman: Cacophony” feels like a massive sine wave of peaks and valleys, never quite succeeding or failing for more than a couple of pages. Hopefully things will level out in the remaining two issues; right now, this is truly an example of the proverbial mixed bag.