I’ve read every Kevin Smith-written superhero comic book, and it seems to be that each project is slightly worse than the previous one. A rough outline of his comic scripting career shows that he had a strong start with “Daredevil,” which used Mysterio in a new an interesting way, and revitalized Daredevil for a new generation. His “Green Arrow” relaunch was also solid, I thought, even if it was nothing spectacular. Then we got stuck in the quagmire of “Spider-Man/Black Cat” and the still-unfinished “Bullseye” project, both of which displayed a drop in quality even though Smith was teamed with some of the best artists in the business.
Now we get “Batman Cacophony,” which brings back a slightly-maligned Smith creation (Onomatopoeia, from “Green Arrow”) and sets Smith loose on the streets of Gotham. This first issue was a near-complete misfire, with Smith’s signature raunchy humor at odds with the relatively innocent concept of the series. Perhaps “innocent” is the wrong word, but there’s something about Smith’s story that recalls a more simplistic time in the life of the Dark Knight, when the Joker was just a silly lunatic and crime lords like Maxie Zeus tried to rule the underworld. That’s not to say that Smith’s story lacks brutal violence, but this comic reads like little more than an old-fashioned Batman tale with some potty humor and some violent absurdity thrown in.
And the Joker we get here just seems absolutely obsolete. After Morrison’s reinvention of the character in the main “Batman” title, Heath Ledger’s stunning take on the character this summer, and even the Azzarello version in the “Joker” graphic novel, Smith’s Clown Prince of Crime seems positively quaint. He’s a laughing, emasculated maniac, and even the rather pathetic Onomatopoeia (a character I enjoy, actually, even though even the text of issue #2 admits he has a ridiculous concept) is more of a threat than he is. Batman gives the Joker a dressing-down, telling him that he’s not even close to Batman’s “greatest foe.” He’s not even number two, says Batman, looking at the feeble clown in front of him. “Now I’d be generous to list you at number sixteen,” Batman tells him.
All of that may be part of Smith’s take on the Batman/Joker dynamic, or it might be setting things up for a more fierce showdown in the finale, but it seems to demonstrate a fundamental problem with this series. Smith just seems to be out of touch with these characters as he puts them through the paces of a story that doesn’t matter, even to the characters to whom it’s happening. Many of the moments seem perfunctory, unspectacular. The characters seem to be going through the motions, without any sense of irony.
Perhaps with a superior artist, Smith could still make it work, but Walter Flanagan is certainly not up to the challenge. He’s a mid-range comic book artist at best, and amateurish at worst. Take a gander at his Batman figure drawing on pages 5 and 8, just for a sample of his quite un-dynamic anatomy.
This isn’t an offensively bad series, but it’s not a good one either.