Written by: Joey Esposito, Special to CC2K
Kevin Smith has returned to comics. And while his history of comic book work has varied in quality – his Green Arrow and Daredevil work is great. That said, his notorious Spider-Man/Black Cat mini-series took years to finish, at a mere six issues. While he has admitted his fault, it's hard to take your place among such an elite group of books of whose primary characteristics are being delayed without end (see: Planetary, Ultimates 2). For this reason, it may be unnerving for skeptical fans upon hearing about Smith's Batman: Cacophony, as it is a three issue mini-series supposedly slated for three consecutive months. Fear not, for Smith has already stated that the script for all issues are in the can, and the books will be coming out as scheduled.
But to be honest with you, if this debut issue is any indication, I wouldn't mind waiting for months between installments.
Kevin Smith and the art team consisting of penciller Walt Flanagan, inker Sandra Hope, colorist Guy Major, and letterer Jared K. Fletcher, have crafted a resounding success in Batman: Cacophony #1. It's not perfect by any means, but Smith's intriguing cast of characters and 'unique' characterizations combined with Flanagan's mostly dynamic panel layouts and character designs make for a tale that has started off very fresh. Smith delivers almost what one would expect in the way of dialog; it's sharp and witty, but only when the characters call for it. Surprisingly, he also manages to stuff a fair amount of filmic references in there, but does so in a way that fits the story. While pop culture references and things of that ilk usually irk me to no end in comcs, the dark tone that Smith takes creates an unusually realistic mxture with these references that make Gotham out to be all the more a part of our world.
I mentioned the cast of characters, and it's worth mentioning again. Smith presents us with an odd mixture of a cast, giving us the staples like Joker and Gordon, but also giving us people like Deadshot, Zsasz, Maxie Zeus, and Smith's own creation Onomatopoeia, assuring readers that this simply won't be another stroll through Batman's rogues gallery. Let me just clarify something I said earlier: yes, Smith's dialog is clever and sharp, but that doesn't mean it isn't severely distubing. Smith has crafted an incredibly dark tale, and it's interesting to note that thus far, Batman is merely an observer in a story that looks to focus on feuding rogues, with Onomatopeoeia as the wild card.
The only downside do Smith's work in this issue is uneven pacing. The first three quarters of the book flow nicely, with the perfect words/art ratio. That's not to say it reads quickly – any book costing $4 beans damn well better take me a while to read – but it flows comfortably. In fact, I would go as far to say that the first three quarters of this issue are a textbook example of superhero comic pacing, it's pitch-perfect. Unfortunately, the pacing stumbles at the end, and suddenly we get word bubble-diluted panels, and pages become littered with words. Good words, yes, but verbose nonetheless. The stalling of the issue's swift pacing makes it's final pages just a little bit less exciting, but there is no doubt those that read this first issue will be on, hook, line, and sinker for the following two.
Flanagan's layouts are truly dynamic and contribute to the great pacing of the story. He uses very basic panel structure for most of the pages, but throws in different ideas (triangles! scopes!) every so often, just enough to keep it fresh and original. His action is equally kinetic, but clearly depicted and never over the top. Flanagan's only real weakness in this issue are some very specific moments in character work. The entire Zsasz sequence, while utterly nightmarish, is the best example of this. There is one panel in which Batman is supposed to be showing a look of worrisome surprise; instead he looks like a nutcracker at Christmas time. Moments like this are littered sparingly throughout the issue, but the positives most definitely outweigh the inconsistencies. It's also something to note that while the general trend for artists is to somehow give their own take on the Joker's appearance, Flanagan ditches that trend altogether, opting for the straight up Neal Adams depiction – a classic choice, to say the least.
It remains to be seen if this three issue mini-series will remain consistent in it's so-dark-it-can't-be-canon tone, but I honestly believe that if this first issue is any indication, we readers will be getting the most cynical look at Batman's world this side of The Dark Knight Returns.
And that badass Adam Kubert cover sure as hell doesn't hurt.