Publisher/Year: DC, 2009
Artist: Walt Flanagan
Writer: Kevin Smith
Collects: Batman: Cacophony #1-3
When the Joker is sprung from Arkham Asylum and left to run murderous riot in Gotham City, it seems like the Clown Prince of Crime is up to his usual tricks. But what Batman assumes to be an accomplice turns into something altogether more sinister – a new villain on the scene who seems intent on using Batman and The Joker’s inevitable tussles as an opportunity to trap Batman.
The key element of interest here is that the story is written by Kevin Smith and is his first stab at taking on DC Comics’ iconographic Dark Knight. The Joker is a good match for his talents, as Smith has The Joker unleash a barrage of snappy one-liners that veer towards Smith’s traditionally ultra-crude cannon without being wholly consumed by it. He also manages to provide the character a malicious, nasty streak without going too far into nitty-gritty details of his crimes.
Smith writes the mysterious third man as a near silent mute, mirroring his films’ Silent Bob character. This helps maintain the mystery of the character above and beyond his place in the plot – even by the end of the book we know virtually nothing about him.
However, Smith is surprisingly reverential to the Batman mythos, portraying the hero as a calm, measured man with a mission to keep the impossibly imbalanced Gotham on as even a keel as possible, using violence where necessary but clearly not relishing that aspect of his persona. You might have expected Smith to take this further – to out violence Christian Bale, to take The Joker’s madness further than Heath Ledger, or to try and go darker than Christopher Nolan. Perhaps it’s Smith’s own hardcore comic fan status that keeps him on this more subtle, less cinematic path, but it’s a welcome refrain. The violence is bone-crunchingly modern but it’s kept to the main characters, at least in terms of what is shown rather than what happens off-panel.
Despite all this Cacophony isn’t a great Batman story. Perhaps it’s because Smith himself argues in his introduction that he’s already writing something better. Perhaps it’s because it’s only a collection of three issues and it feels like there’s much more story to tell. Or perhaps it’s because it seems like Smith hasn’t finished with his silent villain quite yet. Whatever it is, Smith’s first Batman story isn’t going to go down in history alongside the greats, but I remain intrigued to see where he might take the Caped Crusader from here.