Sunday, March 08, 2009

Review: Batman Cacophony #3

What the hell happened to Kevin Smith? More specifically, what the hell happened to Kevin Smith as a comic book writer? There was a time when his name attached to a comic would have resulted in hordes of fanboys scampering to their local shops in hopes of getting their greedy little hands on it. His run on Daredevil and Green Arrow were legendary, and although his mini-series sold well, interest in his seemed to diminish over the years. Once again, what the hell happened?

As is the case with many comic books these days, especially those written by high profile creators, Smith's work was notorious for being delayed. After finishing up his run on Green Arrow over at DC, Smith headed to Marvel to pen a Spider-Man/Black Cat mini-series entitled, The Evil That Men Do. The series was slated to run six issues. Given that this was to be a monthly book, the whole arc should have taken six months to be released. When all was said and done, the six issue arc took over three years to hit shelves. In addition to The Evil That Men Do, Smith agreed to write Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target. The first issue hit shelves in 2002. The second issue has yet to be released.

It's hard to argue that Smith's inability to release a book on time didn't have an adverse affect on interest and sales for titles he agreed to work on. Yet with the timely release of his latest mini, Batman: Cacophony, Smith appears poised to show comic fans that he is ready once again to take these writing duties seriously, and will not release an issue until the entire story is in the can and ready to be published. Now if only he'd write something worth reading things would really be perfect. Unfortunately, Cacophony is not that story.

After finishing the arc, I was left with the feeling that Smith saw The Dark Knight, loved it, and said to himself, "I want to write a Batman and Joker story too!!"(insert the sound of a whiny little child). There are three problems with this approach. First, one gets the feeling that the entire arc was written as a path to this final confrontation. The story up to this point feels fairly "stock." It was interesting enough to read, but in the end, pretty forgettable. Smith just needed something to keep you reading to the book until the final act.

Second, there were moments during the confrontation when I felt as if dialogue was simply lifted from both Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, and Christopher Nolan's script for The Dark Knight. Moore's classic tale of the Joker's origin begins with Batman visiting the Joker in Arkham to prove to the Joker that their feud will only end with one of them dead. However, Batman believes this can be avoided if the Joker would just listen to reason and allow himself to be rehabilitated. In a similar vein, Smith's confrontation begins with Batman telling the Joker that after analyzing their storied history, he's determined that their battle follows a pattern: The Joker does something heinous, Batman tracks him down, the Joker gets tossed in Arkham and subsequently escapes. The cycle then repeats indefinitely. Batman wants to know whether or not the Joker really wants to kill him, realizing that this is the path their on, or if this is just some sick game with no end. About halfway through this exchange, the Joker says that he always knew Batman's vow to never take a like comes from a "misguided sense of self-righteousness." A belieft that somehow Batman is above taking a life and thus assuring the fact that their feud will have no end. This line is almost taken verbatim from a monologue Heath Ledger delivers at the end of Dark Knight. Perhaps I'm a being a little harsh when I say Smith "lifted" dialogue from these two sources, but they are eerily similar. At best, his script lacked originality, and this is not something I'd expect from a writer known almost exclusively for his ability to write dialogue.

Finally, Smith's overall goal was to use this exchange to explain the dynamic between Batman and the Joker and, unfortunately, he missed the mark big time. This is probably due to the fact that Nolan nailed it in the latest Batman flick and Smith was conscious of the fact that if he had written the same ending the comparison would have been too much to get past. In Nolan's universe, the Joker exists to mock Batman's entire mission and belief system. Batman is a man that believes in justice and order, whereas the Joker sees that the world is inherently unjust and chaotic. There is no order. There is no reason. Things happen, sometimes very terrible things to very good people. Batman's Utopian view of the world is an unattainable fantasy. But, so long as Batman chooses to devote his life to this ideal, his arch nemesis will always be there to show him it's all a joke. The Joker would never kill Batman, because as Heath Ledger put it, Batman's "just too damn fun." Here's where Smith's story derailed. At the end of their exchange, the Joker tells Batman that he wants nothing more than to kill him. That Batman's existence is what has driven him crazy and that once Batman is six fee under, the Joker will voluntarily turn himself over to the doctors at Arkham to live out his remaining days. That's it??? The Joker isn't out for blood. He realizes that Batman is the yin to his yang. He loves the challenge and loves making Batman's life a living hell. He wants so desperately to show Batman that he's not crazy. That all it takes is one bad day and anyone could be the Joker. We all have this inherent demon just waiting to come out. Batman believes everyone is, deep down, a good person. That they deserve to be protected. The Joker exists to show him otherwise. To say that the Joker wants to kill Batman reduces the character to that of a common street thug. It removes all the depth, all the mind games, everything that has made this blood feud so intriguing for all these years.

This arc seemed forced. It was written by a man trying to get back into comics and choosing to capitalize on the success of better piece of work, namely Christopher Nolan's epic The Dark Knight. I would love nothing more than a great comic written by Kevin Smith. I enjoyed his earlier films and I think he has, for the most part, a real handle on many of the great characters that DC and Marvel have to offer. Now he just has to sit back and find something original to say. To write something that has meaning and originality. Not just a cheap knockoff written to try and outdo a superior work.

2.5 out of 5 stars