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Waiting for the Trade - Batman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller


Batman: Cacophony
By Kevin Smith and Walt Flanagan
Collects Batman: Cacophony 1-3

Why I Bought This: Actually I didn’t buy this. It was a Christmas present from my lady, bought when we are at Kevin Smith’s store. She chose it because it is not just Smith writing but also art from Walt Flanagan of the Comic Book Men TV show, making it a fitting souvenir of our visit to the Stash.

The Plot: Batman battles the Joker while new super-villain Cacophony arrives in Gotham. (Spoilers after the break)

Chapter 1 – Deadshot breaks into Arkham to confront the Joker. Deadshot has been hired to kill Joker by the parent of a teen who overdosed a drug called Chuckles, which is made from a low grade form of Joker Venom. Joker is horrified that someone would take his trademark weapon and turn into a recreational drug. Deadshot blows the cell open but before he can put a bullet in Joker he is attacked by Cacophony: a hit man who never speaks except to imitate sound effects. Cacophony fatally shoots Deadshot in the head and frees Joker from Arkham. He then hands Joker a suitcase full of money and disappears. Meanwhile serial killer Zsasz has just orphaned some kids when Batman arrives in time to stop him from killing the children too. Comm. Gordon calls Batman about the Joker escape. Bats goes to the morgue where he finds Deadshot rising from the dead. Batman examines and admires Deadshot’s trick helmet that not only blocks bullets but then explodes blood and locks down body functions to simulate death. He also questions Deadshot on what went down at Arkham but Deadshot has no details on who Cacophony is or what his agenda may be. We meet Maxi Zeus, apparently a D-list Bat-foe who is now pretending to have gone legit but is in fact selling the Chuckles drug. Joker takes a middle school hostage where Zeus’s nephew attends. Zeus tries to first cut Joker in on the profits and later threatens him. Joker is unimpressed and sets off a bomb; killing all the children within the school as Cacophony watches from afar.

Chapter 2 – Joker murders a nightclub full of civilians because the club is owned by Zeus. Batman arrives and has Joker on the defensive until Cacophony arrives and shoots Batman in the shoulder from behind. Batman takes the fight to Cacophony, but Cacophony responds by connecting with a slashing knife wound across Batman’s torso, thus giving both villains time to disappear. Batman does some research and learns Cacophony previously fought Green Arrow v2.0 (I suspect in the Smith penned series that resurrected the original that I’ve never read) as well as killed some minor heroes that Smith most likely invented just to be his victims. Batman deduces Cacophony considers himself a hero-killer but that he only targets human superheroes. He also figures out Cacophony freed Joker as a hunting tactic to draw Batman out and keep his attention divided. Meanwhile Zeus has lost his mind and gone back to his super-villain identity, which involves pretending to be a Greek god sans any actual powers. Batman finds Zeus romping with some ladies. He snaps Zeus back to sanity and gets him to agree to turn himself in and testify out of remorse for his nephew’s death. Joker makes a run at the police station to get to Zeus where Batman is waiting for him. They fight on the roof until Cacophony arrives as well.

Chapter 3 – Batman has managed to handcuff Joker to the Bat Signal, but Joker uses a shard of glass to stab him in the leg, which gives Cacophony an opening to shoot Batman in the head. The villains gloat over his dead body until Batman pops up and breaks Cacophony’s wrist to disarm him, as Batman’s interior monologue reveals he stole Deadshot’s trick helmet tech. Batman pummels the wounded Cacophony so he stabs Joker in the heart as a diversionary tactic. Batman is forced to choose whether to pursue Cacophony or save the Joker and he chooses the latter much to Comm. Gordon’s disbelief. Five months later Batman visits Joker in the hospital and they have a rather intense conversation that ends with Joker claiming his desire to kill Batman is what makes him as crazy as he is. Finally in the epilogue we see Cacophony go home where he lives a normal middle class life with a wife and kids but in the basement he has a trophy case for the masks of heroes he’s killed and he gazes at the empty spot reserved for Batman’s cowl.

Critical Thoughts: I enjoyed this story overall but it isn’t perfect. In fact I’d say it serves as a microcosm for both the best and worst of Smith’s writing tendencies.

On the best front, as his films often show, Smith is one of the best writers of dialogue in recent film history. Chapter 3 in particularly is captivating and it’s all due to the dialogue scenes, first between Batman and Gordon and then the big extended verbal confrontation between Batman and Joker. The conversations feel important on a character level and each has their own dramatic tension. It really is excellent writing.

On the flip side Smith has a tendency to wallow in bathroom humor and vulgarity. We see that in his films; and while sometimes it works (I would still to this day consider Clerks one of the 10 best films of the 90s), other times it does not and comes across as jarring and excessive to the point that it derails the entire story (The finale of Clerks 2 being the most obvious example in his films; although I HATED his Spider-man/Black Cat limited series a few years back for the same reasons). In this story it’s not nearly as bad as those other two examples in that it never derails the story because it is used in minor asides and not major plot points; but it is present throughout and in every case it’s jarring because it’s not adding anything to the story; it’s just showing the Smith is too big a writer for DC editorial to reign in and edit. If anything it’s similar to Dogma, which as a film has a strong story and good dialogue about interesting issues, but would be a stronger film with a few less forays into bathroom humor. Smith has fairly intense Batman crime noir story here: he doesn’t need to have Joker offering gay sex to Cacophony, Zsasz cutting his own penis with a knife and Joker telling Batman he saw his testicles because none of these things further the story or the characters in any way; and plenty of other writers, who don’t have Smith’s pedigree, have managed to tell Batman-Joker stories for years without resorting to cheap and tawdry writing.

As far as the art, I like what Flanagan does here a lot. I again go to chapter three, and for as great as the dialogue scenes in the finale are, those scenes are preceded by a hell of a fight scene on the roof in the rain with some big shocking moments and his art is a big reason the scene works as well as it does. He also gets some nice facial shots, particularly on Joker, for the conversation between Joker and Batman that closes the story.

I will say Cacophony is not much of a villain conceptually. His shtick of imitating sound effects is more odd than interesting; although this is mitigated by even Batman noting the Gotham villains are “running out of gimmicks and kinks” when he first meets him. We also don’t really get an explanation of why he is such an adept fighter: he wounds Batman in every fight they have, and practically kills both Joker and Deadshot with little difficulty. These aren’t major criticisms because if this was a start of a longer run on the title for Smith, I’d say this is a good way to introduce a new major villain if you were setting up to answer those questions over time; but for a three issue limited series it feels unresolved. I will add I like the finale that shows he is a family man when he isn’t being a super villain as that is not something we see very often. 

One other observation that Batman saving the Joker even after he kills middle school students in this story makes clear is how much comics in general have let their heroes creep ever more hardcore over moral lines. Batman is such an icon in pop culture that his no killing code has become untouchable, whereas less popular characters aren’t so lucky. So that while 20 years ago Batman was the darkest of DC’s major heroes, now characters like Aquaman and Wonder Woman (who no casual follower of superheroes would consider darker than Batman) are much more ruthless than he is: they both casually stab people with tridents and swords now and have no problem letting enemies die. My point with this paragraph isn’t to criticize Smith’s story, just to point out what I think is a fairly damning trend in 21st century comics overall.

Grade A-. Yea, there are some unnecessary moments but the core story is well told in both writing and art. You have four villains working at cross-purposes with clearly defined motivations leading to a finale that feels high stakes to the hero on a personal level. If you are someone who only reads Batman occasionally this is a fine self-contained story featuring him and his greatest foe, making it an easy trade to recommend.




  1. I got the first issue of this - signed by Smith and Flanagan - when Smith did a show at the Red Bank Theater back in November 2008. Not sure if I read the issue or if I just immediately polybagged it. Always meant to check it out, though.

    Nice review.

  2. The villain's name is not Cacophony its Onomatopoeia

  3. iew. I enjoyed this when it came out. Sorry to be that guy but the villains

  4. That's some words.

  5. Cacophony sounds like a play on "An Innocent Guy" from the end of The Killing Joke.

    I have become minorly addicted to Comic Book Men, and sometime next year I have tentative plans to make a trek to Jersey, visit The Stash and Kwik Stop, and maybe catch a Giants game on the way back. This might be on my list of shit to get.

  6. Also worth noting for the writer of this article Cacophony (The 3-book series) was followed by Widening Gyre, and the 3rd arc from this overall storyline is being written/pencilled this year by Smith and Flannigan again.

  7. Didn't they only finish half of Widening Gyre?

  8. This is a pretty good series as you mentioned. One thing always disturbed me. Joker with a beard. WTF.

  9. There were 6-issues in Volume 1 ending with a lead in for the next volume.

  10. I really disliked this miniseries. There are good scenes, true. But overall it felt like a Kevin Smith story, not a Batman story.

  11. I was at Comic Con in 2008 when Kevin Smith made a surprise appearance at the Batman panel and announced he was going to write this series. I was pretty excited until I sat down and read the first issue. I thought it was awful. Batman and Smith's juvenile sense of humor just do not mix. I can appreciate some of Smith's movies and I seriously love his podcasts, but the guy does not need to write any more Batman stories.


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