This week director/gay joke factory Kevin Smith returned to comics stores with the first issue of his first new comic book series in years: Batman: Cacophony, drawn by his friend Walt Flanagan (who apparently had a very fast dog at one point) and pitting DC’s flagship hero up against a supervillain Smith created in his brief run on Green Arrow.
I didn’t buy it. Not because I don’t like Smith’s comics writing (His Green Arrow and Oni Press spin-offs of his films were rather good, his Daredevil was readable, and, well, his Marvel stuff was just awful, but there are worse track records than that), or that I hated the art (on an in-store flip-through, it seemed decent enough to me; my first thought being, Well, it’s better than Tony Daniel…), but rather because I’ve learned my lesson with Smith comics.
At this point, I can’t imagine buying a series he was doing before it was collected in trade, having been made to wait four years between two issues of Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do, and I’m still waiting on the second issue of 2003’s Daredevil: The Target (Was President George W. Bush the target Bullseye was hired to kill or not goddamit?!)
I know DC has very publicly promised that the scripts were in and that this would totally ship on time, but then, that’s what comics creators and editors always say; it’s practically a promise that the book actually will be late. (To add fuel to the how-late-will-this-one-be speculation fire, DC was only able to assure folks that the first two scripts were done as of September…this is a three-part series. Let’s see, if the average length of time it takes a comic book to go from script to publication is six months, and assuming Smith got to work on September 10th on the third script, then that means…the third issue will be at least two months behind schedule…?)
So anyway, I just figured I’d save myself $12 and just borrow the trade from the Columbus Metropolitan Library in 2012 or so.
Now, what’d I miss? Let’s see what the critics who did read this issue had to say…
“I mentioned yesterday that I couldn't recall enjoying any of Smith's superhero comics; having read this one, I still can't.”
—Joe McCulloch, Jog—The Blog
“Boy, Kevin Smith's not a very good superhero comic book writer, is he?… [A] sloppy mess that smacks of an inside joke (note artist Walt Flanagan's presence) that somehow went a bit too far up the editorial chain.”
—Kevin Church, Beaucoupkevin.com
“Pretty Goddam terrible…Batman: Cacophony is what you'd get if you asked a twelve-year-old to write his idea of an "adult" comic: Everyone wears trenchcoats so that you know they're super-badass, and there's a string of sex jokes…that's just embarrassing for everyone concerned. Not because they're sex jokes, but–again–because they're the sex jokes a kid trying to sound edgy and grown up writes in his fan-fiction. Which is pretty much what this is, but without the level of quality control you get from the online community that actually wants to read about the Mad Hatter trying to fuck the Joker.”
—Chris Sims, The Invincible Super-Blog
“It's the sort of thing that makes you stop and wonder: how the hell did this reach publication? Did no one, at any point in the long and complex process of creating a comic stop to think…this piece of dreck is not going to help DC or the comics industry?”
— Diana Kingston-Gabai, The Savage Critics
“In the end, Batman: Cacophony feels like a massive sine wave of peaks and valleys, never quite succeeding or failing for more than a couple of pages. Hopefully things will level out in the remaining two issues; right now, this is truly an example of the proverbial mixed bag."
—Greg McEllhaton, Comic Book Resources
That last one is also the most positive review I’ve read, save maybe for Hanibal Tabu’s in his weekly Buy Pile column for CBR. If those are reviews, and not just explanations of why he buys some things and why he doesn’t buy others; I’ve never been 100-percent clear on that (If you do click through to read any one of those though, I’d recommend McCulloch’s; his isn’t just well-written and well thought out, but it’s also the longest and spends some time on Smith’s career in comics in general, and how it’s affected segments of the industry).
The consensus seems to be this is an awful, awful comic book, due mainly to the writing, which I gather is crass, remarkably focused on male-male couplings and male genitals, creatively bankrupt and far too wordy for the medium. Critics seem a little more mixed on the art, with some liking it and some not, but the overall assessment seems to be that this Flanagan guy is pretty damn good for someone who seems to have mainly gotten the gig by being Smith’s friend.
One thing that sticks out in the reviews is the expression that it seems wrong that DC would even publish this—Church, Kingston-Gabai and Sims all say something along the lines that this is something that should have been stopped by editorial before reaching stands (even if they say so jokingly).
And that brings us to the depressing part.
I mentioned up top that I kinda liked Smith’s Green Arrow. It’s actually pretty difficult to judge the quality of the writing given the nature of the story. He was returning the then-dead Green Arrow Oliver Queen back to life in a mysterious, supernatural way, and the bulk of the series involved Smith hitting the beats that every reader wanted him to hit, and any writer would have had him hit (Ollie meets his lover for the first time since returning to life, he meets his best friend for the first time since returning to life, his son, his former sidekick, his former teammates, etc).
There were more gay jokes than your average DCU comic, a ton of dialogue, and some minor continuity glitches (none of which seem that big a deal in the post-Identity Crisis era, in which continuity no longer really exists), but it was all competent enough, and Smith at least went to the trouble of a more or less original and extremely complex hero resurrection story (This was my first exposure to Stanley and His Monster, so upon reading it the first time through, Smith’s ridiculously dark take on the characters didn’t offend me as much as it would have if I’d read some Stanley... comics first; it’s worth noting that Smith’s approach to that revamp set the tone for pretty much the rest of the DCU afterwards, though).
I wonder what’s changed? Is it Smith? Going out on a limb here, I would hazard a guess that it’s the absence of then-Green Arrow editor Bob Schreck. Schreck’s then new Oni Press was the first comics publisher that Kevin Smith ever worked with, meaning all of my favorite Smith-scipted comics also involved Schreck (To further evidence Schreck’s abilities as an editor who works to bring out the best in his writers, he also edited the only Brad Meltzer comics I would define as Not Beyond Terrible, Meltzer’s “Archer’s Quest” arc of Green Arrow).
I don’t know who edited Cacophony, since I don’t have a copy handy*. Mike Marts seems to be running the Bat-office these days; Ian Sattler wrote the DC Nation announcement of the series, and given Smith’s star-status, certainly Dan DiDio was involved at some point. So maybe one of those three…?
Now, is this so bad because no one was there to point out to Smith that the Batman cast’s homosexual undertones work best when they’re UNDERtones, or that it probably doesn’t work to have Deadshot die here since he’s starring in this other book at the moment, or that Frank Miller can get away with that gonzo over-the-top shit because he’s Frank fucking Miller and his Batman book is in its own line anyway, whereas this is a DCU book, and so on?
I don’t know. But I do know that it is entirely possible that whoever edited the book, whoever read and okayed the scripts and proofed it and signed off on it, it’s entirely possible that those people could be one-hundred percent completely aware that the book they were about to publish was complete, irredeemable shit (I’m not saying it is; I haven’t read it), and they would still go ahead and publish it.
Because no matter how bad it is, it’s celebrity Kevin Smith writing Batman (the first issue coming out just as Smith is finishing up a round of press presence to promote his latest film, even!) and it’s guaranteed to sell really well for DC, and they need a hit these days because nothing is working for them.
And the thought that, despite all this talk of the medium having grown-up and come into its own, one of the major American comics companies still has to publish whatever will sell, no matter how poorly done it is, well, God that’s depressing.
*UPDATE: Well, now I know who edited it, thanks to one of the comments. Apparently, it was Jann Jones and Dan DiDio.