Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Batman - Cacophony / The Widening Gyre

It's gotten to the stage where I just can't bring myself to spend money on DC comics any more, as (Hellblazer excepted) I'm so often disappointed in them. I still like a lot of the characters though and will keep trying new books in the hope that some of what I liked about those characters in years gone by will be recaptured by today's creators. But until I find a new DC comic that knocks my socks off, I've vowed to limit my reading to the truest form of On The Ration-ing... picking them up from my local library.

However, these two DC books seemed like a good bet. Bruce Wayne is my favourite of the big DC heroes and I've long enjoyed the work (both comics and films) of geek-made-good Kevin Smith, even though he does seem somewhat past his prime these days. After enjoyable runs on DC's Green Arrow and Marvel's Daredevil 10+ years ago, he's been absent from mainstream comics for a while (or when he has turned up, he's failed to finish the stories he's started), but his return to Batman was much-trumpeted. So I thought I'd give it a go.

It's probably a good job I took both books out of the library at the same time as had I just loaned Cacophony, I might not have gone back for its far more interesting sequel. The first book features the return of a masked psychopath introduced in Smith's Green Arrow, a rogue who seems far more suited to Batman's gallery of gimmicky nutcases in that he speaks only in sound effects. Blam! Shik! Boom! You get the picture. He's a fun character, but not really arch-nemesis material, but Smith has that taken care of by focusing much of this book's attention on a gang war between the Joker and Maxie Zeus. At times, Cacophony feels more like a Joker book than a Batman one - and had it been promoted as such, I might not have been so annoyed by some of the jokes. Smith's sense of humour is notoriously juvenile and scatological, and there are many such gags here (including one about anal rape) which just seem out of place in a Batman comic. I've no problem with the jokes themselves and much of Smith's dialogue is witty... it just seems out of place.

The Widening Gyre is a far more satisfying read, although I was unaware when I started it that there's actually a huge To Be Continued... at the end, which also caused me some major problems.

Before that though, Smith pulls his finger out and delivers one of the better Batman stories I've read in recent years. A mysterious new vigilante called Baphomet arrives in Gotham and Batman has to decide whether to trust him. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne's old girlfriend Silver St. Cloud shows up and Smith gives us the happiest Batman I've read since Alan Davis was drawing the character. It's actually quite refreshing, with loads of colourful flashbacks to different periods in Bat-history, and the most human Bruce Wayne we've seen since Frank Miller darkened the knight. But enjoyable as it is, it starts to feel wrong after a while. It's like in On Her Majesty's Secret Service where James Bond finds true love and gets married... you want Bond to be happy, but you know he'll stop being the character you enjoy. And just as in OHMSS, and just as in Smith's own run on Daredevil, a necessary tragedy is waiting just around the corner...

Which is where the first volume of The Widening Gyre concludes: on a shocking moment of violence and an "unexpected plot twist" that Smith confidently asserts (in the afterword) no one saw coming. Well, I hate to break it to you, Kev: I did. I'm reminded of the first time I saw The Sixth Sense and about ten minutes into the film I thought, "I do hope Bruce Willis isn't dead". (Oh, sod off, I've not spoilered it - if you haven't seen The Sixth Sense yet, you never will.) Only it's worse than that here. I actually guessed the twist of The Widening Gyre even before I started reading it. Merely scanning the plot synopsis on the back cover after reading Cacophony, I thought "I bet XXXXXXXXXX". And sure enough, I was right on the money.

Lack of surprise and uncharacteristic Batman aside, I still enjoyed TWG and look forward to reading the rest the story when it finally arrives in my local library. The art by Smith's comic shop owning cohort (and Clerks bit-parter) Walt Flanagan is inconsistent but improves with every issue. He does draws far better women than men, and thankfully non-cheesecakey women at that. And the dialogue has enough depth, wit and "why has nobody ever asked Batman that?" moments to keep me smiling throughout. It's definitely a more mainstream and less impenetrable Batman saga than the one Grant Morrison's currently writing in the proper Batbooks, and self-contained too - not a Black Lantern or Infinite Crisis in sight.


  1. Thanks for the review. I've been umming and arhing about these for a while.

  2. I doubt that review helped you make up your mind.

  3. Paul, I actually have all these issues to offload if you haven't picked up the trades...