So, funny thing - I polished off yesterday's post before going to bed and guess what was waiting for me when I woke up?

Batman: Cacophony #1 (of 3)

This will be out on Wednesday; it's a new Batman miniseries, marking the return of filmmaker Kevin Smith (of the current Zack and Miri Make a Porno) to superhero comics writing. These days Smith is (mostly) associated with expansive tardiness as far as comics go, but it's worth remembering that he was one of the bigger writers working in the genre back around the turn of the century, with his Daredevil and Green Arrow runs benefiting from a mix of publishing prominence (both were high-profile relaunches), controversy and the still-tingly sensation of a well-known figure from outside of comics seating himself in the middle of ongoing continuity and seizing the reins.

That last bit got tricky, though, as time went on; Smith's presence on the scene faded, leaving some projects vastly delayed, or simply abandoned. To some, this (lack of) behavior became indicative of an unflattering perception: comic books as a second-class creative pursuit, something you can pop into with enthusiasm when you feel like it, only to brush aside when 'big kid' art forms beckon. I doubt it was intentional (this is a guy who financed his first feature in part by selling off most of his comic book collection), but it happened.

And it wasn't just Smith's not making a lot of comics that did it -- I think everyone realizes that working on movies as an established name talent tends to offer way greater financial benefits than writing superhero comics, even as an established name talent -- but the idea that you can start things in comics and just not finish them, whether for a long while (Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil that Men Do) or at all (Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target).

But I think the general issue has since evolved in recent years, to the point where Smith is more a special case than emblematic of anything. Today there's not so much critical focus on comics not getting finished (Damon Lindelof aside), as comics getting finished as little more than items by which the creators might attract attention from one or another big kid artform. Since those considerations don't easily apply to superhero comics of the DC/Marvel ilk, where it's all likely to be owned by a corporation in the end anyway, the big concern in that arena is that writers of prose (or whatever) won't appreciate the mechanics of the comics form, leading to stilted, overwritten funnies of muffled-to-negligible visual appeal. Which happens enough in superhero comics as it is.

I mentioned yesterday that I couldn't recall enjoying any of Smith's superhero comics; having read this one, I still can't. However, it's kind of interesting, here in 2008, how much Smith's approach feels like that of a (perhaps stereotypical) prose or film writer of limited comics experience; I haven't seen much of Smith's work as a filmmaker, though know he's often characterized as greatly favoring dialogue over visual consideration, and nothing in here offers any persuasive analogy to the contrary.

This is a very wordy comic -- I spotted two panels that cracked triple digits -- with nearly all of the narrative burden heaped on captions (three narrators this issue alone) and extensive character shtick give-and-take. It's pencilled by Smith's longtime friend/actor Walt Flanagan (previously of various IDW projects written by View Askew cohort Bryan Johnson), with inks from superhero veteran Sandra Hope, but Smith is always the dominant presence. The chit-chat only dies down for workmanlike-at-best action sequences marked by stiff character art and a shaky grasp of spatial properties (the Joker's cell at Arkham seems about the size of my office building's cafeteria; maybe he worked his way up to the luxury suite?), and one gets the feeling that this is the best use of the visual element anyone involved can come up with.

Well, there's also Onomatopoeia, one of the book's villains and a prior Smith creation (with Phil Hester in Green Arrow), but he mostly winds up embodying the limitations of the approach. You see, he's a masked superkiller who says sound effects, and... ah, that's all. I mean, he shoots people too, and the guns make their own sound effects, for example, but Onomatopeia also says the sound effects before or after they actually happen. And while I can imagine this working as at least a cute visual gimmick (I haven't read Green Arrow, so maybe Hester did it better), that'd still require a more sophisticated interaction of words and pictures than this comic can muster. As it is, it's an odd scripting joke that gets dull after three panels.

The rest of the issue is about as lively. Smith's tone alternates between semi-comedic routines among supervillains and dark 'n gritty scenes of Batman brooding extravagantly while interrupting Mr. Zsasz -- who's now logged so many murders on his person he's thinking about carving up his penis -- in the midst of the usual mayhem. That means pop culture references and screaming children held at knifepoint with their dead parents resting under bloody bedsheets in another room! Our Hero is greatly upset, since his parents got killed too, so his vows (via caption) to end the madness while putting CERTAIN WORDS in ALL CAPS before taking the bastard down via homage to the feature film Robocop. So it goes.

For all its many words, there isn't really much of a story in this thing, but we are told that Maxie Zeus (as: the zany villain with a 'realistic' gloss) has converted a lost cache of Joker venom into a designer drug that's hooking the kids, prompting Deadshot to pursue a contract put out on the Joker's head by the parent of one particular kid who launched himself off a roof while high. The situation also offends the Clown Prince's sense of aesthetics, prompting gang war in Gotham after Onomatopia helps bust him out of lockup, for reasons that remain a mystery at issue's end.

As you can probably tell, 'children in peril' is the dominant motif of Smith's script, whipping up some shocks while possibly serving as the means by which he could later aim for gravitas, since superhero comics are, as everyone knows, Serious Business. The subtitle Cacophony is an obvious nod toward the writer's supervillain creation, but I guess it's something Batman will have to sort through to accomplish some goal or another. I don't know.

I'm not compelled to stick around and find out. Nothing in this issue suggests that anything of originality or depth will later occur, or that any entertainment won't come slathered with gloomy pretense and recited with all the care of the Joker blowing up a schoolhouse full of children, which he does on the last page. After setting it up with dialogue, of course, and following it with Zeus making a reference to his wacky old costume and Onomatopia saying a sound effect after we've read it. I think it's supposed to be funny because it's so shameless? Eh, I didn't laugh much at the rest of it either.