Amateur Batfan: Volume 15 – Cacophony

Hello and welcome to the fifteenth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).

This week, I’ll be covering Cacophony; a brief three-issue story (but part of a wider trilogy with The Widening Gyre and Bellicosity) which was written by Kevin Smith. Kevin Smith is best known for his films and impressive podcasting empire, as well as his part on the TV show Comic Book Men, and has worked on numerous comics before including Green Arrow and Daredevil. I haven’t read those. I haven’t read his comics about other superheroes yet. I have read his comics about his own films though, in the Tales From The Clerks compilation, but that’s about it.

I’m a huge, huge fan of his podcasting though (amazing free entertainment by the bucket full), and still have a lot of fondness for most of his films which I loved as a teenager but have seen too much and heard too much criticism of, and overall learned too much about to be able to ever really “just watch” anymore.

Kevin has a sense of humour which includes frequent jokes about sex, sex organs, drugs and scat-humour, as well as a tendency to talk about and reference real life people he knows. These seem sort of incompatible with Batman. All the other Batman I’ve ever read has avoided joking about sex, or talking about Batman’s genitals, or involving all that much faeces.

Needless to say, people, as far as I’ve read online did not appreciate when Smith included some of his sense of humour in Batman. Its very un-Batman to use the words “I saw a bit of your Junk when you were getting changed.” It just is.

I would just say this however… what did you expect? Kevin Smith + Batman = Kevin Smith’s Batman, surely? Why would you get someone unique like Kevin Smith and then have him just lose his uniqueness and not seem like Kevin Smith? That would be like getting Quentin Tarinto to direct an episode of a TV show and then just expecting him to do what the previous director was doing… a bit of a waste.

If you really dislike Kevin Smith…why did you read it? Its not as if there is any shortage of alternative Batman books to read. Its not like Metallica, where they only make one album every five years. There are many, many Batman books released and re-released every year and if you really can’t stand Kevin Smith it would be quite easy to give Cacophony a miss.

I’ve been wanting to re-read this for quite a while (every time I listen to Fatman On Batman I get the urge to read it) but I’ve been saving it until I was ready to write one of these articles about it. I’ve kind of shot myself in the foot a little by starting this series, but oh well.. I got to re-read it now and that’s all that matters.

Batman

Batman – Cacophony:

– Writers: Kevin Smith
– Art: Walt Flanagan
– Colours: Sandra Hope

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Late Career

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Joker, Zsasz, Deadshot, Onomotepeia, Maxie Zeuss

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police)

– Bystanders: N/A

– References: Barbara Gordon, John Paul Valley, Jason Todd, Mad Hatter, Amygdala, Calendar Man, Scarface, Riddler, Clayface, Connor Hawke as Green Arrow,

– Story: [/Spoilers] A new villain called Onomotepia, comes from Star City to Gotham to kill Batman, via the means of distracting him by freeing the Joker from Arkham. He interrupts an unrelated assassination attempt by Deadshot during which Joker learns that Maxie Zeuss is selling Joker Venom as a designer drug. Joker is offended and starts a war with Zeuss including murdering his nephew and setting fire to his nightclub with a flamethrower while impersonating a celebrity DJ. Batman, fresh from stopping Zsasz kill random innocents tries to recapture joker, meets Onomotopia and they battle. Onomotopia betrays joker to save himself leaving Joker mortally wounded and Batman choses to save Joker’s life rather than pursue Onomotopia despite the arrival of Commissioner Gordon who tries to convince Batman to just let the Joker die from his wounds. After a lengthy coma, Joker awakes to find Batman, dressed as Matches Malone meet him in hospital to clear up this issue of whether the two want to kill eachother or not. Batman says no, Joker says yes. In an epilogue Batman jokes with Alfred and Onomopepia goes back to his life as a family man and his secret plans to kill Batman.

– Tone: I’ll discuss this at the end, because they kind of go hand in hand.

– Art: Inconsistent. Walt draws so many different faces for the same Joker. Gets better as it goes along though, just needs more consistency. Also, he draws humans better than either Batman or Joker. His Gordon and Maxie Zeus-as-businessman look perfect, I’m just not keen on the way Batman’s face and mask look. The book is beautifully coloured actually though, it looks gorgeous with glossy paper and vivid colours.

– My Thoughts: Not the worst Batman story I ever read. Not even close. I actively enjoy Cacophony. If you ignore the fact that the dialogue has a bit more Smith-esque humour than would usually be found, this is actually a pretty entertaining and enjoyable story with some neat, memorable moments. And you know what, some of the jokes actually made me smile too. Its not like its 100% liking it despite the jokes, sometimes its just liking it… on its own terms. I liken it to listening to Megadeth. At first you are like “Dave Mustaine has a weird voice” but then you are later like “Screw it, a good song is a good song.” Admittedly, nowadays I love Mustaine’s voice totally and completely… can’t say I’ll ever love penis jokes within a Batman story, but hey, I can’t make every analogy 100% critique-proof.

I really enjoy some moments such as Zsasz getting surprised and also getting kicked through the door in a presumable homage to Madlove. I really love Jokers’ “Now do you get the Joke?” moment with Maxie.

Also, I just really love Onomotepia. He is a really neat villain uniquely suited to the medium he was invented for. Good look, good gimmick. If I ever wrote a Batman story, I’d include or at least reference him. His coolness adds a good few points in the book’s favour.

Negatives-wise; I do question some of the Jewish humour, slightly wary that it’s a bit distasteful (“Unholy Bris” ? Hmmm…). …And admittedly some of the dialogue and choices are contradictory to a lot of other writers (Gordon encourages Batman to let Joker die when other books make Gordon stop situations like this.)

It’s a Batman book I don’t regret buying, and would have no problems reading again. Maybe I’m being unfairly lenient to balance out people who were unfairly critical, that is possible, I mean, I don’t think I’d forgive other writers for a Batmite-themed Deadmaus-style DJ or a letter in which Joker calls Batman emo-boy (does Joker keep abreast of music trends and internet-era humour and expressions? Maybe, maybe not…).

Either way, I don’t think I’d recommend it to you if the idea of toilet humour in Batman is appalling, but I enjoyed it more than all the negative internet vibes made me think I would. That’ll do…

Amateur Batfan: Volume 11 – Arkham Asylum A Serious House On Serious Earth

Hello and welcome to the eleventh installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them. I had a sort of snobbery to overcome. Its been overcome now though, and I’ve spent most of the last year buying and reading Batman comics, which I will now blog about for your reading pleasure and commenting-inspiration (seriously, I want to know what you think about these comics).

Last time, I mentioned how I’ll try and cover some of the more famous Batman books like Year One, The Long Halloween, Dark Knight Returns etc. and so this time I’ll be covering Arkham Asylum A Serious House On Serious Earth, which is supposedly the best-selling Batman book ever, which is perpetually featured in lists of best Batman books ever, and which helped inspire the Batman Arkham Asylum videogame which I think is one of the finest and most interesting videogames ever made. I remember really loving finding Amadeus Arkham’s crazed spiral writings in there, and it was a cool to see them in this book.

I’ve read a few other books that focus on the Asylum before this. Arkham Reborn and Arkham Asylum Living Hell to be specific. They’ll get their own articles too. I’ve saw other asylum based comics (ie. Jokers Asylum) and been unsure whether or not to read them, and I’ve never been able to allow myself to read the comics based on the games despite only really reading comics in part due to those game. Sometimes I feel torn between admitting being brought into comics by the videogames and find myself trying to skim-over that fact. Its like liking Dragonforce… you sometimes feel the need to defend against hypothetical Guitar Hero comments, but sometimes you feel the need to just say “yes, well, that’s a way to have gotten into it…so what?”

Anyway, I’m not going to look to deeply into the psychology of that (pop psychology’s Morrison’s job, not mine) so instead I’ll just kill time with an amusing little anecdote; I was on the train this week, reading a Batman book, and a stranger with a mysterious accent- a thirty-five year old, smart-casual dressed, male adult approached me. Excitedly, he asked me if adults were allowed to read comics now. He liked the recent comic book movies a hell of a lot and was excited to find another adult (me) who had an interest in this area to ask… could he read comics? – In some ways I figure he may have been really asking if comics could be enjoyable to adults or whether they’d feel too childish – but the way it came out, it was more as if he asked could he please be given permission to read comics …as if without my say-so he might get arrested if he tried them. He also told me he loved the fact that the joker put someone’s eye out with a pencil in The Dark Knight movie (much to the shock and distaste of an elderly woman sat between us).

After having read this today, I’m almost sorry I didn’t recommend him this book. I think he’dve gotten a kick out of the pencil bit…

Batman

Batman – Arkham Asylum A Serious House On Serious Earth:

– Writers: Grant Morrison
– Art: Dave McKean
– Colours: N/A

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint

– Timeline Position: Mid-Career

– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Joker, Two Face, Killer Croc, Maxie Zeuss, Mad Hatter, Clayface, Dr. Destiny

– Allies: James Gordon (Police)

-Bystanders: Cavendish (Asylum Staff), Adams (Asylum Staff), Pearl (Asylum Cook)

– Mentioned: Jason Todd as Robin, Professor Milo

– Historical Characthers: Amadeus Arkham, Constance Arkham, Harriet Arkham, Mad Dogg Martin Hawkins,

– Cameos: Black Mask, Scarecrow, Tweedledum and Tweedledee

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:] On April Fools Day, Batman is called to respond to a riot in Arkham Asylum, where the inmates have escaped and are requesting him personally to come inside. He agrees after Joker blinds a staff member with a pencil. Upon arrival, Batman is met by the Joker (who’s blinding scenario had been a bluff, an April Fools Joke, and he lets the victim go), as well as a psychiatric worker called Adams, who has been treating Two Face in an attempt to stop his obsession with duality. Adams has trained Two Face to make decisions using a pack of tarot cards rather than his famous coin, but this has reduced him to a dysfunctional wreck. Batman slowly travels through the asylum seeing different villains in succession, (fighting Killer Croc along the way and becoming injured) and gaining insights into his own psychology with each meeting. After meeting a disturbed Arkham Employee called Cavendish, Batman learns the tragic past of the Asylum’s founder who himself went insane after his difficult childhood looking after an ill mother, and the murder of his family on April Fools Day. Cavendish is revealed to have been behind the riot and believes Batman is a demonic death-bat “feeding” the “evil” Asylum more insane victims. After a fight, Adams saves Batman by slitting Cavendish’s throat. Batman regains his composure takes an axe and takes Two Face’s coin. He breaks down the asylum’s door declaring everyone free, then Joker asks if Batman should be put out of his misery. Batman says it should be Two Face’s decision and gives him back his famous coin, Two Face flips the coin and lets Batman go, although it is revealed to be opposite to what the coin decided indicating the therapy was helping him. Joker gives Batman some parting words suggesting the outside world is the real Asylum. Two Face then knocks down a house of cards he’d constructed out of the tarot cards.

– Tone: Its pretty horrific and dream like in tone. Its like the bit in a film when a character is drugged up or insane. Its jam-packed with distorted scales, odd perspectives and all sorts of different and possibly contradictory symbolism. I’m not going to pretend to be smart enough to have understood it all without reading Grant’s annotations, but it definitely made for an interesting read. As far as tones go, its fairly unique. Dream sequence and horror have both been done, but never like this. Its like Faith No More’s music. Similar things exist, but Faith No More are still massively unique. The two words I’d use to describe it are inventive and impressive. [Why not take this as a reason to listen to “The Mourning After”]

– Art: The art here is very stylized, very visually interesting. I said last time that The Chalice was very stylized, but this is on a whole other level. It’s more like a Metal band’s CD booklet at times. It kind of reminds me of Slipknot’s debut and all the “Come Play Dying” scratched text and Ouiji Board imagery and that sort of stuff. It doesn’t look like a normal comic book at all most of the time, its more like a weird artistic multi-media project. I saw in the linear notes of my 15th Anniversary Edition that it was made with a mixture of Drawing, Painting, Photography and Sculpture, all in the pre-computer age. It looks difficult enough to do in Photoshop. Must’ve been a nightmare to make back then. I liked it, I thought I wouldn’t but I did. When I first saw images from it online, I thought it might be a bit poncy and up-itself, but when you actually read it all in context, it isn’t like that at all.

– My Thoughts: You know, I think this might be one of the only Batman stories I own that doesn’t have Alfred in it. Maybe Arkham Reborn and the Judge Dredd crossover book didn’t have Alfred either, but I’m not even certain about that, I’d have to go back and check.

Its also interesting that the artist refused to draw Robin, and so Robin was removed from the story. If that hadn’t have happened, it would’ve meant that the best-selling Batman book of all time featured Jason Todd as Robin. Would’ve been interesting. Shame.

Its also interesting how many ideas from this come up again in the later Morrsion run. Death-Bat, Joker’s personality reinventions, Shamanistic Rituals and Black Magic, Death and Rebirth etc. All of those feature in the later work.
Its also interesting that this book was supposedly designed as a reaction to the serious movement in comics at the time, and his later run was a reaction to the legacy of that movement. He’s definitely got a distinct personality as an author, ey? [I’m tempted to go read Batman Gothic again and see if Morrison forshadowed any more of his run in that (apart from the Soul-Sold-To-The-Devil and Un-aging things I remembered just as I typed that)]

Also, as much as this book could feel like just a vehicle for symbolism and an inventive art style, it actually flows pretty well as an entertaining story. I know it is essentially just Batman walking past several villains and getting in two fights, but it was engaging and the Amadeus Arkham backstory was fairly riveting. I could see why or how someone might make a case against it (style-over-substance, “nothing much happens” and pretentious) but as a first-time reader, it really captivated me and I sat and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting and felt as though I’d gotten my money’s worth.

Amateur Batfan: Vol. 6 – Batman Faces

Hello and welcome to the sixth installment of Amateur Batfan, a series of blogposts here at Kincrimsonblog where I try something new. Instead of writing exclusively about music like I usually would, I’m dipping my toes into the field of writing about comics. I’m fairly new to comics. You can read about my history with the comics medium in the first entry of the series.

Long story short, I liked comics-related stuff but found the whole idea of being a comics fan too embarrassing, and some of the comics I did try were lacking-in-depth, so I didn’t like comics themselves until my friend Paul opened my mind, multiple times over the years until I finally allowed myself to enjoy them.

When I first decided to get into Batman, it was with a view to read Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Knightfall and No Man’s Land. I had read about those on Wikipedia and they were my real “to do list.” Well, those and The Court Of The Owls thanks to Paul’s recommendation.

I borrowed and read Year One, The Dark Knight Returns & The Killing Joke fairly quickly, and then made my first purchase in the form of The Court Of The Owls. Yeah, that made me more comfortable reading comics for sure. Afterwards I moved in a few different directions. I discovered a few different things, like Kevin Smith’s Batman run, the Judge Dredd Crossovers, The Grant Morrison run, and books I heard about on the Fatman On Batman podcast like Madlove and The Black Mirror.

So its taken almost a year, but I’ve finally got around to buying No Man’s Land and Knightfall. At the minute I’m deeply entrenched in Knightfall, at about the halfway point of the second of three big, thick books. Its too early to really talk about that though, but right before I started Knightfall I also found another Batman book I really wanted to read. That’s what I’m going to be discussing today.

Back when I started branching off in different directions from my original plan, I found Matt Wagner’s Batman And The Monster Men & Batman And The Mad Monk, which I absolutely loved. I loved the art style, the depth of the story and the mixture of realism and fantasy. All in all they really nailed exactly what I want from a Batman book.

Turns out Matt Wagner had made more Batman books, including crossovers with other comics (Trinity – with Superman and Wonder Woman, and then another one with Grendel). He seems like a notable guy in the field. I also found and have now bought and read another Batman-only trade paperback he made, called Batman Faces, which is about Two Face.

Up until buying Knightfall I haven’t really read any stories with Two Face in them as a major character (except when I got a lend of stories, such as in The Dark Knight Returns, and in the excellent The Long Halloween). I think on the first page of ‘Owls he’s there in a Cameo in the scene where Batman just brawls with almost all his main villains, there was a Two Face in there, but its not part of the story or anything, just a quick cameo.

I feel like I’ve read more stories with Calendar Man, Mad Hatter and Maxie Zeuss than I have with Two Face in them.

In my current collection, there is a surprisingly big representation of The Ventriloquist for some reason. I own more stories with him in it than I’d ever plan or expect to. I remember the first time I played Arkham Asylum, I scanned the Scarface doll and learned of the existence of The Ventriloquist and thought to myself “that’s a bit too silly for me” – now I’m inundated with Ventriloquist stories! There’s also a decent amount of The Joker, Hush, Catwoman and Poison Ivy in the books within my current collection; but for the most part, excluding The Joker, my collection seems to be mostly featuring books about one-off, less famous villains like The Court Of Owls, The Architect, Onemotapia, James Gordon Jr., The Reaper etc. whereas villains that I always thought of as Batman’s “main villains” like Penguin, Mr. Freeze, The Riddler, Scarecrow and Two Face are surprisingly underrepresented.

So, Matt Wagner plus Two Face, that seems like a recipe for success right?

Batman

Batman Faces:

– Writers: Matt Wagner
– Art: Matt Wagner
– Colours: Steve Oliff

– Continuity: Post-Crisis, Pre-Flashpoint
– Timeline Position: Ambiguous (Post Year One, possibly Pre-Robin)
– Batman is: Bruce Wayne

– Villains: Two Face, Manon, Romulus & Remus (Two Face’s Goons), Snake Eyes (Two Face’s Goon), Nelson Wren

– Allies: Alfred Pennyworth, James Gordon (Police)

– Bystanders: Paul Durberville, Donald Tremaine, Everette Baker, Charles Anerson, Violette Fournier, Anton Ecole, Joseph Auger, Frances Devere, Antonio Patrillo, Alain Rachins, Renee Machon, Rudolph Petruchka, Herve Pierre, Dora Lang, Booshka Granger, Etienne Frazier, Charles Berger, Paulette Bernhard, Mario Lopez

– Story: [Spoilers Ahoy:] Bruce Wayne wants to buy an Island property from Mr Paul Durberville. Two Face escapes Arkham at exactly 2:22, and goes on a series of duality based crimes such as stealing Zebras and a giant Ying/Yang sculpture, and organizes the murder of a number of plastic surgeons.

Two Face also kidnaps/recruits a circus freakshow to become his Nation Of Freaks, and reveals he has been killing plastic surgeons so that freaks cannot be “fixed,” and wants the Island as a physical location for his freak nation.

A cowardly, weasely-type character called Norman Wren in convinced with the promise of sex by Manon, an attractive fem-fatalle type, to spoil Wayne’s business deal. When Manon disappears, Wren tracks her down and confronts her, but is kidnapped in the process. It turns out Durbeville was Kidnapped too and is being blackmailed because he too is a “freak” due to a deformity of having extra hands on his stomach (he lives in snooty social circles and wouldn’t want anyone to think of him as a freak), and so Wren’s help is nolonger needed for Two Face to get his Island. Manon is revealed to be a bearded lady, and Norman Wren feels disgusted.

Wayne’s deal is spoiled, and Batman investigates. He finds Two Face’s whereabouts in a Zeppelin hangar, where Two Face is trying to launch a maiden voyage of a Zeppelin to take his Freaks to his Island. Batman is briefly captures but promptly escapes. He finds the imprisoned Wren and Durbeville, fights off Two Face’s goons but is knocked out and tied up by the Freaks. Two Face flips a coin to decide if he’ll murder Batman or Wren. Wren looses the toss and is thrown from the Blimp to his death. Batman infiltrates the blimp and before being shot, the freaks realize that Two Face’s plans and attitude are not what they want or believe and in the distraction of their disagreement, the Blimp crashes into a circus, where Two Face tries to flea, but is talked down by a freak called The Man With Two Faces, who calls Two Face a disgrace. Batman is able to apprehend Two Face and he is sent back to Arkham. Back in Wayne Manor, Bruce and Alfred reflect on the events and discuss Justice and Fate.

– Tone: I have no problems to report with the tone. It isn’t too silly, it isn’t too dark. Its kind of somewhere in the region of the other two Wagner Batman books I discussed.

– Art: The previous two Matt Wagner books that I had read were absolutely excellent looking. This book isn’t really very good looking at all. Its quite rushed looking, low on detail, a bit “cramped” looking. There are several great looking images, but for the most part its nowhere near as good as the other Wagner books I’ve read. I definitely wouldn’t say “you have to see this just for the art alone.” When comparing it to the other Wagner books, its kind of like what Soul Of A New Machine is to Demanufacture (the universal analogy for a dramatic difference in quality between an artist’s work).

– Overall: Batman Faces is a difficult book to recommend. Not because its bad, but just because its really lite and unsubstantial. There’s nothing as interesting as the Norman Madison emotional breakdown in there. It is kind of cool when the Freaks disagree with Two Face to be fair, but that’s one page. There’s some nice hints of Batman doing detective work and failing, but briefly. The two main thrusts of the book are Two Face’s bad attitude and Wren’s lusty backstabbing. “Weasley character is manipulated by sex” isn’t really anything special. Nor is “Two Face mentions Fate and Duality” unless they’re handled in a new or special way, which they aren’t especially (again, I’m not trying to be rude or anything, its just, not particularly good).

It’s a very short story, its not particularly visually impressive and it just kind of comes and goes without doing or saying anything massively noteworthy. Its not awful by any stretch of the imagination, but in a world where there are far better Batman books out there, I’d be tempted to advise that this one be given a miss if time or money are limited for you. Try out those other two Wagner books I mentioned instead, they’re much more satisfying.