Apr 20 2009 5:07pm

Revisiting Batman: Hush

I picked Batman: Hush up originally when it was published in 2003 in two hardcover volumes. I wasn’t reading a lot of comics at the time, and by a lot I mean “next to none,” so I’m not sure what lead me to it. I read Volume 1, was disappointed, and never cracked the shrink wrap on Volume 2, and probably never would have, had Paul Dini not just written The Heart of Hush storyline, forcing me to go back before I can go forward.

And damn am I glad I did! 

Probably what threw me at the time was that I was coming off Jeff Loeb’s work with Tim Sale in The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, both set in the early years of Batman’s career, and the former a major acknowledged inspiration for the film Batman Begins. As such, there’s a slightly timeless quality to those narratives, as well as—following as they do so closely the events of Frank Miller’s Year One—a level of seriousness and reality to them that is missing from a lot of (even then) contemporary continuity. (And why are all the best Batman stories set either at the beginning of continuity or outside of it?)  So I opened up Hush, which starts out with a Killer Croc who is no mere victim of severe ichthyosis but here a full-on reptilian mutant (akin to Spider-Man’s Lizard), and goes on from there to a half-dozen Bat Family-cameos ending with a big brawl with Superman. It’s full on DC Continuity, so Oracle, Huntress, Nightwing, Robin are all on board, Jim Gordon’s temporarily out as commissioner and working as a P.I., and Lex Luthor’s in the White House. And I just wasn’t ready for it. Plus, they were telegraphing the villain so loudly I was embarrassed for them. Add to that my ire at DC Comics for printing Hush on the thinnest paper I’d ever seen. So thin I was having trouble turning the pages without creasing them!

And so I never read Volume 2.

And what a disservice I now know Loeb and Lee were done by publishing Hush in two volumes. Because that telegraphing of the obvious was a bait and switch (reminiscent in some ways to the two puzzles of another Christopher Nolan film, The Prestige, in the way there is a solution behind the solution), and once I got used to the complexity of the continuity, I realized Loeb and Lee were playing on it like jazz musicians riffing on musical scales.

How good was it? Loeb might be my favorite Batman writer now.

Now, before you gasp, I said might. And yes, obviously Frank Miller wrote the two best Batman stories ever written; I don’t dispute that. But—and more recently—he’s also written the two worst, so doesn’t that sort of cancel him out? And while The Killing Joke is a masterpiece, that’s Alan Moore’s only major Bat-outing and I’m sort of tired of him slagging it off in interviews as one of his minor works. Whereas Loeb has now managed to write three complicated, adult, kick-ass Bat narratives. Okay, maybe he hasn’t yet equaled The Dark Knight Returns, so let me put it like this. Which of the three would I rather see tackle a *new* Batman epic right now? I think you begin to get my point.

So what’s so good about it?

Hush starts out with Batman foiling a kidnapping/ransom demand by Killer Crock, only to have the money snatched from out of his hands (and a “secure” FBI perimeter) by Catwoman. Bats laments her apparent return to crime,while noting that it’s not her M.O. to go after someone else’s take. But while pursuing her across the rooftops, someone cuts his bat rope, and he plunges to the streets below. He lands, seemingly coincidentally, in Park Row, a.k.a. “Crime Alley,” the place where his parents’ lives ended and his changed forever. And he’s nearly killed by some lowlifes there until Oracle (Barbara Gordon) summons the Huntress to rescue him. With a severe head injury, and unable to communicate, Batman taps out in Morse that Alfred should summon Doctor Thomas Elliot, a childhood friend and now unparalleled neurosurgeon in Philadelphia. Enter the obvious villain. Doctor Elliot is another square jawed uberman, the young Bruce Wayne’s closest thing to a real friend, albeit a bit of a bully with a temper. And he always got the upper hand when they war-gamed.

Obvious bad guy, right? So when a figure in bandages and trench coat watches from the shadows as we learn that Catwoman is under the influence (Poison Ivy’s influence) and she in turn is working for the mysterious “Hush,” we’re not too surprised. The rest of Volume 1 concerns Ivy’s attempt to sic a seduced Superman on Batman and his and Catwoman’s attempts to stop the Man of Steel. Fun, with gorgeous art, but hardly earth-shattering.

It’s in Volume 2, where the Joker guns down Thomas Elliot, that things get really interesting. Because then Loeb and Lee start really playing on your expectations, as a succession of surprising faces are revealed each time we see beneath the bandages Hush wears as a disguise. The first of which being a restored Harvey Dent. I won’t spoil the others, though you’ve probably had them spoiled for you by now (I had one of them somewhat spoiled, in that I misunderstood some of this new Red Hood nonsense, which only made me fall the harder for the ultimate answer.)

Turns out someone with deep knowledge of Batman’s identity is playing a board game with his life, manipulating all of his friends and foes expertly. So expertly that Batman even suspects his budding romance with Selina Kyle may not be entirely their own idea. It’s this Bat-Cat romance where most of the emotion of Hush lies, though the scene where Jim Gordon stops Batman from crossing his only line is uber-powerful, and really, there’s goodness on every page. Meanwhile, similarly to the way the aforementioned The Prestige sets up a fantastical solution as cover for a more mundane one, the ultimate resolution to the mystery of the manipulative mastermind is just beautiful. And, in fact, if you stripped out the more fantastical elements (Superman, etc...), the basic plot and the romance with Catwoman wouldn’t be a bad starting point for the next Nolan film. But leaving that aside, Loeb has managed to do something I wasn’t sure was possible after my recent experiences, which is to tell a really compelling, interesting, coherent, and lasting story inside the mess of current DC continuity. Because I think IGN was right when they ranked Hush as #10 on a list of the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels.

One side effect of Hush is that it’s lowered my opinion of Grant Morrison’s Batman even further. His Batman: R.I.P. was already a convoluted mess, full of “clever” ideas but horribly executed. Only now I see in another light that tale of a mysterious villain, who may or may not be a crazy doctor, with deep knowledge of Batman’s life, manipulating all his other friends and foes in an elaborate game, even to the point of setting up a romance for him, and forcing him to think someone dear to him has returned from the dead... You can see where this is heading! Batman: R.I.P. isn’t just incoherent; it’s also lifted. If you want to get all the same notes, but played with actual finesse, read Hush instead. And do yourself a favor and pick it up in it’s Absolute edition. Lee’s art, which starts out looking like Frank Miller’s tighter pencils, gets down right Neal Adams perfect by the end. It’s gorgeous, and I wish I had it in the larger size. On better paper! Because Hush is a comic I’m going to want to return to again and again.

Dave Thompson
1. DKT
Huh. I never read Volume 2 either, for many of the same reasons you mentioned.

I am relieved to find out Hush's identity wasn't as obvious as they were playing it. Maybe I'll check out the second volume after all...
Lou Anders
2. LouAnders
If you do, let me know your reaction. They were definitely setting a pawn out there to see if we'd capture it.
Joseph Blaidd
3. SteelBlaidd
This sounds Interesting.

I must admit I haven't been following the comics in some time. My serious Batman fix I get here.
Evo Schandor
4. Evo Schandor
I agree about Loeb - all the hate directed his way has always seemed to me more about the haters than the hatee. Is he Alan Moore? No, but luckily I don't think he wants to be, unlike so many other writers out there nowadays. I liked his Batman stuff, his "color" stuff at Marvel, his Batman/Superman stuff (which people completely missed the point of) and right now, his Hulk is just loud, colorful, obnoxious FUN (which some comic readers seem allergic to anymore) - the kind of stuff *gasp* kids and teenagers might actually like if they didn't have to wade through a bunch of pretentious, deconstructed, overly-wordy, 1/6th-of-a-graphic-novel crap to get there. Wow, too much caffeine tonight...
Jared Kardos
5. darkknightjared
Yeah--as a mystery, Hush isn't all that great, espicially compared to Loeb's other Bat-mysteries, like Dark Victory. However, as a book about the relationships that Batman has with his family, lovers, and villains, it works very well.
Evo Schandor
6. MrWesley
"Hush" was the beginning of the end of monthly titles for me. It was a convoluted mess that had twists for the sake of having twists that never really meant anything in the greater plot. And the resolution just didn't make any sense at all.

I haven't read the story since it originally came out, and I've since gotten rid of my issues on eBay, but the local library has both volumes of Hush, so I may go back and re-read them to see if my opinion has changed any since then. Shouldn't take more than an hour or so.
Evo Schandor
7. MrCJ
Batman: Hush was, and still is, a massive piece of CRAP. The dialog alone is cringe-worthy. I point to the Clark and Lois banter at the Daily Planet.

Mr. Anders, you pan Grant Morrison's "Final Crisis" and you praise Loeb's ABYSMAL "Hush". Talk about having bad taste. At least Morrison was trying to do something new. Which is more than I can say about Loeb or your "sci-fi" anthologies.
Evo Schandor
8. Gorgeousaur
I haven't had a chance to read Hush yet. I've read Hush Returns which wasn't that great. But I wasn't too impressed with Grant's R.I.P. either. It was entertaining, but wasn't anywhere near as clever as it tried to be.
Evo Schandor
9. Scott Parker
The thing I particularly enjoyed about Hush (read it a few years ago) was the supporting cast. I like it when authors bring in a bunch of guest stars into one character's book. That we had most of the main players in Batman's rouge's gallery on stage at various points was fun and entertaining. The Superman angle was interesting even if the Ivy connection was kind of far-fetched. The Joker scene with Gordon (which is excerpted as part of the new Greatest Joker Stories trade) speaks to the desire we all have to just friggin' kill the clown and save lives in the process.

Whether or not you liked Hush, you have to give props to Loeb for trying something. Think about it: this story appeared in issue 600 or so, right? Nearly 70 years of stories. How many times can Bats foil Croc or Riddler or Joker and keep the energy fresh. Writers have to find those little nooks and crannies of Batman's history and write about those to keep us interested. Hush wasn't a blockbuster but it certainly rose above lots of stuff we get. Loeb is an author who understands that there's a real man behind the mask. It's why I particularly enjoy his treatment of Superman in For All Seasons. That was a book about Clark Kent. Hush is largely a book about Bruce Wayne.

Let's face it: the man is all but insane to have experienced what he did as a child, to do what he does, and to live with the consequences of his actions (i.e., does his presence as Batman actually promote costumed villains to take a stab at the hero). Loeb tried to probe this idea as he explored the most traumatic moment in Batman's history. Even thought I, too, much prefer The Long Halloween and Dark Victory to Hush, the Hush story still resonated with me and I enjoyed it. Loeb is one of those authors that I will read no matter what he writes.

Oh, and the Jim Lee artwork is the new definitive Batman for the 2000s. Adams owned the early 70s and Aparo owned the 80s. I can't think of a go-to artist for Batman until Lee showed up.
Evo Schandor
10. dcole78
It sounds here like Leob usually does stuff I don't like as what I like about comics is the convoluted deconstructed stuff al la watchman. The adult thought provoking stuff. I am no longer a child or a teenager so I want stuff that grew up with me. That is why Batman Begins was SUCH a better movie than the other camp tastic crap loads.

The continuity is one of the reasons i don't read comics, the idea of having to keep up with seventy years of story turns me off. I am curious which two books by frank miller you thought were the worst.

I can see why Frank Miller would call the killing joke a minor work (the guy did write watchmen) I may have to pick it up just to see what he can do with actual DC characters. Personally I would use that as the basis for the next movie, just based of the fact that he wrote it.

How anyone can think final crisis is good from what I have heard about it I don't understand...
Lou Anders
11. LouAnders
SteelBlaidd @ 3 - That is really wild.

Evo Schandor @ 4 - I love this: Is he Alan Moore? No, but luckily I don't think he wants to be, unlike so many other writers out there nowadays. Exactly, Moore can go on being Moore. He's the best at it!

MrCJ @ 7 - It's sad that mere differences of opinion over comic books lead you to character assaults. I should add for everyone else's benefit that Grant Morrison's The Invisibles remains my favorite all time comic book series and his Doom Patrol one of my favorite runs, certainly Top Ten for me. I'm not anti-Morrison, but his take on Batman really isn't for me, and what I've seen of his recent work hasn't impressed me as much as his earlier offerings. That being said, I'd love to be pointed towards some good recent Morrison. (I dug his X-Men very much.)

Scott Parker @ 9 - what you said!

dcole78 @ 10 - I absolutely detested Dark Knight Strikes Again. Took me multiple sessions to even finish it. I've got problems with it even being written, as it un-writes the brilliant "last" Batman story (remember Moore's "end of a legend" introduction?), but also multiple problems with the level of execution, which was down severely from the original. I have tried to read his All Star Batman and Robin without being able to get more than a page into it at a time. (I may try again for review here.) However, you confuse Miller and Moore. It was Moore that wrote Killing Joke and Watchmen, certainly two of the best comics ever. But Moore has never written anything less than brilliant. I have not read his entire oeuvre, but I have read a LOT of it and I have yet to be disappointed.
Evo Schandor
12. Floyd Lawton
Maybe in 6-10 yrs you'll like Morrisons run. It took you long enough to "get" Hush. Which had very VERY little substance. Maybe give Morrisons run 15yrs.
Lou Anders
13. LouAnders
Ha. Okay, I promise to revisit in in 10 years.

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