Having been somewhat disappointed with the Batman: R.I.P. storyline running in Batman comics, I decided to check out the parallel run in Detective Comics (which was also published with an R.I.P. logo on its cover). Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen’s Heart of Hush, which ran in issues 846 to 850 and is now out in hardcover, is similar to the Grant Morrison-penned R.I.P. in that a villain from Batman’s past, with full knowledge of his secret identity, works in conjunction with other members of his Rogues Gallery to drive him over the edge in a prelude to destroying him. It is unlike Batman: R.I.P. in that it actually tells a single, coherent story with a beginning, middle and end that can be read as a stand-alone graphic novel independent of too much current continuity.
The villain, Hush, was created by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee in the storyline of the same name, and was one of my favorite recent graphic novel reads. In it, we meet Dr. Thomas Elliot, childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s, who attempted to murder his parents for his inheritance and blamed Dr. Thomas Wayne for managing to save at least one of them. In that story, Hush was very much a ball set in motion by a much smarter, more capable villain. In Heart of Hush, Dini manages to flesh him out into both a more credible nemesis and a more threatening one. Blaming someone for saving a parent is a little weak, but Dini builds on this, explaining that Hush’s father was abusive, and his mother, having married into wealth and afraid to lose it, turns a blind eye to her son’s mistreatment, instead urging him to develop his strategic thinking, leading to a fondness for quoting Aristotle. When Dr. Thomas Wayne saves Elliot’s mother, Dini manages to spin this into a scenario in which Hush sees Bruce Wayne as having freed himself of both parents and gone on to a life of billionaire indulgence (right down to his extensive collection of Batmobiles, which Hush describes as, “A car for every mood swing”), whereas he himself is a slave to his invalid-but-domineering mother (until he eventually kills her.) The motivation, and the insanity, is more believable here.
Dini also makes great use of Hush’s medical background, something earlier appearances did less with. There is always something unsettling about an evil doctor, and he uses it to good effect here. Having purchase the dilapidated Sacred Heart Convalescent Hospital, Elliot has refurbished it (inside only) and staffed it with a zombie-like horde of drugged homeless persons. There are chilling moments when he hunts a Batman look alike for practice, then informs his submissive staff, “Remove any undamaged organs, then dispose of the corpse like the others.” But what is truly chilling is Hush’s ultimate plan, which is to remove Selina Kyle’s actual heart and use it as bait to lure Batman to his destruction. This is accomplished while a certain Jonathan Crane stages a distraction for the Caped Crusader, and the scene in which Batman accosts Crane inside Arkham Asylum and tortures Hush’s location from him is the best in the book. A broken light bulb, a toilet bowl, and Crane’s face makes for a truly gripping scene, and the Joker’s line—“I know we have our differences, but I must admit it’s a a pleasure to watch you work!”—is laugh out loud funny in a sequence that is otherwise pretty grim.
A lot of Heart of Hush is the romance between Batman and Catwoman that Paul Dini has been building towards, and it’s a shame here that he is forced to work around the fact that in the pages of his other title, Bruce Wayne is off romancing (albeit less convincingly) the ridiculously-named Jezebel Jet. Likewise, Hush’s plans are said to have been brought forward when he heard of the mysterious Black Glove, least anyone destroy the Caped Crusader other than him. It’s a shame these asides had to be included, as they weaken the story as a stand-alone in its own right, but also force Dini to weaken the romantic elements that otherwise perhaps could have gone further. Still, without spoiling too much, there are wonderfully clever moments in this tale, and wonderfully touching ones as well. Hush is still mentored, this time by the Scarecrow, but is more than a pawn. And when he uses his medical skills to transform himself into a decent match for Bruce Wayne, I personally really appreciated the fact that Dini acknowledged that no amount of plastic surgery would be good enough to fool close friends and associates, but Hush didn’t try to. He planned on the disguise only buying him the second or two edge that would get him within firing range. Nice.
Everything goes down in the Bat Cave, a great setting for a final battle, and here, the Bat-geek in me was thrilled with the “can you identify that Bat vehicle?” game Nguyen played. (Loved the Adam West Batboat and the presence of the Tumbler Batmobile! Among others.) And the aftermath is wonderfully handled as well. Hush, of course, doesn’t really die when he seems to (a spoiler only if you’ve never read a comic in your life), and Catwoman’s revenge is suitably punishing (and it continues in Detective #852 and Batman #685. Would have been nice if that were included in the graphic novel as well.) Nguyen’s artwork, which is sometimes hit or miss with me, also really comes into its own here (or else I’m finally just getting it), and the graphic novel is a thing of beauty. Which is what a graphic novel should be.
So, overall a good story that manages to improve on an already interesting villain, so much so that I wouldn’t mind seeing the story lines for Hush and Heart of Hush combined, stripped of their sillier bat-villain cameos, and used as the basis for a third film in the Christopher Nolan franchise. Failing that, I’ll just keep reading Paul Dini’s work as the next best thing.