Debriefing #7: ‘Hush’

Batman: Hush (2002-3)
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Jim Lee
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Alex Sinclair

A hostage situation with Killer Croc, a double cross by Catwoman and an elaborate plan by Poison Ivy tip off the world’s greatest detective that something new is afoot. As Batman seeks to find this hidden mastermind, he’s faced with a series of challenges that throw him off balance, both physically or emotionally. Are these mere coincidences or all part of an elaborate game?

Edgar: Hush is written by Batman regular Loeb, and tells the story of yet another mysterious individual working behind the scenes against our favourite hero and, as the plot hints, maybe even Bruce Wayne, thus making the battle of wits all the more personal. With that in mind, James, where do you stand on Hush as a story and do you feel it fits in nicely with Mr. Loeb’s previous efforts, or has the author stretched himself too thin by now, causing some reader fatigue and perhaps even boredom?

James: I didn’t like Hush. I’m not sure if it was because I expected something along the lines of Loeb’s first two Batman stories, but I didn’t like the feel of this book at all and the story came across as scatterbrained. From issue to issue, Hush never had a flow to it. Unlike their previous works, we have no idea what the badguy wants. Batman recognizes that all his typical adversaries are suddenly stepping outside of their usual behavior and figures someone is orchestrating it, but from book to book, it’s never clear where any of this is going and that frustrated me because it never felt like the book ended up anywhere interesting. You?

E: Well, my thoughts are kinder towards to the story than yours are, although I think I can see where you are coming from with your criticisms. Loeb’s stories follow familiar patterns, with a new, as of yet unknown nefarious force making its presence known in mysterious ways, and it’s up to the Batman to unravel the plot with a series of loosely connected clues. I feel that, even though I liked it more than you obviously did, he really is running out of ideas as to what these new villains could possibly want. He also is way, way too much in love with the idea of having Gotham’s rogues gallery show up all the time, I complained about it last week in our Dark Victory review, and I really didn’t appreciate it it this time around. What did you make of his opening up the dc universe with the inclusion of Superman?

J: The inclusion of Metropolis and Superman speaks my major problem with the book which is that from issue to issue it seems like Loeb wants to hit on certain episodic moments, but that it never quite comes together in the larger story arc. Batman and Superman end up having this showdown and it’s interesting why they do, but I’m not sure what the point of it was and why Hush decided that needed to happen. It’s a cool action sequence, but in terms of the overall story, it’s yet another one-off. I have the same problem with the inclusion of Huntress. She’s a character from the extended Batman universe and she shows up early on and then pops up later and there’s almost no reason at all why that couldn’t have been Robin or another more notable Batman character.

E: Yes, I hadn’t a clue as to who the huntress was prior to reading Hush, so I was somewhat confused as to what was happening with her few appearances, which are much more like cameos than anything else. You mention the idea of one offs, which is probably the most apt way of describing the flow of this story, Hush, unlike Long Halloween and, to a degree, Dark Victory, lacks a flow and that strong connective tissue that holds the entire plot together and, for that matter, that holds, the character arcs together. By the end I was unsure of what I was supposed to feel about Bruce Wayne and Batman even though I suspect that Loeb and sale were aiming for a little bit of pathos. The usage of the wider DC universe to me felt like it was Loeb merely scrambling for new ways to to have a bunch of characters come together in a single book. In what is intended to be an important character arc, what do you make of the more the intense Batman/Catwoman relationship?

J: I thought it was too overdone. I don’t mind the core of what happens in their relationship, I think it would be a cool way to evolve their relationship, force Batman to deal with a lot of his trust issues and see if Catwoman can live the straight and narrow life. But, in execution, I thought it was too sentimental and sappy for a Batman story. There’s an entire issue where Batman is thinking about their relationship while he’s trying to solve the case and his inner-monologue comes across like a thirteen year old boy with a crush.

E: The thirteen year old boy comment is a little harsh, and here’s why. I’ve often accepted Batman, however tough and intelligent he may is, as somewhat immature in other walks of life. His upbringing is unlike that of most other people, and his devotion to a cause, or the manner in which he devotes himself to it, means that he simply is not good at other things you and I would understand a little more. I didn’t have a problem with that issue per say, I just felt that it was plagued was a sense of predictability about their coupling. I just knew that by the last page, they will have broken up already, which to me reeks of of author catering to fans. I actually would have prefered it had their relationship lasted more stories. As it is now, it feels kind of cheap.

J: Speaking to other walks of life, what did you think of the introduction of the Tommy Elliot character in the story? He’s a childhood friend of Bruce and the story spends a lot of time flashing back to their interactions as kids together.

E: I was wondering if this was a character who had appeared in other stories prior to Hush. I thought it was a inserting angle to take, and maybe even one that plays into why Bruce would reveal his identity to Selina Kyle. Nevertheless, I had issues about the fact that, assuming he was in fact a brand new creation, he bites the bullet at about the midway point of the story. I had a sneaking suspicion about why Loeb had decided that fate for the character. Nonetheless, the flashbacks did provide a little reprieve from that scattershot story, enlightening readers in some small ways about Bruce’s past and how he was as a child. I didn’t mind it, even though I wasn’t blown away. You?

J: To fully express my thoughts I’m going to go ahead and dive into spoiler territory. This is a character made for this story and as soon as all the flashbacks came I knew where this was all heading. Loeb spent too much time developing this character and his history with Bruce to not turn him into the major villain of the piece. It felt too cliche and obvious. I did like some of the twists about how he did it and I like the idea of how this carries over from their childhood strategy games. How did you feel about the reveal? Surprised, or was it too clear?

E: As I write above, from the moment he supposedly gets shot is by the Joker (not to mention that that the Joker explicitly mentions he did not kill him, which felt a like a strange thing for that character to say), I had an idea where it might be headed. Eventually it went in the direction I had suspected, but what I really dreaded was the reason, or the most basic reason, why that character would come back in the end, and it had to do with one of the flashbacks, in particular the one in which Bruce’s promise that his dad will save his friend’s mom is not fulfilled. I had ‘oh god, please don’t let this be the at the heart of the the villain’s raison d’être. And….there it was in the end. Another annoyance is how Loeb does a cheap job of trying to make readers believe Harvey Dent might be behind it all, but after two whole stories directly involving Harvey, I never felt there was a chance of that being the case.

J: Yea, I didn’t buy the Harvey Dent angle for a moment. Part of my problem with Hush as a character is that looking back on what happens before, I’m not sure how this is supposed to fit into his plan to punish Batman. He does all these things that draw Batman out, but they don’t feel like they’re all directly aimed at challenging Batman, except for the Superman incident. They do all strain him in some way, but I never felt like Hush was actually gunning for Batman until the final moments. Maybe it was part of of his ruse, but it just seemed a bit passive.

E: I think it comes back to the complaint we touched on earlier, that the author is using the same tropes yet again, but striving to string together even more ludicrous, implausible ways for this sort of story to hold itself together. It seems as if he would not write anything that couldn’t be as grand scale as possible, and in the case of Hush, it rarely feels organic at all. What I could not understand was the extra, second reveal at the end, explaining that the Riddler was behind it as well. What was up with that?

J: The Riddler appears much smarter than he usually is. He is brilliant in his own twisted way, but he’s so obsessed with enigmas and riddles that to make him the quasi-mastermind he becomes in this story strains the boundaries of his character. However, one reveal I really liked in this story is how Tommy faked his death and also how a certain dead character appears to be Hush for an issue. I think it’s a smart, subtle use of a villain and I wish Hush had more of that kind of planning which does come across as clever and strategic, a way to emotionally manipulate Batman. Did you like that reveal?

E: See, this is where my inexperience with the batman comic universe comes into play. Before reading Hush, I was very familiar with another story, not written by Loeb, in which that same character does ‘return’ of sorts to taunt and challenge  Batman in ways that are emotionally draining for him, I don’t know if you know what book I’m referring,  so I won’t give away its title just yet, but when that ‘reveal’ as you call it,  occurs, I could only think of the other story I already knew and was asking myself if Loeb copied off the other guy or did this plot point inspire the other story. As a reveal per say, it was pretty neat on the spot, but somehow I knew something was amiss, if only because too much time had been used setting up Bruce’s friend, whose name I simply cannot remember!

J: I know exactly what story you’re talking about. It came out a couple of years after that, so I think Hush inspired that story arc. I do have this scatterbrained knowledge of some of the storylines, mostly from playing the Arkham videogames as they include a lot of the comic book history in the games.

E: Ah, see that makes the reveal in Hush a bit cooler now, I like it and how it’s used.  I don’t think Loeb squeezes as much juice out of it as he can, but it’s a neat trick. Something we have not discussed since one of our first conversations is the artwork, in this case courtesy of Jim Lee. What was your reaction to it?

J: I thought it was a noticeable step down from Sale’s work in The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. Once again, I wonder if my expectations tainted my expectations because this isn’t as moody or gritty as the previous two books. This time Loeb colaborates with Jim Lee and he has a turn of the century, sleek, sheen style that has become popular in a lot of comic books. I do like how rich and detailed a lot of the two spreads are, I particularly like the one in the first issue where Batman and Killer Croc are fighting in the foreground and you can barely make out catwoman picking up the money in the background. It’s good art, overall, it’s just not as good as Sale’s work with Loeb.

E: This might be our biggest disagreement in the entire conversation. I fell in love with the artwork from page one, I felt the level of detail present in each panel, even though it could be overwhelming in terms of information provided at times (the night vision scene early on when Batman is infiltrating the sewers is a little jarring), it works wonders and made the book feel quite epic. It does have an especially modern look to it, although I would never take that to automatically be a bad thing. The look of batman might be my favorite thing about the entire book, what with that incredibly square jaw and the very old school uniform (black on grey) he was sporting. He looked like the Batman from the 90s animated series. Superman looked fantastic as well. I think it also gave the artist ample opportunity to do what a lot of people criticize comic artists for, and that’s make the female characters impossibly sexy. Don’t mistake me, they look sexy all right, but they’re come off as  that ‘perfect’ sexy that gets criticized sometimes.

J: Our differences have more to do with my personal preferences. I’m just not a fan of this style. I much prefer darker styles or the older newsprint or ‘80s style you see in books like The Dark Knight Returns. This style can work for me, but I like it when it’s more simplified. It still looks really good, but I personally don’t care for it. And yes, the women are sexed up in this book. It part of why I don’t like this style because the exaggeration lends itself to some atrocious, overdone images. It’s not as flagrant or as bad as most comic books, but you do get more than a few blatant booty shots in this book which are completely unnecessary. It didn’t bug me too much, but it was another reason why I thought the art was a noticeable step down.

E: Lol, I know one of those booty shots. I recall it coming early in the story when Catwoman is under Poison Ivy’s spell and, as she is bringing some money (or whatnot. It don’t recall exactly) to her, the latter is saying how ‘no man or woman can resist me’ and I think either in the same panel or the one immediately preceding it there is a shot of Catwoman’s perfectly shaped ass. Booty wop! On a more critical note, if there a complaint I have about the art, it’s that it seems to work better for character presentations or wide ‘angle’ panels as opposed to super detailed fight scenes. Not all of the fights were easy to decipher and that was disappointing. Other than that, I left the book ‘sort of’ satisfied, which I admit is not a ringing endorsement. Loeb’s overall work has taken more steps down from week to week it seems. He never hit those same magical notes as in Long Halloween.

J: I dislike Hush. The broad strokes of the story never work, the villain fails to compel me and I’m not a fan of this artstyle. There are moments I really like in this story, but they come about every other issue and are buried amidst a lot of things I don’t care for. I went in knowing it’s a fan favorite and that Loeb is considered one of the great Batman writers and I was hoping for something great again, but Hush ended up being a book I didn’t enjoy.

E: I didn’t know it was highly regarded in the fan community. I’m taking a wild guess here and arguing that it has to do with the art, which makes so many of these iconic characters look amazing, beautifully detailed in that 21st century comic book way and that it gives into some fanboy dreams. Superman appears, Batman and Catwoman hit it off, etc. The major issue with authors who want to do something bold in the Batman universe in our day and age is coming up with a new villain that will be remembered, and that’s where Hush fails. I think you wrote that Hush, the villain, is too passive, and that’s a spot on criticism. He just is not an effective presence and his eventual motivation is too forced, too cliched. I think it may be time to explore a new author!

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2 responses to “Debriefing #7: ‘Hush’

  1. I think the Hush trade paperback is more well-regarded for Jim Lee’s artwork than it is for Jeph Loeb’s script.

    Paul Dini’s later interpretation and scripting of Hush made the character far more entertaining than Loeb’s introductory story did.

    I could see a DC Animated Original based on this story but they would really have to cut out a lot of the extraneous junk that makes the story a bit of a convoluted mess.

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