Batman: Hush is an Overrated Comic
Batman Hush is a story from the comics that has a lot of fan and critical acclaim. Written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Jim Lee it’s a mystery story about a new villain attacking Batman from the shadows. It’s a beloved story that has even almost been animated a few times, but I’m one of the few that’s thankful that didn’t happen. It’s a comic that has been overrated by a lot of people as one of the quintessential Batman stories when that only applies to it showcasing some of the Batman cast. I’m going to try and sort out why.
Spoilers for a popular 2003 story ahead.
The story, as best as I can sum up, is a new adversary is playing Batman and using a lot of his rogues to do so, the trench coated and face bandaged Hush. Batman tries to figure out who it is while sorting out his new relationship with Catwoman. Basically it’s a showcase of Batman characters and his history while giving a plot thread to thinly connect it all together. There’re a lot of plot threads that, ultimately, could’ve been taken out since they add little to the story. It all comes down to Loeb and how he writes.
Jeph Loeb has said many times he writes for the artist, and that’s a perfect way to write comics. It’s a collaborative medium and the writer and artist have to be in sync in order to function best. However I think Loeb takes it too far. Clearly a lot of his comics are just artist showcases for the artist to draw the characters they like from a franchise. It can be seen from is work with Tim Sale on Batman the Long Halloween and their other comics together, with Ed McGuiness on Hulk, Joe Madureira on Ultimates 3, the list goes on. Instead of a smooth story where the only characters there have purpose to the overall narrative we get issue after issue of characters coming in and leaving never to be seen again in the story. They add little other than getting the artist to draw them.
The perfect example is The Huntress. She’s there at the beginning and appears at the end, having been revealed to be working with the bad guys against her will or without he knowing about it, it’s a little unclear. What did she do for them? She put an injured Batman in the Batmobile. That’s it. There was no reason for her to be involved, she didn’t really do anything in the story, and to top it off unlike all the other Bat characters we didn’t even get told anything about her. Throughout the story Batman narrates about his allies and enemies, but all we get for Huntress is that she’s angry and has something to prove to Batman. Utterly useless to the story and only there for Jim Lee to draw her. That’s the crux of the matter and why so many characters were used and discarded, just so the artist could draw them.
Another one, who actually did not show up, is Batgirl. At the time the contemporary Batgirl was Cassandra Cain, however Jim Lee doesn’t like her and prefers Barbara Gordon in the cowl. Barbara had been shot and paralysed by the Joker in The Killing Joke and she was in the identity of Oracle, the top tech guru and computer hacker to the entire DC universe. So in the story that’s showcasing Batman’s history and characters Cassandra Cain isn’t mentioned once save for a run down of Robin’s and Batgirls, and not mentioned by name. However we get a flashback to Barbara as Batgirl, just so Jim Lee could draw her.
Finding out what an artist does and doesn’t want to draw isn’t so bad, so long as there’s a good story to go with it. The problem is that there wasn’t one. The mystery surrounding this is a bad one. At the beginning we’re introduced to a childhood friend of Bruce, Tommy Elliot, who we’ve never seen or heard of before. Yes he turns out to be the new villain and it’s very obvious from the start when we get a flashback of him and Bruce as children playing war games. He says Bruce will never win because he never thinks ahead and things like that that sounds very ominous. The mystery then turns into trying to convince the audience that Hush isn’t Tommy but in fact a series of red herrings all wearing the same bandages and trench coats as him. The same trench coat keeps popping up so much in order to keep the audience guessing that at the end they have to say that it’s a generic coat that lots of people have. They even go so far as to “kill” Tommy half way through the story. The main villain doesn’t actually get much interaction with Batman and we only get told of their childhood friendship through Bruce.
That’s the problem with Hush as a character, he’s just not a very good or interesting one. All we learn about him is after the fact and we don’t see them that much to care about him. He’s a rich kid who wanted his parents dead and is angry at Bruce’s father, and by extension Bruce, because he saved Tommy’s mother from the car accident Tommy arranged to kill them. As far as this story goes that’s all we get. What makes it worse is that he’s not the mastermind, he’s not the smart one who figured out Batman’s secret identity or made this multilayered plan, which was the Riddler. Hush is just an angry child and not even really the main villain in his own debut story.
What really drags down the mystery at the end is that they start telling story points instead of showing them. At the end they reveal a pivotal role in making the scheme possible was Harold, Batman’s old mechanic. Who we never see or hear of in the story till the very end where he dies and only after that are we told his background. For a story that’s showcasing Batman’s history that was terribly done, worse was the idiotic storytelling for not introducing a character like that earlier. If we’re meant to care that he died then he should’ve been there at the beginning of the story. Otherwise his death was a random event to make the story seem “serious” when in fact it’s a non-event that’s entirely forgettable. After that we get told how everything fits together by the Riddler. Most of that “fitting together” is quite pointless since most of them added little to the scheme. It was a good idea for him to be the mastermind, but it’s a bit tarnished by his only other appearance being him getting captured for failing to rob an armoured car. He sat in Arkham in the end, in full costume for some odd reason, and it’s a little hollow. It’s like watching a James Bond film and finding out the real big bad was shot by Bond halfway through the film. His master plan apparently didn’t cover getting out of Arkham.
What was the scheme? Well it was either to get Batman on a bridge so Hush to shoot him, or to just mess with Batman. There was no overall goal here, no grand plan. Riddler wanted to mess with Batman and got villains to do random things that didn’t add up to much. Most of them show up to get taken down by Batman as “distractions” although there needs to be something he’s getting distracted from. Joker, Clayface, and Hush are there to mess with his head, but the rest are just padding the issues to make it seem like something grander is going on.
Because of that we get a lot of reused concepts. A Batman/Superman fight, numerous references to classic Batman stories like the Killing Joke, Death in the Family, and the Dark Knight Returns. They even just rip-off the Killing Joke and Death in the Family having Batman so enraged at the Joker for “killing” Tommy that he almost murders the Joker before Jim Gordon talks him down. This is while referencing both those stories as well. They also do the “Harvey Dent is cured through plastic surgery” like in The Dark Knight Returns. However unlike DKR this story has that actually work and not do the excellent character piece of “fixing his body but not his mind” of DKR. Harvey’s cured of Two Face like all his problems were the scars and not something deeper. Well he was just a red herring for Hush more than anything else, so little thought actually went into his character.
There was one interesting story point red herring I wish had actually been properly used, Jason Todd’s resurrection. He’s the second Robin, who was killed by the Joker with a crowbar, and it was teased he was Hush who’d mysteriously come back to life and seeking revenge on Batman. It’d work a lot better than Elliot, who we knew little about, and they could’ve had Elliot be a red herring and have him actually die. Jason was someone the audience already knew, even a small amount due to Batman’s narration mentioning him a few times. He knew who Batman was, he could get inside his head, and a former Robin coming back to confront Batman for his sins is a good idea. One which later got used anyway in a better story. It still would’ve been more interesting than what we got.
All that being said there was actually some good from this story. The art was amazing. Jim Lee is great, most of the time, and definitely the best part of this artist showcase of a story. He is great at sequential storytelling and Loeb does an excellent good of writing to his strengths and it makes the comic shine with it. He adds a lot of detail into it and it’s clear that he is the reason why this story gets all of the praise it doesn’t deserve. Then there’s the evolving the Batman/Catwoman relationship, which actually did bolster up some of it. It was actually probably the best part of the story. Most of it was Batman dealing with this new relationship and at the end we’re left wondering if that too was part of the scheme. Though I don’t think that ever gets answered.
What was this story’s legacy? Fans loved it but Hush was a character rarely used again and when he was it was mostly terrible. Paul Dini did a good Hush story, and one better than this comic, but that’s about it. He appeared in the Arkham City game as a side quest, and will probably appear in the sequel too, but again that side quest story didn’t make much sense when you stopped to think about it. It has almost been made into an animated movie several times, once as a tie-in to The Batman animated series, here’s a concept poster they pitched:
This would’ve been interesting to see what they’d do with it since at the time the show had no Robin, Two Face, Killing Joke or Death in the Family storylines in the series and I believe when they pitched it Batgirl and Jim Gordon were only in the production stages of season 3. So a lot of the elements of the comic story couldn’t have been used, which would’ve left us with ‘Hush uses the current villains to mess with Batman’ and little else. Probably would’ve been better too. There was also talk from Bruce Timm for an animated feature on the DC Animated Movie line, but that was him saying they want to but couldn’t make it work because of length issues. I’m not sure how a straight adaption could work given they’d have to introduce a villain/character, have them fight Batman for five minutes, and then they leave, rinse repeat for 80 minutes. Not exactly the makings of a good movie and would be a mess to watch.
The one solid piece of legacy this story had was the idea of Jason Todd coming back from the dead angry at Batman. Eventually the germ of that idea got done in the Under the Hood story, which wasn’t that good either. They hadn’t thought of how to use him once he came back, not even thought how he came back, because he was going to be a big player in the Infinite Crisis event, but that got scrapped. So he just kind of wandered around no one quite sure what to do with him, even now. Which is a waste and he shouldn’t have been brought back. The only good thing that came from all of this is the Under the Red Hood animated movie was is excellent and much better than the comics that spawned it. I doubt they would be able to do something like that with Hush.
Nevertheless the praise this story gets, and keeps getting, is a little unfathomable. The two trades I have don’t even have synopses on the back just quotes from reviews praising it and mainly the artwork. Time and again some fans hold this up as a quintessential Batman tale and keep suggesting it for an adaptation and I don’t know why. The comic is a good introduction to Batman and his world, if you don’t know anything about that world. It’s like if someone tried to illustrate a ‘Who’s Who of Batman’ and added a loose story to it. It’s only good for a basic guide to Batman’s history as there’s little else there other than some pretty artwork. If you know the characters and stories it references then there’s nothing in there for you. Read the Killing Joke, Dark Knight Returns, and watch Under the Red Hood to see the decent story elements from Hush played out in a better way.