Matt Spencer's Reviews > Batman: Hush

Batman by Jeph Loeb
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Aug 22, 11

Read from August 20 to 22, 2011

This book is already often hailed as one of the great Batman tales, and in many ways it comes oh so close to working as such, and the best moments are so stellar and memorable that I'm very tempted to give it a total pass. But here's the thing: if you're a fan, it's an irresistible treat, though it's probably an incomprehensible mess to anyone else. To put it in perspective, consider the all-time Bat-classic, Frank Miller's BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. There's a lot to please any devoted fan, but you could throw it at pretty much anyone who doesn't usually read comics but appreciates a fine tale well told in general, and assuming they grasp the basic concept of costumed crime-fighting superheroes, they'll get it and be rocked by it. Because it takes what's great about the basic material, captures the universal essence, and tells a powerful story with it. This compiles a year's worth of storyline, originally published in 25/30-page issues, collected into graphic novel format. It's a mystery tale involving an unseen new enemy somehow manipulating all of Batman's friends and foes alike, in some elaborate revenge scheme. So yeah, if you're a Batman fan (and I am, hardcore), whatever you love best about Bats and his world - the all-star rogue's gallery, urban grit, high adventure, techno-thriller exploits(would LOVE to see Christopher Nolan film something like Batman's boarding of the LexCorp1 jet), shadowy Gothic horror, quirky romance - it's all here, and often done beautifully. But the individual chapters tend to work better as semi-standalone "showcase" pieces (here a classic Joker/Harley dust-up, there a visit to Metropolis to team up with Superman, here some swashbuckling with Ra's Al Ghul in the Far East) - it's all here, brilliantly, vibrantly, crisply rendered by Jim Lee. Where it ultimately falls apart, though, is as cohesive larger story that feels like a credible, coherently constructed mystery when all's said and done. Which isn't to say everything about the running plot elements fails, or doesn't build on itself chapter to chapter properly. This is a game-changer in the Batwoman/Catwoman dynamic, and how that relationship develops and shifts is compelling, moving and surprising. Many of the same themes of trust and the lack/loss of it are explored similarly to in THE DARK KNIGHT movie, though on a far broader, more fantastically elaborate canvas. The inclusion of Bruce Wayne's childhood friend Thomas Elliot doesn't quite go anywhere and its important to the plot is ultimately rather predictable, though the flashbacks to the two as kids shed some truly unique new character development for Bruce. In the end, though, I found myself wishing writer Jeph Loeb (who's penned many other brilliant Bat-tales) hadn't let his own inner-fanboy get quite so much in the way of his inner craftsman this go-round. He should have kept things tighter, because many of those aforementioned showcase pieces would have worked better as their own stand-alone, better-fleshed-out tales. By throwing in everything but the kitchen sink here, he robs the whole of functionality as a mystery. The #1 rule of a good mystery story is "Don't cheat." As in, you should be able to be shocked and delighted by the revelations, not because they come out of left field, but because they subvert your perceptions of what you've witnessed already. You should be able look back over everything *within the story* and see how it all fits together. It's one thing to find yourself going, "Oh, so THAT'S what the Riddler's presence earlier was actually all about! Now I get it!" Quite another to go, "So that red herring back there's supposed to make sense because some other writer in some Batman story I haven't read said the Riddler had a brain tumor?" Or worse, "Oh, so... that earlier thing that happened was actually because Clay-Face was impersonating so-and-so... I guess that makes sense... Maybe it would have occurred to me if I'd read more Clayface stories." And worst, the big "HOW THE FUCK DID THE VILLAIN EVEN SET THAT UP AT THE BEGINNING?" mystery is explained with the presence of some guy from way-back-when who even I've never heard of, so I highly doubt most casual readers would. And the "Hush" character's actual motivation, when revealed, winds up feeling under-explored to the point where it actually renders a previously complex, fascinating character rather shallow (this is further fleshed out and given its proper due in Paul Dini's sequel HEART OF HUSH, which continues threads from this and gets a lot right that this gets wrong). This book is really at its strongest when exploring interpersonal character moments. Which isn't mutually exclusive with the splashy high-flying ass-kicking, but rather a great way to show character-revealed/tested-in-high-stakes-conflict: the Superman guest-star section is a particular hoot; one moment during the Joker part of the story had me wincing and clenching my teeth in physical and emotional pain; and if you're NOT rooting hardcore for Catwoman to kick Poison Ivy's ass, then you're probably a wishy-washy putz or skeevy sociopath who I don't want to know. Then again, this is often what makes me wish the subplots were part of their own thing (If you're gonna bring in Harvey Two-Face and have him undergo such a major character shift, then for fucksake that deserves proper breathing room, not just a plot device). It probably sounds like I have more complaints than praise for this, though I deeply enjoyed it far more than I didn't. It's ultimately less than the sum of its parts, though said parts are pound for pound richly rewarding.
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