Summer Classes: “Batman: Hush”

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, I take on Jeph Loeb’s final Batman arc, “Hush.”

As I mentioned yesterday, the intensive pre “The Dark Knight Rises” Batman reading sessions have helped to change some of my opinions on some of the most well known classics of the hero’s comic book history. If anything, it has reminded me of how much I adore Jeph Loeb. “The Long Halloween” is undoubtedly one of the best Batman stories, “Dark Victory” is an under appreciated gem, “Haunted Knight” is an intriguing anthology and I’ve enjoyed much of his work at Marvel, particularly “Spiderman Blue” and “Daredevil Yellow.”

That being said, I hadn’t read “Batman: Hush,” Loeb’s last story of the Dark Knight and one of DC’s best selling arcs of the last 10 years. Naturally, I knew the big plot twist, many of the ramifications of the plot and that Jim Lee’s art work in it was incredible. I pretty much knew what I was getting into, I just needed to get into it.

In many ways, “Hush” is incredibly similar to “The Long Halloween” and “Dark Victory” in all ways but art. Loeb always loved cramming as many iconic heroes and villains into a single story as possible. I’ve criticized him for this before, usually for the fact that many of the villains don’t exactly get their due and it often doesn’t add much to the story and that vastly is the case here as well. Killer Croc shows up for a chapter just to kidnap a kid. Poison Ivy is in a pair of issues so she can pull the same stunt that she did in “The Long Halloween.” The Joker pulls a gun on Thomas Elliot when just about anyone could have been the trigger man. I know that people love seeing their favorite villains in Batman stories but Gotham is a big place and there’s lots of room for these guys to be doing vastly different things.

Where Loeb’s use of villains in “The Long Halloween” feels organic and useful to the plot, here it does nothing but distract. We’re led to believe that Hush and (spoiler for a 9 year old story) the Riddler are manipulating all of the most dangerous villains in Gotham to put Batman off balance. What’s worse, none of the motivations for the villains make sense until Batman explains why they did it at the very end of the book. Its a crappy way to end a fairly engaging mystery. I always want to feel as if I have a chance at figuring out who-dun-it and I can’t imagine anyone wants to feel like they’re being cheated at the end of a story.

“Hush” has been criticized since its release for several seemingly bizarre reasons. The most common one seems to be that by the conclusion of the series, two additional characters know the identity of Batman. Personally, I have no idea as to why this bothers people as much as it seems to. Bruce’s reveal to Catwoman of his secret identity is an emotional moment in the series and it makes sense for a character who sees a chance to maybe connect to another person. “Hush” offers a great take on the seductive nature of the complex relationship between Batman and Catwoman and Bruce and Selina and his reveal of his secret identity shows how much Bruce could learn to be a different person.

Much more of the criticism was leveled at both the revelation and the explanation of the Riddler’s knowledge of Batman’s secret identity. Admittedly, its one of the least successful moments of the series. The Riddler suddenly knows Batman is Bruce Wayne because of his diagnosis of cancer as well as a trip into Ras’ Lazarus Pit. It isn’t a particularly well established property of the pit or Nigma’s personality and it comes from nowhere. What makes it even worse, Loeb cheats Nigma right away, making it so the Riddler would never be able to reveal what he knows. This is one of my most hated cheats for characters learning secrets. If there’s a need to have someone know something hidden, why cheat them out of the use of the knowledge immediately. Its barely worth letting the Riddler be a part of the mystery if he ultimately gains nothing of it.

Like much of early 2000s Batman, “Hush” is just fine. Its a shame that much of the plot would be retconned, changed or otherwise made null by later stories. Ultimately, its another fine story from Loeb and a solid artistic work from Lee.

Next Class: Mel Brooks has made some undisputed comedy classics but I’ve always dodged one in particular. For this Summer Class, we leave the heat wave and enjoy some springtime and fascism with “The Producers.”

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