Image

Welcome to my first official comic review. I thought I’d start with a personal favorite of mine, Heart of Hush by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen. I’m going to write this review in two parts, one spoiler-free section for those of you thinking of picking up the book and a second, more in-depth look at it for those who have already read it or want to know a bit more before you make a decision. I’ve never tried this format before and I foresee the possibility that it might lead to some light redundancy as I backtrack to points that deserve more detail, but I think it’s worth a shot. Anyway, without further ado…

Though both he and the eponymous maxi-series were largely bluster, I fell in love with the concept of Hush from the moment I put down the final volume, perhaps even earlier. Though rereading has brought me to the belief that he was little more than a red herring to Jeph Loeb, DC knew that it wasn’t every day that a new villain could force his way into a rogue’s gallery as beloved as Batman’s with such built-in appeal as the original storyline provided Dr. Elliot. As such they quickly moved to capitalize on the success of the new character. Though he made some surprisingly interesting, though ultimately mediocre, appearances in Batgirl and a Man-Bat mini-series, Hush’s next appearance was in the truly terrible Hush Returns, which placed Hush as a central figure in A.J. Leiberman’s Batman: Gotham Knights title. Besides being a fairly miserable waste of a title that could have been quite interesting, Hush Returns managed to miss the point of Hush, Shakespeare, and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke all in the short section of the overarching Hush storyline that was collected into the Hush Returns trade paperback. Hush was left as a sort of Schrodinger’s villain when the series was canceled in the pre-Infinite Crisis restructuring of DC and was left to relive the glory days of manipulating the entirety of Gotham in trade. Until Paul Dini got his hands on him.

Serving as the tail end of Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics in 2008, Heart of Hush was a triumphant return for the character of Hush as well as one of the best Batman stories I’ve had the pleasure to read as a monthly title. Though it was marketed as a tie-in to Grant Morrison’s Batman: R.I.P., Heart of Hush has almost nothing to do with that story and is entirely readable without ever touching any of Morrison’s Batman. You also don’t need to read Hush, Hush Returns, or any of Dini’s Detective run to understand it, though if you want to read any of those, I’d suggest doing so beforehand as Heart of Hush spoils some of them and benefits from the context they provide.

The premise is pretty simple. Hush has returned to torment Batman once again and promises to strike at him from a distance. While the caped crusader tries to protect his loved ones, Hush prepares his master stroke and looks back on the journey that took him from being Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend to one of Batman’s most dangerous enemies.

As he famously did for Mr. Freeze in the similarly titled Heart of Ice, Dini completely reinvigorates Hush and writes a beautiful tale of love, shattered friendship, and heroism that will stir up warm feelings in the heart of anyone who misses his award-winning work on Batman: The Animated Series. You can practically hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s voices in the dialogue and Dini’s interpretations of Batman and Catwoman feel timeless without shedding the characterization they had gained in the now defunct post-crisis continuity. Likewise, the mix of old-fashioned Batman heroism and emotionally grounded drama that made B:TAS so beloved is on fine display. Batman is every bit what you’d expect of him, and Hush is singularly wicked, despite any sympathy his origin might manage to draw out of you. In the first issue, Hush likens this particular scheme to a tragic drama and, indeed, the story has all the gravitas you’d expect from the theater.

Alongside Dini is Dustin Nguyen, one of my absolute favorite artists, who, as ever, does a truly amazing job of bringing the script to life. Nguyen’s art is perfect for the shadowy world of Gotham City. His characters feel legendary, the simple acrobatic shapes of Nightwing’s costume, Hush’s eyes peering out from between his bandages as if there’s no human within; it’s a real treat. And the colors of the book are pretty indisputably gorgeous. If you need proof just check out the last page of the first issue.

I absolutely love this book and I honestly don’t have much bad to say about it. Part of what makes it so strong is that, while it’s clearly the capstone story for Dini’s run, the scale is small. As a result it may not appeal to people who loved the original Hush’s who’s who of Gotham’s criminal underworld, or the sheer size of a Justice League story, or even the summer blockbuster quality of The Avengers. It also won’t appeal to readers who wish that all comics could be drawn by Alex Ross as Dustin Nguyen’s style is hardly realistic.

The book is rarely graphic, but the ideas inside are kind of gruesome if you think about them. Like many Batman comics of the last twenty years (at least), this isn’t necessarily for kids. Alternately, I’m confident you could find those that feel like the story needed to be more serious (notably Hush’s “staff”). It’s neither All-Star Batman and Robin nor Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but I personally think that it strikes a good balance of grim and optimistic.

In short, this is a pretty wonderful comic. It’s clearly the same writer who brought us so many great reinventions of classic villains on B:TAS and if you liked that show I think you’ll be pleased to find that Dini is still writing great comics. It’s one of those rare perfect pairings of writer and artist that happen sometimes and, even if you’re one of the many who hate Hush, I think you’ll find that, if this book can’t change your mind, you’ll still love it around him.

Heart of Hush is available both as a hardcover and a trade paperback. Additionally, its recent, so if you’re interested in tracking down the original issues, I doubt you’d have much trouble.

 

 

 

From here on out we’re in spoiler territory, if you don’t have the stomach for it you should turn back now.

 

 

Alright?

 

 

Alright.

 

 

I really love the story of Heart of Hush, as you may have put together by now. It uses the classic Batman theme of reflections to great effect and really capitalizes on what made Hush a great idea in the first place. Though many villains such as the Wraith, Black Mask, and even Bane have tried to be the “anti-Batman”, I think Hush manages it because he’s so honest about it. He’s, as Bruce says, a “twisted reflection” of Batman, but he doesn’t go so far as the Wraith (who was the son a pair of criminals who swore revenge on justice when they were shot by the police). Part of the beauty of the story is how cerebral it is. No, it’s not Falkner or anything, but we never get a real sense of how dangerous Hush is in a fight, and that’s entirely because his attacks are thrown before the fight begins. In keeping with the themes from Batman: Hush, Heart of Hush is really a chess game between Bruce and Tommy. Each one has learned to think like the other and it’s the strengths and imperfections in each man’s character that make all the difference in the outcome.

The other strength of Hush’s character is part of why Paul Dini was so perfect to write him. Scaling back from the blitz of Batman: Hush, Tommy calls in a crack surgical team of villains to help destroy Batman. But despite having allies, just as Batman has Robin and Nightwing, Tommy, in the end, is alone. Dini’s skills from the animated series days are on clear display in this story. Tommy’s numerous flashbacks paint a tragic picture of a family that may never have had a chance. I think Tommy’s near confession to Bruce at the start of the second issue is actually shockingly sincere, despite his clear anti-social tendencies. That said, at the end of the story you know that Hush is indefensibly evil. That balance is crucial and difficult to manage, but it comes through for me perfectly. Additionally, it’s clear that Dini is comfortable in Gotham. Dini calls on numerous elements of Batman’s mythology: his relationship with Catwoman, venom, Mr. Freeze’s medical prowess, Batman’s connections to Doctor Mid-Night and the Justice Society, etc. It’s little things like this that make the DCU feel alive. I’ve been a Batman fan too long to know for sure if these things alienate newer readers, but it seemed to me that they were all explained fairly well without drawing undue attention to themselves.

Finally, Dini returns to Bruce and Selina’s relationship. Though it’s a shame that Catwoman and Zatanna don’t get to play active roles in the adventure, they’re, at least, written well and with charm. The two and a panel pages of Bruce in Selina’s hospital room are super sweet and the relationship helps the story feel real throughout. Hush’s motives are selfish and petty, and Selina’s involvement, troubling as it may be to Alison Bechdel, does a lot to give the book stakes that are tied to the truly important things in life. In the end, Dini proves that, while Batman may not be good at opening up to people, it’s the people he manages to let in that make him who he is. It’s good to see Bruce surrounded by those people: his father, his sons, and the woman he loves.

Heart of Hush is clearly a story written for a monthly comic, rather than as an OGN. It’s not trying to do the same things that Arkham Asylum or the Dark Knight Returns do, but its a beautiful glimpse into a Batman that, to me, at least, feels simple and true. It’s got a little bit of everything great about the character and a little bit for everyone.

Advertisements