Suzanne: I fondly remember reading Batman: Hush for the first time over five years ago. There is so much to like about that book — Jeph Loeb’s long-form storytelling, Jim Lee’s pencils, and the Batman-Catwoman relationship to name a few. Loeb develops the friendship between Bruce Wayne and Tommy Elliot so convincingly that it adds creative tension to the final reveal. You almost want Hush to be someone else because of the depths of his betrayal to Bruce.
Batman Eternal introduces Hush to the New 52 as the Big Bad behind the crippling of Gotham City starting with the arrest of Jim Gordon. How does this series’ treatment of Hush add relevance to him as a character? After Loeb and Lee’s story arc, some readers felt that Hush was overused and his appearances were mediocre at best. Certain characters benefit from a dormant period and less can be more, such as The Joker. I’m hoping that three years of living in New 52 character purgatory makes this appearance all the more effective.
Let’s begin with my greatest disappointment of the issue. Vicki Vale trades in her journalistic integrity (and her backbone) for love. She publishes an article about imminent terrorist attacks in Gotham despite her own instinct to scrap the story. Jason Bard convinces her that it’s for the greater good. Of course, “the greater good” turns into mass panic, rioting and looting for a start. Red Robin and Harper Row take to the streets to defend people amidst the climate of chaos and desperation. Tim Drake finally justifies his ridiculously clunky outfit, straps and all, in a bit of flirtation with Harper.
Batman confirms his distrust of Jason Bard and discovers his connection to The Architect’s escape from Blackgate Prison a few issues back. At Bard’s apartment, he finds a hologram version of Hush instead of Bard. Hush promptly makes threats to destroy his life and blows the building to bits. Meanwhile, Babs calls Jim Gordon at Blackgate as he’s still behind bars. The issue ends with Batgirl, Red Hood and Red Robin helping Batman out from the rubble.
I like how this issue leans on character continuity from Death of the Family. Red Robin echoes their distance from Batman as fallout from that story arc. It makes his simple comment to Julia Pennyworth about “family en route” all the more meaningful.
This also plays on Julia’s distance from her father, Alfred, and desire to be part of a family. The image of the Bat Family helping Batman out of the destroyed building opens up new possibilities for future issues.
Batman’s confrontation with Hush has some powerful moments as well. Hush makes it perfectly clear that this is just the beginning of his plan to destroy Batman’s life, that he would already be dead if he wanted it that way. Unfortunately, the art undercuts the intensity of the moment with a more cartoony look for Hush and some flat facial expressions.
The rotating artists can be a mixed blessing for this book — differences in style and quality can sometimes distract from the overall story. Connecting to the book on a visual level changes with each artist. I love Dustin Nguyen’s and Mikel Janin’s work on this title, for example. Having only one-to-two artists on a single story arc might be more visually effective.
There is a (slight) hiccup with plotting as well. Red Robin and Red Hood have a little heart-to-heart about girls at Alfred’s beside. This part seems a little out of character, especially for Jason Todd. It feels like the inverse version of The Bechdel Test. Gotham City is shot to hell and the only thing they can talk about is Jason’s feelings for Babs and Harper being cute? Maybe this is James Tynion IV’s way of bringing romance to the forefront of an already genre-packed series. My concern is that some of these genres fit more naturally into the Bat Universe than others.
Spencer, what are your thoughts on the reintroduction of Hush? Do you have any nostalgia for the character? What do you think of Julia Pennyworth’s role in the Batcave?
Spencer: Suzanne, nostalgia is the perfect word to describe my relationship with Hush. As I imagine is the case with many modern-day Batman readers, Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush was one of my earliest forays into the world of Batman and probably helped form the core of my early understanding of the Bat-family. It’s been a while since I reread the story, but there’s always a fond feeling of nostalgia whenever I see ol’ bandage head pop up.
That said, I don’t know if his reintroduction in the pages of Batman Eternal has been handled as well as it could have been. I think Hush is acting in character, but if I were a new reader I would have absolutely no idea who Hush is or what he’s about. Of course, I’m not a new reader, so it’s hard to tell whether an actual newbie would find Bruce and Tommy’s very personal discussion hard to follow or if they’d find it intriguing; the tag at the end of the issue promises that Hush’s history will be revealed next week, so I’m assuming that writer James Tynion IV is aiming for the latter. Hopefully those new readers are more patient than I am.
Anyway, since you asked, Suzanne, I am enjoying Julia’s role in the Batcave, even if her and Alfred’s newfound importance in the running of Batman’s daily operations just makes me realize how vital Oracle was to the Bat-family and how much I miss her. Julia’s inexperience is a lot of fun, as it shows just how difficult it is to operate Batman’s tech, but more importantly, she’s already playing a large role in highlighting the idea of family that’s been brewing in the background of Batman Eternal and which finally becomes a driving force with this issue.
This was definitely one of those “sit up and cheer as I’m reading it” moments. “Bat-kids to the rescue” is always going to be one of my favorite tropes to begin with, but as Suzanne explained, the recent events of “Death of the Family” make the return of Batman’s family all the more triumphant. The only problem with this scene is that it kind of already happened over in the pages of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Batman and Robin. It’s hard to complain when both reconciliation scenes are so well done, and to be honest, there are things I like about both takes. Tomasi’s reconciliation may have the advantage because it has Batman actually swallowing his pride and apologizing first, which is unheard of, but at the same time, there’s something almost equally cool about Tim, Jason and Barbara putting aside their issues with Bruce when he and the city are in danger. I don’t think the duplicate beats make this moment any less effective on an emotional level, but they’re certainly going to make for a complicated Wikipedia article in a few years.
The other theme that’s been running through this series since its inception is the idea that the villains all have very specific ideas about how Gotham City should operate, and as befits the mastermind of this operation, Hush certainly does as well, even if we have to read between the lines a bit to figure it out.
Hush is so close to having a point here. After all, both Batman and Bruce Wayne have established systems and allies throughout the city to make their job easier; at the same time, though, Gotham is constantly throwing threats at Batman that push him to his very limit. This line ends up saying more about Hush than it does about Bruce, and it all harkens back to Hush’s origin as an entitled little rich boy who tried to murder his parents to get the inheritance he thought he was owed, and who ended up forming a lifelong grudge against Bruce when Thomas Wayne saved his mother’s life, “robbing” him of his instant inheritance. Hush thinks he’s owed everything, that he’s entitled to have what Bruce has, so of course he can only deduce that Bruce doesn’t deserve what he has; it’s the only way Hush’s failure can make any sense to him. Knowing all that about Hush makes it safe to assume that he wants what he thinks Bruce has: a Gotham City molded to his very whims, whatever they may be.
Or maybe he just wants to watch everything Bruce loves burn. Either way, see how important Hush’s past is to this story and why I’m so nervous about the time it’s taken to establish his backstory and motives?
I do have to agree with Suzanne’s complaints about the art, though. There are some things R.M Guera does very well: I like how he depicts the dark, be it the Batmobile driving through Gotham at night or any time Batman is in the shadows, and I thought the short fight between Tim and Harper was well choreographed. That said, much of his posing looks stiff (like the shot of Batman throwing Batarangs Suzanne posted in her third image), and his interpretation of Batman as unnaturally bulky with a perpetual grimace is like the worst versions of Batman from the 90s all over again. Moreover, many of the characters’ faces just come across as lumpy; there’s one shot of Bard where his head is shaped like a Lima Bean, and Hush and Batman both are given these tiny, smushed noses and prominent brows that occasionally border on Neanderthal-esque.
This is also one of the more underwhelming explosions I’ve ever seen. I like the detail of the glass shattering in the cars, but the way the explosion is shunted off to the corner of the image really minimizes the impact; my eye keeps wandering over to the vast empty space to its right instead being drawn to the explosion itself. Even the cloud of dust undermines the image, literally hiding some of its power behind a haze.
There’s certainly some visual issues and minor writing hiccups with this issue, but overall this is one of the more engaging installments of Batman Eternal (though this seems to apply to most of the Tynion-penned issues in general). Things do finally seem to be kicking into high gear, and I hope Tynion and the rest of the writing bullpen can maintain this level of forward momentum from here on out.
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