A couple of months ago I wrote an article about the fabled match-up between Batman and the Predator. I wrote about how that three issue story arc was the best Batman story ever written, and while I still stand by that statement, I will admit that I am partially wrong. It was brought to my attention by a couple of friends that the best Batman storyline was a twelve-issue run by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee titled Batman: Hush. This story, which ran between 2002 and 2003, unfolded in the pages of the Batman, issues 608 to 619, and detailed an almost epic tale of mystery, love and revenge. It is a classic “whodunit” story about some of Batman’s oldest and most classic foes attacking Batman in new and often confusing ways. This is a fun read that is oft recommended and praised by nearly every Batman fan of a certain age. So after reading through this story, I have to say that for the most part, it lives up to the hype. So for your reading pleasure, I wanted to share with you the absolute best reasons to read Batman: Hush.
Note; I read the Absolute edition of the Batman: Hush storyline, which I highly recommend. But it should be noted that this story is reprinted almost every couple of years, so you can find it easily in both print and digital formats.
SPOILERS FOR BATMAN: HUSH!
Jim Lee’s art is incredible
Let’s be honest here, this story would not have as much impact with readers had literally anyone else been in charge of the art of this series. While I’m sure that writer Jeph Loeb had some art direction within his scripts for the issues, it seems to me that artist Jim Lee was given free rein to design characters, portray emotion and “shoot” action however the hell he wanted. While this story behind Hush is easy to pull apart at the seams if you really want to (and with little effort), you cannot deny the masterclass of artwork being put on display within these twelve issues. Virtually every cover and splash page found in this story has been used as promotional material for Batman beyond selling this story.
Looking at Jim Lee’s Batman, while a bit bigger than I like him, you would swear that this guy had never existed before 2002 because seemingly every artist after Jim Lee has been influenced by or is competing with this storyline. And what’s great is he did it again in 2011 when Lee collaborated with Geoff Johns for the Justice League reboot, redefining his version of Batman as THE version of Batman.
The villain is kind of milquetoast
Okay so, let’s get started with the story’s main antagonist Hush. When you break it down, his motivation is kind of lame(really, it’s all about money?). Hush comes into the story through a new character introduced in this story named Tommy Elliot. Very early in the story we find out that Tommy is a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s, and his sudden introduction comes at the perfect moment, as Batman is severely injured and suffers from a fractured skull. Tommy saves Bruce Wayne’s life using his skills as a surgeon. But why, I’m going to guess thirty years, does Bruce suddenly insist on seeing Tommy now?
Through the use of subliminals, Batman is compelled to call on Tommy for help. But outside of an okay origin, what does Tommy do in this story? Sure, he is the main antagonist known as Hush, he has an amazing look and often quotes Aristotle…which is cool, I guess. But really, outside of paying and assembling Batman’s greatest rogues in a play to break Batman’s mind, he really doesn’t do much else. He shows up periodically throughout the story, but he’s really just a villain because he says he’s the villain. And for whatever reason, I kind of like that. Sure, it is lazy that the brand new villain has known our hero since childhood and has miraculously reappeared after years of separation, but seeing how Batman is mentally fried at the end of this story and more paranoid than ever proves that Hush (along with a green-suited friend that I won’t mention here) made a bigger impression on Batman, and ultimately with fans, than anyone had expected.
But seriously, his whole motivation for attacking Batman is because Tommy, as a child, tried killing his parents, only to have his mother’s life saved by Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father. Which resulted in Tommy having to wait for his inheritance…WHAT!!!! Why he shit would you blame Batman for all of that!?
Catwoman and Batman get close
I won’t say that this is an actual romance, even though it sure seemed like it was at this story was released in 2002. Right away in the first couple of issues, Batman and Catwoman are making out on rooftops and it’s incredibly awkward to hear Batman musing about kissing Catwoman as if he were a kid who kissed his first girl. While a Batman and Catwoman hook up has been long desired by fans, back in 2002 it was nothing more than something fans thought should happen. Sure, Bats and Cats had flirted, but it never went beyond that, but here, within the pages of Batman: Hush, Catwoman crosses the line and kisses Batman, and in return Batman (eventually) shares his secret identity with her, cementing his commitment to her. If all of this seems a little rushed and kind of out of character for Batman, I have a theory as to why, and it kind of makes this story very, very sad.
The entire time throughout Batman: Hush, Batman is musing about how his villains are acting out of character and he is seeing what he is supposed to see. Killer Croc kidnaps a boy and holds him for ransom, Superman is protecting Poison Ivy(!), Joker “kills” Tommy Elliot and all of a sudden, Catwoman is kissing Batman on rooftops and talking about being together. I love the idea of Batman being in a legit relationship with Catwoman, but at the time of this story’s release, Catwoman was not a “relationship” kind of person. She was, and still is, self-reliant. So what if Catwoman kissing Batman and becoming a love interest was all part of Hush’s plan? Throughout the story we are told that there was a meeting between the various villains seen within the story and while no one says that Catwoman was there, no one says she wasn’t either. What if Catwoman’s relationship with Batman was all part of the plan? What if Catwoman was meant to divide Batman’s attention just enough to revel a weakness or make him question himself? Obviously, the relationship doesn’t work out in the end, but to me, Catwoman was a failsafe. She was supposed to find a way to break Batman’s heart to be a final twist of the knife just in case Hush lost his battle with Batman. So in a way, both Batman and Hush lose…but Hush still wins.
Batman v Superman
Okay, so I have always thought the question of Batman fighting Superman has always been silly. Yes, it’s cool to see our heroes battling each other, but the fact that Superman is the most OP character ever created and Batman is just a dude with study time makes this an unfair fight. And that is why the fight between the World’s finest is executed perfectly in this story.
The greatest aspect of the fight between Batman and Superman is the fact that Batman knows going into it that he is going to lose, and lose quickly, even though Superman is being controlled by Poison Ivy thanks to her own natural poison and synthetic Kryptonite lipstick (seriously). Batman knows that he has only seconds to manipulate the fight in his favor. While he does have the aid of a Kryptonite ring, later revealed to be a gift from Superman, t doesn’t matter much as Batman is severely outmatched and he knows it. Which is why the best part of this fight is the realization that Batman is not trying to win at all; he’s trying to break Superman from Poison Ivy’s control, as he knows it’s the only way he’ll survive. While it is very cool to see Batman landing a haymaker on Superman’s noggin, this fight isn’t about who can win, it’s about Batman surviving for those precious few seconds to turn the tables as best he can in a gamble to see if Superman can save himself.
This fight answers the age old geek question of who would win a fight between Batman and Superman. And the answer, by Batman’s own admission, is Superman. But…to be fair, this story is basically non-canon at this point, so this fight ultimately never happened…yeah, thanks comics.
Batman is tested
We always hear about how the next Batman story arc is going to test the Dark Knight in ways he never has been before. Or that he is going to be pushed beyond his limits this time. The truth is, no, he won’t be pushed beyond his limits and he won’t be tested in ways he never has been before, because he’s been pushed and tested too many times in the past for us to really be surprised by it anymore. For me, Batman: Hush was the last time I saw Batman well and truly put in his place. At the very beginning of Hush, Batman is brutally reminded of how human he is and how much he needs the various members of the Bat-Family. He is confounded by the new methods of old enemies, and is asked to take his relationship with Catwoman seriously and at the end of it all, he loses.
Batman: Hush serves as a dark and bitter defeat for Batman and a grim reminder to the reader that you can’t win them all. At the end of this story, Batman hasn’t learned anything. He doesn’t grow as a character. If anything, he regresses a bit because he has to call into question months of his life, dozens of interactions that may have been staged and dealing with the hole in his heart now that Catwoman “can’t” be trusted.
While the ending of this story may seem to be more of a whimper than a bang, the whimper of an ending is what makes this story great. Batman, the fans go-to winner, is beaten. Even though he knows that Hush and another villain basically ruled his life for months, even though he knows who Hush was under his mask, a body is never recovered, so he can’t be certain, despite knowledge of Hush’s identity. Batman loses despite living through a massive attack from several of his greatest enemies. This book shares more than a few plot points with an older Batman story called “Knightfall”, which saw Batman pushed to his physical breaking point before having his back broken by Bane. This story, while serving as a defeat for Batman, was merely a stepping stone for him, as this story serves as the first part of a trilogy that saw Bruce Wayne recover and don the cape and cowl once again. Here, in Batman: Hush, Batman loses a dear friend from his past, he loses a real chance at love and he seemingly learns that opening yourself up to others is not to be on your to-do list.