Review: Absolute Batman: Hush collected hardcover (DC Comics)

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Monday, September 26, 2005

I know that at some point I read a poorly thought-out post on the DC message board that discussed all the so-called plot holes in Batman: Hush -- I’m pretty sure I saw another for Identity Crisis -- both of which more or less missed the point of (A) a whodunit mystery and (B) what constitutes a plot hole and what constitutes (1) a red herring and (2) a purposefully vague point for the purposes of creating either reader wonderment or room for a sequel. And if nothing else than because I was frustrated the other day at how most replies to Newsarama stories or DC message board posts quickly denigrate into “that sucks/no, it doesn’t,” I thought I’d take this opportunity to rebut one of those miss-the-point Hush reviews. Unfortunately, I can’t find a truly poor one, but I did find pieces here and there on the Internet, and so I’m going to try to muster a defense as best I can.

To wit: In Sean T. Collins' review of Hush, he takes issue with the fact that Loeb creates a new childhood friend for Bruce Wayne, and then, Collins believes, too obviously makes him the villain. To which I say no. The mystery of Hush is not “who is Hush?” or if it is, the answer is not Thomas Elliott. Elliott being Hush is obvious because it’s supposed to be obvious—it’s a red herring. The real answer to “who is Hush” is the Riddler, or perhaps, we don’t know. The mystery isn’t obvious; the mystery is hard, and the misdirection is obvious.

Really, I think one of the brilliances of Hush, and The Long Halloween before that, is that though we know enough answers to enjoy the story, we don’t know all the answers one hundred percent. There’s a bunch of possibilities for who Hush is: Tommy Elliott, Clayface—personally, I think Hush is the Two-Face aspect of Two-Face, while Harvey Dent is walking around separated from him, but don’t ask me how. Point being, just like in The Long Halloween, where we find out Gilda Dent was involved but we don’t know how to the letter—that’s OK. That’s what mysteries do. It leaves a little bit of doubt, a little bit of wiggle room for you to keep mulling it over in your mind or champion your favorite theory—that’s OK. Just like our not finding out whether Batman and Catwoman’s romance was real or influenced -- it’s not a plot hole when it’s intentional.

I’ve also heard criticism of both Hush and Identity Crisis that Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective, why can’t he figure this stuff out sooner. Because -- and this is why Jeph Loeb’s portrayal of Batman resonates more than Grant Morrison’s—the fanboy has to remember that Batman is the World’s Greatest Detective, and not the World’s Smartest Man. He’s not Know-It-All Boy, able to read minds and predict the future. Batman can put together all the clues and trace all the evidence if a crime happens in Gotham on an everyday Tuesday night.

But Batman’s greatest weakness is himself.* Batman is constantly, constantly tripping over his own psyche. With all the Bat-family he pulls together and then pushes away, there’s never been a less self-aware character on the market. Batman can recognize two hundred different scents of cologne, but he has no idea where his own emotional standing is from one moment to the next. And that’s fascinating; that’s why we love reading Batman. But to say, for instance, how could Batman not realize he was being fed subliminal messages through his computer—well, it’s because being in love with Catwoman completely fries Batman’s brain. Throw in an emotional situation, and all of the sudden he’s Normal Man. And Loeb plays that up. Every time Batman’s not acting like himself (or Huntress isn’t, or the Riddler), that’s a big hint that something’s going on. To ignore that, to say “in character-good/out of character-bad,” is to ignore some of the best layers of this mystery.

Having just read the Absolute edition of Hush, I’d say that Jim Lee’s art, surprisingly, gains less in the translation to oversized format than, say, Bryan Hitch, but it is nice to read this whole thing in one volume, and reading it reinforced my appreciation for this story overall. The true highlight is the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee/Bob Greenberger conversation in the beginning -- overall, I might have liked to hear more from Jeph in the package, a la the pages that Brad Meltzer gets to discuss Identity Crisis issue-by-issue -- but some tidbits are the scrapped scene Jeph wrote where Batman and Catwoman have sex with their masks on; the on-again-off-again cowl in the big relevation scene, removed by DC management and then brought back when Hush became a hit; and the alternate ending for Hush that centered around a Batman/Superman, not Batman/Catwoman, conversation. So well worth fifty bucks just to have it complete and with bonuses, though if you pay fifty bucks for it, you’re not searching the Internet hard enough.

Now on to some JLA, then finishing out Batman: War Games, making my chronological way toward reading the Identity Crisis hardcover (have you seen it? It's gorgeous).

And tune in here late this week, as Collected Editions counts down our predictions for the DC Comics 2006 trade paperbacks!

(*I saw a Super Powers cartoon once, that made me think that taking away Batman and Robin's utility belts weakened them like putting Kryptonite near Superman. And I thought this for a long time, before I realized how little sense it made. But it's stayed with me all along. Does anyone remember the episode where the Legion of Doom seems to kill the Justice League, but they turn out to be robots? Because that's the one.)
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2 comments:

  1. I didn't think Hush was a great mystery story (certainly not in the same league as Long Halloween or Dark Victory), but it was a fun superhero ride. Clearly the star of the book is Jim Lee, and Jeph Loeb knows it. And yeah, Batman has been portrayed as this super-genius for so long everyone expects him to have figured everything out by the first issue.

    Since I can't afford the book (having already spent my money on the Identity Crisis hardcover and Sleeper Book Four), can you tell us what the Batman/Superman ending was? If I remember right the Batman/Catwoman ending was also the end of their relationship, because Bruce simply couldn't bring himself to trust her, which was one of the neatest part of the story.

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  2. I think the weakest part of the plot was the motivation for Tommy Elliot to kill Bruce. It was a neat surprise to think that Tommy wanted his parents to be killed, making him that much more cynical even as a kid. But in the end, it was a money issue, and unless he was a poor surgeon (which was unlikely), I don't understand why Tommy Elliot would jeopardize his entire life and established fortune just to kill Bruce Wayne.

    You could say he was psycho, but come on, the motivation of not having the family fortune as a kid was weak. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose.

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