Review: Batman: Hush Returns trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Batman: Hush Returns -- collecting seven issues of Batman: Gotham Knights -- is a very interesting take on the Batman mythos that's great to read, but falls flat in the fact that the ending is a cliffhanger and there's likely not a second volume to follow. It's a shame, really.

And additionally, while I'm not one to decry a trade of monthly issues in any form -- Hush Returns near-unabashedly touts itself as a volume meant entirely to capitalize on the fame of Hush and Infinite Crisis (as, perhaps, was the Lieberman run on Gotham Knights itself), with presenting a complete story only a secondary concern. None of this is the writer's fault, but it's an interesting study of DC's trade plans overall.

Hush Returns begins with the Riddler in Arkham, his life threatened by the returned Hush. The Riddler arranges for the Joker to break him out and protect him -- trading the Joker for the name of the corrupt police officer who killed the Joker's wife -- but not before Hush is able to beat the Riddler severely. After the Joker attacks Hush, Hush hires Prometheus in Star City, bringing Batman briefly in contact with Green Arrow. Hush tries to attack the Riddler again, this time beating up the Joker; Riddler goes to Poison Ivy for help. From here, the trade jumps abruptly to a story where Talia al Ghul forces Hush to save Prometheus from Poison Ivy's toxins so that Talia can get Prometheus's Cosmic Key.

A. J. Lieberman writes what he admits is a different kind of Batman book, one where Batman isn't necessarily the main character and, for the most part, I think he pulls this off well. There's plenty of intrigue between Hush, the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Prometheus, and there's also enough mystery to go around, not the least of which is who Hush is right now.

Though different than a traditional Batman title, I was impressed with the internal continuity that Hush Returns shares with some of the other Batman trades. I'm coming to Hush Returns rather late, after War Drums, War Games, and Under the Hood, but to read Hush Returns before all of these is to be able to follow a very logical progression at least for the Joker, and for Batman's relationship with Green Arrow. Frankly, it's obvious that there was at least some collaboration on Lieberman and Judd Winick's part, or that Winick familiarized himself with what Lieberman set up in Gotham Knights, and it's a welcome and impressive attention to detail.

I read a bit online about fan reactions to Lieberman's Gotham Knights, and one of the great debates seems to be Lieberman's portrayal of the Joker. Obviously, Lieberman writes a far saner Joker than we're used to, whether in Jeph Loeb's Hush, No Man's Land, or Batman: Broken City. At the same time, maybe one of the benefits of Hush Returns being a trade is that it becomes a representation of an encapsulated moment in time, rather than a monthly title where the reader has to fear that this is the "new portrayal" of the Joker.

For me, it didn't bother me that much -- while I frankly far prefer a Joker who is origin-less*, it wasn't as though Lieberman simply revamped the Joker, but rather co-oped parts (if not all) of The Killing Joke (and some parts, like the Joker's connection to the circus where he imprisioned Jim Gordon, are worth keeping in the canon anyway). And the Joker as head crime boss of Gotham City? That didn't last long anyway (enter Black Mask) and besides, part of me still got a vicarious Super-Friends chill seeing the Joker and the Penguin interacting (back from when I was a kid, and thought the Penguin was the Joker's sidekick like Robin was Batman's).

The Hush Returns book itself doesn't look like other Batman trades; there's a definitively stylized look to the book from art department member Jennifer Redding, which sets it apart from other Batman books. The reader gets the sense that this is for one of two reasons: either this book was meant to be a front-end seller deserving of an unusual design (which, given that volume two isn't on the horizon, is unlikely), or that the book was intended to be so low on the radar that the art department was allowed to experiment with it.

Hush Returns contains a six-part Hush tale and a one-part Villains United tale; neither one is complete, but both are there. Here, too, we get the sense that this a book low on the radar; it has all the buzzwords that make it trade-worthy, but it's not important enough for, say, a complete story. Which is, on one hand, a sad state of affairs, but on the other hand, a sign that DC's realized that there's real profit to be made from trades of monthly issues, even if each one's not a barn-burner (the upcoming New Teen Titans: Terra Incognita is another example). I see this as a good thing that will likely become better and more refined as we go.

And what are the chances we'll get the last, missing page from this trade in the upcoming JSA Classified trade paperback?

[Contains thumbnail covers, two "What Has Come Before" pages.]

All right, I'm now on to Batman: War Crimes as this Bat-verse train rolls along. Then some Nightwing, perhaps, and Vilains United, and then a Flash extravaganza. You know where to be.

* A phenomenon, perhaps, that I wouldn't attribute to any other character except the Joker. Which is interesting -- is the Joker so archetypcial that he even transcends the need for an origin?
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