Batman: Heart of Hush goes a long way toward defining the villain in terms of the classic Batman foes.
While I believe we understood in Jeph Loeb's twelve-issue Hush that Tommy Elliott blames Bruce Wayne for the fact that Elliott's parents didn't die tragically as Bruce's did, much of the background on Hush's childhood is all Paul Dini's, including Hush's relationship with Peyton Riley, the new Ventriloquist that Dini created. Whereas in Hush, Loeb's villain remained mainly behind the scenes and used Batman's other enemies for his attack, Dini's Hush is not only central here, but brings with him minions, any army of Gotham's homeless and deranged dressed up like hospital orderlies.
Put another way, with Loeb Hush was an adversary, but with Dini Hush becomes a theme villain, like Two-Face or the Calendar Man, and I've venture that thematicism posits him as a more traditional Batman villain than ever before. In Loeb's Hush (which I enjoyed), I'm unsure the purpose of the bandaged around Hush's face, aside from obfuscating whether Hush was Jason Todd; in Heart of Hush, Dini makes hospitals part of Tommy Elliott's overarching psychosis, from his enfeebled mother to his near-crushed dreams of medical school, and from the violent procedures he performs on himself to the surgical nature of the crimes he commits. Dini, to an extent, gives the Geoff Johns treatment to Hush, in that the character's outward crimes are a reflection of his inward trauma; even Hush's name, now, comes from the demonic whispers of his mother.
I have elsewhere become bored with DC Comics's heroes and villains always having long-time connections. The concept is fine in general, but when Hal Jordan used to be Sinestro's friend and Lex Luthor grew up with Clark Kent and Professor Zoom has tortured Barry Allen since he was a child, it gets repetitive; I do, however, like Hush's deepened background quite a lot. Batman stories sometimes have a tendency to focus on Batman's supporting cast because the story at its core doesn't require Batman to be there; Heart of Hush uses well the fact that Tommy Elliott knew Bruce Wayne as a child, and therefore Tommy can reach through all the trappings of Batman (as in the great scene in the Batcave) and interact with Bruce really on the most personal of levels.
There's a greater emphasis on Hush than on Batman in this story than, say, on the Black Glove versus Batman in Batman R.I.P. Still, Dini includes some Batman scenes that -- knowing how long Dini has loved and written Batman -- I imagine he's waited a long time to write. One is the aforementioned Batcave scene, where Batman attacks Hush with the Batcave dinosaur, and the climactic battle takes place on the Whirly-Bat helicopter. This is zany fun somewhat out of place in Heart of Hush (as when Hush notes that Batman actually owns a whale!), but it nicely smacks of the dark humor Dini interjected into the Batman cartoons.
Another is some of the final scenes Dini writes between Batman and Catwoman, in which he gets to state definitively that Catwoman is the love of Batman's life. Potentially Dini had to grit his teeth as he wrote that ending, knowing what a big fan Dini is of Zatanna, but he puts a good cap on that relationship here, and affirms outright Batman's affection for Catwoman -- not that it's been a secret, but such a blatant discussion was probably long overdue. Heart of Hush is not really a sequel to Loeb's Hush, but it is fitting that the newest iteration of the Batman/Catwoman relationship that blossomed there should be addressed here as well.
The Batman R.I.P.. title is plastered at the beginning of every chapter of Heart of Hush, but the connections between the two stories are spare. Presumably Heart of Hush takes place between the end of Batman: The Black Glove and the beginning of R.I.P., but one would have to tilt their head and squint to believe such (standard comics suspension of disbelief notwithstanding). Dini or artist Dustin Nguyen -- whose artist is gorgeously moody throughout the book -- also miss the look of Grant Morrison's "new Joker" when Joker appears in the story, sans bullet hole and scars. Heart of Hush factors in to later aspects of the Batman Reborn stories, but I'll say absolutely here that one does not need to read Heart of Hush to read Batman R.I.P. and vice-versa.
Batman: Heart of Hush is a good, solid Batman story by Paul Dini, no less than what we've come to expect from the writer. It is not a triumph, in my opinion -- the conclusion, in particular, has neither the edge-of-your-seat bang of Batman R.I.P. nor of the original Hush -- but I think it's certainly notable for the emphasis on the characters; in particular, Dini's is the clearest portrayal I've seen of how someone as dark and aloof as Batman can also be a romantic figure.
[Contains full covers, two pin-up pages by Dustin Nguyen. Printed on glossy paper.]
More reviews coming up. Thanks!