80 Years of The Bat – Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush

by Ben Martin

80 Years of The Bat is a column created to celebrate the 80th anniversary of one of the most beloved characters ever created, Batman. Since his creation in 1939, Batman has managed to transcend his native medium of comic books. Eight decades later, the character has a presence in every area of entertainment. Over that time, Batman has garnered generations of fans; thus, always remaining relevant.  Throughout the remainder of 2019, 80 Years of The Bat will examine decades worth of Batman material from every medium. In this installment of the column, I’ll review what I think is one of the best Bat stories of all-time, Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush (December 2002 – November 2003)!

I’ve loved Batman nearly my entire life and will continue to do so until I’m six-feet under. Even still, there are Bat-books that I’ve yet to read. For that is the gift and the curse of a character with such a long and rich history. At this point, I’ve read most of the major Batman storylines. (That is, outside of the current runs, which I’m still catching up on.) However, it admittedly took me a while to get around to one of the most beloved stories in Bats’ history, Batman: Hush!
It was during the opening weekend of The Dark Knight Rises (2012) that a friend of mine loaned me his Absolute Edition of Batman: Hush. He was shocked that I’d never read Hush; insisting that when I did, I would love it. In that same breathe he added that it was one of his favorite Batman tales.  This friend and I have a similar appreciation for movies and comic books. But frankly, we don’t tend to agree on all that much despite our common interests. Thus, I didn’t know how I was going to feel about Batman: Hush. But, before we get to my opinion on this story, let’s delve into its history.

By the time the idea Batman: Hush came into being, the gentlemen who conceived it had earned their Bat wings. In the late 90s writer Jeph Loeb (True Believers: Wolverine – Evolution) worked on several stories with artist Tim Sale (Thorga). Together, the Eisner Award-winning dynamic duo created a few of the best Batman stories around: Batman: Haunted Knight (1996), Batman: The Long Halloween (1996-1997), and  Batman: Dark Victory (November 1999 – December 2000). Oddly enough though, Loeb and Sale would not re-team for the comic in review. Instead, Loeb would collaborate with an artist who was making a name at DC Comics by working on various Batman covers in the early aughts, Jim Lee (The Immortal Men #1). Despite having a new collaborator in Lee; Loeb’s story for Batman: Hush was going to be another epic in scope. One that I would say is very much in the vein of The Long Halloween. Much like that book, Hush was designed to unfold over nearly a year’s worth of issues in Batman #608–619 (December 2002 – November 2003):

After thwarting a kidnapping plot involving Killer Croc and Poison Ivy, Batman is headed back to the cave after another successful night of defending Gotham City from crime. Alas, The Caped Crusader doesn’t make it home safely.  Someone cuts his grappling line, causing Batman to fall to the pavement and sustain a significant skull fracture. Thanks to a clever cover story for the injury’s cause and the help of his long, lost childhood friend, surgeon Dr. Thomas Elliot, Bruce Wayne manages to recover. However, a severe injury is only the beginning of Batman’s mysterious new foe, Hush. With the help of the rest of Gotham’s criminal underworld, Hush intends to absolute to tear Batman/Bruce’s world apart. Now, it’s a race against the clock for the Dark Knight Detective to discover who Hush is and the reason for the wraith.

As I mentioned, the friend who lent me his copy of Hush and I tend not to agree on many things. However, this comic arc being one of the best in Bats’ history is undoubtedly an opinion on which we concur. Folks, I’ve loved Batman for twenty-six years. But when I think about the fact that I didn’t read Hush until I was twenty-three-years-old, it makes me want to kick myself! In my humble opinion, Batman: Hush is the high bar which every other Bat story should strive to reach. 
With Hush, Loeb creates a story that fully utilizes Batman’s universe; not to mention those of a couple of other characters in other DC titles. Hush incorporates all of the characters featured to absolute perfection. (Yes, that even includes members of the Bat-family which I’m none too keen on: https://www.comicon.com/2019/04/25/80-years-of-the-bat-bat-family-issues/). Moreover, none of the characters appear gratuitously. On the contrary, each character is used to propel the story. Not merely so, we, the readers can be delighted by some small cameo. I also find the introduction of Dr. Thomas Elliot to the mythology to be a welcome one. After all, I believe Bruce and Tommy’s friendship is the narrative’s central emotional fulcrum. 

Of course, the most robust characterizations are those of The Dark Knight and his alter-ego. For my money, Loeb understands Batman/Bruce Wayne’s mentality better than most other comic book writers do. Using this understanding, Loeb uses Hush to zero-in on two aspects of the character in particular. The first of which is the pain and grief that comes with putting on that cape and cowl every damn night. Batman is driven by the loss of not only his parents but the loss of several allies and loved ones over the decades. Hence, he cannot escape the tragedy of what he has chosen to be.
Secondly, Loeb has designed Hush to be a mystery. Thus, we truly get to see Batman’s detective skills on full display. More than a lot of other Batman tales, Hush is a neo-noir mystery through-and-through. Every aspect of the case is impeccably designed; twists, turns, and red herrings included. If I’m totally honest, the mystery in this book has fooled me more than once. Re-reading Hush for this column, I became so wrapped up in the story that I found myself momentarily forgetting, and subsequently misremembering the true identity of Hush. Perhaps I’m just a silly goose, but I like to think I made such a mistake because the narrative of Hush is  that good!
Aside from the story, I also find Hush‘s art to be perfection. Now, I know some cats out there don’t dig on Jim Lee’s rendition of Batman. I, however, love the way Lee draws The Caped Crusader.  I don’t think Lee will ever shake his sharp, almost jagged illustration style that he’s had since his WildStorm days. Not that such is a bad thing, mind you, it’s merely Lee’s style. A style which I think fits Batman and his world perfectly. On a specific note, Lee is one of the only artists who designed a short-eared cowl that I like.

If it seems like I’m doing nothing but sliding up and down the Batpole while spouting compliments about Hush, I am. Frankly, I think Hush is almost perfect; thus, I am indeed, very complimentary of it. However, I do think Batman: Hush has one slight flaw. The reveal of Hush absolutely works, but I feel that said reveal is held back a little too long. I would’ve liked it to be done, just a few pages earlier; giving the reader a bit more time to bask.
Such a small quibble aside, Hush is the best Batman story ever, in my opinion. If you haven’t read it, I can’t recommend you do so fast enough. Although, if you don’t feel like reading it, the story is getting an animated adaptation from Warner Bros Animation and DC Animation. While in the subject of adapting Hush, I have a theory. I think that Matt Reeve’s The Batman (slated for June 25, 2021), might be drawing from Hush as its primary source material and inspiration. Again, that’s merely a theory, predicated on articles I’ve regarding the upcoming film. While we wait for that to come around though, why not give Batman: Hush a go!

Batman: Hush Can Be Purchased in Various Trade Paperback Editions at Your Preferred Comic Book Shop or Digital Comics Retailer!

The Animated Batman: Hush Movie Is Now Available on Digital HD, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray, & DVD!
Keep Your Browser Tuned to This Same Bat-Site for More Bat-Columns!

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