Friday, June 25, 2010

Trade Waiting - Batman: Heart of Hush

Sam Dang guest posts today with a Trade Waiting review of Batman: Heart of Hush, a Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen story I picked up in singles and quite enjoyed.  It collects Detective Comics #846-850 and takes place around the time of Batman: RIP.  Let's see what he thought of the trade version.

Today's guest post is by Sam Dang, who you can read more from at his own blog at That Dang Blog.

Written by Paul Dini
Art by Dustin Nguyen
Collects Detective Comics #846-#850

I truly enjoyed Heart of Hush.  In a time when Batman RIP saturated all the blogging news, Paul Dini delivered an amazing story that sticks to the core of Batman and his current continuity. The trade collects Detective Comics #846-850.  While five issues a bit light for a trade, it's worth noting that the last issue has extra pages, pushing it towards the standard six issue trade size. Personally, I would’ve loved for DC to include “Faces of Evil” issues from Detective Comics #852 and Batman #685, which actively serve as an epilogue to Heart of Hush and a prologue to Streets of Gotham.

Hush was introduced in the eponymous arc by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. They intended to follow up with six more issues to flesh out the character, but the result of their efforts felt more like a Michael Bay film - heavy on action and glamour and light on the story. DC put the character of Hush on the back burners post-Loeb, but has since been left untouched since his panned return in the 2004 “Pushback” arc in Batman: Gotham Knights, a title that was cancelled and saw Batman leaving Hush alone with the Joker, who had implanted a remote pacemaker in Hush, to end the story. Whether you liked the original arc, A.J. Lieberman and Al Barrionuevo strayed from the material and the characterization of Hush, who was a bit bland (they also took the Killing Joke on face value, even giving Joker a name) and uninspired.

Part of the success of Heart of Hush is that it serves as a good continuation to Loeb and Lee’s arc that remains faithful while also building upon and improving the character. Dini retains Hush’s doctor gimmick, penchant for Aristotle and his motives and hatred for Bruce Wayne. He also reflects on the Batman/Catwoman relationship and Hush's manipulation of other villains. He expands upon Hush’s mother issues, rounding out the character. While Dustin Nguyen doesn’t copy the larger than life double page spreads of Jim Lee, he keeps the slick and superhero aspect of Batman. He also water coloured the flashbacks, continuing that visual aspect in both works.  The effect is so stunning, you wish Nguyen would do the entire book in water colour and his covers are a constant reminder of this. Nguyen’s work is like a blend between Bruce Timm and Mike Mignola, so he and Dini have been a great team.

Hush's early years are fully fleshed out in this arc, culminating in his murdering his mother and coining his new alias.

The plot revolves around Hush’s return to destroy Batman.  It's simple, but it works.  He sets up a clinic, drugging the homeless into servitude. He captures and removes Catwoman’s heart as a bargaining chip against Batman and even surgically alters his face to resemble Bruce Wayne, intent on luring Batman and using his visage to destroy his alter ego's life as well as Batman's. Cutting back and forth is Hush’s backstory as Tommy Elliot. He orchestrated the death of his parents, but thanks to Bruce's father, Thomas Wayne, his mother survived. His mother, insecure about her own status, constantly chastises Hush to be more like Bruce Wayne, driving Hush into an increasingly psychotic obsession. He really nails the flashbacks and what drives Hush. Interestingly enough, it shows Scarecrow as Hush’s mentor, having met when Hush was a child, now conclusively making Dr Crane older than Bruce Wayne.

From a long time reader of Dini’s work at DC, you’ll be pleased to see Peyton Riley prior to her transformation to the new Ventriloquist. Honestly, I found Dini’s excellent writing of her was above the Ventriloquist gimmick so I found her place as Hush’s mobster girlfriend to be her best appearance. Her exit from the story was a bit rushed, but I assume Dini’s sequel may cover that. We also see the first appearance of Abuse, who has been showing up in recent Streets of Gotham storylines.

The story isn't completely perfect, though.  The beginning of the arc is a bit of a waste as there’s some focus on the lame villain, Aesop, dragging down the narrative and parts like Abuse’s introduction seem unncessary.  Also, the finale showdown is a bit flamboyant and whimsical for the grounded and revenge driven story of Hush.  Furthermore, Nguyen’s rendition of Joker was a bit inconsistent in his two brief scenes, but it was very entertaining and each issue contained some great dramatic beats and reveals. It adds the much needed depth and care for Hush's character. It’s the perfect book to relax to if you don’t want to be burdened by silver age concepts and psychedelic storylines. Again, I wish the Faces of Evil epilogue issues were added to the trade, padding it and completing the story, but that's a minor complaint and this is still a complete story without them. Hopefully it’ll encourage the purchase of the much neglected Bat title, Batman: Streets of Gotham.

Verdict - Buy It. It’s like a PG-13 version of a Bruce Timm and Paul Dini Batman cartoon: a dark and grounded with a few “goofy parts” as Dini says. I give it a BUY IT. It’s not an essential Batman story but it’s a well written one with a great pace and style.

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Ryan K Lindsay said...

Excellent review, man. I read Hush and enjoyed it, a bit of popcorn at its best, and I didn't even known about this storyline, blame my non-DC ways. But this sounds good, so I might give it a go at some stage. Thanks for the heads up, and thanks for writing so well for us :)

Andrenn said...

Great review. I picked up the first 2 parts of Heart of Hush on a whim one day at the comic shop and it was great. Enjoyed the story so much, easily my favorite story arc of 2008.

Mark said...

I have to say, although Hush wasn't my favorite read, I thoroughly enjoyed the character. After reading this I just might pick it up again and give it another read.

Nafiun said...

Interesting, I've been meaning to go through the Heart of Hush arc, but never really got around to it. I'll have to definitely give it a read then, thanks.

Kirk Warren said...

I mentioned my thoughts in the intro, but I'm going to have to reiterate that I realy enjoyed this arc. It turned Hush into a legitimate rogues gallery member for Batman. Loeb had left him as a one note, red herring character that just served as a backdrop to his monthly revolving door Jim Lee tour de force of the rogues gallery, much like he did with Tim Sale on Long Halloween.

Heart of Hush fleshes out his backstory, adds motivation and builds upon the quirks of the Aesop parts of the character's motus operandi and just makes him a great foil to Batman and easily one of my favourite villains for him. It feels like he's one of the classic villains, like JOker, Two-Face, Penquin, etc. with the way Dini built him up.

The Dangster said...

thanks guys, glad you liked the review. I liked Loeb's Hush for what it is, an introduction to Hush. it's too bad this title gets lost in the shuffle of the numerous bat titles.

If you like Dustin Nguyen, he did double duties this week, with Detective comics layouts and some interior art and Streets, co-plotting and illustrating. The man has not taken a break yet.

Adam Smith said...

Fantastic review. I've never been a fan of Hush, and was planning on skipping this go around. Yet despite my distaste for the villain, I've decided to give this go around a shot. Nguyen truly is a fantastic illustrator, and let's hope he continues with his disdain for taking time off.

jimmy said...

you know, this review makes me wanna get back into comics.

Ryan said...

Excellent review, this highlights parts of Batman's story I had completely neglected to read. Will fix that shortly.

MrKeese said...

Great review. I don't read a ton of comics, but I like to keep up with the storylines so I know what's going on when my friends talk about them.

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