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Paul Dini’s Run on Detective Comics – The Heart of Hush

Batman’s rogues gallery is a strange one. Thanks to the character’s absorption into popular culture (by the live action series, the cartoons, the movies), he has a fantastically strong and well-recognised selection of villains – to the point where people who haven’t picked up a comic book wonder whether The Riddler will be the villain in the next Batman film. He has tonnes of opponents who are easily recognised by the public and are wide and diverse, many that any other comic book character would kill for. However, once every few years the powers that be will attempt to introduce a new major villain into the character’s life – for example Grant Morrison populated his own run on the title with new enemies (and the Joker). Very occasionally these are succesful – Bane is a fairly well-known addition to the ensemble, despite only arriving about fifteen years ago, and Victor Zsasz remains the most recent bad guy to be featured in Nolan’s movies – but mostly these are failures – like Orca or KGBeast. Here Paul Dini is attempting to move the most recent major bat baddie from the latter category into the former. Does it work?

Eye see you...

Eye see you...

Paul Dini might be my favourite Batman writer. It’s not that he is as good at staging a story as Jeph Loeb or as deep and philosophical as Grant Morrison or as definitive as Frank Miller or as revolutionary as Denny O’Neil, but I get the sense that Dini is quite happy to let Batman be Batman, for better or for worse. His fantastic run on Detective Comics mostly featured a collection of done-in-one stories, which is a remarkable acheivement in this era of decompressed comics and six-issue miniseries. They don’t break new ground, or reveal anything too insightful on the character, but they are very well-told. There’s none of the hesitation to use the Batman rogues gallery that we see on Morrison’s sister run, nor is there any of the absurd retro-continuity either. Dini likes telling Batman stories. And that’s pretty neat.

The culmination of Dini’s run on Detective Comics with a five-issue arc focusing on Hush seems and interesting choice. Hindsight reveals that this arc was as much about maneouvring Hush into his necessary position during the events following Batman R.I.P., but it doesn’t feel as blatent as some of the moving of characters and facts that Morrison does on his run on Batman. In fact, taken on its own, this is an interesting arc which adds much needed flesh to the bones of Batman’s newest adversary.

Jeph Loeb created the villain Hush to be the centrepiece of his year-long arc Hush back in 2002/2003. In an ending that keeps somewhat with his theme of unresolved mysteries, Loeb hinted that Thomas Elliot is Hush, but didn’t fully reveal the badguy’s identity. Various writers have worked on the assumption that Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend Thomas Elliot is Hush since then for a series of rather mundane (and actually quite terrible plots), none of which manage to live up to the premise of a villain who could harness all of Batan’s foes against him or offered any vague insight into the man underneath the bandages.

Dini manages both. In one fell swoop, Thomas Elliott is restored as a threat to Batman and given a fairly interesting backstory. Although the mirror-of-Bruce-Wayne villain isn’t particularly new idea (arguably the introduction of the Black Mask was the beginning of that trend in the 1980s), Dini takes it to its logical and extreme conclusion. Jealous of Wayne, Elliot doesn’t seek just to destroy his adversary, but rebuild himself (literally) in the man’s image. Adding to the subtext we get Elliot’s mother’s fixation on Bruce as a better reflection of her son, which makes for all sorts of interesting subtext.

Dini manages to tie the story to continuity quite well – apparently the story takes place the night before Batman R.I.P. – and it serves almost as a better farewell by Bruce to his old Gotham than Morrison’s conclusion. Dini gives us a world we recognise with Selena Kyle and Jonathon Crane, which is somewhat fitting given what we know is about to happen (and which Bruce obviously expects). The story does add some nice closure (almost) to the Batman/Catwoman dynamic, with both faced with some sort of finality – ironically it is her life that is threatened, forcing the re-evaluation.

It's a secret...

It's a secret...

It’s also somewhat refreshing to see Dini twist the old women in refrigerators cliché on its head. Yes, Catwoman here is used purely as a means to strike at Batman, but that is simply Hush’s ego-driven analysis of the situation. Without saying too much, it’s interesting to observe who objectively causes the most harm to Elliott at the story’s conclusion. It’s a refreshing touch that excuses the use of that old trope.

The artwork is fairly impressive – giving us a skewed and distorted look at Gotham (all cuts and jags) which somehow fits the antagonist’s view of the world. Unlike most slightly abstract approaches to artwork, it’s never unclear what is going on and makes a nice chance from some of the more conventional artistry we see in the mainstream titles.

The book is a solidly entertaining read. It isn’t shocking or important, but it does add some much-needed context to the titular villain, while also demonstrating that Dini is a deft hand at writing Gotham. It’s an easier and more engaging read than Morrison’s temporary farewell to Bruce, and it also providesa nice bit of closure and companionship to the much bigger and grander Hush arc.

2 Responses

  1. This is I think, my favourite Batman story, period. I know the classics all are deserving but there’s just something about this one that floats my bat boat

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