Back in October of 2002, DC Comics released the first part of an arc in Batman called “Hush,” and the fact that it has been 15 years since its original publication probably makes many readers wonder where the time went. The story marked the first major work of Jim Lee as a regular artist on a DC Comics title, and given his well-known runs on X-Men, WildC.A.T.s, and more from the ‘90s, this was a huge deal. He would be accompanied by Jeph Loeb, who had proven his chops as a Batman writer with stories like The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. “Hush” would be like those stories in that it would be told in 12 parts, but the major difference would come in that it would be told in the present continuity.
The story focused around a central mystery: the identity of Hush, a character in the background pulling the strings of many longtime Batman supporting cast members. So, as we come up on the story’s 15th anniversary, we decided to take a look back to see just how well the story holds up. Was “Hush” truly great, as its standing among “DC Essentials” might tell us, or was it a great looking story that has been overrated? Or is it, perhaps, both?
15 GREAT: JASON TODD RETURNS
One of Batman’s greatest failures was allowing the Joker to murder Jason Todd. However, as many comic book fans know, most comic book characters don’t stay dead for too long. The crazy part was that Todd stayed dead for well over 10 years of comic book publishing time. So clearly it took the comic book shops by storm when Hush revealed himself to be Jason Todd in Batman #617.
The page actually leaked online prior to the issue’s release and many thought it to be a planted fake by the people at DC Comics. It turned out that the page was legit and for the next month fans were in a frenzy wondering what the story was behind the revenge of Batman’s greatest failure. But all was not what it seemed...
14 OVERRATED: JK, IT WAS CLAYFACE
When Batman #618 came out, fans anxiously wondered what the conversation between Batman and ex-Robin Jason Todd would be like. The conversation went as expected, with Todd laying out clues from throughout the story in the same manner many fans had along the way. Eventually though, he slips up a bit in his comments, particularly those surrounding whether Batman loved Jason or not.
Once Batman realizes that he is being manipulated, he makes it clear to the impersonator that he is calling shenanigans. This leads to the revelation that it was just Clayface the entire time, furthering the mystery of who could manipulate things at this level. There has been a lot of discussion of whether it was Jeph Loeb’s original intention to have Todd be Hush, only to be changed by editorial. Either way, he returned to the land of the living just a short time later.
13 GREAT: HUSH’S COSTUME
Anybody who was around for the ‘90s knows that certain costume features are the coolest. In Hush’s case, he has the trademark trench coat, not so different than Gambit of ‘90s fame. He also has that strange upside down “L” shaped strap across his chest with an “H” on it, which is remarkably similar to the Jim Lee Cyclops design. If it sounds like this is a list of complaints, it is not -- quite the opposite is true, in fact. Hush compliments his duds with dual pistols and bandages around his face to make an extremely cool looking villain.
His look immediately evoked of mystery for the readers to solve, wrapped as he was in bandages. He stood in the shadows and purred ominous lines, seemingly in full control of a good chunk of Batman’s rogues. This was a great new addition to the lore of Batman villains, which is now a shame, given how much of a joke he's turned out to be.
12 OVERRATED: HUSH'S LAME CHARACTER
The problem with Hush’s character comes when we find out who he is and his backstory all comes together. Firstly, Thomas Elliot is a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne who was never brought up before in comics. It may have worked better as a reveal except that his reason for hating Bruce was a bit too contrived.
Thomas hated his father for his abusing both himself and his frail mother. He also hated his mother for being frail. Though his family provided him with a quality education, he was not satisfied and was ultimately more concerned with getting his family’s fortune. Thus, one night, he decided to sever their brake lines, hoping for them to wreck and die. However, Dr. Thomas Wayne saved his mother, keeping the money from him and creating an everlasting anger with Bruce. It just came across as forced and lacking subtlety.
11 GREAT: ELEVATION OF THE RIDDLER
While Hush was the big mystery of the story, the true mastermind of the plot was actually Edward Nygma, the Riddler. As a character who has always been known for his high-level intellect, this was a part of the story that rang true. Firstly, it gave Riddler a sense of credibility among other villains; it makes sense for somebody with his intelligence to be an apex predator. He was working directly with Hush and without his knowledge, Hush would not have known Bruce Wayne was Batman. It also set up some future plot points for Riddler to deal with the consequences of various villains.
The story’s conclusion involved an interesting question posed by Batman. If the Riddler knows who Batman is and he tells everyone else, it becomes a useless riddle because everyone already knows the answer. It’s a great illustration of two brilliant minds squaring off.
10 OVERRATED: THE AFTERMATH SUCKED
This is not so much a problem with “Hush” itself as a story as it is with the follow up stories that came thereafter. The story set up a new villain and put major rogues in a spot where there were plenty of stories to tell. Most of the loose ends were picked up in the Batman: Gotham Knights title, though readers may wish they had just left it alone.
What followed was Hush returning to beat up the Riddler, which sent him to seek asylum and offer revelations about Joker’s first wife. There’s was also more Clayface adding confusion to whether Tommy Elliot was Hush. Hush tries to frame Alfred, of all people, for murder. Eventually, Hush winds up with a Joker implanted pacemaker. It is all quite a mess, to say the least, and it is reasonable to say that it did take some of the shine off of the original story.
9 GREAT: BATMAN V. SUPERMAN
There has always been a fascination with battles between Batman and Superman. Hush features one of the best looking versions of their fights. This time, the setup is that Poison Ivy is manipulating Superman to do her bidding and Batman has retreated to the sewers with Catwoman and a Kryptonite ring to prepare to do battle. The action scenes are beautifully rendered and the use of Lois Lane as a way to get Superman to refocus is on-point.
We also get the beginning of some tension between Catwoman and Poison Ivy, since it is clear that Poison Ivy was also manipulating her as well. There’s also a cool appearance from Krypto to top the whole thing off, and who doesn't love that? The issue is no literary masterpiece, but it is fun and was a chance for fans to see a legendary artist draw some of the best characters in comic book history go at it. What more could fans ask for?
8 OVERRATED: A HEALED HARVEY DENT GOES NOWHERE
This story brought us a new look at Harvey Dent, as he had experienced an extremely drastic change thanks to the surgery of one Dr. Thomas Elliot. His face is no longer scarred, he is back to being 100% Harvey Dent. When he reveals himself to the Joker at the end of Batman #615, fans were sure that they had another prime suspect as to who Hush could be.
The problem was that a trench coat-wearing, bandaged guy taking them off to reveal a healed Harvey Dent looked like the end of the mystery. Another problem was the fundamental change to a great villain. It could have been a hugely important reveal if not for DC going back on it in his next major appearance in “Face the Face,” making him Two-Face once again. A chance for Loeb to come full circle in his Harvey Dent stories fell flat.
7 GREAT: BATMAN VS. JOKER
Jeph Loeb seems to know the strengths of his artists, and it almost works against him in the convoluted nature of so many characters in the story. However, just as the Superman issue worked so well, the Joker issue excels. It is a textbook summary of the dynamic between Batman and his arch-enemy, and features some of the best writing in the series; when Joker seemingly kills Tommy Elliot (Clayface again), Batman decides -- through an intense internal monologue -- that it might just be the time to kill him.
Batman reflects on the horrible actions of Joker in the past, such as killing Jason, shooting Barbara and how he would feel if Joker ever killed Catwoman. Ultimately it takes the intervention of Jim Gordon to stop him from crossing the line. Everything about this issue feels like the best of all the creators (and characters) involved.
6 OVERRATED: BATMAN AND CATWOMAN
The history of the Batman and Catwoman dynamic has always had its high and low points in terms of actual romance. Hush is a story where the relationship ramps up really quickly, and it is another example of the story’s lack of organic storytelling. It is explained away by some strange subliminal message stuff and the question lingers of what the real feelings involved were.
Either way, the story’s treatment of Batman as a hormonal teenager who just can’t stop thinking about kissing Catwoman just didn’t feel like the caped crusader we know and love. It is all capped off by Bruce revealing his identity to Catwoman in a story that already includes multiple characters learning his identity. What good is a secret identity when everybody knows it? At least Batman ditches the whole thing at the end of the story, leaving it for Tom King to pick up in 2017.
5 GREAT: THE ROGUES GALLERY
There are few comic fans out there who would argue the point that Batman has the greatest rogues gallery in all of comics. Having a superstar creative team on a 12-part story was a prime opportunity to feature as many as possible. From a monstrous Killer Croc to Harley Quinn at the opera, they all get their chance to play a role in the story.
Loeb does a good job of distilling each character down to a core trait that is used to explain their manipulation by Hush and Riddler. It works especially well for fans who are just reading this story and not a bunch of other Batman books. Perhaps the story’s greatest attribute is that it exposes fans to many characters to make them curious to read more in the future.
4 OVERRATED: THE SUPPORTING CAST
In a similar way to the villains, Batman also has one the greatest groups of supporting characters in comics. Characters like Nightwing, Oracle and Robin are some of the most beloved in the industry. But it stands to reason that in a story with limited parts and pages, there just isn’t enough story to go around for everybody.
What stood out most about this was the choice made by Loeb as to whom would get more focus. For example, Huntress received a whole new design for the story and received a significant bit of attention. Nightwing and Robin really were only in about one issue each, but even old Batcave mechanic Harold had as many major plot points in the story. The balance that was there for the villains was not as evident and some of the supporting characters just felt shoehorned into the story.
3 GREAT: HUNTING FOR CLUES
Mysteries are fun for readers, especially in a serialized nature like comics. The time between issues provides readers with the chance to examine clues and share theories, and this can really help drive interest and sales on a title. In “Hush,” the theories and the red herrings were plentiful. Things like the Robinson building being used in panels so that all you could see was the word “Robins” made people immediately think of Jason Todd as the second Robin.
Of course, you had new characters like Tommy Elliot to go along with Harvey Dent’s healing and the looming prospect of Clayface to constantly keep things interesting. The list could go on and on, but as a reader at the time, you couldn’t help but be intrigued. The mysteries woven throughout made Hush a blast to be reading every month.
2 OVERRATED: COP OUTS
One of the knocks against all of the Jeph Loeb Batman stories are that their mysteries are not always clearly solved by the end of the story. This was the case in The Long Halloween, which people still debate to this day. In Hush, it is clear that Tommy Elliot is the titular antagonist at the end of the story. However, during the course of the story, he is seemingly killed by the Joker, only for us to find out it was Clayface, just as it was for Jason Todd.
There is also this element of Batman’s computer sending him subliminal messages that just seemed ridiculous. All of this leads to a feeling that the story had all the pieces to be a classic, but did not fulfill its maximum potential. There were changes that could be made with minimal effort and it would have been an absolute masterpiece.
1 GREAT: THE ART OF JIM LEE
Jeph Loeb knows how important an artist is to his projects. Tim Sale’s art on his stories set in the past just looks and feels perfect for his writing's tone. Jim Lee, being, for many fans, the gold standard of modern comics, combines the edginess of the ‘90s with just enough realism to make for remarkably appealing comic art. “Hush” was something fans had envisioned for years, and it lived up to the hype.
Every character Loeb packed into this story looks awesome. The covers are incredibly iconic images, and the whole story is beautiful; from the colors of Alex Sinclair to the inks of Scott Williams, you could not read a word and still enjoy it just for the art. It stands the test of time as much for its fulfillment of seeing Jim Lee draw so many icons for the first time as anything else. But overall, with everything combined, it does stand the test of time.
What are your memories of Hush, and how do you think it holds up after 15 years? Let us know in the comments!