It’s almost hard to believe it’s been over six years since Batman readers were introduced to the new villain Thomas Elliot, a.k.a. Hush. However, Jeph Loeb’s heavily anticipated introduction to the character in a yearlong 12-issue arc in the pages of BATMAN
in 2002 and 2003 was, for the most part, a thinly veiled excuse to allow artist Jim Lee to draw up nearly every major character in the Bat universe. The story was full of forehead-smacking red herrings and an over-bearing insistence on painting the most vague portrait possible of the Elliot character, so much so that it didn’t linger in this reader’s mind too long after the arc had vacated comic shop shelves.
That isn’t to say there weren’t plenty of interesting ideas on display. A smartly assembled fight between Batman and Superman, a decent punch line to the real mastermind of the arc’s goings-on (The Riddler, of all people) and the reintroduction of meaningful sparks in Bruce Wayne/Batman’s relationship with Selina Kyle/Catwoman were all notable inclusions. But when it came to the central villain at hand, it was rather difficult to drum up much of a care.
Of course, the proof is in the character’s usage thereafter. For the most part, Hush withered away as something of an all-purpose villain in the pages of GOTHAM KNIGHTS after A.J. Lieberman’s “Pushback” arc brought him back in 2004. A romantic interlude with Poison Ivy (“Human Nature”) preceded a grudge with The Joker (“Payback”) before the fate of Hush was left dangling in that title’s final issue in 2006.
Well, all the broad strokes and questionable characterizations were honed with precision when writer Paul Dini took up the task of penning a Hush story in the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS last year. “Heart of Hush” -- now available in trade paperback -- picked up all the shards of the various Hush stories and put them together in a way that has fleshed the character out like no other. Some savvy reviewer of the series recently wrote, “Jeph Loeb may have created Hush, but Paul Dini has defined him.” I couldn’t agree more.
“Heart of Hush” begins with Hush’s return, following the events of “Payback,” wherein The Joker had utilized a pacemaker to hold Hush’s heart hostage. Having personally removed the pacemaker himself, Hush has set up shop in an abandoned hospital, plotting his revenge against Batman for abandoning him to the Joker’s whims when he could have saved him.
Dini uses a device throughout that captures the spirited and knowledgeable words of the philosopher Aristotle, which we learn Elliot’s mother forced on him as a young man to cope with the abuse of his alcoholic father. Indeed, we learn much more about Elliot in the pages of “Heart of Hush,” a simple five-issue arc, than in the whole of Leob’s 12-issue “Hush” all those years ago.
After surviving the accident Elliot himself secretly engineered to kill his parents and collect on the family fortune, Elliot’s mother sheltered her son, kept him from the delights of his childhood and constantly held him to the standard of his best friend, Bruce Wayne. Elliot’s rage grew even as he played the part of the grieving son, waiting for his chance to head off to medical school and leave his needy mother and his haunting past behind.
But life has never been so simple for Elliot, and unforeseen circumstances (which I dare not spoil for those who have not yet read the story) kept him on a murderous path that would eventually point to what he would ultimately see as the symbol of his woes: Bruce Wayne.
Dini makes the shrewd decision to mirror the events of “Hush” and “Payback” in his own way when he sets Elliot on a course to cut his enemy the deepest. Hush will strike at Wayne “from a distance.” He will harm the only person who has ever touched Wayne’s heart. Furthermore, he will take the symbolism to a gruesome, unforgivable level.
Hush will literally take Catwoman’s heart, and as it dies, so too will Batman’s.
Dini proves why he happens to be one of the best writers in the game with an arc that, amid the constant head-scratching nonsense of “BATMAN, R.I.P.,” actually does a service to the characters by adding dimension and nuance. The drama is so textural and immediate. The establishment of Hush’s role among the other rogues finds a more purposeful path than the throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks events of Loeb’s introductory arc. But most importantly, a villain with a lot of potential to be a figment of value in these titles suddenly has real life breathed into him.
Indeed, Dini has defined Hush.
Dustin Hguyen’s artwork is nicely simplistic, somewhat reminiscent of Eduardo Risso’s take on the characters in “Broken City” (the arc which, ironically enough, followed “Hush” back in 2003). John Kalisz’s coloring also deserves commendation in that light.
If your head is spinning in the whirlwind of “R.I.P,” “Final Crisis,” and now, “Battle for the Cowl,” and if reading through the dubious pages of BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL just isn’t cutting the mustard for you, go back and read (or re-read), not only Dini’s work in “Heart of Hush,” but his full run in DETECTIVE COMICS In this reader’s mind, he’s become one of the best at showing the industry how it’s done.