This article contains spoilers for Batman: Hush, both the comic and the animated movie.
Batman: Hush is the latest DC Animated Feature, and the adaptation of a mega-popular Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee comic story from almost 20 years ago. And shockingly, it’s actually…pretty good?
I suppose I should start with the comic.
Hush went off like a bomb in the comics community in 2002. Loeb was at the height of his popularity, coming off of his enormously well-received Batman stories, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory. Lee was one of the most exciting artists in comics, but had transitioned to the role of administrator, particularly with the sale of his arm of Image Comics – Wildstorm Publishing – to DC. At this point, he was mostly drawing covers. So when the two paired for an extended monthly run, the Wizard Magazine crowd lost their minds.
The resulting book was the pinnacle of early aughts kewlness, packing as many characters (with new Jim Lee-created designs) into the book as humanly possible. Like all of Loeb’s previous work with Batman, it paid off its central mystery with an out-of-nowhere, unseeded swerve that actually contradicted prior character development in his own series. And it tossed in some offhand mysteries that never actually went anywhere – primarily Jason Todd’s seeming resurrection, a red herring that didn’t actually end up paying off until years later when Judd Winnick did it right with Under the Red Hood.
In fact, the only time the story managed to be anything other than hackneyed trash was when Lee used watercolors to paint flashbacks to earlier periods in Batman’s life. That was actually inspired. Lee is a talented penciller, but more than that he’s a gifted artist with a great eye for composition and skills that transcend form. But other than that, there’s little to recommend about the original work.
The general rule of thumb for DC animated movies is if that the quality of the feature is directly proportional to the quality of the source material. So Justice League: The New Frontier is delightful. Batman/Superman: Apocalypse? Dumb as hell. And I assumed that would be the case here.
Thankfully, it wasn’t! Batman: Hush pares down the cast significantly, ditches the red herrings, actually seeds its twist (which is changed significantly from the comic), and builds on the shared continuity of the animated feature universe to actually end up fairly solid.
The film gives us a Bruce Wayne grappling with his lifestyle choices, meeting up with an old friend, Tommy Elliott, at a party. He muses on how lonely he is before he has to go bust up a kidnapping by Bane. He does, but Catwoman steals the ransom and delivers it to Poison Ivy, who is controlling several people, including eventually Superman. When Selina is freed of Ivy’s control, she gets mad and sells her out to Batman and they head to Metropolis to track her down. There’s a big fight with Superman, but the heroes win and Bruce, feeling like he needs to open his life up a little more, asks Selina Kyle to join him and Tommy Elliott at the opera. While there, the Joker kills Tommy and Batman nearly beats the Joker to death. Batman tracks Hush around the city, identifying him as the mastermind behind the conspiracy, and after a handful of run ins, figures out who Hush is.
This is the biggest departure from comics to screen. In the comics, Tommy Elliott is a born psychopath who had posed as Bruce’s friend from their earliest days, but tried to kill his own parents and was furious with the Wayne family because Thomas Wayne saved his mom from a car crash. So he was manipulating everyone into destroying Bruce, and he also knew that Bruce was Batman. And furthermore, the Riddler was the secret mastermind behind it all, pushing Tommy into setting up all of these attacks on Bruce because he figured out Batman’s secret identity from using a Lazarus Pit.
I want to emphasize here that none of that paragraph had been telegraphed or hinted at in earlier comics issues. They all just happened, because apparently someone thought it was a cool twist.
The movie almost entirely excises Tommy’s role from the story. He exists to make Batman a little nostalgic, to make him yearn for a real life, and then he actually dies at the hands of the Joker. The true mastermind is just the Riddler. Everything leading to this reveal was planned and executed well, so rather than out of left field, it felt like a natural progression for the story.
Everything that frustrated me about the original was dealt with in the adaptation. Batman: Hush is, like most of the post-Flashpoint movies, locked firmly in a shared continuity. That means same voice cast, same art direction, no surprise new costumes. There is one apparent stylistic change in that the fight choreography is very good, particularly in the sequences with multiple combatants, but that’s flash in service of the substance, and not at the expense of it. The red herrings are dropped almost completely – there’s not even a vague wink of a Jason Todd reference, and while Tommy seems a little quietly mustache-twirly at points, in hindsight, that was there to mess with an audience’s prior knowledge of the source material, and I really appreciate that.
And did I mention the fights? These are actually terrific: the final fight between Batman and Catwoman against a jacked, Lazarus Pitted Riddler is a delight. Batman is still a solid brick wall fighting the smaller Riddler, but Nygma can land some punishing blows, and the way the director and animators make Catwoman move around (and over) Batman as they join forces against Hush is a lot of fun to watch.
I may be grading on a curve because it exceeded my expectations so much (because my expectations were so dismally low), but Batman: Hush was a terrific surprise and a solid action movie that belongs in the greater DC animated continuity.
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