Friday, January 2, 2009

batman: hush vol. 2

As usual, I do things backward. There wasn’t much choice of Batman comics in Barnes and Noble, and since this was authored by Jeph Loeb and had Harley Quinn in it, I wasn’t too worried about continuity. I think this fits somewhere between Dark Victory and Catwoman: When in Rome, though at first I had no idea how to reconcile one plot strand with Under the Hood vol. 2. It does, in fact, make sense, and you have to commend the writer and artists for cramming all the superstars and villains of Gotham into 150 pages: Batman, Nightwing, Jason Todd, the third Robin (Tim), the Joker, Catwoman, Ra’s al Ghul, Talia Head, Huntress, Two-Face, Oracle, Gordon, Harley, the Scarecrow, Clayface, Superman, the Riddler (and the earlier instalment featured Killer Croc and Poison Ivy as well!).

Hush is an unlikely villain who’s pulled all the strings and enveloped Batman in a conspiracy that touches all of his enemies, and it’s a classic case of misdirection. It pushes Batman’s buttons in such a way he is willing to contemplate what he shied away from in The Man Who Laughs and The Dark Knight Returns, which to be honest seemed a little out of character for him (even though Loeb has taken pains to set up the backstory). It takes the combined efforts of Catwoman and Jim Gordon to stop Batman on his rampage (and Harley doesn’t stand a chance . . . “in some perverse way, she loves him”).

The opening is a good one, theatrical and operatic, and what villain better suited for that than Harley? This is also one of the best Catwoman/Batman romance stories, as they actually get to do a bit more than angst at each other. There are also some winning moments between Catwoman, Nightwing, and the current Robin. The tender moments also abound—Catwoman inspecting Batman’s scars, including the ones she inflicted.

As the story revs up, Loeb does a good job of providing backstory and characterization for Batman’s various allies and enemies. There’s some weird subplot with LexCorp, and the Huntress stuff goes right over my head. As you know, I tend to yawn at all aspects of Batman related to Ra’s al Ghul, and this is no exception (though the Lazarus Pits are an important plot point). The Scarecrow’s part, though small, is delightfully kooky.

It’s not often, of course, that Jeph Loeb’s writing isn’t paired with Tim Sale’s artwork. Jim Lee, however, is clearly a genius. His detailed yet atmospheric pencil flashback sequences are as powerful as his dynamic action sequences and portraits. He really is a master of all aspects of drawing a full-bodied, intricately-plotted comic such as this. I must particularly mention his animation-like sequences of Harley and Catwoman leaping from one place to another. Alex Sinclair is also an excellent colorist.

All in all, though I missed Hush vol. 1, I had no trouble jumping into this one, and I think it’s superb. I rather think Loeb has a soft spot for the Riddler, rehabilitating him from minor crook status to incredibly shrewd and a supervillain who fights dirty—yet is capable of the pathos that so many of the supervillains seem to exude.

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