For the purposes of disclosure, I am more than a little biased towards Paul Dini. His work on some of my regularly scheduled after school television shows has long endeared me to a man that has made a career on creating great cartoon shows. Admittedly, I haven’t followed Dini’s work outside of the realm of television (except for the video games Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City), so while I knew he has written for comics, I never took the time to read them. Batman: Heart of Hush would be my first foray into Dini’s comic book portfolio and with it came a startling and potentially harrowing revelation.
Until I flipped to the first page, I had no idea that Heart of Hush was actually one part of a large, overarching storyline called Batman R.I.P.. I’ve only read one volume in the series — that last one — and it made absolutely no sense. Who is the Black Glove? What kind of name is Jezebel Jet? Why is Batman running around in an unbelievably bizarre multi-colored Bat suit? Right off the bat (pun intended? You decide!), I had expected the same level of confusion given that this is one piece in a grand puzzle. Thankfully, my concerns were put to relative ease. Batman: Heart of Hush stands on its own because of Dini’s use of my favorite formula:
Batman(Catwoman) + Villain – Robin = Win.
Batman’s adversary is Hush (originally developed by Jim Lee and Jeff Loeb), a psychotic stalker who is out for revenge against Bruce Wayne. The graphic novel depicts his attempts to kill Batman in the present by using his love for Selina Kyle against him. The bulk of the story, however, is spent setting up Hush as a foil for Batman. Very much an antithesis of Gotham’s dark knight; as a child Thomas hated his father for squandering the family fortune. As a means to reap his inheritance early, the boy dismantled the brakes on the family car. Although his father was killed in the subsequent crash, Bruce’s father managed to save his mother. By way of karmic retribution, Thomas was forced to live his life under his overbearing mother’s disappointment. Once a close friend, Thomas Elliot is now driven by hate for Bruce and becomes “Hush” in order to undertake a grand scheme to remove the perceived cause of his tumultuous life once and for all.
Heart of Hush is very much a story about two polar opposites. The death of Bruce’s parents spurred him into enacting great change in his life in order to protect Gotham from those who would do it and its people harm. Thomas Elliot on the other hand, was born from the twisted shadow of Wayne created by his mother and sees the death of his parents as liberation. The relationship between the two men is what gives the story its drama, as Batman is forced to fight against a former childhood friend. As an added bonus, Catwoman makes a strong appearance, although her role is ultimately diminished into a damsel in distress as Hush captures Catwoman and uses her as a means to destroy Batman.
Given his history, Paul Dini writes Batman very well and comfortably juggles two major stories into a single, cohesive narrative. Unlike my confusion with Batman R.I.P., the conflict between Elliot and Wayne is strong enough to comfortably stand by itself. There are callbacks and references to prior events and characters, but are not enough to completely alienate the reader. Dustin Nguyen compliments Dini’s work by painting a dark picture of the events surrounding Batman and Catwoman (the sequence in which Scarecrow injects Venom into a traumatized child and his subsequent transformation is rather startling). To keep things from getting too bleak, Nguyen injects some fun in the form a panel that depicts various iterations of the Batmobile including the design from the Tim Burton films, Christopher Nolan’s re-imagining, the Animated Series and even the car used in the original Adam West television show.
Batman: Heart of Hush is an engrossing story written by one of the masters of the character.
As it is part of a larger story arc, the reader is expected to have read earlier parts of the R.I.P. series, but there isn’t enough to prevent the reader from jumping in and enjoying a classic story of Batman squaring off with one of Gotham’s criminal elites.