Jeph Loeb is the quintessential Batman writer, and one is not bereft of evidence for such a claim. His two most recognized works, Batman: The Long Halloween, and the anticipated sequel, Batman: Dark Victory, embodied the film noir detective drama of Batman’s logos, fleshing out his earlier years as a youthful crime fighting detective, still prone to making mistakes– something nearly unconscionable in his later incarnations– and still solo without the aid of a Robin stand-in. Why Christopher Nolan borrowed so heavily from Loeb’s work, especially The Long Halloween, is made clear when the scope of Loeb’s psychological breakdown of the Batman is considered. Such a breakdown is not only emphasized in Batman: Hush, but is expanded upon significantly. Its subsequent success earned it an Absolute Edition printing run in December of 2011 and earned a ranking on IGN’s “The 25 Greatest Batman Graphic Novels” list. While the story and artistry won it no Eisner Awards, it is a fine example of engaging storytelling, one that runs the reader through all the hoops and twists to be expected of Loeb and his narrative styling. Most importantly, however, he emphasizes a collaborative spirit both embodied between the work of himself and Jim Lee, and internalized within the characters themselves. In the introduction to Hush, Loeb recounts an incident of his father’s tenacity to get the right colors out of their brand new RCA color television, the first of it’s kind. The story emphasizes not only the experience and nostalgia of the original Golden Age mythos in its most vivid form, but the replication of the vibrant comicbook palate onto a new artistic medium. Jim Lee’s artistry, though stylized and disparaging even to the most contoured of Hefner’s Playmates, brings Batman out of the darkness, and suits well the story that Loeb has to tell. The result of the two’s collaboration presents the reader with a Batman in synergy with reinvented and re-purposed characters to create an oddly new experience for both readership and the Dark Knight. Its an opera packed with star studded villains and anti-heroes, of caliber to the liking of Thomas Wayne himself, with even a tragic ending suited for the plot. The result is a redefining of the Batman character, making him less brooding, and more of a hurt child starved for love and understanding. In Hush, Bruce Wayne is expanded upon, and dualistic paradigms are deconstructed, even questioning whether or not Batman is considered the greatest detective. In the spirit of innovation Loeb begins Bruce’s experience of heroism in the sprawling utopian city of Metropolis.
One of the big questions in the DCU is the nature of continuity. Writers such as Grant Morrison have endeavored to introduce tropes and loopholes to explain the idiosyncrasies of the events that have occurred in the DC timeline, but Loeb introduces a short pericope in Batman #611 that offers an intriguing caveat. While tracking the movements of Poison Ivy under the guise of a business trip, Bruce recalls a memory of going to Metropolis as a boy. In the memory, the panels fogged like the transient bloom of condensation on a cold windowpane, it shows a young Bruce and Tommy Eliot cavorting through the streets when they see Alan Scott as the Green Lantern fighting The Icicle. As Bruce stares in the sky his eyes are instilled with wonder, his mouth agape as he watches the heroes fly through the city. Today Batman is commonly portrayed as his theatrical self, that he becomes a monster to scare other monsters. While this of course establishes the conflicting duality present in Batman, it offers the implication that Bruce was never inspired to be a hero, but was enslaved to be one. Here he is inspired by the heroic capacity of a Golden Age superhero, which was the case for many of the current DCU characters.
In the Justice League episode “Legends,” John Stewart admits that it was the Green Guardsman, a fictional comicbook character, that inspired him to become a hero. While the episode is an homage to Jack Kirby and his prolific work in comics, it presents the question of inspiration and whether or not Bruce derived his passion to be a hero from such boyhood fantasies. That he conceived of Batman beyond his early childhood fascinations is apparent, given that his pursuit to the cowl was a journey completed in his young adult life. When young Bruce exclaims that Green Lantern is a protector of Gotham, Tommy asks Bruce is he has ever seen a super-hero protecting Gotham. Bruce replies that he has not seen anything of the sort. The quick exchange establishes for Loeb a world now burgeoning with metahumans but still alien to Gotham. When Bruce’s parents are killed in the following weeks after the trip, this small vision into the life of Bruce as a youngster, adds layers of emotional power onto the death of Bruce’s father and mother, especially if deep down Bruce wondered if a metahuman could have saved his family from death. An interesting take on the killing of the Waynes is in Superman: Speeding Bullets where Bruce Wayne (Kal-El) is the adopted son of the Wayne family. In this continuum, Bruce’s powers mature at the onset of the traumatic death of his parents, but his helplessness, being incapable of stopping their death, is still present. In Hush, by adding this brief memory Loeb takes a young boy and originates the Batman concept born out of anguish. This addition enhances the anger of Bruce for being crushed by the heroic idealism of the Golden Age, coupled with his anger against the metahuman community from being absent in the time of his greatest need. This is mirrored and exacerbated by Hush when Batman suffers a near fatal accident by falling into Crime Alley, alone, exposed, and in need at the point of a gun.
On the other side of forty, Batman in the present day is not left unchanged by Loeb’s program of character retrofitting. Much of the intrigue of Hush centers around Batman’s relationship with Catwoman, which gives Bruce an opportunity to open up his life and trust another person on a level beyond that of a partnership. In Metropolis, Bruce observes Clark’s willingness to open up his life to Lois, now Mrs. Kent, and sees the fruit of that relationship. Considering that Metropolis is already an analogue to utopia and idealistic circumstances, Bruce’s inability to trust his allies or even the activities of his enemies materializes in Hush, resulting in the final, calamitous moment of dissolution between himself and Catwoman. There is more here than just mere romance to Loeb. He is after consolidation, which is much of what Hush thematically achieves so well in its synergistic approach to character conceptualization. For instance, in the alley behind the opera, in the styling of his own parent’s death, Batman is given a choice when discovering Tommy’s body, allegedly murdered by the Joker. In the following moments Batman is confronted by Catwoman who attempts to stop him from torturing Joker to death, but in actuality increases the likelihood of Batman’s willingness to break his oath of non-lethal pacification, for Catwoman too could possibly fall at the hands of the Joker were she to become too close to him. What the event does is consolidate Batman’s duality of man and ideal man into an amalgam, the result being an idealized altruistic figure with the capacity to kill.
There are a myriad of other examples of this type of synergy throughout Hush, but Loeb’s inclusion of Aristotelian quips could suggest that Hush is the beginning of the end of Batman’s duality, ultimately merging him into one focused individual by the release of the New 52. After Batman stuns Catwoman, Jim Gordon arrives pleading to Batman to listen to reason and justice, thereby reinstating Batman’s moral compass. Given the nature of Thomas Eliot’s plan to destabilize Batman through emotional manipulation, and considering his extrapolated degree of introspection that occurs throughout his master design, Loeb presents Jim as a frustrating complication in Thomas Elliot’s plan. Given the nature of the events that occur in the arc, and assuming that the events are coordinated and planned, Batman’s synergistic relationships between himself, his antagonists, and his allies can only be detrimental to his character, and serve only to destabilize the balance he holds between Bruce and the Batman. In the same spirit, Harvey Dent’s inclusion into the narrative as Two-Face, and with the rogue persona’s subsequent deletion, is the only one who benefits from the consolidation of two natures, becoming the DA who was meant to save the Batman all along. Also in the scene depicting Tim Drake’s staged encounter with Catwoman in the Bat Cave, the reader is left to reconcile the problems with Catwoman being involved with Batman. Batman’s partnership between himself and Robin works because of its basis purely in professionalism, whereas Catwoman’s love interest only serves to meld the two categories of Ego and Alter-Ego together into one problematic relationship. The re-introduction of Talia al Ghul and the birthing of Damian Wayne only served to lower Batman’s legendary status, consolidating his mortal attributes with his immortal attributes. While this certainly makes for great fiction, it tampers with the core aspects of the characters. Whether or not this is a positive element in Hush is purely a matter of preference, but the program to consolidate Batman’s persona leaves the reader with some things they may not particularly like, and possibly a Batman willing to kill.
After all that has been said about Loeb’s reinterpretation of Bruce’s youth and his battle of loyalties to either the self-centered will of Bruce Wayne or the Cowl, the lasting impact of Hush is the scrutinizing of Batman’s introspective detective work. Earlier on in the work Loeb establishes the Riddler’s secretive collaborative plot to bring down Wayne and his empire as a unique endeavor. This is because the villains and their modus operandi that Batman has studied and cataloged have changed. They no longer operate on the basis of previously established patterns and techniques. The result is a Batman muddled in confusion. Even Superman is implicated, who is not only distanced from the Batman mythos, but is a foil to Batman’s own inner personal darkness. The mantra of Hush is that Batman that must begin anew and think as he did when he still donned the cowl in his first years of vigilantism. The result of this is, effectively, a new Batman, and along with it, a new problem. As childhood friends the board game played between Bruce and Tommy emulated a tactical requisition of resources embodied by figures with specific purpose. It is established in these flashbacks that Bruce’s weakness is not understanding his enemy’s weakness and Bruce’s underestimation of this is what does him in. The back story establishes the plausibility of Tommy getting away and leaving the Batman empty handed. While it is assumed that the mysterious stalker was really Tommy all along, Batman, midst his own uncertainty is none the wiser. Even if the Riddler shared the details of the caper to Batman at the end of Hush, how is this explanation to be trusted in the sea of uncertainty that Wayne has entered into? Is it another ruse? Or is it plain fact? Loeb’s talent as a writer often leads his readers along mazes and through puzzles to illustrate the true deprivation of truth that exists in reality. The ruse with Two-Face was clever, and very convincing, employing slight of hand and misdirection with the audience, assuming that Two-Face was the killer when in fact he was only admiring the handiwork of his illusion, and assessing Joker’s implication in the set up. Loeb’s fast and loose play with information and expectation is what leads the reader to suspect that perhaps Batman is losing his edge, even if he pulls through the illusion. Just like Year One, Batman’s rookie days, though long past, have returned, making Batman out to be less than his ideal symbolic archetype.
Batman: Hush is about expectations, showing the reader one set up and clearing it as soon as it has been accepted. This is the case in all classic who-done-its. What Loeb’s achievement lies in is his ability to take the expectation of the familiar Batman model and turn it on its head, reducing him to a mere man rather than his idealized self. Alfred’s Marlowian introduction serves to invite the reader further into the heart of Batman’s darkness, and see inside it a youth shivering in the cold winter surrounded by the bodies of his dead parents. Batman, according to Loeb, is not a proud, bombastic figure, but he is a man tortured by grief and distrust. Of those he holds closest to him, they either shared his crippling state of bereavement or had the audacity to pursue him. (I think it is here where Christopher Nolan conceived of the Robert Blake character in Dark Knight Rises, because of Tim Drake’s tenacity is seeking out the Batman and aspiring to become the world’s greatest detective.) Ten years after its publication Batman has clearely embraced these new humanizing elements. In the New 52, Batman no longer walks the fine line distinctions of dualism, but has brought his two natures together in collaboration, giving more weight and power to his businessman ethos. It’s a nice balance to strike, but the insular brooding Batman has vanished. Maybe it was time to watch Bruce grow up from the scared boy reacting to evil to the firm, accomplished CEO. However, there is something left to be desired when we “mortalize” the Gods. With Batman embracing Loeb’s influences, and the character thriving more now than ever before, is it safe to say, “So far so good?” Perhaps. Let’s check back in another ten years and see.