by Tarique Ejaz
“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word.
Mama’s going to buy you a mockingbird, And if that mockingbird don’t sing,
Mama’s going to buy you a diamond ring…”
There have been innumerous tales that have been weaved ever since the Caped Crusader came into existence. Some have been darker than most could fathom, some rather quirky and uncharacteristic of the kind of image the Dark Knight seems to command these days (Particularly the stories dating back to the time of the character’s inception - pre 1980’s) while some have only managed to present the crime-fighting, vulnerable mortal of a superhero in a light of humane uncertainties. Amongst all these tales that have been conceived around this character, taking into account the pre-new 52 and post-new 52 era, Hush continues to stand in its own accordance and hold its ground as one of the most enthralling and defining stories in Batman’s fictionally illustrious career of crime-fighting and superhero business (If I choose to put it in laymen’s terms).
Hush, dating back to 2002-2003, is a 12-issue story arc that managed to redefine the darker, serious shade of crime-fighting justice that is associated with Batman in the pages of the new 52 and simultaneously, in all the other respective adaptations, be it video games or live-action videos. Now, it is very much expected that a Batman story should have a villain, either strategically manipulating the hero into a fix or barraging through his fighting stance to break his back and so on, and a likely will for the Dark Knight to presume that he is destined to do this dance for somewhat ‘silent justice’ alone so he could avoid the people he care for from suffering the repercussions of getting too close to him, coupled with an unexpected or a subtly presented show of nonchalant humanity. What if I tell you that Hush manages to combine all these aspects (Barring the breaking the back thing) and then goes ahead to pack a punch so hard that you will be left to ponder as to how did it all actually play out in the grand scheme of the plot? It certainly does so.
The title comes from the fact that this story arc provides the Batman Universe with one of the most menacing, underrated and psychotic of rouges present in the Batman’s rogue gallery. There is a recurring theme of ‘friendship’ being played around in the background, either in a mocking manner or simply in a tone as per the point of the story’s status, that lays down the groundwork for the big climax that defines and at the same re-defines Hush – making it a must-read for all who are interested in the escapades of the Caped Crusader. Each issue is a build-up, a well-planned construction being carried out to the point where it all comes together eventually! Moreover, it contains the big guns that have influenced the Batman legacy – Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Superman, Catwoman, Huntress, Joker, Harley Quinn and the list goes on. The writers of this tale went all Marvel and held nothing back as they shaped up one of the rightly emotionally-wrenched storyline. Not to forget, Jim Lee’s pencil work. Now that is something which will make you stare at each image a little longer than you should.
"We make war that we may live in peace."
The main villains in Batman’s rogue gallery have been pitted against him, orchestrated like a choir in an opera, and the mastermind behind all this is kept under wraps. The Killer Croc has shed his humanity, or whatever was left of it, as he goes beyond his modus operandi. More savage than usual. In the middle of the confrontation, another major power player comes into the fray, stealthily making its presence known. This leads to Batman discovering Catwoman as being another piece in this elaborate game. However, while chasing her there is a sudden mishap which leads to the Dark Knight almost plunging to his death in Crime Alley. Left at the mercy of small time crooks, only for Huntress to show up upon being prodded for help by the Oracle (the crippled Barbara Gordon) and this starts off a chain of events that lays the groundwork for Hush. In the delirium of pain and alternating between consciousness, Bruce Wayne recalls a name which was never heard of before. A long forgotten friend who happens to be the best surgeon in all Gotham only after his father’s reputation and this starts the theme of friendship taking center stage. The corresponding altercation with Superman and which gave the historic moment when Batman puts on a Kryptonite ring and punches the Man of Steel right across his face, going on with his assault while being aware that every single bone of his wrist was about to fracture IF he continues so only adds to the structure and formulation of story-telling presented. The tie-in of the Joker into the scheme of things and the budding romance between the Bat and the Cat simply introduced more ends that needed to be tied down.
There is a moment when despite everything that has been taking place in Batman’s life and his subsequent face-offs with his rotten clients, if meting out justice is indeed considered a business, the paranoia that is so well accounted for with the Caped Crusader surfaces as his desire to be with Catwoman is overpowered by his urge to make sure that she can be trusted. In fact, he goes ahead to tell her his true identity and yet continues to be suspicious. This is a reflection of the man, the boy, who grew up with a vengeance, an ideal but never managed to completely do away with what made him human and the related emotions that follow. The reunion with his long forgotten friend – the esteemed surgeon Dr. Thomas Elliot who had saved his life in the initial stages of the story - was rather short-lived as he is believed or made to appear to have been killed by the Joker. This sent the Batman into a frenzy where some of the most iconic moments involving the Joker is recounted. From the crippling of Barbara Gordon, the killing of James Gordon’s first wife to the death of the second Robin – Jason Todd, a flash-flood of events that shaped the Batman legacy sprang forth. It engineered one of those moments in DC history when Batman came scarily close to killing the Clown Prince of Crime, had it not been for James Gordon himself. The amount of seriousness combined with the dark sense of the setting gave the readers a feeling into the doubt and guilt that Batman processed each day. A personal, guillotine where he beheaded himself mentally and morally each day in his own isolation!
"All men by nature desire natural knowledge."
The man pulling the strings still remained a mystery. This person had managed to get a psychiatric evaluation of Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Huntress, Harley Quinn, Joker and even the Batman from Dr. Jonathan Crane, popularly known as the Scarecrow, to push most of them beyond their limitations to make them do things they wouldn’t have done on a usual day. The icing on the cake came via the revelation of a healed Harvey Dent whom the unknown manipulator expected to play a big part. As the story progressed, the League of Assassins under Ra’s were dragged in and the romantic storm that the Dark Knight was involved in became more tremulous with his encounter with Talia al Ghul, renamed as Talia Head, the new head of LexCorp industries. This only added to the build-up as a bandaged man wearing a trench coat seemed to appear at all the places of importance connected to the Dark Knight, only to reveal himself as – wait for it – Jason Todd. Yes, Jason Todd. The Robin that was bludgeoned to death by Joker. As astounded as it might seem, it wasn’t to end there.
"What is a friend? A soul dwelling in two bodies."
After a struggle that shall remain memorable given that it highlighted the moral dilemma that Batman had always tussled with regarding the loss of Todd where he enlists the reasons as to why he always had a Robin around and particularly, the traits that made each Robin different and unique, it was to be revealed that the Caped Crusader was only being played with the inclusion of Clayface. It only boiled down from there to the climax as the actual mastermind, the real culprit was unveiled. Dr. Thomas Elliot, nicknamed the Hush. Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend and all the loose ends were eventually tied. The Riddler, the one villain, who had been discarded earlier in one of the many subplots was a major focal point as the Batman walks in and asks him “Why did you do it, Nigma?” and he simply shrugged, only to be outwitted by the Detective. Thus, the Hush storyline combined many aspects of the Dark Knight’s legacy to create a piece, so brilliant, that it gave the DC continuity the HUSH.
The obsession for being similar to Bruce Wayne and the ruthlessness of most psychopaths, combined with the ingenious skills of a master surgeon. That is a combination which continues to make the Batman’s life miserable in the DC realm and not to forget the fact that he was his childhood friend. The series also reveals the fears, uncertainties and yearnings of a man who has given his life to an ideal.
As they say, the spoilt child might keep asking for more but the one who spoilt himself to indulge others wants in his own strange manner.