Friday, January 02, 2009

Heart of Hush: The Demon in the Mirror (DC)
Detective Comics #850 When: January 2009
Why: Paul Dini How: Dustin Nguyen

The Story So Far...
Thomas Elliot was once the childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, but as they grew apart into adulthood, a parent's constant references to the budding young billionaire fostered a deep resentment in Elliot. Tethered to an ailing mother who survived the severed brakes that killed his father; Elliot's dark urges only grew deeper as she held him to ransom with an inheretence and her ill condition, never passing an opportunity to belitte or berate.

After smothering his mother in a fit of rage, Elliot finally attained the level of freedom he had envied Bruce Wayne for. With his family fortune, Elliot travelled the world, studying various disciplines, before finally fulfilling his dream of practising medicine. A revered surgeon, it was an easy manipulation to return to Bruce Wayne's life when he orchestrated a mortal fall for the Batman, who had unwittingly been subjected to months of hypnotic suggestion.

Dedicated to his vendetta, Thomas Elliot faked his death to remain in Gotham, forever transformed as the villainous underworld figure, Hush. Enduring through battles with other prominent rogues, such as Joker and Poison Ivy, Hush remains a lurking threat present in the shadows of Gotham City and the darkness of Batman's subconscious. At least, he was, until returning to strike at his nemesis once more, this time with the intent to seize Batman's fortune. Once again relying upon a grand orchestration to strike at the Dark Knight from all sides, Hush removes Selina Kyle's heart, forcing Batman to recruit Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite in a race to save her life, while Elliot himself enters the sanctum of Wayne Manor under the guise of Bruce Wayne himself. His gambit brings him to the threshold of victory, but the Batman is not so easily manipulated...

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Ed McGuinnessARTWORK: Jim LeeStrength: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Batman 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Power: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

- After witnessing the street murder of his parents, the young Bruce Wayne's destiny was forever shaped to be one dedicated to an ideal. Having spent his formative years studying the various sciences, martial arts, and crime fighting techniques, Bruce is ultimately inspired to become the one-man war on the criminal element in Gotham City: Batman.

Perhaps Batman's greatest power is the millions inherited from his industrialist parents, and the various facilities that came with that. They prove crucial in the design and construction of his many weapons, which are typically non-lethal, and have a variety of uses.

Complimented by his keenly strategic mind is Batman's expertise in the martial arts. He is extensively trained in multiple fighting styles, and commonly regarded to be one of the greatest hand-to-hand fighters in the world.
He is also extremely proficient in urban warfare.

- Born into wealth; Thomas Elliot spent his childhood in loathing of his parents. In an effort to gain independence and control of his family's estate, the child orchestrated a murder plot to sever the brakes on his parent's vehicle, after convincing them to pardon their driver. The horrific accident that ensued would bring the socialittes under the knife of Dr. Thomas Wayne, father to Elliot's best friend, Bruce Wayne. The doctor would fail to save Tommy's father, but leave him an ingrate mother to suffer and care for.

As Hush; Elliot is soon revealed to be the manipulator whose influence had led Batman to call upon his services as a surgeon when he suffered head injuries from a fall, also part of Hush's plan. Having teamed with The Riddler and an adult Jason Todd; a spiteful Elliot fulfils a lifelong goal of revenge for the Waynes' part in his mother's survival, and the jealousy felt toward Bruce for living the life he wanted and was constantly measured against. Taking this vendetta to new a level, Elliot underwent radical plastic surgery to alter his appearance to actually look like Bruce Wayne. His disguise failed to fool Wayne's confidants.

Additional: Their only previous reviewed battle was the penultimate chapter of Hush's introduction, in Batman #619. Though Batman technically suffered a physical defeat at the hands of his newest enemy, it was his relationship with Harvey Dent that saw victory slip through Hush's gloves, awarding Batman only an assist.

History: Inconclusive (0-0-1)
Math: Batman Ranking: Batman (#1)

What Went Down...
Foiled in his attempts to fool Alfred into believing him an injured Bruce; Elliot prepares to descend the Batcave with the brutalized butler in tow. Unbenknownst to the villain, Batman was able to escape his crazed staff, returning home to launch a final assault against his arch-nemesis!

Hush fires his twin pistols at the moving shadow of the Bat, jeeringly noting the suitability of their encounter beneath the watchful stare of a painting of the deceased Waynes. Batman strikes silently in retaliation, diving at Hush to send them both tumbling down a hidden stairwell to the Batcave.

On his home turf, the Batman descends from the shadows, disappearing from a landing kick that fails to slow Hush. With his surgical scars beginning to bleed, Elliot wraps his head in his trademark bandages, sticking to the light whilst admiring the magnificence of the secret cave.

Elliot reveals some of the unknown complexities of his history, walking through the trophy area of the cave into the Batman's sights. A stiff left hook does well to snap the killer's face around, but a two-pump burst from his pistols knocks Batman through the glass of one of his trophy domes.

Elliot looms with his guns drawn promising the final blow, but a thunderous "thoom" serves a fitting distraction. Batman pulls himself from the glass, while Hush goes on the hunt for Alfred, who, manning the Batcave computer, shows a steely resilience against Hush's murderous confidence...

... His confidence becomes clear as the cave's model dinosaur lurches to life!
A hail of bullets reduce the towering monster's facade to nothing, exposing the robotic under structure to his shots. It tumbles to a hault, destroyed, but serves a purpose in delaying the villain.

Robin and Nightwing drop from the upper levels, challenging Hush to an acrobatic scrum. Elliot, not without his own combat training, fends off Robin with a kick, while Nightwing leaps over his head. Hush avoids a baton strike, striking Nightwing at the base of the skull a whip of his pistol. Outnumbered, he abandons his plans, instead seeking a means of escape.

Batman reemerges; tossing his cape aside to pursue Hush as he commandeers a one-man autogyro. The Batman leaps onto the bottom of the "whirlybat," clinging gingerly to the contraption as it becomes airborne.

Elliot sneers at his opponent's decision to hang from the machine, taunting him with references to childhood games, whilst gloating over his opportunity to return to claim the Batcave at any time. His words are accompanied with the tip of a blade that slashes the Batman's hand. The last laugh, however, belongs to him.

With Elliot's bandages partly unfurled, the Batman draws his attentions to the hazards of live rotor blades and loose materials. The realisation comes far too late for Hush who becomes entangled as Batman dives into the waters below, leaving his doppelganger to careen out of control into the cave wall in a spectacular explosion.

The Hammer...
With the vital assist provided by Alfred, Nightwing, and Robin, we give to you the first winner of Season 2009: Batman!

Wow! At this point we're running nearly three weeks behind schedule, but it's nice to open the account for the year with a really great recent issue! Christmas was good to us, on the Wars.

"Batman RIP" branched out from the Grant Morrison plotline that pitted Batman against a strange new menace; Dr. Hurt's criminal organization, The Black Glove. The story featured a host of Silver Age touchstones revived for a plot that drove Batman to the edge of insanity and forced him to challenge the very notions of how he operates as a superhero.

The story made international headlines, with major press outlets reporting under the impression that Batman had died in a smouldering helicopter wreck. The truth, however, would prove to be much vaguer. Fans keen to learn the true fate of Batman in "RIP" were steered to Final Crisis, specifically, issue #6, where the final fate of Batman was said to finally be revealed.

Right around this time you might be wondering where Hush factors in.

Initiated fans will be well versed in the marketing strategies of major comics publishers. If one title is gripped by a major storyline, then there's often no reason surrounding titles can't benefit from that same attention.
Admittedly, in it's capitalist principle, it's not a very admirable method of doing business in a creative medium, but I have to give Paul Dini and the gang some measure of credit. Why? Because it's bloody good!

Good logic tells us Heart of Hush probably sits somewhere just prior to Morrison's core story, sharing nothing in common with the psychadelic trip of RIP-proper. Instead, this tale provides yet another emotionally draining struggle for the Batman to overcome. For a dark hero as closed-off as he; dealing with the sight of one of his few loves sliced open and filled with pipes (where a heart should be), is sure to be a particularly disturbing situation. Particularly given his sense of responsibility.

The real triumph of this story isn't
what it does for Batman, however. Rather, Dini assures a future for two major supporting characters in Catwoman and Hush, who have returned quickly to the pages of an empty book.

As disappointing as the conclusion to the year-long mystery of Hush was, I have to admit, I haven't had the venom for the character other readers have. Though dependent on conveniences, I felt Jeph Loeb contributed a bold new character to the Batman universe with great opportunity for potential. Potential that has been exploited with a beautiful simlpicity in Heart of Hush, by Dini.

Amidst a fairly typical arc of mental and physical confrontation, Dini and Nguyen lace in further exploration of the character's backstory. What they add really only embellishes what we already know, but does so as an organic step forward in taking the cypher of Hush as a character, and building something more specific around it. This exploration shows foresight for extending the character in both directions -- adding further complexity to Thomas Elliot's origins -- while also redefining his obsession with Bruce Wayne and the nature of his vendetta.

By engaging Batman on such a personal and dramatic level, some might feel Hush, from inception, bares a disturbing resemblence in nature to destructive characters from the mid-nineties (ie; Bane). With this follow-up, however, I think we see the character's future significance assured, even if it walks a tight-rope that will no doubt be exploited in the upcoming Battle for the Cowl. Afterall, a villain who possesses Bruce Wayne/Batman's face is a very intriguing thing, not just for the psychological implications, but his potential to usurp the mantle.

Dustin Nguyen deserves full credit for his work on Heart of Hush.
I've mentioned before that he really does deliver a Batman balanced beautifully between stylized darkness, cartoon simplicity, and hyper-realistic brutality. His style almost seems to mirror a Mignola sensibility, lending itself moreso to action, versus Mignola's skill for moments of still.
Derek Fridolfs (inker) and John Kalisz (colours) also deserve heady praises for interacting with the artist's pencils with a touch that truly enhances the mood of the story, and the art of the pencils. I might miss the grey tones of a more recent gritty era of Detective, but the vibrant and cool colours are welcome.

Nguyen also provides gorgeous cover art that not only lends a unique ink wash finish to his pencils, but possess a design sense that really made these issues of Detective stand-out above the Alex Ross fare of Batman. Superb!

The true fate of Batman is something we'll discuss at a later date. I'm particularly looking forward to getting January traditions out of the way to dive into Final Crisis -- a series I have found myself thoroughly enamored with over the holiday season. From the central issues, to the spin-offs, this is the event that defined 2008!

That's a subject for a later date, however.
Next up: More Batman!? Stay tuned!

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 6

Heart of Hush might just be the best Batman story of 2008!
If you want to get hold on it yourself, why not take advantage of Amazon's prices and customer service? By using purchase links provided, you help sponsor the Infinite Wars, which is important! You can find this story, as well as collections of most other reviewed tales, all on sale in the Infinite Wars Amazonian Gift Shoppe! Happy New Year!

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