Friday, August 19, 2016

Hush Chapter Six: The Opera (DC)
Batman #613 When: May 2003
Why: Jeph Loeb How: Jim Lee

The Story So Far...
A mysterious new threat has insinuated itself into the life of The Batman, turning his world upside down with a single shot that sent him plummeting from the Gotham City skyline to the streets below.

Sustaining dangerous injuries, a barely conscious Bruce Wayne is inspired to direct his butler Alfred to childhood friend Thomas Elliot -- surgeon of considerable renown! The reunion of friends is a medical and social success! So much so, Dr. Elliot invites Bruce Wayne to accompany him to a performance of Pagliacci in the company of Selina Kyle.

Bursting in to hysterics - and out of the Pagliacci wardrobe - Harley Quinn makes a dramatic entrance at the opera! She's there to rob the rich glitterati in attendance, and sets her maniac gaze on the man pulling out a cell phone in the balcony: Thomas Elliot! With the stakes rising rapidly, Bruce and Selina excuse themselves, returning to the stage as their alter-egos: Batman and Catwoman!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Batman 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Catwoman 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Batman 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Harley Quinn 4 (Gymnastic)
Fighting: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

Harley Quinn is Dr. Harleen Quinzel: A former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist whose thesis in the psyche of crime and romance led to an infatuation with The Joker. Surrendering to her mind's darker desires, she dons a black and red harlequin suit, beginning her criminal career as The Joker's favourite girl!

Harley's academic insights and elective madness are underscored by her gymnastic athleticism. Where oversized mallets and guns fail -- acrobatics and agility pick up the slack! Speed and mobility therefore become her greatest skills in a physical mismatch such as a battle with Batman and Catwoman!

At this time, The Bat and The Cat have been made unwitting players in a grand scheme just starting to take shape. They've levelled their on-and-off rooftop antagonism to forge a full blown Gotham City alliance. When Catwoman was able to break from the manipulative influences of Poison Ivy [Batman #611]; Batman was there to assist her -- combating a mind-controlled Superman, as well [Batman #612]!

The longer it goes, the more the alliance turns up the heat on lingering romantic tensions. It's difficult to predict if romance strengthens Batman & Catwoman's partnership - or complicates it! It was playful flirtation in the chase shown in Solo #1, but created emotional volatility in another mind-control episode, involving Batman, in JLA #118! When the pair were at odds, Catwoman was often able to use the tone to get the better of Bats [eg; Batman: The Mad Monk #1].

Social dynamics are another way Harley Quinn could try to level the playing field! She tends to favor a ditzy, madcap approach to a life of crime, but her past as a studied psychiatrist can never be completely discounted. Batman's willingness to collaborate with morally ambiguous characters has introduced a lot of uncharacteristic uncertainty into the situation!

Batman and Catwoman have a famous history on opposite sides of the law. She's even maintained partnerships with Harley Quinn! Of course, that fact is a two-way street! Harley's found common ground with Batman in the past too, even choosing temporary alliances with The Dark Knight over her beloved Joker [eg; Batman #663]!

Of course, when psychology is too much work -- there are always henchman to even the odds! That's the case in this scenario, which finds Harley Quinn attempting to rob the rich at the opera. Will she get away with it? Most of our metrics point towards a no, but lets see exactly how it went down...

The Math: Batman Ranking: Batman (#1)

What Went Down...
Pushed from the balcony by Dr. Thomas Elliot -- Harley Quinn and her masked henchmen open fire at the opera box seats! Elliot sprints to reclaim his stolen mementos, while Selina Kyle and Dr. Leslie Thompkins take cover. The other man in attendance - Bruce Wayne - has already left to change for Act II!

The Batman glides toward the stage with wing-like cape fully outstretched! It provides a target for Harley Quinn, who wildly opens fire upon the descending figure -- hitting only the garb trailing behind him!

As he nears the stage, Batman tosses an arsenal of flash, smoke and mace grenades! The obscuring fog serves his priority of protecting the audience. His boot: beginning the offensive as it shatters one of the goons' masks on contact!

Machine gunfire sprays across stage-right as the goon recoils from Batman's devastating kick! Making ground, he throws his right leg at another nearby henchman. Batarangs whipped through the haze take down three more!

Confronting the harlequin ringleader: Batman squats to avoid another volley of bullets! This time Harley's aim is true, finding the sandbags dangling above the stage. Her bullets send them tumbling toward a Batman who is already nursing a serious head injury from a previous battle! The blow leaves Batman on his knees - dazed and grappling with the mistake of choosing a lighter cowl.

Harley refers to a partnership with Poison Ivy and a mysterious "script" she's considering deviating from. Somebody wants Batman alive, but the temptation to put a gun barrel to his head is too great. Good thing for him, somebody else wants him alive for altruistic reasons as well!

Catwoman leaps onto the stage - launching a fly kick into Harley's face!

The harlequin of crime tumbles into the set wall with a thud, mumbling about a Robin understudy. Catwoman takes extreme exception - slashing her talons across Harley's face as she rises from the ground. This time she goes through the set - sent smashing by Catwoman's stiff body kick!

Catwoman's claws slash through Harley's jester-like headdress, lopping one of the floppy limbs clean off! Harley uses the close quarters contact to make an escape - darting through Catwoman's legs, before vaulting off backstage boxes onto part of the stage!

With all the agility of her namesake, Catwoman keeps in step in the acrobatic harlequin. Being one step behind is enough to turn the tables, though. Whoever wants Batman alive had no objections to offing his "boy hostage" sidekick, or the "understudy" who's there in his place! Harley opens fire!

Taking a bullet to the shoulder in mid-flight -- Catwoman can't control her descent! She tumbles wildly through the turreted set and spills toward the stage. There, a Dark Knight waits to break her fall.

The audience erupts into applause, marvelling at Batman's ability to catch the woman. It was all just part of the show to them. As blood spills from her mouth, Catwoman chastises her ally for choosing to rescue her instead of catching the bad guy. She passes out as Dr. Thompkins arrives to offer medical aid.

The Hammer...
Batman may be standing by the end of the skirmish, but his hands are full with his wounded partner. Harley Quinn lost her fair share of henchmen, but she clearly got the better of both heroes. A surprise winner? Not exactly...

In the big picture, we're working backwards. Longtime readers of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths (and Issue Index divers) know we've already examined the fall out from this issue.

While Dr. Thompkins is tending to Catwoman's gunshot wound, Batman is chasing Harley Quinn. This leads him to run into The Joker in an opera back alley: A final page sting that sets up their showdown in Batman #614! All of the players from today's feature fight find their way into that alley - Catwoman included. Follow the link to see how it all went down!

Hush has been a recurring touchstone throughout the life of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths. I'm reluctant to hold the story up in high esteem, but I cannot deny its staying power as an encapsulation of the basic Batman experience.

At the time, it was a re-energizing experience for Batman comics. A back to basics approach that seemed to empower the vision of a quality creative team over broad editorial mandates. Large scale "event" crossovers like No Man's Land had started to overwhelmed the outward impression of what Batman comics were about. As a 12 issue story, Hush was very much a precursor to the overbearing "event" comics steering the past few years - but by containing it within one on-going series, with a simple objective, it felt ironically refreshing.

The appointment of Jeph Loeb as writer really struck a powerful chord! His past work with Tim Sale had been a well crafted revelation - giving us two landmark maxi-series in the Batman canon. The thought that this quality approach might entrench itself firmly within monthly continuity was an exciting prospect!

Of course, the much anticipated return of Jim Lee as a mainstream superhero penciller created a lot of buzz! His approach to rendering characters drew favorably from an iconic past, infusing it with a strong modern sensibility. Previews of his character designs were a tasty entrĂ©e! This may have been Lee at his very best. His work was more sharply focused on storytelling, and an intelligent, modern-definitive approach to character design that was permeating superhero comics in the early 2000s. A seemingly writer-driven focus on ideas, without the excesses of unmotivated visual spectacle.

Unfortunately, Hush didn't hit the storytelling highs of the Sale collaborations.

Like The Long Halloween and Dark Victory before it, the story undertakes a twelve issue tour through Batman's rogues gallery. A selection of Gotham villainy, effected together as a concurrent gauntlet with an overarching mystery.

I don't have any real complaints about the basic premise, but it may have been strained by a third go around, impacted by different concerns for where the characters are coming from, and going to. The Sale stories took advantage of the changing of the guard in Gotham's criminal underworld - the rise of the so-called "freaks" to take the city away from old families and mobs. More reactions than Hush, where the rogues are puppets in a more broad plot.

The guessing game of who's manipulating events against Batman certainly isn't as compelling or veiled as The Holiday Killer mysteries. This could be excused for what seems to be a different intent: The creation of a new arch-villain.

Fortunately, the story always has the gauntlet to fall back on, and it's hard not to enjoy an adventure through the super-villains. It slightly overwhelms Batman #613, but giving Harley Quinn a spotlight is certainly a fun prelude to the main event entrance of Joker in the next issue.

Harley Quinn is ultimately the reason we're all here. August on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths is all about the stars of the Suicide Squad movie - now in theatres! Margot Robbie stars as Harley Quinn - one of our recent Heroes of the Week, and today's feature fight winner!

If you'd like to find more pieces of the Hush puzzle, more Harley Quinn, or more of the Suicide Squad characters - check out the Issue Index Archive! If you're ready to read the whole story yourself, take advantage of the Amazon purchase link provided for your convenience! Doing so helps support the site, as well!

Stay tuned for the next Friday Night Fights, which is sure to be an enchanting interlude!

Winner: Harley Quinn
#104 (+224) Harley Quinn
#1 (--) Batman
#30 (-1) Catwoman

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