I turned to the last page, read the last few panels, then slowly closed the book.
On the cover, a drawing of Batman, cut in half. The other half, a large man with bandages wrapped around his face. Below were drawings of many of the Batman's greatest foes and allies. Two simple words on the cover- "Batman: Hush".
I had just read the greatest Batman story ever told.
Now that's not to say that I've read every Batman comic out there. In fact, I've barely scratched the surface of the character's seventy year history (that's right, they've been writing Batman that long. I can hardly believe it myself). To tell the truth, I've only read a handful of his story arcs, and not all of them are strictly canonical.
"The Long Halloween" and "Haunted Knight" were the first that I read, and are considered part of the "Batman: Year One" storyline. I read "Year One" while sitting at the book store, read "The Man Who Laughs" when I found a dirt-cheap copy on Half.com, and read a friend's copy of "The Dark Knight Returns", and the Knightfall series. And thanks to a certain friend, I've finally managed to read "The Killing Joke"- a masterpiece in its own right.
Now That's really a pretty short list. No "Year Two" or "Three", no "No Man's Land" on there. I haven't touched "A Death in the Family" yet, have little interest in reading "Anarky" or "The Road Home". And yet, I'm still convinced that "Hush" is the best Batman storyline. I'm willing to add "...that I've read so far", but at the same time I'm apprehensive about that phrase. "Hush" just has way too much going for it.
Aside from the occasional "Hulk" comic when I was a kid, I've only recently gotten into comics and graphic novels. This pretty much started when a co-worker threatened my life if I didn't read "Watchmen". I thought that I might be able to take him in a fight (after all, he is a comic geek), but I wasn't sure if he had a gun or not, so I broke down and read it. Lo and behold, I was actually very impressed with the storyline. He recommended a few other graphic novels, and that was when I really started getting into the medium.
Notice what I said about "Watchmen", though? I only mentioned being impressed with the storyline. The artwork was simply "there" at the time. "Hush" is what really changed that for me.
Jim Lee is a legend amongst modern comic book artists, and for good reason. He's pretty much the best at what he does. During the first chapter of "Hush", this became readily apparent once I saw his drawing of Killer Croc. I felt that Croc was a touch more alligator than human once I saw him, but that hardly mattered (and that also ends up playing part of the story)- the detail was amazing. I promptly flipped back to page one of the comic and started reviewing the panels again. It wasn't just Killer Croc that got the careful eye of Mr. Lee, it was everything. Every character, every building, and every shadow, really showcases a masterful eye for detail. I've read and re-read "Hush" many times, and I've never caught a single drawing that I thought could be improved upon.
And what makes the artwork here even more impressive is that "Hush" wasn't written as a stand-alone storyline, but written for the monthly comic publication. Every month for a year, Jim Lee had to come up with several pages of artwork, and had to get it done in time for the drawings to be inked, colored, and for the words to be drawn in. The result is twelve chapters of perfect artwork that never looks rushed or incomplete. I can barely draw a stick figure, and the thought that someone could draw so well, so fast, is enough to send me spiraling into a dangerous, gibbering psychosis.
And comic fans will be glad to know that since learning to appreciate artwork in a comic, I have re-read "Watchmen" and immensely enjoyed Dave Gibbon's work as well.
"So what else is good besides the artwork?", you ask. "Did Shakespeare write the story?"
Not Shakespeare, per se, but the Shakespeare of the comic industry, Jeph Loeb. Well, comparing anyone to Shakespeare is a little unfair, but Loeb's comic storylines have gained a massive following, and there's a good reason why- he's excellent. Like "The Long Halloween" he wrote earlier, "Hush" isn't some straight and simple storyline. Nothing like "Two-Face robbed a bank and Batman is chasing him", or "The Joker has a bunch of bombs and Batman is chasing him." No, Loeb lets his stories develop over time.
The story begins simply enough- a young boy has been kidnapped for ransom, and Batman is saving him from his captors. After a few quick beatings, he locates the kid and is about to escape when Killer Croc, the mastermind behind the kidnapping, shows up and tries to kill old Bats. After successfully fleeing, Batman realizes something strange- Croc has never been one for kidnapping. He's not smart enough to pull one off, so what's different this time?
And Batman is right. As the story unfolds, more and more of his classic villains are acting out of character, and Bruce Wayne realizes that someone, a true mastermind, is pulling everyone's strings, screwing with Batman and always two steps ahead of him. Poison Ivy is involved, Harley Quinn, The Joker (drawn far beyond "menacingly crazy"), and even The Man of Steel himself.
And while DC is no stranger to cross-overs between their characters, Superman's involvement is more than some fan-boy dream. I won't ruin it for you, but he plays a crucial, intense link to the story, and Batman's thoughts about Clark Kent reveal much about is own troubled ego.
And perhaps that's one of the places Loeb's tale works best- Bruce Wayne's introspective side. Throughout the twelve chapters, he has several thoughts to himself, about himself. What comes through is actually a bit surprising, because it mimic's what so many comic-critics I know have said.
"You know, in real life, someone like Batman would pretty much be a psychopath."
While Wayne may not think of himself in these exact terms, he's definitely not always thrilled with who he is and who he has become. He knows he's not normal, and he even knows that he may be a touch insane. But as long as he has his mission, he trusts that he can keep himself on the right side of the line, doing much more good than harm.
Now I know that the cost of graphic novels can be a bit steep, and with the economy hurting we're all pinching the dollars a little harder. But if you're any sort of a comic book fan, you should definitely set some money aside to check out a copy of "Hush". If you're a Batman fan and you haven't read it, then you certainly owe yourself the pleasure. And if you don't like "Hush", then you just don't like good comics.
Oh, and did I mention that the artwork is fucking incredible?
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