Pass/Fail: “Batman: Hush”
Welcome to another edition of Pass/Fail, where I take on the question of how well a comic/graphic novel is adapted for either large or small screen. I’m not reviewing the screen version here (though opinion does sneak in from time to time); what I am doing is looking at how well either the spirit of the original property is explored or how well the writers/producers/actors/etc. literally lift the comic from the pages and splash it across your viewing device of choice.
This week: the weird, messy, often misogynistic, rage-packed, bloody, somehow- still-mostly-engaging, considered-essential-by-many 2002 Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee, and Scott Williams–created Batman: Hush and the DC animated feature of the same name released July 20, 2019.
Originally released as Batman #608–619, the Hush arc is named for its titular villain, a mysterious personage who runs around Gotham and Metropolis wrapped in bandages and a trench coat (as one does), recruiting the members of Batman’s Rogue’s gallery to do crimes that will net both the puppet master and the puppet rewards while attracting the attention of the Bat. Hush’s plan is to lure Batman into a trap that will leave him gravely injured and in need of the services of his childhood friend, Tommy Elliot, a renown neurosurgeon. Hush succeeds, reuniting the friends who haven’t seen one another in years, and also brings Catwoman back into Batman’s life after a lengthy hiatus.
As the story progresses, Bruce finds himself split between deciphering Hush’s machinations and making a life for himself with Selina while Hush proceeds to break Bruce’s psyche down bit by bit, including such hits as: “I’m going to throw the Joker in front of you after making you think he murdered your childhood BFF” and “I sent Jonathan Crane and Clayface to the cemetery to make you think Jason Todd rose from the grave to get revenge” (before Jason actually…you know what? Comics! *jazz hands*) and “I’m going to set the scene for you to think an immortal eco-terrorist killed your butler-dad.”
The part of Hush that’s the most compelling is the fact Batman ultimately fails in the role of which he’s most proud: World’s Greatest Detective. Does he solve the mystery? Yes, but…I don’t want to give away too much for those who haven’t read the story, and putting aside the issues (and there are a lot of issues), Hush is a very interesting look in to Bruce Wayne’s psyche, especially the bit at the very end where he basically has to drag a thank you to Clark out of his own mouth and Clark is super gracious about it but you can see him smirking in his head. Love ‘ya, Big Blue.
The animated feature of Hush is most definitely of the direct translation type: the majority of the dialogue is adapted from—if not straight out of—the book, and big chunks of the visuals are at least based on the original panels. And I think that’s probably the way to go if you’re working with a book that’s has as much of an impact as Hush has (whether you agree with the magnitude of that impact or not). With the exception of the ending, which is completely different (I’ll get there), the story follows the lines laid out by Loeb from start to finish, at least touching most of the spots in between.
The writers did cut some stuff out, and having flipped back through the comic, I’m of the mind the story is improved by the edits. In case you’re curious:
- The homage to The Killing Joke is gone. I was overjoyed to see Batgirl ride up and kick butt in the Batgirl of Burnside suit even though it was only for, like, ten seconds at the beginning of the movie. That said, DC is doing a terrible job of including Oracle and disability rep in adaptations and that annoys me. A lot.
- The homage to A Death in the Family is gone. Which is fine. We all know Jason came back. He’s a trash-fire asshole but he probably has a soul in there somewhere and really, Bruce, you’re probably more pissed off that he’s defiant than about the murdering.
- The scene where Bats hits Selina because “I cannot let her stop me” from destroying the Joker has been eradicated. At this moment in the comics, they are partners, both as vigilantes and romantically. Harley shot Selina mere minutes prior. She is, in Bruce’s own words, “vulnerable,” and he uses that vulnerability to “exploit” the situation and knock her unconscious with his fist. And at the end of the arc he decides crushing her wrists in his monster grip is a good way to signal the termination of their relationship. It’s abuse and wow, it’s taken DC really a very long time to realize domestic violence isn’t a plot device, but mark your calendars because in 2019 they finally pulled that garbage out of continuity.
- The Ra’s al Ghul subplot went poof. Which is fine because it was really just an excuse for Lady Siva and Catwoman to have a leather fight and Talia al Ghul to beat both of them with her shirt mostly unbuttoned. The minimal swashbuckling does not make up for that. Also see: the Huntress and Catwoman leather fight, which…why? No one knows. Well, we know but 51% of us don’t like.
- The Jason Todd graveyard scene was swapped out as a way to bring Nightwing back into the story because in the book, the poor dude kind of gets left hanging. I have no argument. Then again, I never have an argument with more Nightwing, especially when Sean Maher is doing the snark.
- Benching Tim and using Damian as the Robin who is annoyed about BatCat and expresses his opinions via video chat with his father who makes sure to greet the dog as well as his son was a stroke of genius. Herein, we see Bruce very concerned about Damian’s use of the idiom “trollop,” less so for its meaning and the fact the tween is using it to refer to both Bruce’s current girlfriend and to his own mother and more because it’s outdated. I am here to tell you that while he certainly has his faults, Jason would never.
- The ending of the story has been simplified which is probably smart but also weird? Hush is such a convoluted arc that having a neat ending feels a bit abrupt but then, the original ending is so WTF it’s nearly impossible to compare them.
Based on all of the above, and despite my iffy feelings on Hush as a Thing, I’m compelled to give the adaptation a solid Pass according to the parameters set by, well, me. The important parts of the story remain intact in the translation and even where changes were made, the spirit of character interactions and events remains constant. You can stream it Batman: Hush free on DC Universe and rent it on other platforms.