The first real classic Batman story of the 21st Century was Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s HUSH, a 12-issue story within the main Batman book that saw the Dark Knight undergo a psychological attack that had him reeling. The mystery of the story was the identity of the man who was orchestrating everything, with signature Jeph Loeb red herrings thrown in to put readers off the scent of the real culprit: a brand new character no one had ever seen before who had somehow managed to deduce that Bruce Wayne was Batman.
Paired with Jim Lee’s striking art, the story resonated with readers and has helped to set the themes that have been revisited in the Bat-books ever since, including the close relationship with Selina Kyle (another Loeb signature) and the attempted ascension of The Riddler as a near equal to Bruce Wayne’s cunning intellect.
When Warners announced that the company would be adapting HUSH into an animated film, I was excited but still cautious, because I knew there was no way to take the massive story and condense it into an 80-minute feature. The end result tries hard to maintain the feel of the source material, but slightly misses the mark in the execution.
The most perplexing decision is the change in the big reveal of Hush’s identity. In the original comics, Hush finally unwrapped the bandages on his head and showed Bruce he was actually famed neurosurgeon – and Bruce’s childhood friend – Dr. Thomas Elliot, who orchestrated a year of psychological torture because he was jealous that Bruce Wayne’s parents were dead and his weren’t.
But in the just-released animated version, Hush’s identity is tied to the other big reveal from the comics version. Dr. Elliot was able to torment Bruce Wayne because he had help from The Riddler, who deduced Batman’s true identity after he took a dip in one of Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits to cure an inoperable brain tumor. The idea that Riddler knows who Batman is elevates him in stature of Batman’s rogues, though Batman neutralizes the threat in the comics by playing to Riddler’s ego to ensure that he never tells anyone. After all, what’s the point of a riddle if everyone already knows the answer?
Instead, Hush here is revealed to be another game played by the Riddler, a gambit to become a major player in Gotham’s underworld. The broad strokes are still there – the Lazarus Pit gave him enough clarity to deduce Batman’s identity – but the reveal that he was putting on the bandages to become Hush is a bit deflating. Even when they try and make Riddler out to be a serious threat, he still comes off as a bit of a joke.
Dr. Elliot is introduced in the animated feature, but I think his appearance is just meant as a red herring for everyone who read the original story. His fate follows that of the comics, but instead of faking his death at the hands of the Joker, Elliot actually dies. And that’s where everything kind of goes off the rails for the story.
With Dr. Elliot out of the way, the movie puts more focus on the relationship between Batman and Catwoman. The blossoming romance between the hero and the villain was a major part of the Hush comics story, helping Bruce Wayne deal with the loss and trauma he suffered at the hands of his new enemy. The pair works together to stop Poison Ivy when she goes after Superman and Batman even reveals his secret identity to Selina Kyle, embracing her as a member of the Bat-family.
As the modern comics have put a spotlight on the relationship between Bruce and Selina – with writer Tom King going so far as to have Batman PROPOSE to Catwoman – it’s no surprise that the movie explores their relationship a little further. It’s the emotional center of the film, and from the moment Selina Kyle comes on screen, everything else about Hush is really just ancillary. the bigger mystery becomes whether Bruce and Selina can make their relationship work. It hasn’t happened yet, though.
The changes to the final reveal plus the focus on Batman’s relationship with Catwoman really change the approach of Hush as a story, and it leaves the movie battling between being an adaptation and an original concept. The change to Hush’s identity seems unnecessary on the surface, but was likely necessary to keep the story concise to fit in an 80-minute window. I’m not sure the story would have been able to sustain a two-parter, as was done with the DEATH OF SUPERMAN story or Dark Knight Returns. If you go in to Hush not expecting a straight adaptation, you may enjoy it, but it certainly won’t play well for fans of the original comics story.