We’re another week closer to the release of “The Dark Knight Rises”. In fact, by the time this is published, we’ll be a mere week and a half away. Less, if you are planning on going to the midnight showing like I am sure that hundreds potentially are. Those are the real hardcore fans, the ones that love everything about Batman and his world.
For some, though, a regular showing would suffice just fine. Either way, “The Dark Knight Rises” is being released and many are beyond excited. It’s Batman Month here on Comic Matters and we’re looking at the best that Batman has to offer to newer fans. These comics, I believe, can turn those regular, daytime viewing fans into the hardcore, driven fans that will wait in line for 6 hours just so they get the best spot in the whole theater.
Not that I have ever done that, I’m just saying.
I did do that. For “The Avengers”. I’ll probably be doing that for The Dark Knight as well.
Today, we’re taking a look at one of my personal favorite Batman tales. I think the reason I admire this story so much is because not only does it tell a done-in-one Batman story, but it also acknowledges a complaint that many comic book fans have.
One issue that “fans” have is to complain about comic books and their history. Some fans complain that if a story is too delved in a comic’s history (which could be well over 50 years old, or in the case of Batman, 70) then it’s not trying anything new. However, on the other side of that argument, those fans will argue that if a comic doesn’t acknowledge its history, then their stories don’t matter.
It’s a tough debate, and I definitely do not think that I can solve the crisis with comic book fans with a single article, but there are definite ways to end this argument. This is a Batman story that I believe does just that. It’s called “Hush” and it was published over the course of 2002-2003. Even though it’s close to ten years old, it holds major resonance to today’s comics and to Batman in general.
It’s another Batman mystery brought to us by author Jeph Loeb and comics superstar artist, Jim Lee.
“And in doing so, have I become the very thing that all monsters become…Alone…?” - Batman
Batman is cold, calculating and methodical. It took him years to develop the tactics and weapons that he uses to take down common criminals. So how to you take down the unstoppable vigilante? You play him. You make him unaware of what’s happening. That’s the game that is played in “Hush”.
As our story begins, Batman is hoping to save the son of a multi-millionaire that was kidnapped on his way home from school. Sounds about right for a Batman story. What is unexpected is the set-up.
Whoever staged the kidnapping has hired some fairly high-class mercenaries. Also, on hand to engage Batman is the monstrosity Killer Croc. This all seems a little too up there for someone of Croc’s stature.
As the event winds down, Catwoman appears and steals the ransom that was paid. From one end of the spectrum to the other. As a rooftop chase ensues, all Batman can think of is that this reeks of some larger conspiracy.
Before Batman can think on the matter anymore, his line he was swinging from is cut somehow, mid-swing. As Batman falls, Catwoman meets with another villain from Batman’s rogue gallery. The pieces are being set-up for Batman’s fall, and it is only the first issue.
Author Jeph Loeb, who wrote last week’s The Long Halloween, is at his best when he is able to stretch his legs with a long form Batman story. Loeb again has a great handle on the inner monologue that runs through the story. We hear Batman’s thoughts and his concerns. With the assistance of an old friend, Dr. Thomas Elliot, Bruce Wayne is able to heal and continue his search for answers.
Who staged the kidnapping? Why did Catwoman appear? Who snapped his line?
Loeb has a mastery over creating a mystery worthy of Batman, because after 70 years of being published, it’s hard to find challenges for The Batman anymore. Throughout the entirety of Hush, Loeb pulls from the 70 years of history and gets to use it like toys from a toy-box.
This answers the problem that “fans” have with comic books. Loeb does not shy away from the fact that Batman has been around for 70 years in published form, but he doesn’t let it weigh down the story and make it inaccessible for new readers. Trust me when I say, if a story depends way too much on events that occurred 15 years ago in another random story, without explaining it in a way that new readers will appreciate, it will ruin the narrative.
We’re introduced to villain after villain: Poison Ivy to Killer Croc. Catwoman to Scarecrow. The Joker to The Riddler. Loeb, though, gives us Batman’s thoughts on them that are both informative without appearing too expository. He eases us into Batman’s world, which is what makes it so great for new readers that know nothing about Batman outside of the basics.
Words are only half of any comic book story, and telling the other half is Jim Lee, current DC Comics Co-Publisher and all-around comic book superstar. Currently, he’s drawing the adventures of the Justice League and their huge, Earth-shattering sagas. In this, though, Jim Lee takes a more intimate approach with his art.
Jim Lee’s design of Batman is the one that DC Comics primarily uses for its merchandising and marketing, outside of the movie. Odds are if you own some form of Batman paraphernalia, then it has Jim Lee’s Batman on it. Everything in this series, from Gotham City to his design of the villains are some of the most iconic character designs in any comic book.
It’s not the designs that I want to focus on with Jim Lee’s artwork, though. Like I said, author Jeph Loeb has crafted a Batman story that is delved deep in the lore and mythology of Batman. So, fittingly, if you blink and miss any panel, odds are you might miss something in the background or right in Batman’s hands. This may include the massive array of Batmobiles that Batman has collected over the years to any number of weaponry or tools he uses.
What also sets Jim Lee apart is his differentiated storytelling. This is an extended mystery that takes Batman months to solve, something to wear him down mentally and physically. As you read, keep an eye out for Batman’s appearance in the first issue as opposed to how he appears in the last. Watch for how Batman fights compared to how his former sidekick, Nightwing, fights. This is what makes Lee the master storyteller he is.
I wish I could say more, and at some point in my writing career I may do a detailed analysis of the entire story, analyzing and dissecting each part of this epic mystery, but there’s not much more I can say. Batman is faced with a foe that knows his every move and his every tactic and is using his most dangerous villains to psychologically break him.
By the end, Batman and his life are not the same.
Next Time: These are Batman stories from the past. What’s he like now? We look at the current Batman stories being published by DC Comics in the most exciting, excellent story of the last 20 years: The Court of Owls!
In addition to writing for the column “Comic Matters” for the Tucson Citizen website, Bobby Acosta is also a 5th Grade Elementary school teacher, frequenter of local comic book shop Heroes & Villains, and explorer of the importance of comics. He recommends each and every comic he writes about. Contact him at email@example.com
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