Heart of Hush marks the return of Bruce Wayne’s childhood-friend-turned-calculating-murderous-pyscopath Tommy Elliot to Gotham (again). Still filled with hatred (and jealousy) for his former pal, Hush enlists the help of an old mentor and enacts a plan to hit the Dark Knight where it hurts the most.
Beware the man who can strike from a distance
Whereas Hush’s famous debut gives an explanation for Tommy’s grudge against the Wayne family, Heart of Hush provides justification. Hush presented its namesake as a monstrous child who grew into a monstrous adult. Heart of Hush bring focus to what is perhaps the most important underlying assumption in Tommy’s character. An abusive father and a cold, possessive mother cast a new light on Hush’s first crime, making it hard not to feel for him at least a little.
That’s not to say that he’s any less of a monster, or any less frightening. He’s purchased an abandoned hospital, where he experiments on (and “employs”) the homeless and the disturbed, even to the point of death. His plan to strike at Bruce is certainly cruel, but it is also imaginative, and the sort of mind that would produce it is unquestionably deranged.
On the downside, Dini’s treatment of Hush suffers from information overload. There’s too much retrospective voice-over and dialogue, particularly as we’re caught up on Tommy’s last visit to Gotham. I was grateful for the broadened context, having never read that prior story, but it all sticks out like a sore thumb in the script.
The flashbacks feel crowded, spending (what I think is) too much time dealing with the various struggles in Tommy’s past instead of focusing on the most relevant one–his mother’s incessant, starry-eyed praise of Bruce Wayne. With my attention spread thin on daddy issues and Aristotelian indoctrination (you’ll have to read the book to find out), it feels like Hush’s jealousy is one equivalent member in a set of factors that have shaped the man he is today, rather than the driving force fueling his vindictiveness. I understand that his parents are dead, and that Bruce is the only target left; while reading the book, however, I feel as though the comprehensive examination of Tommy’s past creates a disconnect between the flashbacks and the present events, and ultimately, a weaker narrative.
Another madman’s round of hide and seek
Batman himself has a lot of great visual moments. Nguyen’s use of darkness is one of his greatest assets, and in a Batman book, it’s a skill that gets a lot of mileage. Unfortunately, the Dark Knight isn’t given many standouts in the script. Most of his lines are fairly stock–your standard Batman-in-the-field type stuff–and we never get anything really personal–not even in the voice-over narration.
Dini attempts to give Bruce a big character moment at the end, but the dialogue feels too scripted to me. There’s too much of it, for starters, and the level of emotion seems forced. I’m convinced the desired effect could have been achieved with far fewer words.
We live in deeds, not years
Batman’s so-so showing notwithstanding, the script is pretty solid. There’s good detective work, a few tussles with some bonus Bat-villains, and a few nice surprises. The flashbacks hit the right beats, and I never feel jarred by the transitions.
“Oh, you know, nothing special, Alfred. I just dunked his face in a metal prison toilet and electrocuted him with a hanging lamp wire.”
That said, there are times when things feel rushed. When Batman faces off against Hush’s mentor, it’s practically over before it begins. There’s an attempt by Dini to justify this logically, but that justification doesn’t make it read any better in the moment. The flashback establishing the mentor relationship blows by, too, and there aren’t any additional sequences that develop that relationship further. We get a shaky connection in that single flashback, and then nothing else to explain the trust that the two put in each other.
Top hats and tacky stockings
It’s not surprising that my top moments in Heart of Hush come when things slow down and breathe. There are some delightful character pairings, whether it’s Bruce and Selina teaming up to take down the villain Aesop, Alfred and Hush rumbling in Wayne Manor, or–my personal favorite–Selina making Zatanna feel considerably less magical (and Zatanna getting some form of “last laughs” later). The Selina/Zatanna scenes also feature some of the most natural dialogue in the whole book, along with some welcome comic relief.
Nguyen’s rendering of Selina is also wonderfully consistent. I can always tell it’s her, even in panels where the context doesn’t make it immediately obvious. This isn’t something to be taken for granted, either. I read plenty of books where characters don’t even look the same from panel to panel, let alone throughout an arc. Kudos to Nguyen for nailing it on that front.
And while I’m singing his praises, I simply must share a few of the more lighthearted shots in the book:
“Dr. Batman, please report to the OR. Dr. Batman, please report to the OR.”
And hey, old chum!:
Nguyen seems to know just when and with what frequency to include these little delights, and it’s a major plus for the book. They don’t disrupt the flow of the story, but they do remind you that you’re reading a comic book, and in the very best way.
There are two “pinups” by Dustin Nguyen included at the end. It’s also worth pointing out the nicely-crafted back cover and non-content interior pages. There’s some solid graphic design at work here–something that I can’t say about every trade I pick up.
Value: Full Price
The paperback will currently run you about thirteen bucks on Amazon. Twenty will get you the hardcover. Given the quality of the art and the overall quality of the writing, I’d be comfortable with either of those prices (though I might wait for the hardcover to move down a smidge). It’s true that there isn’t much in the way of bonus features, but the book has a handsome design to compensate.
Heart of Hush adds additional layers to an already-engaging Baman villain, providing perhaps the best justification for his existence that I’ve read. Even though some of those layers create more confusion than clarity for this particular book, they are nonetheless compelling, and Hush is a better character for their inclusion. Beautiful art from Nguyen carries the weight of Dini’s narrative well, while occasionally lightening the mood with a playful self-awareness. The biggest flaw is the absence of any (believable) depth in Batman himself, but this proves to be of little consequence, as there’s plenty of substance from Hush, both in the past and the present. This is a book that rewards repeat readings, and I look forward to enjoying it for years to come.