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Set in the larger Batman Reborn storyline, Hush Money collects a two-issue Detective-Batman crossover called Faces of Evil, as well as the first four issues of the Streets of Gotham series.

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What’s included

  • Detective Comics #852 “Reconstruction” (Faces of Evil Part 1)
  • Batman #685 “Catspaw” (Faces of Evil Part 2)
  • Batman: Streets of Gotham #1 “Ignition!”
  • Batman: Streets of Gotham #2 “City On Fire”
  • Batman: Streets of Gotham #3 “Hush Money”
  • Batman: Streets of Gotham #4 “Business”
  • A single variant cover, for Streets of Gotham #1 (J.G. Jones)

Faces of Evil

Our tale opens on Hush, who prepares to end it all two months after trying–and failing–to take down Bruce once and for all. His plan was two-pronged: break Bruce’s heart by literally ripping out Selina Kyle’s, and then kill the broken Bat and impersonate his civilian alter-ego through surgical modification. Faces of Evil deals directly with the present implications of both parts of that plan, as Hush rises penniless from his failure and sets his sights lower.

Hush’s attempted suicide is spoiled by a pair of friendly fishermen who drag him from the water, and with his second chance, he sets out to impersonate Bruce after all (this, of course, being much easier to do with Batman presumed dead). What follows is a trip to various points around the globe, as Hush uses his altered face and his natural charm to liquidate an array of Bruce’s assets–both material and human–and replenish his own fortune. His travels eventually bring him to Vietnam, where he comes face to face with Catwoman, who (understandably) still feels sore about having her heart removed (despite having it reinstalled and restarted by Batman). Selina has some fun before handing Tommy over to two familiar faces, who bring the impostor back to Gotham for safekeeping.

I’m generally not a fan of catch-up exposition within the pages of a book. I would much rather an author or an editor give me a page before the actual story starts and give me the necessary backstory (much like the Reborn blurb we have at the beginning of this trade). Dini chooses to begin with Hush doing some recounting, but I find that it doesn’t really bother me here. Some credit surely goes to Nguyen, whose gorgeous first panel and excellent storytelling keeps me just as tethered to the present as the narration informs me of the past. More than that however, Dini avoids doing a straight data-dump, providing some in-the-moment commentary on the events of two months ago that–even without knowing what comes next–makes those events seem especially relevant in the here and now.

Dini’s real success here, and throughout Faces of Evil (throughout this whole volume, really), is that his Hush is a very complex character. He’s a cold-blooded killer, and yet he has some sort of moral code guiding his actions. He says things that trick you into liking him, at least until he says something else that makes you remember just who he is and what he does.

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Things only get better when Tommy gets to Vietnam and runs into Selina. Dini writes her really well, too, and the interplay between she and Hush is a lot of fun:

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My only real problem is with Catwoman’s “activist narration”. It doesn’t bother me that she cares about animal rights, but some of the narration gets really on-the-nose to make a point that is already made quite well through the more organic elements of the script. Thankfully, this only occurs on a single page, and it definitely doesn’t ruin what is otherwise a great sequence–one in which we also get to see Dick and Damian disguised as locals Quan and Bao (names which apparently translate to “trousers” and “storm”, respectively), complete with leaf hats and machine guns:

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Trousers and Storm

Overall, Faces of Evil is a tight little two-issue story in which Dini and Nguyen work beautifully together. Bruce may be absent, but Gotham is in good hands.

Masks, money, and Mr. Zsasz

The first four issues of Streets of Gotham are mostly concerned with setup, although there are three short-term threads that serve as the setting for the larger story. The big picture here is that, while Dick, Damian, and quite a few friends work to keep Hush in check, Black Mask is consolidating power and coercing his fellow criminals into service. Penguin falls in line, biding his time. Firefly, on the other hand, decides to take what Mask has given him and blaze his own trail (sorry, couldn’t resist), unleashing disaster on Gotham. Hush finds a way to use the Firefly crisis to escape from Dick’s penthouse, and as a dead ringer for Bruce, starts making public appearances and destroying the Wayne fortune through extravagant philanthropy. Batman and Robin call in some assistance to help keep him in check, and while he retains his freedom, his threat to damage their enterprises is neutralized. Meanwhile, Black Mask empowers a certain scar-covered psychopath who closes the volume on a sinister note.

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At least as far as I can tell from this volume, Harley doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the arc. But to me, this opening scene is her at her best, just being nutty and needlessly violent because someone looked at her the wrong way. The whole bit feels like something out of Batman: The Animated Series, and it’s not surprising given Dini’s role in the show in general and in the creation of Harley Quinn specifically. I also love how Nguyen and Kalisz render her civilian clothes–a neat play on her regular costume.

As the focus shifts to Firefly (also known as Garfield Lynns), we get the sort of catch-up that I don’t like. Instead of showing us what Firefly has been up to, or at the very least having his recent activities revealed in conversation (or investigation–this is a Batman book, after all), Dini chooses to do a data dump, and it might be the weakest part of this volume. The eventual confrontation with Lynns is not bad, but I also feel like there’s not enough variation in Kalisz’s color palette, and the panels don’t seem distinct enough from each other to match the excitement of what’s happening with Nguyen’s layouts.

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As Firefly prepares to unleash his “final blaze of glory” (Dini’s to blame for that one), we’re treated to Damian being Damian: cocky and capable, ever unimpressed with and unintimidated by a criminal mastermind like Hush. Chess is a pretty bald metaphor, but the scene is so fun (and not at all self-aware) that I’m not bothered by it.

I don’t have too much to say about what Hush does on the outside. This is where the trade gets its title–Hush Money. It’s a somewhat interesting proposition: Tommy trying to bankrupt Dick and Damian’s operations by giving away ridiculous sums of money. But the idea never really gets space to bloom, and things wrap up far too quickly for it to register in my mind as a legitimate threat.

To me, the Penguin/Zsasz/Black Mask plot is far more intriguing. Oswald most certainly does not like answering to anyone, but he is also honest (with himself, at least) and pragmatic. Seeing him smile for Black Mask really makes me want to be there when the shoe is on the other foot. Victor is as creepy as ever, and Mask is the manipulator I’ve come to expect him to be, as brought out by Dini’s excellent dialogue.

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The final chapter in this volume sheds some light on the horrifying things Victor is doing with Mask’s backing, but it does it through the perspective of Sherman Fine, otherwise known as The Broker. He’s an interesting character, helping Gotham’s worst find ideal real estate for their hideouts and operations. Throughout most of the issue, he has an air of mystery about him that works well in this story, which is ultimately not meant to focus on him, but on Victor–err, Mister Zsasz.

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Unfortunately, the issue (and by extension, the whole book) ends on a low note, with an uncharacteristically hideous panel from Nguyen:

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Aside from the unpleasant visual, this final scene just comes off as flat to me, and it lifts the veil of secrecy from The Broker just as I was really getting into his character. I would much rather have seen it end a few pages earlier. As it is, it feels like Dini introduces an interesting character and then banishes him to obsolescence all in the space of a single issue, and that’s a disappointing way to go out.

Bonus material

The only extra in Hush Money is a J.G. Jones variant for Streets of Gotham #1, in which Jim Gordon appears to be shooting newspapers with a phaser. Not exactly a huge selling point for the trade, in my opinion.

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Is Jim’s middle name Tiberius?

Value: Sale Price

This one’s a no-brainer, since it’s out of print at time of writing. There are some Amazon sellers advertising new copies, but you’ll be out 40 bucks after shipping. Even putting that aside, while the content is very good, this isn’t a trade that begs to be considered on its own, as it ends with setup rather than resolution, making it less enjoyable as a standalone volume. If your goal is to have a robust library of Bat-titles, by all means, try to snag a copy in the best condition you can find. But for six enjoyable-but-not-outstanding issues, I would hold out until you can find something closer to the $10 range.

Overall

Dini’s excellent script and dialogue are brought to life by Nguyen’s distinct, artful style. Dick, Damian, and Selina really stand out as characters, and Dini even manages to make Hush (somewhat) likable by giving him depth. There  are a few warts in the (otherwise enjoyable) Streets of Gotham portion of the book, but the most notable flaw here is editorial–I’d rather see these issues collected in a larger volume and experience them in their larger context. Regardless, Hush Money is good reading for any Bat-fan, and I’ll be adding it to my library once I find the right price.

SCORE: 7/10