*Membership spots not really limited!
By Eli KatzWriter: Paul Dini
Artist: Dustin Nguyen
One of the most interesting aspects of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is the way in which the Joker's origin is kept so ambiguous. Every time the Joker prepares to mutilate another victim, he gives a different explanation of how he received the smile-extending scars on his face. He blames various people, including a sadistic father. But by the end of the movie we're not sure what the real story is and, maybe, just maybe, we're meant to believe that he cut up his cheeks himself.
This ambiguity makes the character of the Joker all the more terrifying. A man who can jokingly lie about his disfigurement is a man who knows no limits — especially with himself.
I bring this up because of the way Paul Dini is handling Hush's biography in the last two issues of Detective Comics. In what's supposed to be a R.I.P. crossover, but so far has nothing to do with Grant Morrison's incoherent epic, Dini has decided to give us the authoritative, fully fleshed-out life story of Hush. Thus, Detective Comics #846 and #847 are dominated by flash backs that show the tormented life of Bruce Wayne's childhood friend, Thomas Eliot, who goes from brain surgeon to Batman's bandaged-up nemesis.
We see that a young Thomas Eliot severed the brake lines of his parent's car in a plot to kill them and inherent their fortune. We see also that Bruce Wayne's father, a doctor himself, was able to save Eliot's mother — much to the resentment of the sinister young boy. These basic facts are not really new to the Eliot character. Much of his story was revealed already in the first "Hush" arc by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee, back in Batman #608 - #619. But Dini adds many new details to this villain's background.
These details, unfortunately, are really just a bunch of pop-psychology explanations that make the Hush character seem more silly than menacing. For example, in a flashback scene in Detective Comics #847, young Eliot and young Bruce Wayne share a canoe ride at summer camp. As they float down a serene lake, the sun bathing them in golden light, Eliot begins to talk about his deceased father and convalescing mother. "Bruce," he says, with a sullen expression, "remember when we'd play war and I'd be six moves ahead of you? I had to maneuver like that around dad sometimes, to keep from getting hurt. Mom saw it happening. She never stood up to dad, but she'd force me to read books about strategy and logic. Musashi, Aristotle, Caesar."
Oh, I get it now — Hush is a brilliant psychopath and tactician, because his father was abusive and his mother made him read boring old books about military campaigns and martial arts. That makes so much sense, right?
For decades, comic books have relied on these kinds of explanations to develop superheroes and super-villains. And when comics were geared primarily for ten-year-old kids, these types of explanations worked. But as comic books have turned darker and grittier, and as comic-book movies have taken on serious adult themes, these pop-psychology explanations don't cut it anymore. They've become worn-out conventions of a genre that's progressing rapidly. The Hush origin that Dini is developing doesn't make Hush scarier or more interesting; it just makes him more cartoonish.
There are no good explanations for evil. After all, if we could identify the cause of evil, we could also identify the cure. But as Hannah Arendt noted in her reflections on the Holocaust many decades ago, evil can be as banal as it can be genius. It can be committed by all types of people — not just lunatics — and often the most horrific misdeeds are committed by average guys who see their actions as normal.
Christopher Nolan seemed to keep these lessons in mind when he created his version of the Joker, providing a depiction of evil that has no clear origin and no sensible meaning. Dini, obviously, missed these lessons because he's given us a depiction of evil that's overloaded with unconvincing back-story. That's too bad because, if handled properly, Hush could be so much more than a cheesy, visual rip off of the Unknown Soldier.
As for the art, Dustin Nguyen's style is appropriately cartoonish for this story. He's a capable illustrator, producing clear and easy-to-follow page layouts. But his style would probably be better suited for a lighter, more fun-loving character than the Batman. If he were given the right material — something like Ultimate Spider-Man — Nguyen could really shine as an artist. But with this kind of ludicrous, overly dramatic storyline, his pencils only seem to magnify the problems of the plot.
Overall, Detective Comics #847 is no worse than many superhero comics on the market right now. So maybe it's unfair to pick on this issue when it's hardly the only offender. Still, you gotta ask yourself: why spend money on this kind of bland story, when you can just watch the much superior Dark Knight in theaters again and again? Yeah, I thought so — there's no good explanation.
Posted originally: 2008-08-11 13:43:37