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Batman #617

Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Jeph Leob
Artists: Jim Lee (p), Scott Williams (i)

Publisher: DC

Plot:
The book opens in the Batcave where we see Catwoman is cooling her heels while Batman is busy investigating a clue he had overlooked previously. However when Robin arrives and makes a fuss about Catwoman's presence in the Batcave, we see Batman's partner & his new lady friend become involved in a rather heated confrontation, where several blows are exchanged. As Catwoman storms off in a huff we learn the fight that Robin instigated was staged, as Batman wanted to present an opportunity for the villain that has been plaguing him recently with a string of attacks with an opportunity to move against Catwoman, and as such he had to present a situation where it looked like the two of them had parted company. We then see Catwoman comes under attack from the Huntress who looks to be under the influence of a toxin that has her acting overly paranoid, and consumed with fear. As Batman moves in to stop this fight, he finds himself confronted by the Scarecrow, whose fear toxin in responsible for the Huntress' unusually aggressive behavior. As Batman battles his old villain, we see the battle strays into a rather important locale, whose significance is not lost on Batman, and when Hush finally steps out of the shadows holding Robin hostage, we see the bandages come off and Hush is revealed to be...

Comments:
I realize there are Batman fans who are enjoying the heck out of Jeph Loeb's run on this book, but as a relatively new visitor to this corner of the DCU I can't help but be struck by the sense of utter desperation there is to this work in its bid to cater to the interests of the Batman fan. I mean this isn't so much a story as it is a collection of encounters that are sure to get the fan community buzzing. This issue's plot is basically Robin versus Catwoman, followed by Catwoman versus the Huntress, and then Batman versus yet another member of his Rouges Gallery. Now we also have another big reveal in which we learn the identity of Hush (once again), but for the most part this issue isn't about advancing the mystery as it is about delivering battles between characters that seem entirely driven by fan interest. In fact I think the phrase that perfectly sums up this arc's driving plot is the phrase "wouldn't it be cool if...". The only problem with this style plotting though is that it requires the reader to be so blinded by the firework show it's offering up that one isn't suppose to notice the awkward manner at which these encounters were arrived at. Jeph Loeb has proven in the past with his two Batman maxiseries that he's a far better writer than this so I can't only assume that he's fallen under his own spell, and he's convinced himself that simply delivering a series of encounters that fans want to see is enough to carry this arc.

As for the big reveal, given this issue had already revealed Hush to be Harvey Dent (aka. Two Face), you'll understand if I'm a bit hesitant to accept this latest reveal to be the real answer. In fact the shifting identity would seem to suggest that Hush is in fact a shape-shifter along the lines of say Clayface, but given there seems to be about a half-dozen versions of that character running around, I couldn't really say which version of the character is posing as these various characters, and thus letting Jeph Loeb offer up not one, but multiple shocking reveals. Of course by offering up more than one shocking reveal, Jeph Loeb has in fact undercut the impact of the moment, as right now he's a bit like the little boy who cried wolf, in that I don't really trust that the final page of this issue is providing the real answer. However, in the interest of setting myself on both sides of the fence, I will say that if this truly is the final identity of Hush than I can't honestly say I'm blown away, as frankly I barely know this character. Now I'm sure I'm like many fans in that I've read the story line that earned this character his infamous spot in the annuls of comic book history, but I'm not about to say that I'm overly surprised that someone finally got around to bringing him back, as he's a character with a ready made reason to want revenge upon Batman, thus there's very little need to explain why this character has such a mad on for the Dark Knight.

Jim Lee should offer up a word of thanks to Jeph Loeb who looks to have dumbed down his writing style so that it is driven almost entirely by the needs of the art. I mean there's not much meat on these bones, as this is the comic book equivalent of junk food, in that the issue is basically a collection of empty moments that do little more than sate the fanboy's appetite for cool looking moments. Still, one has to concede that Jim Lee does draw some visually impressive action, as Catwoman's pair of battles in this issue have the art to thank for their high excitement level. Now the highlight of the issue would have to be the double-page shot of the Huntress & Catwoman going at it, as this is a very solid single frame of action that nicely makes use of the background environment as well, as Gotham City makes for a visually engaging backdrop. The battle between Batman and another member of his Rogues Gallery is also pretty solid, as the villain does have a nice creepy look about him, with the opening shot of him on the Huntress' motorcycle being particularly impressive. The last page reveal is also quite strong, though given the relative age of all the other people who were around when this character died, I have to say that this character looks to have undergone a rather impressive growth spurt, so much so that I was rather surprised that Batman recognized the character right away.

Final Word:S
In my various online sessions I can't help but notice that Bat-fans in general looked to be quite pleased with Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee's run on this title, so perhaps my lack of enjoyment stems from the simple fact that I've never been a devoted fan of Batman. However, from a storytelling sense I find this entire arc has had a highly manufactured quality to it, as Jeph Loeb isn't offering up a story in so much as he's simply offering up a series of encounters that would appeal to the fans of Batman. This issue is the latest example of the rather thin plot, as basically the issue is three battles that run back to back to back, and then the issue wraps up with the big reveal regarding Hush's identity. Now I will concede that he Robin versus Catwoman fight caught my interest, and if it hadn't offered up some of the most overblown dialogue since Stan Lee's work on the early Marvel issues, I think I'd have enjoyed it a great deal more. As it stand the only real enjoyment I had with this issue came in the final pages where we seemingly learn the "true" identity of Hush.



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