Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Director: Justin Copeland
Writer: Ernie Altbacker
Producer: Amy McKenna
Stars: Jason O’Mara, Jennifer Morrison, Geoffrey Arend, James Garrett, Peyton List, Sean Maher, Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Jason Spisak, Maury Sterling, Tara Strong
In the midst of an unexpected new romance with Catwoman, Batman works to uncover the identity of a mystery villain who is manipulating his rogues gallery.
Aside from how exciting it was to see iconic artist Jim Lee back drawing DC heroes and villains again, something I prominently remember about the hype leading into Batman’s “Hush” storyline in 2002 was DC’s goofy “Who Is Hush?” marketing campaign. A hot hook for the 12-issue maxi-series, which ran from Batman #608 through #619, was that it boasted appearances by the Caped Crusader’s closest allies as well as numerous rogues. Standing at the center of this carnival of characters was Hush, a new villain whose true identity would supposedly shake Bruce Wayne to his core.
DC ran a contest where fans could predict who Hush would turn out to be. Might The Joker be pulling the plot’s strings using a different alter ego? Maybe Two-Face? Had Alfred at last turned evil? Or could Hush be Tommy Elliot, the brilliant brain surgeon introduced as Bruce’s longtime best friend despite never even being mentioned in a Batman comic prior to this conspicuous first appearance?
This wannabe mystery angle was ludicrous since Hush’s identity was obvious from the outset. If your money wasn’t on the critical character invented exclusively for this story, you weren’t paying attention.
Although it too has issues with how clunkily Tommy Elliot’s character is handled, the movie version of “Batman: Hush” doesn’t encounter quite the same situation because it changes Hush’s identity. It’s an interesting enough twist to subvert expectations for those familiar with the original story. However, one of the other core components that made the comic book intriguing has a tougher time translating to the screen.
Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s seminal work would go on to be regarded as one of the more revered Batman tales of all time. While I enjoyed it as much as anyone, I would entertain arguments that the setup’s design was an overcomplicated incentive to cram as many Batman personalities as possible into a bloated storyline that didn’t necessarily have a need for everything included.
That goes double for the animated adaptation which, truncated to an 80-minute movie, feels even thinner as a narrative having a hard time justifying the convoluted goose chase from one MacGuffin to the next that constitutes a plot. More so than the comic, which had additional room to develop its fiction, “Batman: Hush” can come across like a casually conceived conceit to throw a lot of Batman lore around whether it adds up to a sensible storyline or not.
Bruce Wayne doesn’t even discover Hush exists until over 30 minutes have elapsed. Before that point, Batman’s current case is a connect-the-dots circuit from Catwoman to Bane to Lady Shiva to Poison Ivy to Lex Luthor and so on. Batman’s only real reason for his investigation is to discover why these villains appear to be working in concert, not necessarily what the endgame actually is.
The movie’s only real reason for this runaround is to motivate cameos from Alfred, Nightwing, Damian Wayne, Batgirl, Amanda Waller, Superman, and Lois Lane. Joker, Riddler, Clayface, and Harley Quinn also make appearances. So do Penguin, Two-Face, and Mr. Freeze although curiously, these latter three baddies appear in a still frame montage of Batman and Catwoman on a crime-fighting spree. I can’t imagine why their six seconds of screentime couldn’t be fully animated, but perhaps that speaks to the overall nature of “Batman: Hush” feeling like it’s been rushed around cut corners in scripting as well as production.
Speaking of the animation style, “Batman: Hush” weirdly fuzzes up imagery by making it look as though Vaseline smeared the lens. Other animated DC movies may have used this effect previously, but I don’t recall it being this much of a distraction. I instinctively tried rubbing blurriness from my eyes on repeated occasions before remembering someone bizarrely made this a willful creative choice.
Casting decisions come with some question marks too. Jason O’Mara has played Batman several times before, yet his timbre takes some getting used to considering how much space Kevin Conroy and Troy Baker occupy in the mind’s ear. Jennifer Morrison doesn’t slot in as smoothly as Catwoman. Morrison has only one other cartoon credit to her name, which is playing Wasp in three episodes of “The Super Hero Squad Show” in 2009. You can visualize her reading words off the page in a sound booth as opposed to truly embodying Selina Kyle. Producers probably cast Morrison for her relative name recognition when they should have gone with a seasoned voiceover artist instead.
Side actors are all really good however. Jason Spisak mostly mimics Mark Hamill as The Joker, but it’s a spot-on impression that works well as a secondary substitute. James Garrett’s Alfred sounds a little like John Hurt, which is a perfect person to picture while listening to Garrett’s take on the role.
For any kid-conscious parents keeping score, “Batman: Hush” contains plenty of violence while peppering in curse words including multiple uses of assh*le, sh*t, and a b*tch and a g*ddamn. Implied sex also plays a part in Batman and Catwoman’s romantic relationship, which is central to the storyline. I don’t think the film is particularly inappropriate for children, but cautious mothers and fathers may wish to apply some of that parental guidance that MPAA ratings are keen on.
I’d stop well short of characterizing “Batman: Hush” as sloppy, but it couldn’t be called tight either. The film takes a number of well-traveled trails to reach destinations, including a climax which must be the umpteenth time an animated Batman adventure has concluded with a factory explosion. “Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (review here), which immediately preceded “Hush,” ended the same way. This movie’s resolution also cuts to credits so abruptly, I was surprised there isn’t a post-credits scene to put a better cap on things.
All in all, “Batman: Hush” is a mildly disappointing adaptation that makes for a moderately entertaining animated film. While the comic book incarnation is an all-timer for its medium, this version is a middle-of-the-road movie as far as Batman’s cartoon capers go.
Review Score: 60