Warning: Spoilers for Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Hush #1 ahead!
Bruce Wayne is dead. When the corrupt senator for Gotham’s independent city-state, Thomas Elliot, ventures into Arkham Asylum to identify his adoptive brother’s body, he finds each cell filled with whispers and hushed tones. Rumors of a bat-like wraith haunting the halls of the asylum, claiming patients’ lives, have spread through the institution like wildfire. Although Dr. Jonathan Crane is quick to dismiss any concerns as superstition and hearsay, it becomes abundantly clear that the apparition is very real when its attention turns to Thomas Elliot and the rest of Gotham’s crooked politicians. With more questions than answers, Elliot now seeks to discover the identity of Arkham’s Devil before he becomes its next victim.
“Hush, little babe, lest you call down… the bloody bat of Gotham town.”
Rising from fictional nether like a madman from the Lazarus Pit, DC’s take on “What If” storytelling has returned this week. This time, Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Dexter Soy have set their sights on Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s seminal work, Batman: Hush. Mixing equal measures of It’s a Wonderful Life and dystopian futures with a heaping helping of horror, Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Hush #1 is an excellent inversion of the original tale.
Although this issue does serve as an origin for Batman the Silenced, it is truly Thomas Elliot’s tale. Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s choice to frame this story from Elliot’s perspective is great. It allows Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Hush #1 to maintain the same mysterious ambiance that made the original story so great. In this issue, Bruce and Thomas’s roles are flipped, and it is now Thomas trying to uncover his masked assailant’s identity. Through Tommy’s investigation, we are thrust headfirst into this new world where Gotham has become an independent yet dystopian city-state.
A large part of this issue’s enjoyment, and the entire “What If” stories, is derived from witnessing the effects of one change on all of reality. Our George Bailey moment in Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Hush #1 involves the Elliot family’s adoption of Bruce Wayne. In the aftermath of this adoption, Bruce’s new family doesn’t have the means to help him with his pain. With no one like Alfred to seemingly guide Bruce to adulthood, our hero slips into madness and is committed to Arkham Asylum. What makes this issue so interesting is seeing repercussions of Batman’s absence on the rest of the Bat-Family. I won’t spoil any of the twists here, but Johnson does an excellent job pulling from various corners of the Bat-mythos to craft an entertaining alternate reality. My personal favorite is the one involving Dick Grayson.
Johnson’s attention to those little details that really sell Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Hush #1. One of my favorite parts of the Hush mythos is how the character gets his name from the “Hush, Little Baby” nursery rhyme. Much like the baby in the nursery rhyme, Thomas Elliot can not be satisfied. With this issue, Johnson twists the nursery rhyme into something darker: here it serves as a warning for the characters that the “bat of Gotham town” is coming for them. The perversion of this nursery rhyme cranks the tension surrounding Batman the Silenced and plays well with the horror sequences that Dexter Soy has crafted for this book.
One of the things that stood out to me with Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Hush #1 was Soy’s handle on narrative tension and attention to detail. Without a doubt, my favorite sequence throughout the entire issue involves the first appearance of Batman the Silenced. As Dr. Crane leaves Thomas Elliot to mourn his adopted brother’s death, the new Dark Knight follows the evil doctor down the hallway. It’s a sequence that evokes horror imagery as the monster tracks its prey. With Troy Peteri’s lettering, you can hear the pop of the lightbulbs going out. Ivan Plascencia’s colors do an excellent job of maintaining the terrifying tone of these moments. It’s a perfect sequence that is punctuated by the dramatic reveal of Batman the Silenced’s terrifying character design.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the panel in which Alfred questions Elliot’s assumptions about Bruce’s death. In the background, you can see portions of Batman the Silenced’s red eyes and medical wrappings above a cage before he pounces on his victim. It was something that I missed during my initial reading of the book and only discovered it during recent rereads. It is this subtle attention to detail that makes Soy’s work perfect for this story.
“Everyone’s dead, but us.”
In addition to presenting the reader with a form of alternate reality escapism, the best “What If” stories provide new insight into fan-favorite characters. At the end of this tale, our narrator and Rod Sterling stand-in, Tempus Fuginaut, provides the reader with insight into Bruce Wayne. He explains that on every most worlds within the Dark Multiverse, Bruce Wayne will always become Batman.
Although this revelation is profound, it is not something necessarily new to the Batman mythos. During the events of Batman R.I.P., Grant Morrison explored the notion that even without the Bruce Wayne identity, the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh would take over the wheel. This lack of new insight is probably one of my only gripes with this issue as it feels like a missed opportunity. However, the fact that we now have a less scrupulous Batman trained by criminal masterminds is an interesting prospect that leaves me wanting more.
Additionally, as much as I love Batman the Silenced’s character design, if you tug at the bandages too hard, the entire thing begins to unravel. I wish we were given in-story reasoning behind Bruce’s use of bandages in the costume. During the original storyline, Hush’s use of bandages for a mask makes sense as Tommy is a surgeon. Later, Hush uses the bandages to hide that he has made himself look like Bruce Wayne. However, without explanation, this great character design does little more than evoke Hush imagery.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of the original series, this book is a must-read. Mixing equal measures of It’s a Wonderful Life and dystopian futures, with heaping helpings of horror, Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Hush #1 is an excellent inversion of the original tale. Dexter Soy’s artwork does an excellent job of rendering each horror sequence within this book. Unfortunately, Johnson’s message regarding Bruce Wayne lacks punch as it doesn’t provide new insight. However, the idea of a Batman trained by criminal masterminds is an intriguing prospect that leaves me clamoring for more.
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