Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Comics I Wished I Brought With Me: Batman "Hush"

I had read raves and reviews for Jeph Loeb's writing. His "color" series at Marvel; like, Spider-Man: Blue, Hulk: Grey, Daredevil: Yellow and Captain America: White generated a lot of positive buzz. So did his Superman For All Seasons, Batman: The Long Halloween, Dark Victory and Catwoman: When In Rome. I'd never had the chance to pick up something he had written. I did see episodes he had written for Smallville, Lost and Heroes. Still, had not had a chance to pick up a comic book written by Jeph Loeb.

Until Batman: Hush.

There was a good deal of hype surrounding the "Hush" storyline in Batman comics 608 - 619. It involved artist Jim Lee working a year-long story arc. Famous for his work on X-Men at Marvel, he left to form Image comics and create WildC.A.T.s. He later spun that title off onto his own Homage Studios imprint under Image, then moved it over to DC, eventually selling the imprint to DC. In 2011, under The New 52, his characters Grifter and Voodoo returned for a brief time. After the "Hush" storyline ended in 2003, Lee moved over to Superman comics for the twelve-month "For Tomorrow" storyline.

"Hush" was a BIG deal.

It had been a long time since I had picked up a mainstream Batman comic. I consider myself a Batman fan. Toward the late '80's I was reading Batman and the Outsiders. I followed Batman back, when he returned to the Justice League. In the '90's, both the Batman line and brand expanded and Batman titles featured "events". Like the "Death of Superman" event, Batman titles featured the "Knightfall" storyline, where the criminal Bane broke Batman's back. Bruce Wayne was replaced not by Dick Grayson, but by Jean Paul Valley, who was also known as Azrael. With the success of that, a cycle of "event" stories followed. "Hush" was a brief break in that cycle. A single storyline running, with no crossovers with any other Batman-family titles for twelve issues. Now that was an event! Bear in mind that at any given time, on a monthly basis, DC Comics publishes anywhere from a half dozen or more Batman-related titles: Detective Comics, Batman, Batgirl, Batwing, Batwoman, Catwoman, Legends of the Dark Knight, Nightwing, Robin and Shadow of the Batman. Then, there are the guest appearances that Batman makes in other titles, as well as his role in Justice LeagueWorld's Finest Comics, Superman/Batman and the current Batman/Superman. Right now, DC is celebrating Batman's 75th Anniversary with a weekly Batman Eternal.

So, Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee collaborating on a stand-alone twelve issue storyline in Batman was kind of a big deal. A big enough deal that an eight-page chapter was included in Wizard magazine.

Hush was such a big deal, that following the 2009 release of the Watchmen film adaptation, Batman 608 was re-released for a dollar, under the heading "After Watchmen...What's Next" as incentive to draw in new comic book readers from the film.

I wish I had room in my suitcase to include the entire twelve-issue run of "Hush". I can see why Jim Lee is a fan-favorite artist. I liked his work on WildC.A.T.s. His work here is just as good. I have to confess that I am not a fan of The New 52 costume redesigns. I'm not sure how much of a hand Lee had in those; but his work before the reboot relaunch of The New 52 Justice League and the "Origin" storyline is much better than what I've seen since. This is the same artist that gave us a nearly insane Batman in All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder.

The first chapter of Hush in Batman 608 starts out with Batman rescuing a kidnapped boy being held for ransom. The hired thugs guarding the boy work under Killer Croc. Batman is racing the clock to free the boy before Croc returns with the ransom. And, before Gotham's finest intervene. Batman rescues the boy; fights and beats Croc and his gang. Then the ransom is stolen by Catwoman. Batman chases her to recover the ransom, but has his Batline cut and falls from the sky into an alley. Catwoman turns over the ransom to Poison Ivy, who has entranced her. Over the next eleven issues, the storyline becomes a run through the streets of Gotham involving Batman's supporting cast and rogues gallery, bringing back the late Jason Todd as Red Hood, introducing a new villain, called Hush and ultimately (SPOILER ALERT!) revealing The Riddler as the mastermind of the entire plot. The Joker makes an appearance, but it is pretty much a token.

While it got some good buzz, it also got a critical review.

Still, Jim Lee is a fan-favorite artist. I put him up there with George Perez and Alex Ross. There are a number of critically-acclaimed and fan-favorite artists. Lee would probably be voted to head the list. Along with his work on X-Men and WildC.A.T.s - rebooting re-launching Justice League - Hush is probably one of the reasons.

I wish I had room to bring all of the issues instead of just the first chapter. It would be fun to pore over the entire series page by page.

On my first trip to Kiev, to bring my son, Justin, home, the first issue of Justice League had been released. I pored over that first issue for seven weeks.

I did not get to see how that storyline turned out until after I came back home.
I think Hush stands the test of time.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Comics I Wish I Had Room To Bring With Me...

Along with the Bible, I brought a stack of comics along with me on my trip with my wife, Cathy, to Kiev, Ukraine to bring our daughter, Bella (nee Masha) home.

It is a lazy Sunday afternoon here in Kiev. Today started out sunny. Just a little while ago we had a thunderstorm blow over. Heavy downpour. It's good to be inside and listen to the sound of the rain on the windows. We were able to sign our daughter out of the orphanage on our court day, before we get our final court decree from the judge. She is here with us at the apartment while we wait. We will head back to re-sign her out on Tuesday. We get our court decree on Monday, May 12th; and then we will get her new birth certificate, tax ID number, Ukrainian passport, final physical and visa from the US Embassy so that we can return to the US.
While we wait, we are working on her English, playing Uno, watching movies (with English captioning) and reading. While she plays video games on a tablet or one of our phones, I read. I am making my way through a stack of comics that I packed along with some books and the movies. It was a small suitcase. So, I had to pack what would fit. There were things that I didn't have room for that I wish I had.
I have a long box devoted to The World's Finest comics. Over the years, I've had a handful of the original World's Finest Comics. I think I started reading the book in the late '70's or early '80, when it was a $1.00 anthology. World's Finest Comics was a comic book that started in 1941 that was devoted to Superman and Batman. Somewhere along the way, the two heroes actually started to team-up in World's Finest, and continued to until the book ended in 1986. Around the early to mid 1980's books like The Brave and the Bold (featuring Batman team-ups) and DC Comics Presents (featuring Superman team-ups) ended, too. Superman and Batman came back as a team just a few years ago, in 2003 with Superman/Batman. The book was re-launched just last year as Batman/Superman. In 2012, World's Finest was re-launched with Power Girl and The Huntress.
I did bring along the trade paperback collection, from this long box, of the first six-issue story from Superman/Batman, "Public Enemies".
I wish I had room to bring along John Byrne's Superman & Batman: Generations, too. It was set as an imaginary story, under the Elsewords imprint. What if Superman and Batman had actually started their careers in 1938 and 1939 respectively. Each issue of the first two mini-series were divided in half. for instance, the first story in the first issue was set in 1939, with the two meeting for the first time at The World's Fair in Metropolis. The second story in the first issue was set a decade later in 1949. Each of the four issues in the first series was set ten years apart. It was brilliant to see the changes over each decade.
The time jump in the second series was eleven years, starting in 1942. The second series was as enjoyable as the first, because it included other heroes like the Justice Society and Justice League and an alternate version of the Teen Titans. 
There was a third, twelve-issue limited series that was similar to the finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where an event happened in the past that was not understood or unraveled until years later. Superman and Batman had to go back and undo what had been done.
I can only guess that by the third series the concept had run it's course.
I would have loved to see John Byrne working on a Superman & Batman: Generations book that covered the Golden and Silver Ages. I enjoyed Byrne's work on X-Men: The Hidden Years, and his creator-owned The Next Men. I'm nostalgic; so, when Byrne brought Superman and Batman near the present, like in the '80's, '90's and '00's, he lost me. It made sense that Superman would age more slowly than mortal men and that through The Lazarus Pit, Batman would become immortal. It was just a shame to see them come back and outlive either protégés or children. Still, Generations was an enjoyable series.
When the third series started, I had hoped that it would become a monthly book and focus more on the Golden and Silver Ages. A fanboy can dream.
What I had done with Generations is that I had taken the first two series and put them together in chronological order. It was fun to see the story unfold over the years.
Really, the only thing missing from Generations was Captain (Shazam!) Marvel. It would have been nice to see a cameo. Still, it was a Superman and Batman series. And in the Elseworlds of John Byrne, there will always be one Superman and one Batman. The same Superman and Batman over the years.
Some years were kinder than others to The World's Finest.
Superman & Batman Generations is a book I wish I had brought with me on my trip to Kiev, that I am very much looking forward to re-reading when I have some personal quiet time when I get back home. Which, with three kids will probably be a few years after I retire...
A fanboy can dream.