Directed by Justin Copeland
Written by Ernie Altbacker
Starring Jason O'Mara, Jennifer Morrison, Geoffrey Arend, Jerry O'Connell
Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb’s Batman "Hush" arc was an almost instant classic for DC in 2002 and it continues to be a story bandied about by fans hoping to see a big screen adaptation. It’s easy to see why it was such a hit. In twelve issues, Loeb and Lee wove a mystery around Batman’s well-worn rogues gallery and brought in a formidable new villain who seemingly had no problem deceiving the Dark Knight Detective. Warner Brother Animation and DC mostly stick to the script with this adaptation but they do make some compromises, seemingly in an effort to keep fans familiar with the story on their toes a little bit.
It’s tough to compare adaptation directly to their source material because what works for one medium may not work for another but it is important to show how different creators realize different elements of the story. Writer Ernie Altbacker doesn’t have to do much to make Lee and Loeb’s story work in an animated setting. The plot still features Bruce’s romance with Selina Kyle, the return of Thomas Elliott to Bruce’s life, an almost platformer-like approach to the Rogues Gallery that has the tension mount as the story pushes forward and looming over everything the mysterious bandaged hand of the eponymous Hush pulling the strings behind the scenes. So what’s the issue? Well, as mentioned earlier, there had to be some compromises. Altbacker truncates some of the villain face-offs that would bloat the runtime and the ties to storylines that were more relevant at the time of publication than they would be to those watching in 2019.
But there’s one big change that just doesn’t work for the story. So many Batman stories are about the lives left in Batman and Bruce Wayne’s wake and Altbacker’s big reveal undermines the impact of the original story. It also attempts to elevate a villain who is actually left in a much more interesting place at the end of the comic than he is here. I can understand the temptation to deliver on the same shock that readers had upon the conclusion of Lee and Loeb’s story but Altbacker ends up sacrificing character development for the sake of the ending. The fun thing about Hush as a villain is going back and understanding how his plot played out once you know the reveal. Altbacker takes a far less interesting route and the feature is worse for it.
But despite a deflated twist ending, the film is competent in a way that we’ve come to expect from DC animated features at this point. This one marks their 35th animated feature and the 13th in the current DC Animated Universe canon. It picks up after Reign of the Superman and it’s quick to include general updates to the universe that didn’t exist at the original time of publication like Damian Wayne’s existence. The animation is on par with recent DC films as well featuring that same almost westernized anime approach to character design that isn’t quite on model to the comic books but works better for an animated setting. They also don’t tone down the violence, language or sexuality inherent in a story like this. They actually amp up the sexual tension as a way to further sell Bruce and Selina’s romantic arc.
The voice cast is solid with no one actor really standing out except Geoffrey Arend as the Riddler. This is Jason O’ Mara’s tenth outing as the World’s Greatest Detective and he brings a steely confidence to the role. The voices of some of these characters tend to crystallize a bit depending on when you started hearing them (which explains why for many viewers, Kevin Conroy is the Batman and they will accept no substitute) so your mileage may vary in terms of your feelings about the cast. These are fairly reined in performances all around that will play to your expectations but fail to have any truly iconic line readings.
Batman: Hush is another solid effort from Warner Brothers Animation and DC. They continue to show that no story is really off the table in terms of what they can adapt but their ability to consistently churn out work has led to a bit of stagnation in terms of quality. It’s not bad but it feels like it could be better. The art style lacks true vision. The voice acting is effective but not memorable. The writing is admirable but usually drawing from already strong source material. Batman: Hush plays it safe and sticks to the formula that’s working but it’s hard not to wonder what an iconic story like this might have looked like if the creative team had been given more room to make it their own.