Editor’s Note: Warner Bros Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this entry. The opinions I share are my own.
DC’s animated films can be a bit confusing. Beginning in the early 1990s, the DC Animated Universe (also known as the Timmverse or Diniverse) launched with Batman: The Animated Series and concluded, sort of, with Justice League Unlimited in 2006 before reappearing with a series of animated films and shorts through 2014. In 2007 a more adult-oriented line of films was launched with Superman: Doomsday, designated DC Universe Animated Original Movies. The continuity was loose when it was applied at all, as these films tended to be stand-alone adaptations of classic comic stories like All-Star Superman, Batman: Year One, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Then, a post-credit scene in 2013’s Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, a whole new continuity was teased.
Justice League: War (2014) launched an actual new shared universe, confusingly designated the DC Animated Movie Universe (DCAMU), based on DC Comics’ New 52 continuity. The reason that I mention this is because as this continuity has developed (quite rapidly, actually), that New 52 limitation causes some interesting, and sometimes distracting, twists in the process of adapting classic stories. Up till this point, though, it hasn’t really been that big a deal. Most of the stories that have been adapted originated in the New 52 comic continuity, or close enough to allow for minor tweaks, and when they haven’t, as with The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen, the stories stood on their own with limited shared universe ties.
Batman: Hush stands apart from everything that’s come before in this now thirteen film series, as the original comic was essentially a mystery that allowed writer Jeph Loeb and superstar artist Jim Lee to explore the history of Batman and his Rogues Gallery – particularly his on-again off-again semi-romantic relationship with Catwoman. It also featured what was perhaps the most controversial and exciting moment in modern Batman history, when it teased the return from the dead of murdered Robin, Jason Todd – a plot twist that turned out to be so enticing that DC went ahead and returned him shortly thereafter (in Hush, it was Clayface impersonating the bludgeoned-to-death former ward of Bruce Wayne).
In the DCAMU, however, Bruce Wayne only ever had one Robin before introducing his son Damian in the second in-continuity film, Son of Batman (which spawned two direct sequels, Batman vs. Robin and Batman: Bad Blood, before spinning Damian off with the Teen Titans in Justice League vs Teen Titans and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract). At the same time, there has been no mention of Catwoman in this continuity at all. Batman was clearly established in Justice League: War, so there’s obviously an unexplored history to dip into, but the way these films have developed, with the Bat-focus solely on the Bruce/Damian relationship, suddenly introducing a romantic relationship with Catwoman comes out of left field.
As does the identity of Hush.
For those not familiar, Batman: Hush tells the story of a mysterious masked figure calling himself Hush, who suddenly appears in Batman’s life with a massive grudge against the Dark Knight. In order to pursue his plot against Batman, he enlists nearly every villain from Batman’s history in some manner or another to push buttons and, um, I don’t know. It’s not really clear what his ultimate goal was in the comic, as it was revealed that Hush was a childhood friend, Thomas Elliot – now a world-renowned brain surgeon, first introduced in the first issue of “Hush” (not too obvious, there). Elliot’s grudge against Bruce Wayne was basically that he blamed Bruce’s father for saving his mother’s life after a car accident killed his father. Because it wasn’t an accident, see? Little Tommy Elliot had tried to murder his parents to inherit their fortune, and since Dr. Wayne saved her, he had to grow up and watch her die from cancer.
To achieve is revenge, he teamed up with The Riddler, who had recently taken a dip in a Lazarus Pit to cure a life-threatening brain tumor. When he emerged, he was not only healed, but somehow knew that Batman was Bruce Wayne and used this info to prove that he wasn’t a D-lister villain or something like that.
Bruce and Selina Kyle also end up in splitsville after he decides he can’t trust that she wasn’t in on the whole plot against him.
Ultimately, it’s all a bit much and doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. But that Jim Lee art is gorgeous, and that’s cool. I guess.
The animated adaptation hits most of the high points of the comic (Superman, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Joker all make their expected appearances), swapping out elements here and there (Batman fights Bane in the opening rather than Killer Croc, as he’d already fought Croc back in Son of Batman, there’s no Jason Todd in this continuity so that plot point is dropped entirely, Batgirl appears briefly, substituting for an appearance by Huntress in the original and Nightwing steps in for her in the later graveyard scene that amounts to nothing with the Jason Todd twist). It’s not until the end that we get what is the biggest deviation from the source material with a brand-new ending that actually provides much stronger emotional and psychological reasons for the Batman/Catwoman break-up.
So, while it lacks the visual power of the comic (although it keeps most of the butt shots), Batman: Hush tightens up and improves on the original story.
DC Showcase: Sgt. Rock – In the first new animated short since 2011, Sgt. Rock is a solidly entertaining – and sometimes shockingly violent – use of the classic WWII character, voiced here by Karl Urban. Written by comics legends Louise and Walt Simonson with Tim Sheridan and directed by Bruce Timm himself, this is a solid piece of work that surprisingly introduces the Creature Commandos and features zombie Nazis. Not sure if these Creature Commandos have any continuity-relationship to other animated uses but I kind of doubt it. They’re not really given distinctive personalities beyond being Frankenstein’s Monster, a vampire, and a werewolf. I really wasn’t expecting the horror aspect here, but it was nicely done. I’d watch more of this.
There are more of these shorts on the way with future animated movie releases, including Adam Strange, Death, The Phantom Stranger, and Batman: Death in the Family, but there’s no word yet on where they’ll show up.
Batman: Love in Time of War – A sort-of history of Catwoman. Various creators of both the animated films and the comics discuss Catwoman, commenting on the mysteries of her origin and how she has been portrayed across mediums. There’s a lot of love for Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt, but Michelle Pfeiffer gets some attention too. As expected, the conversation turns to Jim Lee’s version in Hush and the idea that she represents a kind of freedom to Batman that he can never really attain. Pretty good stuff.
Sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie, Wonder Woman: Bloodlines – The DCAMU version of Wonder Woman gets an origin film (and Justice League: War prequel) that not only touches on her classic beginnings, including the introduction of Steve Trevor, but also updates her modern story with New 52 elements that look interesting. Rosario Dawson reprises her role, voicing Diana/Wonder Woman (she took over from Michelle Monaghan with Justice League: Throne of Atlantis).
A Preview of Batman: Assault on Arkham – For some reason, we get a look at the 2014 DCAOM film that served as a prequel to the Batman: Arkham Asylum video game. I guess it also features a who’s who of Batman villains, but aside from that, I’m not sure why it’s included here.
From the DC Comics Vault: Batman: The Animated Series, “Catwalk” – The third episode of Season Four of Batman: The Animated Series is included and is probably the first really good use of Catwoman in the series. Very much worth a look, even if you’ve seen it a million times already as it’s sourced from the new Blu-ray edition of the series.
Audio Commentary – Executive Producer James Tucker, director Justin Copeland, and screenwriter Ernie Altbacker provide a lively and entertaining feature-length commentary that covers a very wide range of topics, from casting, to necessary changes in adapting from page to screen, the history of the characters and more. The most informative bit, to me, was the fact that they felt they needed to shift the focus of the film to the Batman/Catwoman romance, since the mystery in the comic was a bit rubbish. Couldn’t agree more.