Monday, September 05, 2016

Batcannon: "Hush": The Platypus Reads Part CCXCVI

After reading Glenn Weldon's The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, I decided to brush up on my knowledge of the caped crusader. I began by revisiting Frank Miller's The Dark Night Returns. I was surprised to find it a much more nuanced and positive work than I remembered it. DKI, however, represents an alternate reality from the mainline of the comic. In that sense, it's as monolithic and archetypal as Nolan's Batman Begins or Burton's Batman. To get a better idea of how the Batman of the comics has evolved, I turned to Jeff Loeb's Hush.

I read the first issue of Hush when it came out and never finished the rest. I think I disliked the art and was experiencing a distinct lack of funds at that time. After reading it all the way through, I still have issues with the art (Harley Quinn's non-existent backbone anyone?), but I do also see its virtues: it's incorporation of the strong-points of prior artists, its novel depiction of motion, its graceful changes of motif to indicate changes of mood, time, and location. Moving on to the characters, Hush presents Batman as a detective first and foremost. This is the Batman of the original Detective Comics, Batman the Animated Series, and J.L.A. He is neither the action hero of the 90s movie franchise nor the psychopathic vigilante of Miller's alternate reality. The villains (Killer Croc. Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, The Joker, The Riddler, Clayface) are the villains of the comic books and the animated series, not the hyper-realistic figures of Nolan's trilogy. The supporting cast also has a nice sense of familiarity. I like Hush's Superman, Lois Lane, Nightwing, and Alfred. The new Robin is actually likable and makes sense without damaging the original concept of the character. Dolt that I am, the ultimate villain even came as a surprise to me. The clues were all there, but I was caught up in the story and failed to notice them -like a good Agatha Christie novel.

About the only thing I didn't like about Hush was its denigrating portrayal of women. How many times does a man grab Catwoman and she only talks about ripping their eyes out? The level of fan-service (in the anime sense) is ridiculous and earns every bit of the scorn it gets in Glenn Weldon's book.

However, rather than fume about it, I tried to put myself into Loeb and Lee's shoes and tackle one of the characters myself. So here's my fumbling redesign of the character that I thought got the shortest end of the toothpick: Poison Ivy.


Hush's Poison Ivy keeps the essentials of the long standing character design, but ups the ante by making the character look like an eco-friendly Playboy bunny. While at least one of the bunnies does have a Yale degree, the character of Priscila Isley came into her own in the animated series where she was a highly gifted botanist whose life-work had been thoughtlessly destroyed by a city official. My first thought, then, in terms of design, was to recall various women I know in STEM fields and think of all the stories I've heard from them about injustice in the workplace. One of the comments I remember getting on a couple of occasions was that a woman in a STEM field has to appear neuter at all times. Any hint of "femininity" elicits a torrent of condescension and unwelcome advances from male co-workers. So here we have a sort of Galadriel or Warhammer Wood Elves Poison Ivy. My idea was that she and the plants she loves have a symbiotic relationship where the plants draw nourishment from Ivy's mind and body while at the same time reordering themselves around her in response to her thoughts and wishes. Thus, Ivy's appearance would be ever changing based on the needs of the moment. She could appear as a terrible Earth Mother (see above) or slink about disguised as a bit of gardening as in the image below:

Here we have Jack Bauer's hoodie of invisibility made real. The tendrils could also be useful for opening gates or scaling buildings and would come in handy in a fight. I'm not sure how far either of these concepts really advances the ball, but hopefully they suggest some better alternatives. Of course, most of the time we should see Ivy at work in her lab. As a master chemist, she should be a suitable match for the science side of Bruce Wayne and her secret lair could be every bit as formidable as the Batcave. There's also the fact that she and Bruce both understand the nature of obsession, and that should give her an ability to think like her opponent. One major difference would be that to advance her agenda Ivy needs to steal while Bruce has the luxury of his legally inherited limitless fortune.

Anyhow, that's my stab at it for today. Comics are worth thinking about, and Hush did give me an opportunity to think: for that I am grateful.

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