Review by C.J. Bunce
An unprecedented volume was released this month: Batman: Hush Unwrapped, an exclusive and rare original art look at an entire comic book mega-hit series. Kudos to DC Comics for not only releasing a complete compilation of a pencils-only view of the comic book process, but for releasing the one and only Batman: Hush mini-series by the current premier Batman artist, Jim Lee. For the diehard Jim Lee fan, or the hundreds of thousands of fans that bought Batman: Hush in its original single issue form or trade paperback compilation formats, it will be hard not to rip the shrink wrap off the book standing right there in the bookstore.
Batman: Hush was originally printed in the ongoing Batman series as Issues #608-619, written by Jeph Loeb. It is the story of Batman sleuthing out a criminal called Hush. Everyone who is anyone in the Batman storyline makes an appearance in the series. The art is top notch and is what propelled Jim Lee forward as the key go-to guy for Batman work. Not since Neal Adams re-imagined Batman in 1969 has anyone had this kind of impact on the character. After Hush came out I stood in line for an hour at a Midwest convention to get Jim to scrawl his signature across the covers of my own stack of the series. He was so busy he hardly looked up the entire day. Jim has been the featured talent at each comic show he has appeared at since. Hush is a series that was well hyped before I read it, but it is the rare occurrence in the past several years where the hype was warranted.
From a story standpoint, the inner-thought narration of Batman as he progresses through the first page will have anyone hooked immediately. There is a great surprise, a big reveal, and a pay-off that although not perfect, is still worth the voyage. Beyond Jeph Loeb’s solid writing, however, is the consistently brilliant panels rendered by Jim Lee. You will not look at a boot tread the same way again.
But if you haven’t read Batman: Hush yet, don’t read this new edition. This edition is for the diehard fan that darned-near knows the original series by heart. It includes every page of art before it was inked, before color was added. It does keep the lettering, so you can still read and follow the entire storyline as with the original published edition. For the first time reader, check out either Batman: Hush in paperback, or in the two volume hardcover edition (Batman: Hush Vol. 1 or Batman: Hush, Vol. 2), or the oversized Absolute Batman: Hush, which is coming out in December, but available for pre-order now. Again, there is a good reason why this book has been reprinted so many times. It’s that good.
If you are an artist or art enthusiast, you can’t do much better than study the style and strokes of a master at his best. As a study piece, I can see art classes assigning this book as required reference material. Mark my words, this will be in a college bookstore next semester (post here if you see it happen first!). If so, it would be in good company, as Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was regularly found as an economic text book in colleges back in the 1990s.
Stepping back from looking at this work in this seemingly stark form as a study piece or target of critique and analysis, the black and white treatment of the Hush story is a new view of the story in its own right. The pencil work, along with some periodic pages in shades of gray watercolor, has a certain film noir aspect to it that is quite appropriate. The Dark Knight Detective in his own film noir thriller itself is a great concept.
I for one hope the Unwrapped series concept catches on. Even non-hero original art pages from Jim Lee easily fetch a minimum of $1,000 per page today. Other than catching an artist at a convention who happens to have kept his entire series (good luck finding that!), you’re not going to get access to something like this any other way. A series that reproduces other great storylines and great artists would be an entry point for most of us into the world behind the scenes of comic book creation. The hundreds of hours of exhaustive efforts to create such a work are evident in every stroke, in every panel. At $39.99 retail this type of book won’t appeal to the masses, but if enough uber-fans pick this one up maybe DC Comics, and other publishers, will issue more compendiums in this format in the future. To quote the other famous comic book Lee, “Excelsior!”