Graphic Novel Review: Batman: Hush Unwrapped Deluxe Edition

(Titan Books, �29.99)

NOW here’s a strange concept for a book if ever there was one…

The original story arc Hush, written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Jim Lee, was a smash hit mystery pitting the Dark Knight against a who’s who of his greatest foes, including the Joker, Clayface, the Riddler and Killer Croc.

It is memorable largely for Lee’s sumptuous artwork, but also for predicting the resurrection of second Robin Jason Todd (at the time long since dead) and for finally establishing a physical relationship between Batman and Catwoman after years of pussy-footing around (pun intended).

By this point in his career, the Loeb who crafted such acclaimed epics as The Long Halloween and Daredevil: Yellow was far from being supplanted by the hack who eventually produced the horrific Marvel mini-series Ultimatum, and he succeeds here in creating a nice retcon which introduces the bandage-clad Hush as a rival not only to Batman, but also his alter ego Bruce Wayne.

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So that’s the original story, which has been reprinted in various formats including a luxury Absolute volume as well as the usual paperbacks and hardbacks.

Far be it for anyone to suggest that DC is milking the last drops of milk out of a cash cow, but something certainly prompted them to release an “Unwrapped” version of the story which presents Jim Lee’s pencils in a raw format without any inking or colouring.

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Yes, Lee is good at drawing superheroes, as evidenced from a career which has included the multi-million selling X-Men #1 in the 1990s, but who exactly is this book being targeted at? Many fans will already own Hush fully inked and coloured, and are therefore unlikely to pick it up again.

Art students may be intrigued by the prospect of seeing the man’s work unembellished, but again, is that enough to prompt them to buy a 320 page volume of pencil artwork? Perhaps not. Especially at such a high cover price.

Regardless of the target audience, there’s a certain frustration to be found in reading this story without the lush colours of Alex Sinclair and the stylished inks of Scott Williams, both of whom must feel somewhat snubbed to be ignored in this way.

As a story, it delivers on action and excitement, with sharp dialogue and an intelligent plot, and Lee’s art delivers on all expectations, even in this format. However, unless you’re a huge fan of black and white pencil work it’s unquestionably better in the original colour, rather than this unfinished comics curiosity.

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