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Batman #617

Posted: Sunday, August 3, 2003
By: Cody Dolan



"The Grave"

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Jim Lee (p), Scott Williams (i)

Publisher: DC Comics

Plot:
Robin joins the fray this issue and promptly gets into a rather inexplicable fight with Catwoman in the Batcave. She leaves the cave, only to get into a fight with Huntress. Batman steps in, the Scarecrow shows up for some reason, and we learn who Hush is. Think this sounds convoluted? You're not alone.

Comments:
NOTE:There is no way to discuss this issue without revealing who Hush is, so this review contains heavy spoilers.

Despite the low rating this issue deserves, there is some good contained in its pages. Jim Lee can flat out draw, and this issue (like the others before it) showcases his talents in the best way possible. Robin is usually drawn as a scrawny kid, so I enjoyed Lee's more muscular, mature looking Teen Wonder. So many artists treat poor Tim Drake as an afterthought, and it's clear that Lee affords him as much respect as he does Batman.

Jeph Loeb knows how to write Batman, and his grasp of the character is evident in Loeb's dialogue. Batman is brusque and scheming, but at the same time Loeb lets his lighter side shine in his scenes with Robin. He's tough and unforgiving when it comes to his Rogues, and his treatment of the Scarecrow is note perfect. That's about it for the book's redeeming qualities.

Unfortunately, that's about all I can say good about this issue. Robin not liking Batman and Catwoman's relationship I can understand, but him hauling off and decking her I cannot. Nor can I understand how Catwoman got to his perch in the Batcave, as I was unaware that she could fly. Their fight is poorly done, as is Robin's attitude after his mentor has explained everything. Are you going to go against the Bat and attack his girlfriend after he's told you not to? I didn't think so. Now I know the fight was staged, but the motivation behind those actions is a mystery to me. Why did Batman want a tracking device planted on his girlfriend? I'm guessing he doesn't trust her, but if that's the case why did he let her in on the secret? That does not make any kind of sense.

This leads me to Catwoman's confrontation with Huntress. We're supposed to buy that they just happened to bump into each other, and that Huntress just happened to be exposed to Scarecrow's fear toxin before that? Even for a comic book, that's stretching it. I know this issue isn't the debut of Huntress's new look, but I just have to say something about her awful new costume. She's a disciple of Batman, and he lets her run around in hot pants? Where's the functionality there? And why the hell does she have a big hole in her shirt that shows off her midriff? I know that's supposed to be sexy, but I don't think you're supposed to care about that kind of thing when your main goal is crime prevention. That hole just screams for some thug to put a bullet or two in her stomach, and last time I checked they don't make transparent Kevlar.

The fight between Huntress and Catwoman isn't bad, but the Scarecrow's appearance just feels gratuitous. What is the point of him hanging around after dousing Huntress in his toxins? Was he thinking, "You know, it's been a while since I let Batman beat the crap out of me, it's time I remedied that"? It reads as though Loeb couldn't think of a good excuse for Lee to draw Scarecrow, so he didn't bother to provide one. Does he think that we'll just accept this as part of the story and won't wonder what Crane was doing there?

Finally, I have to address the identity of Hush. For those that don't know it yet, Hush is none other than the second person to don the Robin costume: Jason Todd. This has got to be the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. Jason Todd still being alive ranks right up there with new Coke, the movie "Gigli", and giving Whoopi Goldberg a sitcom. There are two characters that should forever remain dead: Bucky and Jason Todd. DC let the fans decide lo those many years ago, and they gave a resounding "thumbs down" to this awful character, and I can't believe DC let Loeb bring him back. Many people have stated that comic companies don't listen to their fans, and it turns out they're right. This revelation has made liars out of the folks at DC.

Jason Todd's death marked Batman's greatest failing and has provided numerous writers since then with the opportunity to tell great stories about the guilt he's carried around ever since. It added another level to Batman's relationship with the Joker (that even bled into this month's atrocious JLA) and fueled his concern for all those he admits into the Bat-family. Jason's death drove Batman to depths the character had never been to in the modern age and motivated him in a time when certain readers, myself included, were wondering just how long someone could let one event shape their lives. With one fell swoop, Loeb and Lee have destroyed all that.

This is especially true given that there is no way for Jason to be alive. We all saw him get beaten to a bloody pulp by the Joker. We all saw him get blown up in that warehouse, and we all saw Batman find the body. We all saw Batman check for a pulse, not find one, then carry the corpse out of the wreckage. Unless Hal Jordan/Parallax worked his magic here the way he did over in Green Arrow, there is no plausible way for Jason to be walking around today.

Now there's been speculation that the person we see on the last page isn't in fact Jason Todd. Right before Hush is revealed the Scarecrow hints that Batman has been infected by another person's fear toxin, and that would lead us to believe that Batman is hallucinating. That would explain a lot of things. For example, why does Jason have gray hair and appear to be Batman's, or at least Nightwing's, age? Why is he still going by the name Robin, even though it's been over a decade? Why is Jason mad at the Bat given that a) it was his own impulsiveness that got him killed, and b) Batman was trying to help the teenager find his mother. There was no way for Batman to save Jason, given that Batman didn't know where the kid had gone (my theory on why he's mad: He resents having to wear that god awful early Robin/Speedo costume, especially seeing how good Tim Drake's Robin outfit looks).

I really hope that the speculation is true, but that still wouldn't let Loeb and Lee off my hook. The fact that they let their readers think that Jason was back from the dead for a month is inexcusable. It sullies the stories that have come before this one in what feels like a cheap attempt to garner attention. The names on the front cover were enough for me to buy the book but I'm not sure that'll be the case for too much longer.

Final Word:
When I saw Jason Todd, I almost threw up in my mouth. Much like the rest of this disappointing story arc, this reeks of Loeb and Lee trying too hard to make a splash, and creators this talented shouldn't have to resort to that. I'm praying to the comic gods that this will turn out to be a hoax, but unless that happens I won't be able to forgive Loeb for ruining a poignant part of the Bat-mythos.



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