about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

In which I nearly suffer a nervous breakdown trying to make sense of Harvey's story in Loeb's "Hush"

It’s a shame that one of the most important things to ever happen to Harvey Dent as a character occurred in an overblown mess like Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush.

It’s even more of a shame that no one developed Harvey from there on, instead leaving the character to gather cobwebs in limbo for THREE YEARS before utterly squandering all that potential in Face the Face. In an exercise of sheer masochism, I shall review both to examine all the great potential that DC pissed away in the name of mediocrity and the damned status quo. But before I can even analyze Harvey’s role, I need to go over his appearances in Hush as they actually played out. Be warned: this will result in a LOT of bitter, bitter sarcasm. I loathe Hush, both the story and the character, but I won’t be able to review the story as a whole for two reasons:

1.) I’m only interested in Harvey’s story, not in any of the seventeen other subplots happening at the same time in this poop-strewn labyrinth

2.) I like my blood pressure where it is, thank you very much.

So yeah, fair warning to those who love Batman: Hush. If you wish to defend it in the comments (or correct me on any details I might have missed), feel free. I won’t bite your head off, I promise! I know that this is a popular and beloved book to many, so I don’t want to step on any toes, but I simply cannot accept this story as anything other than crap... not even considering what he does with Harvey, which is admittedly pretty cool.

By which I mean, MY version of Loeb does with Harvey. Because I'm not sure even Loeb knew what he actually did.

Among the many reasons I have for hating Batman: Hush is that it introduced one of the worst (yet inexplicably popular) villains to the Bat-mythos:

This fucker. This fucker right here. Ughhhh.

This... is Hush. Hush is a bandage-faced Batman/Wayne-targeting “mastermind” who--it's important to note for later--wore a tan trenchcoat and a black turtleneck. But who could possibly be Hush? Harvey Dent? Jason Todd? Alfred? Magpie? Bueller? Who knows?! But whoever he is, he couldn’t POSSIBLY be the brand new character we’ve never heard of before, yet are supposed to accept that he’s Bruce’s Wayne’s best friend 4evah whom Batman’s somehow managed to never mention? No, goodness no, there’s no way that Hush could turn out to be Dr. Tommy Fucking Elliot.

Never mind that Harvey Dent had already done the "Bruce Wayne's best friend" thing better, in both the newspaper comic strips and in Batman: The Animated Series.

No, it couldn't be Tommy Elliot, and not just because he's an incredibly obvious red herring, just like Alberto Falcone in The Long Halloween. Do you know why he couldn't be Hush? Because, shocker upon shocker, Tommy was killed off halfway through the story! Because Loeb certainly didn’t pull that lazy bait-and-switch with, say, Alberto Falcone in The Long Halloween, heavens no!

Yeah, it sure looks like the Joker killed Elliot, right? I mean, why the hell else would the Joker even BE there with the body? It couldn’t be so we could devote an entire issue to Batman wrestling with whether or not he should finally kill the Joker already, because he totally might! Sure!

I love how, for all the horrible shit the Joker's done to established characters in the DCU, it's the apparent murder of this tedious nobody with no history that's supposed to push Batman over the edge. Because Tommy Elliot is Loeb's goddamned Villain Sue, who must be avenged because he was sooooo important to Bruce, way moreso than Jason, Barbara Gordon, Sara Essen, or anyone of the innocents the Joker's killed over the years! What's somewhat meaningful, at least, is the fact that it's Jim Gordon, of all people, who is the one who talks Bruce down from this contrived situation, except for the fact that Gordon shows up from out of fucking nowhere.

Yes, that's rather affecting, and... wait. What the hell is Gordon even DOING there in the first place? I mean, for any other reason than pure emotional impact?

We don't know. He just shows up. There's no foreshadowing, no reason for him to even be there, nnor does Batman question his random presence. Bear in mind, Gordon's retired at this point and pretty much out of Batman's life, so this is Deus Ex Jimbo. While Loeb gives an explanation (two issues later!) that Gordon received an anonymous tip, the fact that Batman doesn't even question Gordon's presence strikes me as further evidence that Loeb was making this shit up as he went along.

So as Gordon helps Batman steps away from the abyss, they're watched from above by the same mysterious bandaged-faced guy in the exact same trenchcoat and black turtleneck:

Gasp! Well, that doesn’t mean that Hush is Harvey, right? He could just happen to have the coin, which he’s showing off... to the audience, because apparently he can see us??? HOLY CRAP, HUSH IS ANIMAL MAN! Seriously, Hush/Harv, who are you talking to?

Well, that's Loeb for you: using theatricality at the expense of storytelling logic. I snark, but that actually the KEY to his success, as long as he's working in gorgeous artists and writing brain-fogging mysteries. Because how can you critique a mystery for plot holes? For all you know, they're CLUES! If anyone actually puts The Long Halloween under any scrutiny, it falls apart. But who does that? Everyone's too busy enjoying the mystery! Same goes for this, although when even hardcore Bat-fans like Chris Sims don't like Hush, I'm guessing that Loeb was less successful with this story.

I should mention something else. This above image is the first time we've clearly seen what Hush looks like. Before this, the only time that Hush himself appeared was in promotional art, which you'll notice seemed to telegraph Harvey's involvement:

I like the pattern for characters on the bottom. Sexy lady, sexy lady, sexy lady, Croc.

Thus, anyone who's seen that art would obviously believe that they've now finally seen Hush himself in the comic. Now, as Hush has become such a visible character since this story, we all know that he does look exactly like that, just as we also know that he isn't Harvey. But I think with Elliot "dead," (and did anybody *really* think he was?) Loeb was pulling his same oh-so-fresh misdirection from The Long Halloween make making Harvey the OTHER red herring, continuing with the revelation of who was behind the bandages in the next issue:

That reference to the Christmas issue of The Long Halloween is the first time, to my recollection, that TLH was mentioned in current-day canon. I still don't count it as proper canon, since it's Loeb referencing Loeb. That has to wait until Tony Daniel's current Loeb lovefest as of two years ago.

Why is the Joker recoiling in horror?

So, from this, we’re led to conclude that Hush actually was Harvey Dent, who had plastic surgery and was healed, which gives us a logical reason for why Hush wears bandages (unlike Tommy Elliot, who has no reason whatsoever). That is the exactly the kind of logical conclusion that Loeb uses as red herrings to distract from his twists, which are usually surprising because they make no fucking sense.

Even besides the promo art above, bear in mind that everything about Harvey's appearance here is pretty much directly lifted from his story in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, making this yet another example of Loeb riding on something from Miller. But hey, in that story, didn't having plastic surgery just make Harvey ALL evil now? So maybe he really is the criminal mastermind apparently known as Hush, because what other reason would he possibly have for getting the Joker released from Arkham?

That's a trick question, because he no reason. None whatsoever. Harvey has no plans for the Joker, and seemed to be acting only to free an innocent man. Which is utterly ridiculous. Arkham isn’t jail, it’s treatment for the criminally insane, which the Joker STILL IS. But surely he’ll have a better explanation when reunited with an old friend, right?

"That's impossible." "Is it?" ... um, YES.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but once you're disbarred, isn't that kinda it for you? Especially if you're disbarred and then do everything that Two-Face did? I suppose I could accept that Harvey's license was reinstated due to the machinations of Tommy Elliot and/or the Riddler (how would that even work? Who the fuck knows?!), except that if Harvey's good and back on the side of the law, why would he go along with such an almost-certainly-illegal maneuver to get his license back?

I should mention that these scans are from the original issues of Batman where Hush played out. As is common practice at DC, some things are actually edited and changed for the trade paperback collection. Compare this panel, which appeared in the original published issue:

And here's the same panel from the trade paperback. Notice any differences in who says what?

It’s a subtle change that’s still bullshit, but in a more sophisticated way that doesn’t so much invite an immediate response to, “YES, yes, it’s fucking impossible!” It’s also a less stupid transition from Harvey being all “Didn’t I, Lisa? Didn’t I?” to “The Joker was innocent,” as if one thing had anything to do with the other. Never mind that the Joker being innocent still gave Harvey no reason whatsoever to actually release the maniac.

It's nice of Harvey to not actually, y'know, explain anything to Jim Gordon. It’s like Lost, where nobody answers anything, instead prefering to speak in riddles or dismissive responses like “There’s no time! *pant pant*” Oh sure, you'd figure that Harvey would fill Gordon in on all the details off-panel, but as we see in their next appearance, Jim actually didn’t learn anything new between then and what happened next. Harvey just left it there, and Jim just decided, doop-a-doop, to unquestioningly go along with the up-until-very-recently insane murderer.

I’d really like to drop the sarcasm and complaints to actually analyze Harvey’s role here, but that’s impossible to do until the end because Loeb is far more interested in involving him in cloak-and-dagger ridiculousness. Don’t worry, though, we’re almost at the end (thank god), when Batman makes his first true confrontation with Hush, who--it’s worth noting--is still dressed exactly the same as Harvey, but still wearing bandages, and even comes complete with a very Two-Face line of dialogue:

That's the first clear image of Hush, the real Hush, Tommy Elliot. Up until this point, we've seen Harvey Dent looking exactly like Hush, plus Clayface disguised as Jason Todd disguised as Hush (later retconned by Judd Winick in Under the Hood to actually BEING Jason Todd disguised as Hush, who then switched places with Clayface at some point, AAAAAAAAARRRGHGHGHAHAHAHAHAH FUCKING COMICS I'm okay).

At this point, may I finally ask why the fuck are Harvey Dent and Tommy Elliot dressed the exact same way? There's no reason given, nothing that makes any sense in the story itself. It's sheer, empty misdirection to make people think that Hush and Harvey are one and the same. Shit, look at the gatefold variant covers for the final issues, and notice how the "same" character appears on both, even though the former is Harvey:

And the latter is Tommy:

This. Is. Bullshit. Harvey's the only one who has any reason to wear bandages, which, again, is the way he looked in Dark Knight Returns. Why would Elliot do the same thing? Either you have to make up your own explanation to try and make sense of anything in this story, or turn off your brain and go, "Whooooaaa, what a twist!"

So yeah, Tommy Elliot faked death, surprise. Turns out, Elliot/Hush is one great big rip-off of Black Mask: a parent-murdering rich boy with a mad-on for Bruce Wayne who grew up to become an Anti-Batman. And because he is SUCH a badass, Elliot actually manages to nearly kill Batman in hand-to-hand combat. Fucking. Villain. Sue.

But nonsensical though it is, it lets Loeb turn one particular character into a surprise eleventh-hour hero:

I like how even Jim Gordon thinks that this is a convoluted mess. And really, the whole "hahaha, I said it was used to 'kill' Tommy Elliot, aren't I a scamp" once again screams to me, "I'M MAKING THIS UP AS I GO ALONG AND NO ONE IS NOTICING, HAHAHA." Where the hell did Harvey even get Gordon's old gun in the first place?

I'm not gonna lie, the idea of Harvey Dent as Batman's ultimate savior is pretty damn cool. But it doesn't redeem or explain anything. So, Harvey and Tommy had an "agreement," made before or after the latter performed plastic surgery on the former... why? What agreement? Why did Harvey shoot Clayface!Elliot in the first place? What was his involvement in this mess?

The only clue we get is this throwaway line at the end:

Mental illness does not work that way! Especially not for someone as profoundly ill as Harvey!


Okay. Now comes the "fun" part.

Since we later learn that the Riddler was behind the whole thing and was using Elliot/Hush (who still gets credited for being some kind of criminal mastermind why now?), I think we’re led to believe that Harvey was to play some role in their revenge right along with Croc, Joker, Harley, and Ivy. We don’t know exactly, thus forcing me to make some shit up based on what little information we have. Here’s what happened, best as I can guess:

*clears throat*

Okay. So... the evil heart surgeon Dr. Thomas Elliot wanted to involve Two-Face in his revenge on Batman/Bruce Wayne. Why Two-Face? Maybe for the same reasons that the Rogues ended up hiring Paul Sloan to impersonate Two-Face in their own Bat-trap scheme in Brubaker’s Dead Reckoning: Batman has a soft spot for Harvey. So Elliot proposes to use Two-Face in his scheme in exchange for performing plastic surgery, which apparently the heart surgeon can also do, because all surgery is the same.

Why does Harvey agree? He probably flipped for it, and it came up good heads.

Elliot's overall goal is to torment Bruce/Bats as much as possible, and he knows that his own "murder" would only add to Bruce/Bats' misery, while conveniently also removing Elliot from the list of suspects. What's role was Harvey to play? Here was the plan: they'd frame the Joker for Elliot's "murder," with Clayface posing as dead Tommy Elliot, who would himself be shot (and seemingly killed) in secret by Harvey Dent, using James Gordon’s service revolver, which Harvey and/or Elliot somehow obtained from police headquarters and would also therefore frame Jim Gordon.

My god, it’s so elegant in its simplicity.

However, something unexpected (and unlikely) happened: the plastic surgery cured Harvey! Having one face again magically erased all traces of his Two-Face personality, returning Harvey to his previous state of good-natured sanity. Because that worked SO well for Harvey the first time he had plastic surgery. At least, up until the point where he clawed open his own face with his bare hands.

But wait. Maybe there’s a reason for his bad side to be in remission, (or conversely, for his two sides to be integrated once more). Bear in mind, this story followed shortly after Gotham Central: Half a Life, the culmination of the Renee Montoya/Two-Face saga started by Greg Rucka in No Man’s Land. As we learned in Rucka’s novelization of NML, Two-Face’s love for Renee was the FIRST time that the good and bad sides of his psyche had ever agreed on anything. Sure, Harvey's insanity led to him outing Renee as a lesbian, framing her for murder, and pretty much ruining her life, but MAYBE that meltdown led to the subsequent integration/destruction of his bad side once he had the surgery. Maybe.

Even after realizing that he's been "cured," Harvey Dent still carries out his agreement to shoot Clayface disguised as Elliot and thus frame the Joker. But after that, he starts acting on his own accord to betray Hush, first by releasing the Joker, which accomplishes... something... apparently... and then, more effectively, he goes to Jim Gordon to offer his help and very limited information about what’s actually going on. Together, they interrupt Elliot’s revenge, and Harvey himself delivers the kill shots, betraying the man who gave him back his face and redeeming himself for his actions as Two-Face. While he gets arrested by Gordon, he's confident that he'll go free, and secure in the knowledge that he was the hero was more.


Aside from the plot holes even I couldn't fill with bullshit, that's honestly a GREAT Harvey Dent story! Too bad we have no idea what the hell actually happened, leaving the guesswork to those like me who actually try to think about how these stories are badly-written and make no sense.

But I should give Jeph Loeb the benefit of the doubt. After all, from what I’ve heard, he actually had plans for Harvey Dent in a storyline which would follow up on Hush, plans which hinged so much on Harvey that DC wouldn’t let anyone use the character until Loeb told his story. Which he never did, of course. That’s why Harvey made NO appearances in canon comics for three whole years, from 2003 to 2006.

Well, except for a one-panel cameo in Gotham Central:

If you don't know the context, a kid dressed up as Robin was murdered, and Batman subsequently spent all night brutally interrogating the Arkham inmates. When the cops (including Renee Montoya) arrived to question the inmates themselves, they found a bunch of bruised and bleeding Rogues. That's right: even after Harvey proved himself likely cured, he was still sent back to Arkham. And even though he saved Batman's life, Batman still beat the shit out of him.

Even when he's the hero, it still sucks to be Harvey Dent.

Does anyone know if it's true that Loeb planned to write a Hush follow-up with Harvey Dent, and thus that's why he didn't appear in comics for three years?
Tags: catwoman, jeph loeb, jim gordon, jim lee, joker, renee montoya, rogues gallery

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