Batman #614
"Hush, Chapter Seven: The Joke"
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Jim Lee
Inks: Scott Williams
Review by Abner Senires

Here's one that grabs you by the short and curlies like a vise and won't let go until you say "Uncle."

Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee continue their white-hot run on the 9-issue Batman storyline "Hush." At the end of last month's issue, Batman found his childhood friend, surgeon Thomas Elliot (the man who saved his life back in issue #609), shot dead in an alley. And who should be standing over the body?

None other than the Joker.

Thus begins 22 pages of the most intense, knock-down drag-out brawling ever to grace the pages of a comic book, joining the ranks of such famed fisticuffs as Supes vs. Shazam and Wolverine vs. Shingen, to name a few.

Well ... not a brawl, exactly.

More like a beating.

Loeb pulls out all the stops in this confrontation. Fueled by the recollections of Barbara Gordon's shooting, and the deaths of Jason Todd and Sarah Essen, Batman unloads on the Clown Prince of Crime with but one thought on his mind: retribution.

Behold--Batman unchained.

The disturbing part: Joker isn't fighting back. His cries of "I'm innocent" and "I didn't kill this guy" fall on deaf ears. "I can hear his confession," says Batman, "but it means nothing."

The most disturbing part is Batman's line: "He dies tonight by my hands."

Kudos to Jim Lee for this bravura turn at the Dark Knight. The previous issues have produced fantastic work but in this issue he captures the dark side of the Dark Knight.

Linework aside (we know what to expect from him), his composition and layout lend visual--and visceral--power to Loeb's prose. This is the part that grabs you by the short and curlies. And twists. Hard. Every panel made me cringe as he depicted Batman working over the Joker, adding new meaning to the expression "Wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley."

The juxtaposition of flashback and real-time sequences move both the story and the progression of Batman's mental state. With each recollection (rendered in washes that call to mind Sale's artwork), Batman goes from man to beast, with the artwork showing that shift. Batman goes from trained fighter (stance, punch, kick) to raging animal (crouch, snarl, pounce).

At one point, I half-expected Batman to howl at the sky.

The ending is a double slap in the face--no, more like a double kick in the groin. I won't spoil it for you, Dear Reader, but there's more than meets the eye and will you go and buy this issue already?

I will say this one thing: the historical resonance in the last few pages is gut-wrenching. That would be the second kick to the groin.

p.s. For the eager and the hardcore (and if you need to catch up), DC is putting out the "Hush" hardcover, reprinting #608-612 with lots of cool extras.

p.p.s. Don't forget: Saturday is Free Comic Book Day. Go to your neighborhood comic shop and get your free funnybooks.

© 2003 by Abner Senires