Considered by many to be among the best Batman storylines, “Batman: Hush,” a 12-issue miniseries, lit the industry on fire when it came out over seventeen years ago. Teaming-up writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee, two creators at the top of their game, “Hush” introduced a new titular mystery character seeking to destroy the Caped Crusader through the ultimate master plan. Hush’s machinations took readers into a deep dive into the world of Batman and beyond, allowing Jim Lee to draw a who’s who of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery in his quintessential style. Coinciding with the 80th Anniversary of Batman, it seems rather fitting that the Batman: Hush animated adaptation debuted at this year’s SDCC. The Beat was able to sit down with some of the film’s cast and crew and discuss the challenges of bringing this oft-requested storyline to life.
Cramming a yearlong comic into a 75-minute movie wasn’t an easy feat as screenwriter Ernie Altbacker discovered. Diehard fans may have qualms regarding certain deviations from the source material, but were necessary according to Altbacker in terms of practicality. “What Jeph [Loeb] wanted to do with Jim Lee was have him draw everything and get his take on all the main villains. So I’m writing a story around that and it’s hard to string together. But they did it wonderfully,” said Altbacker. “And the problem with that is to try and adapt it in a much shorter form is there are a lot of iconic people like the Joker or Harley Quinn or Superman. They get like one scene. I tried to get that one scene and make it worthwhile for an actor to come in and say those lines. It was a combination of what was already there but also saying it in a more streamlined way.” The primary throughline for Altbacker wasn’t the eponymous villain as one might assume but the romance between Batman and Catwoman.” Producer James Tucker echoed Altbacker’s thoughts, reasoning that by cutting down on the number of rogues that appeared in the film they could focus on the Bat/Cat relationship, the core of the movie.
Jim Lee is a comic artist known for his intricate detail and the “Hush” comic is no exception. So you can imagine the task that befell character designer Phil Bourassa into translating Lee’s iconic images into something animation friendly. It was less about imitating Lee’s style exactly for Bourassa, an unabashed fan of Jim Lee since the ’90s, than trying to faithful to his cosmetic choices and crafting designs that were instantly recognizable and timeless like Lee accomplished with the original “Batman: Hush” storyline.
Hush happens to mark the directorial debut of Justin Copeland after more than a decade working in the animation industry. Readers will likely be able to spot some homages to Lee’s panels and artwork, including that breathtaking page of Batman embracing Catwoman in a kiss under an enormous full moon. “That scene was boarded by Jake Castorena. I feel like he nailed that shot,” said Copeland. Counting himself as a fan of the “Hush” comic, Copeland’s goal is always to the film first. “You’re going by the script and if it happens to match the comic that’s great,” he explained. “For me as a director, I know the book very intimately. It came out when I was trying to break into comics as an artist. You don’t want to get trapped into making it shot for shot. The composition should follow the narrative.”
Hush marks the 10th outing for Jason O’Mara voicing the Caped Crusader in this shared DC Animated Universe beginning with Justice League: War. Never expecting that his version of Batman would be adapted for the “Hush” storyline, O’Mara said he did backflips when he found out and had been anticipating a premiere in the legendary Ballroom 20 at SDCC long before it was officially announced. By sheer serendipity, the Hush premiere happened to fall under Batman’s 80th Anniversary, giving O’Mara more cause for celebration. Even after ten films, O’Mara is discovering new depth with each project. “I feel for the first time since I started playing Batman the lines between Batman and Bruce Wayne are really getting blurred,” he said. “I find that really exciting because I think it’s defining and makes this version of the character unique.”
Joing O’Mara once again is Sean Maher as Nightwing, bringing much needed levity to such a gritty and dark character and story. The hardest part for Maher was recording solo in the booth, especially since Batman and Nightwing are often together in scenes.
Besides sharing the first name of Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Thomas can boast that he’s also actually played the Dark Knight in the Onstar series of commercials two decades ago. This time around, he’s voicing Commissioner Gordon, a staple of the Bat mythos whom Thomas also relates. “I grew up in the Midwest. There’s a lot of things about Jim Gordon that I like that are very Midwst. He’s stoic. He cares deeply about the people of Gotham City. That’s his whole thing. He’ll do anything and everything possible to protect them. He’s got a heart of gold. I’m still trying to figure out how he still has his job because nothing is ever going right in Gotham. It’s always out of control.”
You wouldn’t guess at first glance but Hynden Walch, a self-described introvert preferring to be out of the spotlight, voices the bombastic Harley Quinn. Somewhat ironically, though finding the experience of being crammed into a convention center with 100,000+ attendees draining, playing Harley in a recording booth is rather exhilarating for her. “Playing a high energy character just feels good. And I adore her because she adores her craziness. It’s not like playing a character who’s so dark. But Harley really enjoys her evilness so there’s a lot to get energized about there, honey!” Having voiced Harley in previous projects, Walch was particularly jazzed about improvising a song during a fight scene.
Although he voiced a kid friendly version of the Joker in the LEGO DC animated series of films, Hush afforded Jason Spisak the opportunity to really tap into his killer clown. Much like the comic, Joker’s role in Hush is somewhat minor, described as an “extended cameo” but still Spisak reveled in getting to play the quintessential Batman villain.
Best known as speechwriter Matt Mahoney on Madame Secretary, Geoffrey Arend lends his vocals as the Riddler. Despite being a livelong nerd, having actually read the original “Hush” storyline when it first came out, this was surprisingly Arend’s first time attending SDCC. He certainly has a unique interpretation of arguably Batman’s most intelligent villain. “This Riddler is different to me because he’s almost like a millennial Riddler,” Arend elucidated. “He wants Batman to recognize him. He wants Batman to know how smart he is. And what better way than to get everybody together and actually destroy him. I think he actually wants to be Batman too.”
Arend is no novice as a voice actor either. If you grew up in the ’90s as a viewer of MTV’s Daria like my own sister, you may remember him as perpetual loser Charles Ruttheimer III a.k.a. Upchuck. Reflecting upon the Upchuck character he landed out of high school, Arenda realized some overlapping similarities with the Riddler. “I didn’t really think about Upchuck going into this but now that you say that, there is very much of an outcast nature. The Riddler really does have such an outcast [nature]. Even in the rogues gallery he’s an outcast. I think there have been plenty of iterations where he’s not taken seriously by the people that he employs. It’s an interesting bridge to marry between the two.”
In case the title wasn’t enough of a clue, the ultimate villain of the piece is Hush. Playing both Hush as well as Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend Tommy Elliot is Maury Sterling. Much to the eternal frustration of his mother who’s tired of seeing a nice boy from Mill Valley like her son constantly play bad guys, Sterling has evidently found his niche. He definitely had his work cut out for him in differentiating between Elliot and Hush. “You don’t want to overplay certain characteristics. You don’t want Tommy Elliot to come across as too ingratiating or too nice because then you don’t trust him,” Sterling elaborated. “The direction I tried to do with Tommy Elliot was genuinely play him like a nice guy. Not only are you tipping away the cards of his past but then you’re not tipping the Hush reveal.”
Of course, those who have seen the film are fully aware that there is more to the reveal than Sterling let on. I won’t spoiler it but will only say that it is both a departure but also in keeping with the spirit of the Loeb/Lee “Hush” storyline.
Check out The Beat‘s review from one of our SDCC contributors. Batman: Hush is available now on Digital, and will be released on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack and on the DC Universe streaming service on August 13, 2019.
An adaptation of the seminal DC classic tale, Batman: Hush centers on a shadowy new villain known only as Hush, who uses Gotham’s Rogues Gallery to destroy Batman’s crime-fighting career, as well as Bruce Wayne’s personal life—which has already been complicated by a relationship with Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman.