This will probably turn into a rant, also, though I usually don't use cut-tags for comic spoilers, the following post contains spoilers for Batman #615, which only arrived in the stores two days ago, so I decided to use a cut-tag. Read more...
I've mentioned being wary of how they handle the Joker in the current Batman series before, but with Batman #615 my suspicions seem more and more justified. The thing is, I don't think the problem is really that of the current Batman plot itself, at least for me it isn't. I enjoy Hush quite a lot (a bit more about that later), but it just clashes with what has been done with the Joker in the Joker: Last Laugh storyline from late 2001 and afterwards.
At least since then it has been firmly established that the Joker's appearance can't simply be explained in a one panel conversation stating that he escaped from Arkham once again. He has not only been transferred to the Slab high security meta-human prison, thanks to the events in Last Laugh that prison is now also in Antarctica. And at least since Last Laugh, maybe even earlier, I'd have to check that, it is firmly established that monitoring the Joker is a big deal for Oracle.
On one hand this change makes sense, especially from a viewpoint internal to the universe it is logical to put the Joker in a more secure location, one from which breaking out, while not impossible, is at least much harder than escaping from Arkham Asylum, on the other hand it limits the "usability" of the Joker as a foil for Batman, despite the Joker being one of Batman's most important enemies, a fact that leads to the unfortunate inconsistencies in the current Batman series. In the context of Hush alone the appearance of the Joker is very effective, and the story wouldn't really work without him, but unfortunately because of that previous decision the rest of the continuity is now in the way (and gets apparently just tossed out of the window).
Another thing I wasn't thrilled about, was how putting the Joker at the Slab and his subsequent escape with DCU-wide consequences mixed the whole meta-human thing and the Bat-corner of the DCU more than usual ("jokerized" villains appeared in nearly every DC series of the regular DC universe, so these events are firmly established as part of the canon and the timeline not only in every Batman related series but in almost every other one as well). Personally I vastly prefer Batman, Nightwing and the other (usually non-superpowered) Bat-heroes to deal with freaks, with criminals, with the mobs, i.e. with equally non-superpowered villains. Sure, some of the Batverse villains are borderline with the powers, like Killer Croc, and Batman is in the same universe as the superpowered heroes, but I'm not much interested in Batman as a member of the JLA, or fighting aliens or whatever, I want him to fight disturbing psychos, ordinary criminals, deal with corruption and the like. That's why I liked that the Batverse villains were brought to Arkham, and the others were somewhere else. Not both at some prison in Antarctica. Where, btw, the Joker still was at the end of the newest Detective Comics story, Dead Reckoning , consistent with developments thus far.
Anyway, back to my more specific problems with Batman #615. I like Hush quite a lot. I like the art, I like the characterization, I think the story so far is intriguing... However it is fairly obvious that is not supposed to take place at some vague undisclosed time, but in current continuity, and not just because we see a Daily Planet edition from November 29, 2002 in Batman #609. It has to be after the events in Officer Down, because Gordon is no longer Commissioner, and since Alfred is also with Batman / Bruce, it then also has to be after the Fugitive storyline, not to mention that it feels very much like post-Fugitive from the way Bruce / Batman acts. That sets this story also after Last Laugh.
When the Joker appeared in #614 without further explanation I -- though wary -- was still willing to give Hush the benefit of the doubt. After all there are people like editors keeping track of stuff (at least I had always assumed so), people like Bob Schreck, who's not only the editor for Hush, and the editor for the current Detective Comics, but who has been editing both series also back when the Joker xover happened, so you'd think he was aware of his current situation. And it's not as if I can't believe that the Joker might manage to escape from the Slab, especially if he has help from Two-Face who for some as of yet unknown reason seems to have orchestrated all this stuff with the other villains, who were confronting Batman in unusual ways during Hush so far.
But in Batman #615, after Batman had beaten the Joker, who claimed innocence for the murder of Thomas Elliott, he wasn't brought back to the Slab, he was brought to Arkham. And Nightwing says he is "back in Arkham" as if he escaped from there, though that's certainly not conclusive, Dick could refer to one of the Joker's previous stays there. But why would they bring the Joker to Arkham, the presumably less secure installation? And even worse, when Harvey Dent (in disguise) visits him as his attorney he tells Joker "you're free on bail, pending a hearing to get the charges dropped." I mean WTF?!? Short of a recent amnesty for psychotic killers by President Luthor that I somehow missed because I don't follow every DC series, there is no explanation whatsoever for this, that would make sense. At least I can't come up with anything, and my hope at this point that Jeph Loeb will give one later after all is almost non-existent.
And I find that really annoying. Especially because I like Hush. I mean in #615 alone I noticed lots of (sometimes little) things that made me very happy. The interaction between Batman and Nightwing (also we once again see Nightwing move and hang upside down during an important conversation), how Selina and Leslie talk at the funeral, the glimpses into Bruce's childhood, the Batman/Catwoman romance, how Batman decides to follow Nightwing's advice to reveal his identity to Catwoman after all...
Except for the Joker thing, which would have worked if it wasn't for the context outside the story, Batman #615 could have been among my favorite issues. Well, I didn't get the thing with the Riddler's riddle, I mean, the riddle is "What has four wheels, costs eleven million dollars, and flies?" and Batman says "A solid gold garbage truck..." huh? Maybe I'm just dense. Anyway, that is a small thing, but the treatment of the Joker is not.