IDENTITY - Hugo Strange, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry

FIRST APPEARANCE - Detective Comics #36 (February 1940)

CREATED BY - Bill Finger & Bob Kane

A classic "mad scientist", Professor Hugo Strange is one of Batman's first recurring and long standing villains. A master criminal who has a genius-level intellect and is especially well versed in chemistry and biology as well as psychology, he also has a vast knowledge of fringe sciences plus physical self-control techniques such as yoga.

 


"
AS ALWAYS, YOU UNDERESTIMATE
THE VAST SCOPE OF MY SCHEMES, BATMAN !

EVIL TO ME IS AN END IN ITSELF !
NO ONE CAN EVER BE SAFE WHILE I YET LIVE !! "

Detective Comics #471 (August 1977)

 

ORIGIN

Professor Hugo Strange's exact background remains shrouded in mystery - or, as Bruce Wayne puts it in Detective Comics #36 (February 1940), recounting Strange's first appeareance:

"Professor Hugo Strange. The most dangerous man in the world! Scientist, philosopher and a criminal genius ... little is known of him, yet this man is undoubtedly the greatest organizer of crime in the world..."

Presented as a Professor, it was initially not specified what subject and at which university Strange had taught; he was revealed to be a physician in Detective Comics #471 (August 1977), and his professorship was later (in the post infinite crisis continuity) specified to be in the field of psychiatry.

However, in his first clash with Batman (written by Bill Finger) Professor Hugo Strange is portrayed as a criminal mastermind whose genius lies in organizing and directing criminal activities more than any academic field. As such, he has also from time to time been likened to being Batman's very own “Professor Moriarty”.

Unlike most Batman villains of the early issues of Detective Comics, Strange survived the first encounter, giving him the opportunity to announce both his will to escape and return as well as his thirst for revenge (a motif and vignette repeated several times thereafter, not the least at the end of the Joker's first appearance in Batman #1).

APPEARANCES

Professor Hugo Strange was indeed back very soon, in Batman #1 (Spring 1940) - escaping from prison where he had been sent to in Detective Comics #36. Accentuating the evil personality of Strange rather than his criminal instincts, Bill Finger now had him abduct homeless people and mental patients who were then turned into mutations - so called "monster men": 15ft tall mindless brutes. To achieve this hideous result, Strange administered a powerful artificial growth hormone that acts on the pituitary gland. Wearing bulletproof clothing, the monster men are sent out by Strange to spread terror and chaos in the city whilst his hoodlums are free to commit robberies.

 


Detective Comics #36
(February 1940)

 
Again, Hugo Strange's expertise and ruthlessness in biochemical engineering is only a tool to achieve his goal, which is to satisfy his financial greed.
 
  He does, however, also nurture a desire to inflict revenge on the one who brought down his first criminal schemes, and when the opprtunity arises Strange attempts to turn Batman into one of his monster men; however, during the ensuing struggle with the Darknight Detective the Professor falls through a window and into the deep waters below his laboratory. As no body is found, the Batman is doubtful that this will be the last of Professor Hugo Strange.

And rightly so: the evil mastermind returned that same year (1940) for the December cover date production run, in Detective Comics #46. Once again scripted by Bill Finger, this third and at the same time final appearance for the Golden Age saw Strange's ambitions considerably amplified as he now seeks nothing less than to become the Dictator of America.

 
In order to achieve this goal, Professor Hugo Strange has invented a “fear dust” which provokes a sensation of immense terror and fright in its victims (as a sidenote, this fiendish weapon was devised several months prior to the first appearance of the Scarecrow and his fear tactics). Strange has his men spread the dust all over the city with the use of spray guns, and he speaks of ultimately spraying it all over the country so that none of the existing authorities will have the courage to resist him. But again Strange's plans are foiled by the Batman, and in a final struggle on the edge of a cliff - in true Holmes and Moriarty manner - the two antipodes clash. However, unlike the great detective, it is only the villain who takes the fatal fall, and this time the Batman is certain that the Professor has met his final fate.
 

Professor Hugo Strange was thus taken to be well and truly dead, and he would indeed become absent from the Batman Universe for no less than 37 years of real time before writer Steve Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers had him return as of Detective Comics #471 (August 1977) for the story arc "Strange Apparitions" which ran up until Detective Comics #476 (March/April 1978) - and taps directly into the 1940s material and continuity.

Believed by all to be dead, Hugo Strange did in fact survive the fall. After fleeing to Europe he soon took up his criminal activities again, but this time with great success, made possible also by the fact that there was no Batman to contend with. It is, however, precisely this fact which also breeds a growing discontent in Hugo Strange, and ultimately makes him feel that there can be only one challenge truly worthy of the genius of Professor Hugo Strange: to take on and bring down the Batman.

Strange thus returns to Gotham disguised as one Doctor Todhunter and opens up a clinic for the wealthy citizens of Gotham City who suffer certain all kinds of factual and imagined ailments, and his private institution soon becomes a trendy go-to health place for Gotham's bored socialites and VIPs. However, once inside Graytowers - as the clinic is called - Hugo Strange first injects his patients with his Monster Men serum and then offers them shots of a temporary antidote only and as long as they obey his orders.

 


Detective Comics #471
(August 1977)

 
Suffering from radiation burns which Batman received whilst fighting Dr Phosphorous in Detective Comics #470, Bruce Wayne decides to try this new exclusive clinic everybody is talking about. However, having been drugged right after being admitted Wayne quickly realizes that the place is a trap. He switches to his Batman gear (which by chance he carries with him in a briefcase which was not taken from him) and pretends to have broken in. Confronting Doctor Todhunter, the clinic's head reveals himself to be none other than Professor Hugo Strange - long supposed dead but obviously still alive and back to his gruesome experiments.
 


Detective Comics #471 (August 1977)

  Subdued once again by drugs, the Batman finds upon awakening that he has been unmasked by Strange, who thus now knows that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same.

 
Strange, who has become a master of disguises, immediately acts to gain the maximum profit of his prisoner and his fortunate luck of the moment by posing as Bruce Wayne and essentially running the business of his nemesis' alter ego into the ground, unhindered after having also made Alfred his prisoner (Detective Comics #472). It is at this stage that Strange develops his personal obsession with the Batman into seeing himself actually taking on the Darknight Detective's identity. His plans, however, are brought down by Silver St Cloud, Bruce Wayne's latest love interest, who ultimately detects that something is wrong and calls Dick Grayson without knowing his secret identity. As Grayson her gives the impression that he sees no concern for alarm, but as Robin he storms Graytowers and frees Bruce Wayne and Alfred.
 

Meanwhile Hugo Strange is about to add the glorious finishing touch to his revenge by auctioning off the secret identity of the Batman in a midnight bidding involving the Joker, Penguin, and corrupt politician and criminal Rupert "Boss" Thorne. However, the Professor's plans are upset by the ruthlessness of Thorne who has simply decided to grab Strange after the first bid is made, abscond him and then beat him up until he reveals the secret.

It is here that Hugo Strange once again voices his belief that he and the Batman are two of a kind. He thus refuses to give up the vigilante's secret identity - even regretting his plans to sell it off - and is beaten by Thorne's men until they pronounce him dead.

 


Detective Comics #472
(September 1977)

 
Strange's motionless body is encased inside a barrel and then tossed into the Gotham harbour. Once again, it seems that Professor Hugo Strange has finally met his fate.

Whilst his next appearance, in Brave and the Bold #182 (January 1982) took place outside of the regular Batman continuity on "Earth-B", Professor Hugo Strange gradually reappeared again five years after the "Strange Apparitions" arc, over a series of issues of Detective Comics and Batman, beginning with Detective Comics #513 (April 1982), during which "Boss" Thorne is increasingly haunted by what he feels to be - the ghost of Hugo Strange.

 


Detective Comics #520 (November 1977)

  Thorne's nerves are increasingly on edge and he is starting to lose it when in Detective Comics #520 (November 1982) he finally decides to hire Terrence Thirteen (a.k.a. “Doctor Thirteen, the Ghostbreaker”) to investigate the recent visions Thorne has had.

Doctor Thirteen finds sophisticated machinery in Strange's old abandoned clinic Graytowers, used to stage a spectacular special effects show to impress Thorne. Which of course begs the question who is behind all of this technical trickery as surely it cannot be Hugo Strange himself, known to be dead... yet on the final page of Batman #354 (December 1982) it is revealed to the readers only that, indeed once again, Professor Hugo Strange is very much alive, having survived the beating by Thorne's men (as readers will soon learn) through a certain yoga technique which controlled his heartbeat...

Batman #354 (December 1982)

 
Boss Thorne, unaware of the fact that Hugo Strange is alive, believes his paid partners in crime - Commissioner Pauling and Mayor Hill - to be behind the ghostly apparitions in order to turn the tables on him. Naturally, the "Boss" is not someone to suffer such disloyalty gladly, and so worked up that he accidentally sets fire to his house, losing yet more of what he had accumulated in power and wealth.
 

In a rage of fury he seeks out Commissioner Pauling and then shoots him point blank in front of witnesses. In Batman #355 (January 1983), "Boss" Thorne is indicted with the murder of Commissioner Pauling and sent to Blackgate Prison for life.

With his revenge on Thorne complete, Hugo Strange then once more turns to his arch enemy, the Batman. Once again his focus is on Bruce Wayne, who in his eyes is indebted to the Professor for protecting the Batman's secret alter ego (back in Detective Comics #472).

Again, Hugo Strange seeks to destroy Wayne, but this time (in Batman #356, February 1983) he has a much grander and bolder plan: to become a new, more ruthless and therefore more efficient Batman. Strange succeeds in drugging and kidnapping Wayne, taking him to an intricate anbd exact replica of Wayne Manor, complete with Alfred and Dick Grayson - who turn out to be murderous robots. Wayne confronts a (for once) clean shaven Hugo Strange in the replica Batcave, where they both change into bat costumes and then fight it out - Batman versus Batman. But once again, Batman - with aa little help from the real Robin - succeeds in upsetting and bringing down the Professor's plans. Beaten but unwilling to give in and surrender, Hugo Strange pulls a lever and blows up both the replica Wayne Manor and himself.

 


Batman #356 (February 1983)

 
As before with Professor Hugo Strange, death's grip was never firm enough to keep him down - and return he did, in Batman Annual #10 (1986) at the hands of writer Doug Moench, penciller Denys Cowan and inker Alfredo Alcala. Once again, Writer had Hugo Strange once again impersonate Batman - although this time he did so in order to blemish the vigilante's reputation - and undermining Bruce Wayne's financial standing as well as Batman's reputation.
 


Batman Annual #10 (1986)

  Out of the blue Bruce Wayne suddenly finds his financial standing undermined as large scale stock dealings nearly ruin Wayne Enterprises and drain his personal finances. At the same time, Alfred suffers a stroke and falls into a coma, and if all of this wasn't enough there is an impostor Batman on the loose robbing Gotham's banks. But that's just the start of Bruce's misery as Lucius Fox is forced to fire him, an anonymous party purchases Wayne Manor and has its former owner evicted, and Gotham's child protective services declare Wayne to be an unfit guardian and strip him of his custody for Jason Todd.

Bruce Wayne is homeless and broke, and Batman now makes a belfry his home. And the only answer which fits the question who could be behind all of this points to a man whom the Darknight Detective thought was finally dead. But who else other than Professor Hugo Strange could strip Batman "down to the bone" (the title of the story), being the only one who knows the Batman's secret identity and has the expertise in posing as both Bruce Wayne and his vigilante alter ego?

When Batman, together with Robin (Jason Todd), cracks down the Batcave’s alarm and defense system he is therefore anything but surprised to find his old arch enemy Hugo Strange there, who explains that the fact that he is alive is because the Hugo Strange who blew himself up in Batman #356 (February 1983) was actually just one of his "mandroids", i.e. a near perfect robotic life model decoy.

 
Bruce Wayne is able to regain most of his fortune, Wayne Enterprises is saved, and the batman can clear his name - and once again, Professor Hugo Strange finds himself behind bars as it all comes round in a full circle to his first appearance in 1940.
 

In the "post-Crisis" DC continuity Professor Hugo Strange has been revisited several times in separate story arcs, mostly outside the regular Batman and Detective Comics titles.

In 1990/91, Doug Moench revisited the theme of Professor Hugo Strange being a formidable enemy of the batman in the vigilante's early and formative phase of crime fighting in the story arc "Prey", which was originally published in Legends of the Dark Knight #11-15 and then collected for a trade paperback. Strange is a psychologist who is put on a task force to hunt down this new and mysterious vigilante and develops an increasing fixation on the Batman. He deduces the secret identity of the Batman after checking police files and on the assumption that someone has become the Batman because of a childhood trauma which only the simultaneous killing of both parents could induce. He kindaps the mayor's daughter in order to put the blame on the Darknight Detective and nearly does away with the Batman by using hallucinogen gas, but in the end Hugo Strange is found out; trying to escape in an imitation Batman costume he is shot by the police and falls into a river. A story dotted with vignettes both from the original Golden Age as well as the Bronze Age stories, this is basically a standalone portrayal of Professor Hugo Strange.

The mad mastermind was back in Gotham Knights #8 (October 2000) in a four-part story arc (written by Devin Grayson and pencilled by Roger Robinson) entitled "Transference" which contains a number of references to the "Prey" story arc. The motif here, once again, is Strange's obsession with becoming and actually replacing the Batman - a plan once again foiled as Bruce Wayne, Robin and Nightwing (who are once again held hostage by Strange) don't react the way he expects them to from what he sees as the default psychological perspective of the Batman when subjected to stress. This is enough to drive Hugo Strange over the edge, but he still manages to escape.

Even as the "Transference" story arc was still unfolding in Gotham Knights, Doug Moench once more revisited the evil professor from January to May 2001 in Legends of the Dark Knight #137-141 in a story arc entitled "Terror". Again set in the Batman's early stage of crimefighting, the return of Professor Hugo Strange takes place in a shroud of mystery as he decides to work with another of Batman's enemies well versed in "psychological warfare": the Scarecrow. It becomes apparent that Strange is even more delusional about his own identity and the Batman than ever, enabling the Scarecrow - who has realized that Strange is only using him as a pawn in his game against the Batman - to turn against the professor, impaling him on a weather vane and dumping him in the cellar of his own mansion. Trying to carry through Strange's plan to use Crime Alley as the scene of a psychological trap for Batman the Scarecrow fails because, of course, he is unaware of the exact significance of that location. Batman catches Scarecrow in the cellar with Strange's body before the house is destroyed in a fire but loses sight of Strange, although Batman concludes that the subsequent explosion of the house has certainly killed Strange.

In 2005/2006 Matt Wagner revisited Hugo Strange in his mini-series Batman and The Monster Men which, along with its sequel Batman and the Mad Monk, was part of Wagner's Dark Moon Rising series in which he expanded and modernized the early Batman stories from the Golden Age.

EVOLUTION OF THE CHARACTER

The mad scientist is a stock character of popular fiction (with Victor Frankenstein being the archetypal prototype) and typically embodies the uncertainty whether science will prove to be the salvation of society - or its doom. The early superhero genre in comic books saw an especially large share of mad scientists (partially due to a substantial influence from pulp fiction, which is where most comic book publishers of the 1930s and1940s originally came from), and these were most prominently displayed and characterized as "evil geniuses" - such as Batman's first ever traditional supervillain and recurring adversary back in 1939: Dr Karl Helfern, who called himself Doctor Death.

Professor Hugo Strange is arguably Batman's best commonly known mad scientist, and whilst he too originated very early on in the Batman's publication history, Strange - unlike Doctor Death - did not start out in life as such.

In his first appearance, it would seem more likely for Hugo Strange to be a Professor in Management or Organizational Sciences; in Detective Comics #36, he shows himself to be a criminal mastermind and planner who really brings no science to his crimes himself but coerces an engineer to provide that input for him.

 


Batman: Prey (1991)


Gotham Knights #9
(November 2000)


Legends of the Dark Knight #137
(January 2001)


Batman and the Monster Men #4 (April 2006)

 

This is somewhat in contradiction to his appearance, which bears all the traits of the teutonic or Middle-European scientist who indulges in highly questionable and unethical research and activities - fuelled at the time by an increasing quantity of disturbing information reaching the American public about the pseudo-scientific attitudes and activities propagated by the Nazi regime. Hence, both Doctor Death (Karl Helfern) and (Hugo) Strange carry German names to underscore their menacing personalities - superficially hidden in both examples under the perfect outward attire of a fine suit and cloak, albeit virtually betrayed by the physical features of a bald skull, thick glasses and a black beard or goatee.

 
 
It was only in his second appearance, in Batman #1, that Professor Hugo Strange went from just being an extremely resourceful man and brilliant criminal strategist to becoming a true mad scientist (see panels above).
 


Batman and The Monster Men (2005/2006)

 

Typically for the character mould, it is the use of fictional science which not only signals both insanity and danger but also presents the terrible threat towards society - in this case the dabbling in what would today be termed genetical engineering and the resulting creation of "monster men", bringing Professor Hugo Strange very close indeed to his prototype, Victor Frankenstein.

But there is one aspect which makes Hugo Strange a very unique mad scientist: his growing interest in the Batman, which turns into a fixation and ultimately a near-schizophrenic obession.

 
Strange not only wants to become the Batman but actually feels he is the real, the true Batman. And even though the Bronze Age Hugo Strange is thus bent on doing away the original vigilante and repalcing him, he is at the same time highly dependant on the Batman's existence. Just as there can be no Joker without a Batman, Hugo Strange's life would be an empty shell without the Darknight Detective.
 

And this also means that Strange cannot allow anybody else to bring down the Batman other than himself - which is why he ultimately even protects the secret identity of his foe.

"He and I", a struck down Hugo Strange declares, "we are two of a kind".

 



Detective Comics
#472 (September 1977)

 
Another special trait is the resourcefulness of Hugo Strange, which is especially highlighted throughout his Bronze Age and later appearances. Not only does he learn the Batman's secret identity, he is also capable of convincingly faking his death more than once. And that is just as well, for Professor Hugo Strange is one of not too many Batman villains who were there when it all started back in the Golden Age and who are still "featurable" 75 years into the Batman mythos.
 
  Maybe not surprisingly, when Bruce Timm produced an animation short in celebration of 75 years of Batman he thus chose Hugo Strange as the villain.

 
 

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page first published on the web 27 January 2015