Detective Comics: the history of “Mythology” - Hugo Strange
There are several members of Batman’s rogues gallery that are almost as famous as the Caped Crusader himself. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn’t recognize names like “the Joker” and “Catwoman,” and villains like Poison Ivy, the Penguin, the Riddler, and the Scarecrow have been pop culture staples for decades. Even relatively newer creations like Bane and Harley Quinn-- characters who were introduced after Batman celebrated his half-centennial anniversary-- are widely recognized by the larger public.
There’s one villain who predates them all, though, debuting in the pages of Detective Comics before even the Joker. That is one Professor Hugo Strange, the first of Batman’s recurring villains when the was still largely taking on the likes of gangsters and thugs.
With such a long history with the Dark Knight, it’s fitting that Peter Tomasi and Doug Mahnke would utilize Strange in their “Mythology” arc in Detective Comics. After all, if they’re going to have Batman interact with various characters throughout his history, why not go back to the very beginning?
It’s stran-- kind of funny, though, that Strange is so wrapped up in Batman’s history, considering he was absent for a large portion of it. Aside from a handful of appearances early in Batman’s career, Strange did not appear in comics again for the better part of four decades. The duo first cross paths when Strange uses his scientific prowess to generate a dense fog from “concentrated lightning” (comics are the best), which he uses to aid in… robbing banks.
Hey, he’s gotta pay the bills somehow.
The more well known of Strange’s early stories is from Batman #1, where he unleashes a horde of “monster men” upon Gotham. It’s at the end of this adventure that Strange is presumed dead, not to be seen in a comic again until the absolutely incredible “Strange Apparitions” story arc.
And friends, everything you’re heard about this arc is accurate: it is one of the best Batman stories of all time. It reintroduces both Strange and Deadshot into comics continuity, contains the classic stories “The Laughing Fish” and “Sign of the Joker,” and introduced characters like Rupert Thorne and Silver St. Cloud. It’s full of action, drama, and romance, and contained career-best work from legends like Marshall Rogers, Steve Englehart, Len Wein, and Walt Simonson.
And boy, is Hugo Strange an absolute delight during the whole thing. Obsessed with the Batman, Strange decides that he will auction off the Dark Knight’s secret identity to the highest bidder. Before he can do so, though, Strange is apparently killed by some of Rupert Thorne’s men, and his maybe-maybe-not ghost spends the rest of the arc haunting Thorne. It’s great.
Strange was reintroduced into continuity again in the Legends of the Dark Knight story “Prey,” where he takes his examination of Batman’s psyche to obsessive lengths, which includes dressing up in a Batman costume and just being an all-around wacko. Since then, he has popped up here and there to be a thorn in Batman’s side, disguising his own psychosis with a veneer of legitimacy. Most recently, Strange was the driving force behind the “Night of the Monster Men” crossover, which saw a group of giant, monstrous creatures attack Gotham City.
In “Mythology,” Batman confronts Strange in his laboratory, believing Strange to be behind the creation of the bizarre monster that has been attacking people from Bruce’s past. It’s a brief encounter, but a no less memorable one, as Strange is once again decked out in his own Batman costume while he conducts his experiments. It’s a bizarre visual by design, belying Strange’s perceived sense of intellectual and psychological superiority and revealing him as the madman that he is.
Plus Batman backhands him something fierce, which is always delightful.
Even with his brief appearance in Detective Comics #998, Hugo Strange’s presence continues to present some unique storytelling opportunities. He’s a character that began as a typical mad scientist, only to eventually be revealed to be just as psychologically unhinged as the patients he deigns to help. With roots in the earliest days of Batman, Strange is the perfect type of character to include in an exploration of the Dark Knight’s history.
And full disclosure: this was mostly just an excuse to talk about the greatness of “Strange Apparitions,” because seriously, that arc is the best.