Lorendiac’s “Timeline: The Shifting Continuity of Hugo Strange”

Here is the archive of the lists Lorendiac posts here, and here is his latest piece!- BC.

Over the last few years, I've occasionally stated in online discussions that Hugo Strange got the reboot treatment after COIE -- "reboot" meaning that all of his previous appearances were flushed down the toilet and forgotten by him, by Batman, and by any other characters who had participated in any of those old stories. Some of my fellow fans have disagreed with that assessment. Eventually I decided the matter deserved a really comprehensive explanation. I have been working on this timeline, off and on, for quite some time, with a lot of rereading of various stories along the way, in an attempt to explain just how I found myself forced to conclude, years ago, that Post-COIE Hugo Strange was a rebooted character who remembered none of the events from his Pre-COIE appearances!

Now I'm unleashing the results upon the world (long after I had previously estimated I would do so, but who's counting?). Be warned that most of this is summaries, with bits of commentary from yours truly, of many published stories, from 1940 on, which included Hugo Strange in a prominent role. If this subject doesn't sound absolutely fascinating to you, then your chances of being entertained as you read the rest of this piece are dubious. But don't say I didn't warn you right up front!


[Note: All dates are taken from whatever was printed on the cover of the comic book in question. That means that many of these stories were published a few months earlier than what I list.]

February, 1940. Detective Comics #36. Written by Bill Finger.

Batman has his first clash with the sinister criminal mastermind known as Professor Hugo Strange. Near as I can tell, in those days we were never told what subject Hugo had once taught as a professor. I've read this story, and the Professor comes across as a "Professor Moriarty type." His genius apparently lies in organizing and directing criminal activities. The most distinctive thing about this story is that the Professor is somehow generating incredibly thick fog to blanket the city and make it impossible for the cops to chase fleeing criminals after they have committed robberies. However, we discover by the end of the tale that the fog generator was built by a captive electrical engineer, so its use does not prove that the Professor himself is a brilliant engineer or chemist or any other type of scientist, for that matter!

Spring, 1940. Batman #1. Written by Bill Finger.

Hugo Strange demonstrates that he has found a way to turn men into gigantic monsters who will do his bidding. (To me, that sounds like biochemistry.) His master plan in this one is simply to have his monster men start terrifying people, making themselves loud and obvious menaces to draw the attention of the police, while Hugo and his more normal employees are quietly robbing banks the old-fashioned way!

December, 1940. Detective Comics #46. Written by Bill Finger.

The third and final "Golden Age appearance" of Professor Hugo Strange. In this one, his ambitions have grown considerably from the old goal of just taking over the Gotham rackets. Now he has invented a "fear dust" which does just what you'd expect something with that name to do. He's currently equipping hoodlums with spray guns so they can terrify cops and others during their robberies, but this is just the first step. At one point in the story, Hugo speaks of spraying his fear dust all over the country and then stepping into a new role as Dictator of America after none of the existing authorities retain the courage to resist him. It should come as no surprise to you to learn that Batman trounces the scoundrel long before he can put any such grandiose plan into effect. In fact, in another reminder of the old Holmes/Moriarty relationship, the two men finally clash on the edge of a cliff, and the Professor ends up taking the fall. Batman apparently believes the Professor is bound to have died from this fall, but I gather that no one in the Golden Age (neither in this story nor any other) ever claimed to have retrieved and identified the body!

(Note: This story was published several months before the debut of the Golden Age version of Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow, who made fear-inducing chemicals his own specialty. I mention this in case you were wondering if Hugo had stolen the idea from Crane -- it is likelier to have happened the other way around, or else it was purely coincidental!)

The three stories I have just summarized were definitely "Golden Age," and thus presumably happened on Earth-2 of the old DC multiverse (even though it would be over 20 years after "Detective Comics #46" before anyone mentioned the names of "Earth-1" and "Earth-2"). At any rate, over a third of a century will pass before the name of Hugo Strange comes up again in a new story, but when it does, that story will be happening to the Bronze Age Batman of Earth-1, and thus it appears that these stories I've just listed are among the many Batman-related stories which happened much the same way at least twice to analogs of the same character concepts, first on Earth-2 and years later on Earth-1. You'll see what I mean in a moment!

August, 1977. Detective Comics #471. Written by Steve Englehart.

Bruce Wayne discovers he needs expert medical treatment for radioactive wounds suffered in a previous adventure, so he checks into an expensive, very discreet private clinic called Graytowers. Unfortunately, it turns out the so-called physician running the place is actually Hugo Strange (heavily disguised at first). After Bruce has changed into Batman and then has discovered the true identity of the mastermind, subsequent dialogue between the two men (along with attached footnotes) informs us that this Batman (the Earth-1 version, natch!) vividly remembers the events of those Golden Age stories in which he clashed with Hugo Strange. He even remembers Hugo's charming habit of turning men into gigantic, monstrous slaves (and as you might guess, Hugo is using that schtick all over again now).

As I said, it appears that the early Hugo Strange stories presumably happened in much the same way (but presumably a few decades apart) in both Earth-1 and Earth-2's history. (The same concept of "duplicated origins and past clashes" was already understood to apply to the origin stories of Joker, Two-Face, and various other people in Bat-continuity, by the way.)

On the final page of this story, Batman is rendered unconscious by a snakebite and then awakens to discover that, during his nap, Hugo Strange has yanked off the cowl to discover that Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, whom he now has at his mercy!

September, 1977. Detective Comics #472. Written by Steve Englehart.

Keeping Bruce confined and heavily sedated, Hugo Strange amuses himself by wearing a mask and changing his voice to create what is evidently a brilliant impersonation of Bruce Wayne. He shows up at Bruce's office each day and begins looting the Wayne financial empire. Then he decides to sell Batman's secret identity to the highest bidder -- but please don't ask me why he needs to bother when he already has all of Bruce Wayne's material assets at his fingertips! At any rate, Hugo puts out feelers through an underworld grapevine to get well-heeled interested parties to show up at a certain time and place to discuss an auction.

The three invitees who attend the first late-night meeting are Boss Thorne, The Penguin, and The Joker. Hugo announces the rules of the game -- chiefly, that he expects each serious bidder to pay ten thousand dollars in cold cash right now in order to stay in the running (and they all comply!) -- then he assures them the serious bidding for Batman's secret identity will start tomorrow at midnight.

Hugo's faith in three cold-blooded villains' willingness to slavishly abide by his rules and patiently wait until tomorrow night for an "honest" auction is truly remarkable. (You also might call it "breathtakingly naive," but that still qualifies as "truly remarkable!") After this meeting breaks up, we learn that Boss Thorne has men waiting nearby and they ambush Hugo on the street outside, shooting down his gigantic bodyguards with trank darts and then dragging Hugo Strange off to a nice quiet basement where they pound on him, over and over, trying to persuade him to share Batman's secret with Boss Thorne for free. Hugo stubbornly refuses to talk, and finally the thugs announce he's died under their fists.

(Note: At the start of the next issue, they have already stuffed his body into a weighted barrel and they toss it into the river as we watch. I won't bother giving that its own listing, though. Mainly because we didn't even see the body; we were merely told it was inside the barrel!)

March-April, 1978. Detective Comics #476. Written by Steve Englehart.

In the last few issues, since that barrel got tossed into the river, Boss Thorne has occasionally thought he saw and heard the ghostly figure of Hugo Strange menacing him. On at least one such occasion, there were a couple of other people in the vicinity who didn't seem to see or hear anything out of the ordinary!

Now Thorne is driving down a highway alone when he suddenly thinks he sees Hugo's ghost out in front of the car, and then it seems to come through the windshield at Thorne (without actually damaging the windshield, you understand) and grabs him by the throat. This scene ends at that point, but later on we see Batman get the news that Boss Thorne has been found, apparently gone loony, raving about how he killed Hugo Strange and then the ghost came back to persecute him, et cetera.

So "Detective Comics #472" was the last we saw of Hugo alive, and #476 is the last we see of Hugo as a ghost, at least for the next four years or so. (This long gap may have something to do with the fact that Steve Englehart's run on 'Tec ended with this story. If he had stuck around for a few more years, who knows what sort of follow-up he might have provided?)

January, 1982. The Brave and the Bold #182. Written by Alan Brennert.

We get some follow-up information on the Earth-2 Hugo Strange, whose only previous appearances had been the first three stories summarized on this timeline. Basically: He somehow survived the fall at the end of his last appearance, but was crippled and deformed by the massive damage his body suffered. For the next 40 years or so, the Batman and Robin of Earth-2 (along with anyone else who cared) had heard nothing more from Hugo and assumed he was long dead. At the end of this story, he dies for real -- by his own hand, having decided he has nothing left to live for. That makes just four stories, to the best of my knowledge, which ever featured the "original" version of Hugo Strange. Remember, though, that his three "Golden Age" stories apparently had also happened, in much the same way, to the Earth-1 versions of Batman and Hugo Strange, many years later -- but without the Earth-1 Hugo having suffered any lasting injuries from a nasty fall. (Note: The Earth-1 Batman is involved in this tale, and mentions in passing that the Hugo Strange of his Earth has been dead for over a year.)

April, 1982. Detective Comics #513. Written by Gerry Conway.

Boss Thorne seems to be sitting on top of the world. He has already been back in the center of Gotham politics (unbeknownst to the public) for awhile at this point. After being released from a sanitarium, he started working behind the scenes as a puppet master, and used some dirty tricks to get a man named Hamilton Hill elected as Gotham's new mayor. Thorne basically owns Hill, body and soul; he is obviously confident that Mayor Hill will do anything Thorne pleases. (One example is firing Commissioner Gordon and replacing him with a man named Pauling who just happens to be another of Thorne's stooges.) For our purposes, the most important thing about this issue is that Thorne suddenly looks at a drinking glass in his hand and thinks he sees a miniature image of Hugo Strange's face staring back at him and saying some mocking words.

This sort of thing will happen again and again to Thorne over the next several months as a running subplot. (Well, "several months" from the viewpoint of anyone in the real world who was buying the issues as they came out. It probably happened faster from Rupert Thorne's point of view.)

December, 1982. Batman #354. Written by Gerry Conway.

In a previous issue of "Detective Comics," Boss Thorne made an astute decision. He hired Terrence Thirteen (also known as "Doctor Thirteen, the ghostbreaker") to investigate the way Thorne's been haunted recently by visions of Hugo Strange. Now Thirteen is ready to deliver a report. Just before this issue began, he examined Graytowers (reportedly abandoned and uninhabited since the days of the Englehart stories) and found sophisticated machinery set up to project a ghostly hologram of Hugo Strange, while simultaneously activating a tape player with a spooky, threatening message which mentions Thorne by name. If you open the door to a certain lab inside the building, and step inside, the ghostly manifestation begins fifteen seconds later. Whoever set this up was obviously "playing the odds" by assuming the most likely person to come poking around in Graytowers in the near future would be Boss Thorne, if he ever worked up the nerve.

While explaining all this to Thorne, Doctor Thirteen conjectures (correctly, I'm sure) that a thorough examination of Thorne's office and townhouse would turn up other such devices concealed in useful places; all part of an elaborate special-effects campaign geared to drive Thorne out of his mind (or convince him he had gone out of his mind, which would amount to much the same thing?).

However, Doctor Thirteen has not found evidence pointing at any particular person as the unseen mastermind for this scheme, so naturally he asks if Thorne has any enemies who'd like to see him sent back to a sanitarium. Thorne leaps to the conclusion that Hill and Pauling (his pet mayor and his pet police commissioner, remember?) must be getting too big for their britches. Tired of being his minions; anxious to shake him off and then run the city as they see fit. Later in this story Thorne confronts those two, gun in hand, ranting about what he thinks they've been doing to double-cross him. Both men seem very confused by his accusations. Eventually Thorne shoots Pauling dead at the same time that a cop shoots Thorne. Boss Thorne's injury is nonfatal, as it turns out -- presumably he'll end up in a sanitarium all over again, but I don't think he ever gets any further appearances in the Pre-COIE, Earth-1 continuity, so who knows? Hamilton Hill, however, panics and drops to the floor just in time to dodge the gunfire; he will continue running things at City Hall for many, many issues after this -- no longer under the thumb of Boss Thorne or anyone else, but still corrupt!

On the final page of this story, we see a limo parked not far from the scene of the shooting. Then we find that sitting in the back seat, looking very much alive, is . . . Professor Hugo Strange, laughing his head off! Evidently he has now managed to drive Boss Thorne into a mental breakdown, twice in a row! (Hugo is obviously one of those sadistic villains who really know how to hold a grudge. Not for him anything so quick and merciful as simply shooting Thorne dead and calling it square.)

Note: At this moment, Batman and his friends still have no idea of what's really been going on where Boss Thorne's latest mental breakdown is concerned. They are aware that Thorne has been babbling something about the ghost of Hugo Strange, and about Pauling and Hill secretly being out to get him, and so forth -- standard paranoid stuff, you know? -- but they seem to think it only proves that Rupert Thorne was just plain nuts.

February, 1983. Batman #356. Written by Gerry Conway.

In a variation of what he's already done to Thorne, Hugo Strange spends most of this issue trying to break Batman down psychologically before confronting him physically. (The reader knows all along what's happening.) Hugo gets off to a good strong start, with Bruce Wayne coming home to the Manor (actually an exact replica of the real house -- long story!) and then being repeatedly attacked by two of the people he trusts most (Alfred and Dick). Each time he wins a battle and then looks away, their unconscious bodies seem to vanish into thin air before he looks back in that direction again. Then Bruce will see Alfred or Dick approaching him from another direction, seeming quite friendly and looking none the worse for wear. It's surreal enough to make him wonder if he's hallucinating because of all the stress he's been under lately.

After Bruce finally realizes he is just encountering a series of robot doubles of his butler and protege, he figures out exactly what's happening and heads down to the (ersatz) Batcave where Hugo is waiting, already dressed as Batman -- having recently removed his glasses and shaved off his beard so he'll look the part! -- and they fight. Hugo's avowed purpose is to replace Batman in Gotham -- he claims Bruce is "too soft" to deserve the job -- and it appears that Hugo would have moved into the real Wayne Manor to become "Bruce Wayne" as well, after the real Bruce was dead. We later learn Alfred was also scheduled to die that night, but Hugo's original plan for dealing with Dick Grayson is less clear. He may have thought a quick murder and then a robot double would work there too. (How Hugo expected to successfully deceive Superman the next time he dropped by for a chat with his buddy Bruce, or to deceive all the other heroes of the JLA and the Teen Titans for that matter, is never explained. But since things never go that far, it's an academic point.)

On the other hand -- just in case you were wondering -- I'll mention that Hugo does take a minute to explain how he cheated death the last time around. It was his mastery of yoga that saved him. (I very much doubt his "mastery of yoga" had ever been mentioned before, but why split hairs?) When he found himself hopelessly outnumbered by Thorne's henchmen, Hugo slowed his heart to the point where the thugs who were pounding on him thought he had already died from the cumulative trauma of their blows. After they stuffed him in a barrel and tossed it in a river, he woke up and easily burst out of the wooden barrel; then began plotting his revenge on Boss Thorne (twice!), along with taking plenty of time to set up this new campaign against Bruce in order to replace him as Batman.

To do him justice, Hugo actually appears to be winning his hand-to-hand fight with Batman at first, until Robin (Dick Grayson) makes a late arrival, having followed the electronic signal of a device Bruce was carrying. Hugo tries to persuade Dick that he is the real Batman, and fails miserably. Finally, with blood running down his face after Batman and Robin have each punched him around a bit, Hugo seizes a convenient lever and makes a furious speech which ends with the announcement that if he can't be Batman, nobody can! Then he yanks the lever and the whole place blows up. Fortunately, Batman and Robin saw where this was going as he reached for the lever. Instead of just standing there waiting for him to finish his diatribe, they made it out of the ersatz Batcave in the nick of time. As the story ends, Batman's explanation of recent events (delivered to Alfred) gives us the distinct impression that Bruce and Dick are both convinced that Hugo blew himself up in a bitter rage and has surely been killed by his own blast -- either by the explosives or by the resulting collapse of tons of earth and other debris from the ersatz Manor, I suppose.

However, there is no immediate follow-up, in this issue or anything published in the next couple of years, to confirm that Hugo is really dead this time! (You might think that after all those years of superheroics, Bruce and Dick would be a tad skeptical about any "death" which didn't leave behind a corpse to be positively identified . . . but apparently not!)

Note: As far as I know, this story was the first time Hugo Strange demonstrated the apparent capability to build and program very convincing robot doubles of real people. However, the writers at DC apparently still had not committed themselves on just what discipline Hugo had once taught as a professor. Although his high-tech stunts in Conway's stories would seem to suggest he knew a fair amount of electrical and/or mechanical engineering. (But that's just a guess.)

1986. Batman Annual #10. Written by Doug Moench.

Someone is trying to ruin Bruce Wayne, psychologically and financially, it appears. Terror tactics are used on various shareholders to make them sell big blocks of stock to a mysterious buyer who uses his newfound leverage to take control of the Wayne Foundation, while causing its stock to plummet, and doing other nasty things which somehow create a situation where Bruce Wayne's liabilities suddenly exceed his assets and he finds himself going broke, while a probably-illegal (but superficially correct) court order evicts him from his own house, which is promptly put up for auction and bought by some mysterious person. (I have serious trouble with the idea that it would be so easy to achieve this complete stripping of Bruce's personal assets from him, even if you had zillions of dollars to throw around to get the ball rolling and also started out with at least one or two corrupt judges in your pocket, but let's roll with it.)

Meanwhile, a person dressed as Batman is occasionally reported to have committed various robberies around Gotham. Someone's trying to smear the image of Bruce's alter-ego as well as impoverishing him!

Eventually Batman learns that the mysterious buyer of his house, the same guy who is behind a "consortium" which has been buying up all that stock in the Wayne Foundation, is a man using the name of "Steven Strangways." Astute detective that he is, our hero notices that "Strangways" bears a striking resemblance to the real name of one of the few bad guys to ever discover Batman's secret identity. Of course the bad guy in question is supposed to be dead, but that never stopped him before!

When Batman and Robin (the Pre-COIE Jason Todd this time, in his first encounter with this particular villain) penetrate the Batcave's defenses and find the mastermind in his new lair, they are treated to a rant from Hugo Strange. Oddly enough, it appears that he has finally abandoned any hope of "replacing" Bruce as the "real Batman" of Gotham City. Instead, he was prepared to settle for bankrupting Bruce, smearing Batman's image, and finally inviting the television cameras to come through Wayne Manor and down into the Batcave to expose all Bruce's secrets to the world. (That last part was only a plan for the future which never materialized, however.)

Naturally, by the end of this story, Hugo has been captured alive by Batman -- for what was probably just the second time in Hugo's entire career; the first time being his Golden Age debut story! Incidentally, Hugo claims that the guy with his face who blew himself up in that last tussle with Batman was just another of Hugo's "mandroids," which (he says) explains why subsequent examination of the scene turned up the smashed remains of several mandroids, but no flesh-and-blood corpse.

That part seems plausible. What's a bit less plausible is that Bruce seems astounded by this revelation, as if his keen detective mind had never suspected anything along those lines after Hugo's human remains had stubbornly failed to turn up in the careful excavation of the former ersatz Batcave which we are retroactively being assured did take place!

Be that as it may, a hasty happy ending is thrown at us in the final pages. Bruce Wayne is evidently going to get most of his fortune back, but Hugo is unfazed by the notion of landing behind bars. Because, after all, he still has his trump card -- knowledge of Batman's secret identity -- so if all else has failed, he can still spill the beans to anyone who cares to listen! He has claimed, during this latest fight, that Batman won't dare turn Hugo over to the authorities for his various crimes, because of the stories Hugo can tell them! Batman seems surprisingly calm in the face of this threat. He eventually delivers an unconscious Hugo to the GCPD.

Accordingly: When Hugo Strange awakes behind the bars of a jail cell, he boasts that he is ready to destroy Batman's privacy. Sergeant Harvey Bullock, greatly amused, explains what Batman has already told Commissioner Gordon (between the pages). According to Batman: Hugo really did learn Batman's secret identity somehow . . . but once Batman had captured Hugo, he decided that before handing the guy over to the police, he would take drastic measures in the name of security. Specifically, Batman (allegedly) used hypnotism to mess around in Hugo's mind and replace the real memory of Batman's secret with a ridiculous substitution meant to cause a maximum of confusion inside Hugo's head. Ergo, Hugo Strange now has a deep-rooted conviction that Batman is "really" the millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. (Although Bullock doesn't put it in these words, his attitude seems to be that "no one in his right mind would ever take that one seriously!")

Hugo starts muttering things to himself. It appears that now he may be the one teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown as he begins to question how much -- if any? -- of his own memory of recent events, and why he did whatever he did to Batman and/or Bruce Wayne, can actually be trusted. The reader, of course, is meant to infer that no hypnotism took place at all -- Batman is simply running a colossal bluff!

That scene is the last we ever see of Professor Hugo Strange in the "Pre-Crisis" continuity. (I figure that "Batman #400," the final issue of Doug Moench's first long run as a Batman writer, marked the last hurrah of the "old" Bat-continuity before it started getting heavily modified -- although not truly rebooted -- to conform to what other people had in mind for the "new and improved" Post-Crisis version, such as the changes made in Frank Miller's "Year One" a few months later.)

Thus far we've had a pretty clear sequence of events. The story by Brennert was set exclusively in Earth-2, but other than that, each new writer who worked on Hugo Strange in the 70s and 80s did his level best to "respect all that had gone before" as part of the same continuity for the character. This story by Moench clearly built upon the relevant stories by Conway, which had repeatedly referrred to the events of the Englehart stories, which in turn had included dialogue and footnotes specifically acknowledging the Golden Age appearances of Professor Hugo Strange (all three of which were scripted by Bill Finger, according to online databases). But watch out -- now things are going to get complicated!

"Batman Annual #10" was evidently set in the final days of Batman's Pre-COIE continuity. (I figure "Batman #400," the end of Moench's first long run as a Batman scripter, was the final installment of the Pre-COIE version of Batman's adventures.) Unlike Superman and Wonder Woman, Batman did not get the Reboot Treatment in the late 80s, which would have meant all or nearly all of his previous stories being erased from history. However, it soon became clear that COIE would be used as an excuse to reboot or heavily revise at least some of the supporting characters associated with Bat-continuity. For instance, Jason Todd's previous origin story, for instance, went up in smoke (it had been a near-copy of Dick Grayson's origin story, the first time around), and he now had a different color of hair, a different family background, and first met Batman when the Caped Crusader caught him trying to steal the Batmobile's tires. Hugo Strange was not used, nor even mentioned as far as I know, for about four years after the transition to Post-COIE continuity, so the question of how much of his previous continuity was still valid remained very much up in the air! Until his first Post-COIE story finally materialized . . . and oddly enough, it was scripted by the same guy who had handled Hugo's final Pre-COIE appearance!

September, 1990. Legends of the Dark Knight #11. Written by Doug Moench. Part 1 of "Prey" (a five-part story arc).

This story seems to be set shortly after Frank Miller's "Year One." Jim Gordon is a police captain; his hair is still red; and Batman is still officially a criminal wanted by the police (although Gordon's own feelings toward him are much more tolerant than they used to be). This story also presents a new take on the "first encounter" of Batman and Hugo Strange; wildly different from their only previous "first encounter" in the Hugo Strange debut story which was published way back in 1939!

Our first glimpse of Hugo in this story comes when he appears on a local TV talk show (along with Captain Gordon and the mayor of Gotham) to discuss the mysterious vigilante called "Batman." Hugo offers an elaborate description of what he thinks is going on inside Batman's head. Some of the more interesting elements of his opinion are that The Batman does what he does because his mind was traumatized by the violent death of a loved one, which probably occurred at the hands of a criminal acting in darkness; hence Batman's obsession with going out on the streets at night and beating up hoodlums, over and over, although he's never truly satisfied by the experience. (Sounds like a half-baked piece of guesswork to me -- what do you think?)

Obviously impressed by this spur-of-the-moment analysis of a man whom Hugo has never met, the mayor suddenly announces on the air that he is putting Gordon in charge of a new task force to hunt down the vigilante known as Batman, and then he asks Strange if he'd consider helping out as a consultant. Although the mayor doesn't specify what that would entail, it seems probable that Hugo's major contribution will involve constructing a more detailed psychological profile and comparing it to available data about any likely suspects to see how far they can narrow the field. Speaking of which: As we first see him, Hugo is being introduced by the host of the talk show as "prominent psychiatrist Dr. Hugo Strange." As near as I can tell, this is the first time Hugo has been labelled a psychiatrist in any comic book. (Previously he had usually been called "Professor" in dialogue, but I don't think anyone had ever accused him of having a medical degree or any advanced training in psychological matters.)

December, 1990. Legends of the Dark Knight #14. Written by Doug Moench. Part 4 of "Prey."

Hugo Strange exposes Batman to a gaseous mind-altering drug which stirs up bad memories for him. Batman still manages to escape, but not before he has cried out in horror, "Mother! Father!"

At this point Hugo suddenly decides, in the best Freudian tradition, that Batman's abnormal behavior as a grown man could be the end result of deep-rooted childhood trauma involving his parents. Suppose they both were killed at the same time, for instance? (Until now, Hugo has been going through police files about Gotham City homicides from the last five years or so; trying to identify relatives, lovers, etc., of the murder victims and sift through them to see if anyone looks like Batman material. Evidently he had badly underestimated how long Batman might have obsessively trained for his intended role as an elite crimefighter before putting theory into practice.)

With this new lead to follow, Hugo starts digging for any double homicide involving someone's mother and father within the past twenty years, and becomes fascinated by the police file on the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, killed in the presence of their son Bruce. (Hugo has previously deduced that Batman must be wealthy.) For awhile, he is convinced that he now "knows" the secret identity of the Batman. He eventually plants some mannequins and tape recordings in Wayne Manor to send Bruce on a guilt trip as it appears, at first, that his parents are speaking to him. However, it is clear that Hugo doesn't yet have any hard evidence of Batman's identity that would stand up in court. (Not that he really cares about helping the cops build an airtight case at this point -- I've been skipping over various details of this arc's plot, but by this time Hugo has already kidnapped the mayor's daughter, framed Batman for it, and hypnotically brainwashed a previously honest tough cop into becoming a killer vigilante.)

January, 1991. Legends of the Dark Knight #15. Written by Doug Moench. Part 5 of "Prey."

During this issue, Hugo Strange is exposed as the kidnapper of the mayor's daughter and then, as he tries to run away (while wearing an imitation Batman costume -- he's also shown other signs of having an unhealthy fascination with what he imagines Batman's lifestyle and mindset to be), he is shot by cops and falls into the river. There is no mention of the body being found before the end of this issue. So we may reasonably conclude that, in perfect keeping with the traditions of his Pre-COIE stories, Hugo is in the category of "Missing in Action, Presumed Dead" as the story arc draws to a close.

On the other hand: Since he never saw Batman without the cowl, and never got him to admit anything, Hugo (when last seen in this arc) doesn't "know" that Batman is Bruce Wayne; he merely has a strong opinion on the subject. This is in sharp contrast to how he was written in the 70s and 80s, where he had never even suspected Bruce was Batman until he had a lucky break and was able to rip off Batman's mask and find out for certain. If you take this story arc "at face value," the implication is that the Post-COIE Hugo Strange is being "Rebooted," even though most of Batman's traditional adversaries (Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, etc.) did not have all of their appearances from the Earth-1 continuity tossed out the window in the Post-COIE era!

But "face value" is a tricky thing to determine sometimes. Remember, this arc was published in "Legends of the Dark Knight," and that meant the rules were different than they would be if, like "Year One" and "Year Two" and "Year Three," this had been published as a "flashback arc" in the "Batman" or "Detective Comics" titles. In those latter titles, virtually everything published is meant to be taken as canonical unless someone specifically states otherwise. But as early as "Legends of the Dark Knight #5," an editor wrote the following in the letter column in response to a question about possible continuity glitches in the title's first story arc:

We have no equivalent of a “no-prize.” LEGENDS stories will not necessarily fit in any continuity.

Similar sentiments would be expressed in later letter columns . . . but not as a boilerplate warning in every issue. Apparently most of the LOTDK stories were presumed, by default, to fall into a status I've seen described as "fuzzy continuity." Maybe a certain story arc in that title had "really happened, once upon a time" to the same Batman who inhabited the regular DCU timeline . . . and maybe it hadn't. There was usually no knowing and no telling; the typical issue of LOTDK did not offer any "guarantees" as to whether or not what you had just read would ever be "respected" and "referred to" in other stories about Batman and his friends and enemies!

In recent years, I've gained the strong impression in various online forums that many modern readers of Batman comics don't realize that such an easygoing editorial policy of "maybe this one's in continuity; maybe it isn't; feel free to believe whatever makes you happy!" was standard for most of the things published in LOTDK during its long run (about 18 years of monthly issues, plus annuals and specials). Of course that policy was occasionally waived. For instance, in 1994 several issues of LOTDK were clearly labelled on their covers as containing chapters of the "Knightquest" and "Knightsend" events which were occurring in several Batman-related titles at once, as part of his ongoing continuity. But having a few stories be "definitely canonical" was the exception rather than the rule for that title!

The best way to determine whether or not the "apparently rebooted" Hugo Strange of "Prey" was still in continuity was to observe how he was portrayed in subsequent stories, in more canonical titles, in years to come. Unfortunately, any Hugo Strange fan who was eagerly looking forward to seeing the villain used again was facing an amazingly long wait -- a quick decade rolled past without further use of Hugo Strange in any new Batman stories, which did nothing to "clarify" things regarding the contradictions between his Pre-COIE continuity and the different version introduced in "Prey."

Then another writer finally picked up the reins and further explored the long-neglected questions: Whatever happened to Hugo Strange, and how is he remembered by Batman and other residents of Gotham?

October, 2000. Gotham Knights #8. Written by Devin Grayson. Part 1 of "Transference." ("Transference" was a 4-part story arc. Oddly enough, no one bothered to mention the arc's title on the covers of the relevant issues.)

In the opening pages of this arc, at a time labeled "Six Months Ago" in a caption, the real Catwoman bumps into someone who's impersonating her while pulling a jewel theft. Then a couple of cops (or alleged cops -- wearing the uniforms, anyway) show up and try to shoot the real Catwoman; then Batman shows up . . . or at least Catwoman initially takes him at face value as Batman. She seems touched when he makes it clear that he can tell the difference between her and a phony at a glance (after she tries to lie to him about who the real Catwoman is), and she's also touched that he still believes her when she says the other woman was the one who was causing all the real trouble tonight. Then Catwoman is completely surprised when he suddenly presses something over her mouth (presumably soaked in chloroform or some other knockout drug) to subdue her. As he does so, he says: "Catwoman -- there's something I have to tell you . . . I'm not Batman . . . not yet . . ."

When she comes to, she's tied in a chair and the Ersatz Batman makes it clear he wants to interrogate her about the current Batman for any useful secrets she knows. Ersatz Batman does not identify himself, however, and Selina doesn't seem to figure out his real name at the time. She eventually gets out of the ropes and escapes before she can be injected with sodium pentothal as her captor had intended. She also gives Ersatz Batman a bloody nose along the way, but his face is kept in shadow so that we don't "know for sure" who this man in the Batman suit really is -- and she apparently doesn't bother to even mention this incident to the real Batman any time in the next six months (don't ask me why not).

In the part of this issue set "now," we see Tim Drake and Dick Grayson having a friendly conversation. Dick offers a quick list of bad guys who have previously discovered Batman's secret identity. Hugo Strange is on the list. Dick's comment on why Hugo's knowledge is not a big threat nowadays is simple: "Strange is dead."

(Take a wild guess: Which villain with medical training will come face-to-face with Bruce Wayne on the final page of this same issue? Go on, guess! What? No, not The Crime Doctor. No, it isn't Harley Quinn, either. And I'm not sure Doctor Death was actually an M.D. Try again!)

Yes, it's Hugo Strange. It is worth noting that when Hugo was last seen in the Earth-1, Pre-COIE continuity, he was very much alive inside a jail cell. Dick's comment thus implies that the story in question ("Batman Annual #10") never happened; and it certainly could not be the most recent time when Batman had encountered Hugo before today. At the time Dick made this remark, Hugo had only been featured in one other story in all the years between "Batman Annual #10" and this issue of "Gotham Knights" -- the "Prey" story arc in LOTDK, which ended with him falling into a river, shot and presumed dead.

Of course, there were various other times, before 1986, when Hugo was "believed dead" as a story ended, and in theory Dick might be referring to one of those previous stories instead of the events of "Prey." Thus, the matter is still up in the air as we move on to . . .

November, 2000. Gotham Knights #9. Written by Devin Grayson. Part 2 of "Transference."

Here we finally get some specific information about Hugo Strange's previous criminal record in the "modern continuity" (as it stood around the year 2000, anyway).

After Bruce Wayne has managed to break away from Hugo Strange long enough to switch to his Batman role (Hugo is certain that the abrupt disappearance of Wayne, followed by the abrupt appearance of Batman, is no coincidence!), Batman says: "You're a wanted criminal, Strange. Last time anyone saw you alive, you were the known kidnapper of the former mayor's daughter."

Strange ripostes: "Last time anyone saw me alive, I was tormenting Bruce Wayne in the privacy of his own home."

Both men are referring to events which occurred in the pages of the "Prey" story arc mentioned above. (I infer that Bruce Wayne never bothered to file a formal complaint with the GCPD about Hugo's attempts to play mind games with him in Wayne Manor; thus that part of the story never became a matter of public record; thus Batman carefully doesn't admit knowing anything about it, even after all these years.) And unlike LOTDK, stories published in "Gotham Knights" (while it lasted) were presumed to be set in the "regular continuity." Since this story features Dick (aka Nightwing) and Tim (aka Robin), and is clearly happening in the "modern continuity" of the year 2000, there are some plain implications regarding previously published stories:

1. Moench's "Prey" is now being retconned into "canonical" status in the modern DCU, after having spent ten years in limbo, with none of Batman's faithful readers knowing whether "regular continuity Batman" remembered those events or not!

2. These references to "Prey" as the last time Hugo is known to have done anything at all make it clear that it was, in fact, the first and only time that Batman and Hugo Strange ever clashed in "modern continuity" -- until right now, of course!

3. That wipes out all Pre-COIE Hugo Strange appearances in one clean sweep! Apparently all of that stuff -- the Finger stories, the Englehart stories, the Conway stories, the Moench story from "Batman Annual #10" -- never happened in the Post-COIE DCU!

4. Therefore, Dick Grayson (per this revised continuity) has never actually met Hugo Strange before, since "Prey" was clearly set before Dick ever moved into Wayne Manor. In the previous issue, when Dick told Tim that Hugo was among those who had learned Bruce's secret, and then nonchalantly explained that in Hugo's case it didn't matter now because he was dead, Dick was only repeating what Bruce must have once told him about an old case that ended with Hugo Strange getting shot and becoming "Missing in Action, Presumed Dead." Dick probably figures that a wacko with a strong Batman fixation would have popped up again, seeking a rematch, long before this if he were capable of it.

(Incidentally, we never do find out why Hugo Strange waited for what must have been at least a decade from his point of view before his big comeback!)

January, 2001. Gotham Knights #11. Written by Devin Grayson. Part 4 of "Transference."

Hugo Strange has captured Bruce (as himself), Dick (dressed as Nightwing), and Tim (dressed as Robin), and is trying to stage situations which will force them to react in ways consistent with how Batman would react and how he would expect his apprentices to react, thereby "proving" that Hugo has been right all along about who's who. (For some reason, Hugo doesn't bother stripping off the masks of Nightwing and Robin for corroborating evidence, nor taking fingerprints or using any other means of identification. His obsessive focus is on getting "Bruce Wayne" to break out of character and reveal his true colors.) However, Bruce doesn't act the way he's "supposed to" when the time comes, and neither do Dick and Tim (according to Hugo's hypotheses and psychological profiles regarding who Batman is and what the top priorities of his apprentices are supposed to be in certain worst-case scenarios). This drives Hugo (who has been wearing a Batman costume himself for much of this arc) into a mental collapse. He actually escapes from our heroes at the time; but that isn't a major concern because . . .

As the story ends, Hugo (still in his Batman outfit!) has voluntarily turned himself in at Arkham Asylum, and is saying such things as: "Take the mask! Take it away from me! I beg you!"

Followed, a few seconds later, by: "You won't make me leave, though? I am Batman. I killed Batman. You won't make me leave?"

A doctor says reassuringly, "Oh, don't worry about that, Mr. Strange. You won't be leaving for a long, long time . . ."

End of the story. So, in "Prey" and now again in "Transference," the Post-COIE version of Hugo's continuity is that he doesn't absolutely, positively know Batman's secret identity. He has never captured Batman and then ripped off the mask to see the face beneath. He has captured Bruce, but it didn't do him a lick of good. He often has a very strong opinion on the subject of Batman's identity! But any time he tries to play mind games with Bruce and/or Batman in an attempt to prove the point, Hugo conspicuously fails to achieve the victory he seeks!

And now to close with one odd reference from a later story which was presumably in continuity too (although Hugo did not appear onstage in this one):

June, 2007. Batman #665. Written by Grant Morrison.

Batman makes it back to his penthouse, badly hurt in a recent fight (in the previous issue) with a giant of a man. When describing the guy to Alfred and Tim, he offers the following words (although I believe he's speculating rather than knowing these details for certain): "He dosed himself with Hugo Strange's Monster Serum and daily Venom shots." But then he starts muttering about three ghosts in a dream, and Tim suspects Bruce of lapsing into delirium from the morphine he's received as a painkiller.

The reason this is significant is that near as we can tell, Hugo hadn't actually pulled the monster-men schtick in any canonical story published after the Englehart run in the 70s, and Hugo's appearances there seemed to have long since vanished from history after "Prey" suggested and "Transference" confirmed that his Pre-COIE continuity had been thrown out the window. So this passing reference in dialogue suggests that at least one of the old stories about Hugo injecting people with chemicals to turn them into giants has now been dragged, kicking and screaming, back into continuity -- at least as far as Grant Morrison is concerned! (I blame it all on Superboy-Prime's Retcon Punch.) However, Hugo did not actually appear in this story and we were not given any juicy details of exactly when and how he had used a Monster Serum, so it's beautifully unclear just which story or stories are being dragged back into canonical status. Possibly none of them! We must not neglect the possibility that Morrison was implying that some story we've never actually seen in print has now happened "behind the scenes," somewhere along the line, in which Batman discovered Hugo's nasty tendency to create monster-men in his spare time!

Anyway, even if Morrison was restoring one or more of Hugo Strange's Pre-COIE appearances into the latest version of "modern continuity," that wouldn't change the fact that "Gotham Knights #9," when it came out several years earlier, made it clear that Hugo had been rebooted and his only previous clash with Batman had occurred in the "Prey" story arc.

All this researching and typing began because I wanted to lay out my reasons for believing that Hugo Strange was "rebooted" after COIE had come and gone, and I hope I have now achieved that goal. However, as a bonus, I will throw in a few comments on two other Hugo Strange story arcs, both published within the last decade, which didn't seem to qualify as "canonical" in the first place, and thus were not summarized in the chronological entries on the above Timeline.

APPENDIX: Two Hugo Strange Arcs Which Seemed Out-of-Continuity

First Reject: "Terror." Legends of the Dark Knight, #'s 137-141. The first issue was cover-dated January, 2001.

Coincidentally, while "Transference" was still coming out, a new five-part arc written by Doug Moench began coming out in the notoriously-not-glued-to-continuity LOTDK title. That arc was called "Terror." It was clearly meant as a sequel to Moench's "Prey" of a decade earlier (and appeared to be set just months later, at a time when Jim Gordon was still a police captain). Hugo Strange, now revealed to have survived the ending of "Prey," played a role in it and once again vanished under mysterious circumstances (possibly about to die from fresh injuries) at the end! However, the events of "Terror" were never acknowledged in "Transference" when Batman and Hugo compared notes on when Hugo had last been seen in Gotham -- presumably because Devin Grayson and Doug Moench were writing their different versions of "the return of Hugo Strange after he went missing in 'Prey'" simultaneously, quite possibly unaware of one another's efforts! -- and so I conclude that "Terror" only happened in its own little alternate timeline, as did so many LOTDK story arcs. I decided not to bother giving more detailed summaries of any issues of "Terror" than what you find in this quick note, but I didn't want anyone to think I had completely failed to notice that story arc in the first place!

Second Reject: Batman and the Monster Men. A 6-part miniseries written by Matt Wagner. The first issue was cover-dated January, 2006.

This story appears to be selling us yet another version of how Batman and Hugo Strange "first met." It's clearly set early on, in the pre-Robin days when Bruce is still learning the ropes via lots of trial-and-error in his superhero activities.

Hugo Strange is the main villain in this six-part story. This version of Hugo still has the usual beard, bald scalp, and big glasses. So the general appearance of his head is the same as it has been since the Golden Age. However, this version of the character is also quickly established to be short and bow-legged. Those last items are wildly different from the way Hugo has previously been portrayed (at least since the 1970s -- I'm not sure how tall he would have been in his Golden Age appearances). Various stories, both before and after COIE, have rested upon the assumption that Hugo must possess approximately the same height and build as Batman, since he has repeatedly managed to make people think that he could be Batman, as long as he is clean-shaven and is dressed for the part.

Thus, I see "Batman and the Monster Men" as the functional equivalent of an LOTDK story arc, where the writer figures he isn't even expected to worry about respecting all the nitpicking details of what was previously established about the "canonical version" of any given character -- such as whether or not a villain is tall enough to stand eye-to-eye with Batman instead of needing to look way up at him! As you could guess from the title, this version of Hugo Strange is using his old schtick of turning ordinary people into gigantic, mentally stunted monsters who will do his bidding (stealing large quantities of cash and killing anyone who gets in the way, for instance). Incidentally, Hugo is not arrested in this story (most of the potential evidence against him goes up in flames by the end) and Wagner throws in a quick nod to "Prey" by having the tale end in a very similar fashion to how "Prey" began -- with Hugo Strange, apparently a well-known genetic researcher in Wagner's vision rather than a well-established psychiatrist, appearing on a local talk show and describing how ruthless and insane the Batman must be.

CLOSING NOTE: I have not read any of Hugo's other appearances of the last few years. For instance, I know he participated in "Salvation Run," but I haven't even glanced at it. As far as I am aware, none of his recent appearances have added anything new and exciting to our understanding of which of his older stories are still "in continuity" after all these years, but I am perfectly willing to accept constructive criticism if I missed something highly relevant! As always when I write something so long and ambitious, I take it for granted that there's bound to be room for improvement somewhere, and furthermore I am constantly aware that a new story could come out next week which would invalidate some of my previous work as regards what's "canonical" and what isn't!

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