SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for “Nightwing” #18, by Tim Seeley, Javier Fernandez and Minkyu Jung, on sale now.
Professor Pyg certainly isn’t a villain that needs too much motivation to do horrible things. From his introduction back in “Batman & Robin,” his biggest driving force has been his own insane pursuit of “perfection” and not much else. But it would seem there just might be other factors at play for the madman this time around.
As “Nightwing Must Die!” begins to literally and figuratively heat up, some unsettling truths have started coming to light, and they are pretty ominous, not just for Dick Grayson, but potentially the entire multiverse.
Pyg Will Make You Perfect
With Dick and Damian having made relatively short sort of their Dollotron copies, they set about tracking down Pyg and Shawn to stage a rescue for the latter. They find the villain in an abandoned foundry, surrounded by Dollotrons, with Shawn set up for some sort of sacrificial ritual. To make matters even worse, the foundry is running and actively raising the temperature inside the room, giving the fight a pretty strict timeline to follow.
Luckily, the dynamic duo is able to free Shawn and subdue Pyg as you might expect, but all the while, the Dollotron captives they left behind (perhaps a bit shortsightedly, with no real observation) have been making a play of their own. Well, one of them has, at least. Dollotron Robin had almost managed to break through his own programming, but Deathwing decidedly did not.
After convincing his Dollotron “brother” to set him free from Dick and Damian’s restraints, Deathwing promptly kills Dollo-Robin and stages a trap to isolate and kidnap Damian while Dick is busy reuniting with Shawn.
Bad news all around, but it gets even worse.
Issue #18 of “Nightwing” seemed to insinuate that Deathwing -- and by extension, his creator Professor Pyg -- were somehow tapped into the multiverse in a way that allowed a cut from Deathwing’s dagger to spark hallucinations of his alternate selves in Dick’s mind. Keep in mind that, traditionally, Pyg’s been an admittedly very dangerous but fairly run of the mill psychopath. He's certainly not someone with any sort of extradimensional or metahuman abilities to speak of, so this detail was unusual.
As it turns out, it was unusual for very, very good reason. After he’s defeated, Pyg is quick to admit that even he is dissatisfied with his latest Dollotron creations. He hasn’t been making them for himself, you see, he’s been working for an employer who has been giving him what he believes to be impure instructions.
That employer just happens to be none other than Dr. Simon Hurt...and Deathwing has delivered Damian right to him.
Robin Dies At Dawn
Dr. Simon Hurt’s legacy is an exceedingly strange one, even by Batman rogues' standards. Hurt was first “introduced” as a nameless, panel filling scientist back in the Golden Age Batman story, “Robin Dies At Dawn” (issue #156 for those of you playing along at home) and later redeveloped into a near omnipotent puppet master by Grant Morrison to serve as the primary antagonist for most of his “Batman” run.
Hurt’s ambiguous nature and powers remain to this day an unclear element of Batman history -- on the page, Hurt claimed to be everyone from Thomas Wayne, to a literal demon named Barbatos, to an incarnation of Darkseid himself. Eventually, the narrative appeared to settle on Hurt being a devil worshiping Wayne ancestor whose name just happened to be Thomas, though unofficially, the metaphors were never really stripped away. In interviews, Morrison has confirmed his desire to make Hurt read as analogy for the devil, who he considers to be the ultimate foe for a detective like Batman.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t actually Seeley’s first “Robin Dies At Dawn” reference with respect to Dick. Issue #5 of his run on “Grayson” with Tom King and Mikel Janin featured Dick narrating the Golden Age story as if they were a dream he’d had as a child. Whether or not any of the events in “Grayson” will be called upon to bolster the story in the post-Rebirth world remains to be seen, but is certainly something to keep an eye out for.
Regardless of his true nature, the fact is this: Hurt’s connection to, if not the full on multiverse of the DCU than at the very least planes of existence (psychotropic or otherwise) is totally undeniable. This was a man (or monster?) who was powerful enough to completely dismantle the Batman without breaking much of a sweat. His presence also adds another layer of meaning to the multiverse flashes Dick saw last issue -- if Hurt's involved, all bets are off as to whether or not they were legit. It's entirely possible that Hurt has figured out a way to tamper with reality -- or, at least, make everyone believe that he has.
It’s unclear what Hurt was doing with Pyg’s Dollotrons, or what his plans are for Damian, but given all the strange, multidimensional undercurrents trickling around the entire DC Universe as Rebirth continues to unfold, it’s pretty unlikely that they’re at all intended to be taken at face value. And while there has been no official confirmation of a “Nightwing” tie-in to the newly announced Batman-centric cross-title event, “Dark Nights: Metal,” there's a pretty good chance that Hurt’s reappearance is building towards something, and something big.
A return to Zur-En-Arrh, perhaps?
Better brush off those Black Casebooks, just in case.
"Nightwing" #19, by Tim Seeley and Javier Fernandez, arrives in stores April 19, 2017.