DC Comics has turned Batman into one of comics’ greatest superheroes, if not the single most successful character in pop culture. Generating billions of dollars through merchandise and media, Batman owes some of his success to the dynamic range of colorful and eccentric villains he faces. However, one of The Dark Knight’s underrated enemies could fulfill a unique gap in Batman’s cast.
Batman has gained perhaps the greatest rogues gallery in comics, steadily growing since his 1939 introduction in Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s Detective Comics #27. Among his most famous foes are Joker, Bane, Riddler, Scarecrow and Penguin. Each has posed genuine threats to Batman, Gotham, and the very world. Batman’s rogues gallery comprises villains who represent different fears and weaknesses Batman faces, and some have their own unique mental illnesses. The basic ingredients for what makes for the perfect rogues gallery are almost entirely present when it comes to Bruce Wayne’s enemies. However, one key type of villain has gone completely underserved: The evil genius. These characters pose little in the way of a physical threat to their heroes, and challenge their mind instead. One underrated Batman villain could take this title for good.
Batman’s Rogues Gallery, Explained
One of the great things about Batman’s list of villains is how each of them presents a unique threat and fear of Batman’s, as well as the readers’. In Two-Face, there’s a difficult balance between a good man and his evil, crime boss alter. Professor Pyg is a horrific scientist serial killer. In Joker, there’s a chaotic killer clown who cannot be reasoned with. Man-Bat presents the classic Jekyll and Hyde conundrum, with an otherwise decent man who transforms into a monstrous bat monster. Each of the Caped Crusader’s biggest villains brings their unique range of colorful gimmicks, dangerous weapons, sinister motives and even sub-genres in which they thrive. From organized crime bosses to impulsive serial killers, each foe represents a different problem for Batman to solve.
Batman’s rogues are among the greatest in comics, competitive only with Spider-Man’s own colorful roster of enemies. The steady accumulation of eccentric bad guys has left the world of Batman one of the most compelling settings in Gotham. One of the hero’s best yet underrated enemies is Hugo Strange, a cliche “evil scientist” with an interest in genetics and creepy experiments. However, in a city dominated by the chaotic antics of the Joker, brutal villains like Bane, and cunning foes like Riddler, Strange hasn’t been able to gain the traction he deserves. Just as Superman has Lex Luthor, Shazam has Doctor Sivana, and Spider-Man has Doctor Octopus, Batman deserves an A-list evil scientist/genius who challenges his intellect. Hugo Strangecould be Batman’s dark, mental equal, someone with the same intellectual capacity but none of Bruce’s morals.
Although Batman’s enemies are brilliant, when it comes to challenging his detective skills, there’s rarely ever a mystery. Instead, the riddle calling cards, the permanent smiles from Joker’s toxin, and the dual-themed clues from Two-Face always undermine the mystery before it even gets started. Hugo Strange was never nearly as gimmicky as Batman’s other villains, meaning there’s room for true intrigue that can test Batman’s detective skills. This also allows readers to keep guessing about the culprit behind the plot. The revelation that one of Batman’s most unsolvable cases was the handiwork of Hugo Strange could make for a genuinely inspired twist. What’s great about Strange is, without aspirations of world domination, his plans are grounded, dark, and perfect for classic detective cases.
Hugo Strange Was Batman’s First Recurring Villain
Hugo Strange first appeared back in 1940’s Detective Comics #36 (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, and Sheldon Moldoff), when he used concentrated lightning to generate a fog that allowed him and his henchmen to rob from banks. Naturally, this scheme piqued the interest of the Dark Knight, who was hot on the case. This story led to one of Batman’s first defeats. Strange’s goons knocked out and captured the hero, transporting him to Hugo Strange’s hideout. Of course, Batman broke free of his restraints, and Strange was soon behind bars, where he immediately began planning his escape. As far as villainous debuts go, the story built up Hugo Strange as one of Bruce’s smartest adversaries, and one whose skills were definitely going to waste.
Hugo Strange’s intelligence was again demonstrated when he became the first villain to discover Bruce Wayne was Batman, an incredible feat in comics. This made for the famous Bronze Age story in which Strange sought to auction off the Caped Crusader’s true identity to some of Gotham’s biggest villains, such as Joker and Penguin. In fact, this revelation was hyped up as a great showcase of Lex Luthor’s own intelligence during the New 52. Yet, Hugo Strange beat him to it by almost four decades. The villain’s ingenuity, both in his own creations and the unique ways he messed with Bruce Wayne, are long overdue for a comeback. Whether it was using science to create a very elaborate Bruce Wayne disguise or actually donning the cape and cowl himself, there are many Hugo Strange moments itching for further exploration and fresh updates.
Batman Needs A Lex Luthor
One of the best and most common villain archetypes in comics is that of the villain who poses little in the way of a physical threat to the hero but challenges his intellect. Although DC has tried to make this idea work for Riddler, he’s somewhat constrained by his gimmick, always needing some convoluted riddle for Batman to solve. Many of Riddler’s appearances feature him sparingly to maintain the mystery or downplay his independence by having him work with other villains. Hugo Strange has no such campy gimmick. In fact, Strange can be an incredibly dark, eerie scientist when he’s written just right. Lex Luthor himself has actually stepped into the role of Batman’s genius enemy, but only on a temporary basis, and he’s much better suited to Superman.
Although Bane and Ra’s al Ghul are both genius enemies who aptly challenge Batman, they don’t fill the void of an evil scientist who poses an intellectual threat above all else. After all, Ra’s is practically an emperor in command of a small army of assassins, and Bane matches Batman’s might and then some. These villains are certainly skilled strategists, but they don’t fit the cliche of the scheming, scientific, evil genius. Ra’s goals of societal collapse tests Batman’s resolve and resources, while Bane’s direct challenge for Gotham has always been one of strategy and hand-to-hand combat. These great villains still leave open room for a scientific foe to step in, one whose experiments go beyond the often one-note fear obsession Scarecrow’s bent on.
Hugo Strange Should Be An A-List Threat
Hugo Strange possesses all the makings of a brilliant, A-list super villain, who can use his intellect and ingenuity to challenge Batman, just as Luthor does Superman. The way the villain has been written has ranged throughout his history, from a frail, feeble scientist to someone of great physique, who could fight Batman if needed. Regardless of his physical stature, it’s Hugo Strange’s mind that makes him most terrifying, especially the prospect of the creatures he could unleash through his experiments. The Monster Men hinted at the terror the villain is capable of. Exploring this in greater detail would remind modern readers why he’s so dangerous.
In virtually every modern Batman story where Hugo Strange gains a prominent role, he proves himself an excellent villain. With a personality that hovers somewhere between Riddler’s intelligence, the Joker’s chaotic and twisted nature, and Scarecrow’s scientific brand of villainy, Strange hits several intriguing notes at once. Combined with the fact that Strange fills a void in the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery that badly needs to be filled, Batman comics could be so much better if DC creators used Hugo Strange more often. Any character can go from obscurity to prominence with a talented enough writer, and many of the recent creators, such as Chip Zdarsky or Ram V, could pull it off. Hugo Strange deserves to be the dark, intellectual rival to Bruce Wayne that his history suggests. It just takes a great story to do so.
Should DC Comics give him the chance, Batman’s first recurring villain has all the makings to become the Dark Knight’s “Lex Luthor.” Read More