thehefner: (Default)
[personal profile] thehefner posting in [community profile] scans_daily
First things first: who here *hasn't* read the Batman story arc Strange Apparitions (the legendary comic arc by Steve Englehart, most famous for including the all-time great Joker story, The Laughing Fish)?

If you haven't--or if you've only read Fish on its own but not the surrounding story--you should at least know that it's generally considered one of the finest Batman stories of all time. I certainly agree, but I don't want to oversell it as a work, since hyped expectations have killed many a great story. I can at least safely presume to call it one of the most important and influential Batman comics of all time, and for that alone I urge you to track down the trade paperback.

Or at least, I would, if it weren't out of print. WTF, DC?

I was actually tempted to post the entire storyline here, but I had a hard enough time singling out the Hugo Strange subplot while keeping these scans under the 1/3rd limit. The story is just that tight, with each issue packed to the gills with plot, action, and character stuff.

So with regret, let's eschew the excellent stories of Bruce and Silver St. Cloud's affair, of the introduction of Dr. Phosphorus and the reintroduction of Deadshot, of the thieving Penguin and tragic Clayface III, and even of the greatest Joker scheme of all time.

Instead, let's focus on the grand return of Batman's first arch-nemesis, and the scheming villain who made the damn fool mistake of crossing him:

These scans (encompassing Detective Comics #471-476) begin with the story already in progress, so I'll let one of our key players fill you in on the events:

So Thorne and the council plot to finish off Batman, not realizing that he didn't come away unscathed from his battle with Dr. Phosphorus:

These days, Batman would take his problem to someone else in the super-community like Dr. Mid-Nite or, hell, maybe even treat himself because he's the Bat-God of Medicine or something. But no, Bronze Age Bruce has a different plan:

***cue an awesome full-page Marshall Rogers nightmare image that I had to cut for page limit restrictions***

Producing a costume that he'd kept in a hidden compartment, Batman manages to melt the bars and escape his cell:

Yep, it's a pair of Monster Men! Which means that Dr. Todhunter is really...

... wait, he has trained attack snakes? I'd say that's silly, but Hugo is so gloriously old-school arch-villain that I can accept it. He'd surely climb the ranks in the Guild of Calamitous Intent.

Of all the villains who've had Batman unconscious and at their mercy, Hugo was the only one with the insight to go, "Hey, maybe I should unmask this guy! God, I'm smart!"

This makes Hugo the second villain to have learned Bruce's identity, the first being Ra's al Ghul. But as much of a threat Ra's is, he never really exploited the secret identity. Now, if any of the other villains discovered that Bruce was Batman, they'd likely just use it as a means to destroy their enemy.

What sets Hugo apart is that he has a far grander goal in mind:

For the second time, we learn what Hugo had been doing since his faked death: he was a highly successful professional criminal in Europe.

In the previous post, [personal profile] jlroberson and I discussed how easily Hugo could have been used in place of Dr. Hurt in Grant Morrison's Batman R.I.P. (keep reading these posts and you'll notice more and more ways that Hurt has cribbed from Strange). If they had, one could easily imagine that Hugo spent those years amassing power with the Black Glove criminals. Major missed opportunity, that.

Furthermore, Dr. Hurt isn't the only so-called "ultimate Batman villain" to have ripped off Hugo. Take Hush, for instance, and the fact that Hugo pulled his scheme way earlier while still being a far more interesting character in the process:

Hugo's got everything planned out, even going to far as kidnapping Alfred and throwing him in the cell with Bruce. Robin's on the case, but Hugo's one step ahead of them the whole way:

Awww, does Hugo have a bit of a hate-crush on Batman? Actually, yes, yes he does.

Resisting these strange new feelings, Hugo grabs a pair of Monster Men and--dressed in his best evil finery--holds a sinister auction:

See, that's the big problem with Hugo's plan here: involving other villains he can't command.

Now, it wasn't necessarily stupid to involve the Joker and the Penguin. Yes, screwing them over would be inviting suicide, but Hugo's already proven himself smart and capable enough of actually, possibly getting away with it.

Besides, Hugo's line about "play by the rules," indicates more than just the rules of his own personal game. Indeed, it's a game that Hugo, the Penguin, and the Joker all play with Batman in their own ways, a game that a crass thug like Rupert Thorne could never understand.

Only too late does Hugo himself come to this realization:

Batman and Robin bust the thugs for being Rupert Thorne's men, then immediately start wondering where he hell Hugo Strange has gone. Man, the guy dies, and no one notices!

Oh, shut up, Dick. ... Sorry, force of habit.

So Hugo actually healed Bruce! Why, if he was already planning to kill Bruce and leave a corpse for the "lucky winner" to find? Did Hugo have a change of heart? If so, when? Did he cure Bruce's radiation so he, Hugo, could have the entire pleasure of Batman's murder himself? Or was his subconscious admiration for Batman just too great?

Perhaps the more pressing question is this: if Hugo's finally dead, why do I still have a bunch of scans from this storyline?

Later, amid the return of Deadshot (in the story which gave him the costume he still wears to this very day), Batman decides to pay Thorne a personal visit:

I like how Ghost?Hugo is naked, but still wears glasses. Guy has his priorities, even when he's dead.

We're breezing past an awful lot of story to focus on the Thorne subplot, story which mainly involves the romantic drama between Bruce and Silver St. Cloud, who has also discovered his secret identity.

And it all comes to a head when the Joker finally emerges in The Laughing Fish, a story which--if you haven't read it or seen the episode--features the Joker killing off bureaucrats because he cannot legally trademark fish. I could explain more, but really, do you need me to?

I was seriously tempted to post the Fish storyline here, but this post is long enough as it is. So instead, let's check in with ol' Rupe:

Yes, Rupe, just like Hugo Strange! Because Hugo and the Joker both understand something that you never could. They understand--and adore!--the game they play with Batman.

By the way, even from the snippet of a story, I honestly think Englehart's Joker to be my favorite Joker of all time. Somewhere between this and TAS Joker is my ideal Mr. J, mainly because his schemes actually follow an insane pattern of logic, only the absurd logic of an actual joke. He's genuinely absurd, and genuinely terrifying.

"... but the Batsignal!" As Thorne drives off, the Joker claims two victims, and names Commissioner Gordon as his intended third. Frustrated at his second failure, Batman searches around the crime scene for any clues he can find:

Since Hugo is officially dead (as I gather from the editorial note by Julie Schwartz), and Batman can see the ghost, then the only possible answer is that it truly is Hugo's spirit and not Rupert Thorne hallucinating. In fact, it's a spirit that's taking an active interest not just in Thorne, but in Batman's investigation. Why?

As Batman wonders that himself, I hope you'll forgive my indulgence in including one more bit of Englehart's Joker:

... to Rupert Thorne, still driving to the middle of nowhere, desperate for any companion to take his mind off Hughost.

So Hughost helped Batman capture the Joker? Why? What did Hugo have to gain by helping Batman defeat the Joker? Was it out of pure respect from beyond the grave? In dying, did Hugo himself attain some form of redemption? Perhaps his brief time inhabiting Bruce's life made more of an impact on Hugo than he'd expected. Either way, we get no answers, and it's that ambiguity which gives this story so much of its lasting power.

By the end, Bruce saves the day, but loses the woman he loves:

There were two more issues in Englehart's run, both of which are included in the Strange Apparitions collection and feature Clayface III, but I'm of the opinion that the core story ends right here. I mean, really, that's a perfect finale to a Bat-epic right there.

Of course, while Hugo is dead, that isn't his last appearance. I have three more posts to make before we come to the post-Crisis reboot and reimagining of Hugo for the new continuity. But as for the exact nature of his return (as well as the return of Boss Thorne!)... well, those are each mysteries unto themselves, as you'll see.

If you'd like to read all of Strange Apparitions yourself, I wish you the best of luck. As previously stated, this beloved classic is bizarrely out of print. If you're up for scouring back issue bins and/or the internet, the story's been collected in trade paperback, which itself is a collection of the five-issue miniseries Shadow of the Batman, which reprinted the original issues. Basically, find it any way you can until DC comes to their senses.

Date: 2010-11-28 10:10 am (UTC)
q99: (Default)
From: [personal profile] q99
I like this Strange :)

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From: [personal profile] jlroberson - Date: 2010-11-29 01:40 am (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2010-11-28 10:24 am (UTC)
bradhanon: (Serious editor)
From: [personal profile] bradhanon
Is there a reason that we, as comics fans, don't worship Marshall Rogers like a pagan idol? I mean, compare these pages to, well, the rest of the 1970s.

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Date: 2010-11-28 12:01 pm (UTC)
icon_uk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
This Strange would have been a much more interesting choice than Hurt, but his post-Crisis self... not so much IMHO.

And yes, that art is stunning.

Date: 2010-11-28 06:30 pm (UTC)
jlroberson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jlroberson
It's actually much more of a Hugo scheme in many ways and it would have made sense--Batman's "last story" with his first enemy as antagonist. I said elsewhere that over the years, Strange has been picked at and aspects of him have ended up being grown into other villains, all of which are better known and more often used than he. The only other major Batman villain as imitated is the Joker. To some degree all Batman's enemies are based on one or the other. The difference is the Joker was not diluted by it, Strange was.

Personally, I like Strange and always have. But he will probably end up always being the choice of the truly deep Batman fans and writers, a kind of nostalgia/prestige figure brought out for special occasions.

And right before BORN AGAIN over at Marvel, Strange did much the same thing to Bruce Wayne as the Kingpin did to Murdock(a Moench story in that year's Batman annual), but nobody remembers that. He bankrupted him, destroyed his home, all that was really missing was the junkie ex.

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Date: 2010-11-28 02:03 pm (UTC)
tacobob: Mordecai Not Very Impressed (Default)
From: [personal profile] tacobob
I love the fact that he was wearing his Scooby-Doo bad guy mask over his glasses.

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Date: 2010-11-28 02:21 pm (UTC)
jkcarrier: me, at my old office (Default)
From: [personal profile] jkcarrier
This was a great run.

A fun little easter egg: In that first story, the disguised Hugo Strange looks an awful lot like that *other* Doctor Strange, the one from Marvel. Note also Strange/Wayne's reference to perennial Marvel bad guys Roxxon Oil.

(A minor correction: Len Wein wrote the Clayface 2-parter, so that last page of Batman swinging through the city was indeed Englehart's finale.)

Date: 2010-11-28 06:16 pm (UTC)
jlroberson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jlroberson
I love all the in-jokes. And I miss the late Rogers(with whom I shared a birthday). Usually I can't stand Englehart, but his Batman run is a glaring exception--it's all such fun.

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Date: 2010-11-29 07:00 am (UTC)
kenn_el: Northstar_Hmm (Default)
From: [personal profile] kenn_el
Considering that Rogers did a terrific run on Doctor Strange (as did Englehart) it was a neat reminder.

Date: 2010-11-28 06:47 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] insectposse
The Deadshot issue was in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (the old tpb). It's nice to see some context.

Date: 2010-11-28 11:10 pm (UTC)
feyandstrange: If you can't be arsed to spell-check or punctuate it, then I can't be arsed to read it. (arsed)
From: [personal profile] feyandstrange
According to many very old-school comics folks, that was de rigeur; the printing process was so dodgy that periods could get lost entirely, thus sentences had to end with something bigger.

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Date: 2010-11-29 12:00 am (UTC)
jlroberson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jlroberson
Wasn't that Roy Thomas though?

And nowadays that one can, we see Adams overusing them in BATMAN ODYSSEY, a book where a lot of the dialogue might be slightly IMPROVED by more exclamation points. There are so many places where the periods actually ruin whatever weird rhythm Adams might have been going for and lend themselves to the impression Adams dictated a first draft and never edited it.

Date: 2010-11-28 11:11 pm (UTC)
feyandstrange: headshot of Oracle (Oracle)
From: [personal profile] feyandstrange
This is wonderfully written and well drawn, and Strange is very entertaining - so much better than stupid Hush. If you're gonna steal Batman's identities, this is the way to go.

Date: 2010-11-29 12:04 am (UTC)
jlroberson: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jlroberson
Strange doesn't mess around. This is one reason he's difficult to use--in his stories he nearly always puts Batman in an impossible position requiring a truly clever writer to get him out of it and few are up to the task. Here, he actually defeated him--only because of Thorne did Batman survive this one, ironically. Strange may be the only Batman villain who's actually smarter than Batman, which I guess makes HIM the most dangerous man on Earth. More often than not, Batman doesn't defeat him so much as Strange gets carried away on his own and makes mistakes.

And I always loved that here, he went, ":Screw it, I'm taking off the cowl." No games here like with the Joker. Straight to the point. This is why he is so hard to beat.

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Re: PS

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Date: 2010-11-29 06:17 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] psychopathicus_rex
I think the implication is that Strange first injected Bats when he'd just entered Graytowers, back when he thought he was just Bruce Wayne, society twit. After all, it's not much good blackmailing a millionaire into doing your bidding through using the antidote against monsterism as a carrot if he DIES on you, is it? By that logic, evidently he did, in fact, actually cure all those other rich guys - he just monsterized them in the process.
It's quite a shame that Strange has ditched his Monster Men formula for psychiatry these days. Those guys were the perfect mooks - absolutely obedient, near-indestructible in the bulletproof clothing, and very visually distinctive - you knew EXACTLY who you were dealing with when you saw one of those hulking brutes. Of course, there IS the Wagner mini that reintroduced them - maybe someday, a writer will have him refine the formula a bit, and have him start using them as henchmen again.
It's a shame you didn't post one of the better bits of this - Magda getting stuck with the formula during a scuffle and turning into a Monster Woman. That was particularly memorable because it captured the sheer terror of what it would be like on the receiving end of that stuff, and KNOW what was going to happen ("Now... I'll become... A MONSTERRRRRRRR..."), as well as the fact that such things just didn't HAPPEN to beautiful women in the comics of that era, so it came as a shock.

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From: [personal profile] psychopathicus_rex - Date: 2010-11-29 08:01 am (UTC) - Expand
ext_462267: (pic#561898)
From: [identity profile]
1. It is for arcs like these that I am grateful for having begun reading comics during the Bronze Age;

2. Look at Magda's face when Strange unmasks Batman! Indescribable!

3. Stories like this are the reason I usually hate the power that DC grants their super-writers. They behave like spoiled children: "I like this toy, I'll play with him and then break him, so no-one else can play!". I mean, why KILL Strange? I can think of 4 different ways, at least, for that scene to end without his death, and we would still have a very good character to use.

Date: 2010-12-14 11:10 pm (UTC)
eightleggedbeast: (Default)
From: [personal profile] eightleggedbeast
Something about that last page makes me ridiculously happy.


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