thehefner: (Hugo Strange in PREY)
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This is it. The big one.

It arrives at a moment where's it's suddenly relevant and topical to fan interests.With the release of the awesome new Arkham City trailer, the internet is ablaze with the question, "Who the hell is Hugo Strange?"

Hopefully, some people looking for answers will stumble upon these posts. It seems I've coincidentally been ahead of the game with these posts, perhaps even more so if the (unlikely) rumors turn out to be true, and The Dark Knight Rises will be based upon Batman: Prey.

Which, in either case, is the story I bring you today. In some ways, my entire Hugo Strange project has been building up to this: one of his two stories which defined his character for their generations. But while it's a different interpretation for a rebooted continuity, the threads to the original Hugo can be seen throughout. This Hugo is more perverse, more deranged, but just as brilliant and dangerous.

But like the best Hugo stories, Prey is ultimately about the heart and soul of Batman himself. What makes Hugo so great is how he pushes Bruce to the limits of what he can overcome, and by the end, Batman's triumph is always more than a physical one. Maybe that's why Hugo's the villain of choice for a handful of discerning, hardcore, old-school Batman comic fans.

If you can, I urge you to track down Prey either as a trade paperback or in the original issues of Legends of the Dark Knight #11-15, which I've seen in dollar bins. While Prey is a beloved story and a hot rumor du jour, it's also out of print. Again, WTF, DC?

This story takes place soon after the events of Batman: Year One, but pulls off the impressive feat of not feeling like it's in Frank Miller's shadow (unlike the first LOTDK storyline, Denny O'Neill's Shaman, as well as The Long Halloween).

The opening scenes establish growing tension between Batman and the interests of the cops and City Hall, with Jim Gordon stuck in the middle. Healing from his most recent wounds, Bruce settles in to watch a panel show discussing the topic: "The Batman: Savior or Scourge?"

Right away, here's a huge departure from Hugo's original character: no longer the master criminal Professor with proficiency in genetics, robotics, and toxins, he's now a Doctor of psychiatry. Considering how psychologically invested Hugo became in Batman from Strange Apparitions onward to Moench's own Down to the Bone, it's a change that still fits the character's spirit.

His "analysis" of Batman could easily come off sounding like a cartoon, but I think it actually feels quite realistic for a person like Hugo. In terms of his analysis, Hugo's spiritually akin to the Frederick Werthams of the world, reading their own perverse and twisted interpretations in these characters.

I could easily imagine reading some comic fan writing all that bullcrap in their blog. But it's the kind of bullcrap you can get sucked into, just as Bruce himself almost did. He didn't agree with Hugo, but I damn well bet he was afraid that Hugo might have been right.

So thank god for Jim Gordon: the most human character in the DCU.

You can probably guess, but this Year One era story also serves as the introduction of the Batmobile in this new continuity. One of the many subplots that are lost in this edit, I'm afraid.

Gordon, meanwhile, realizes he needs a man he can trust too. Trust, but not have a lot of faith in. As such, he approaches the overzealous and Batman-hating cop Max Cort to lead the Vigilante Task Force, a role Cort accepts with relish.

Meanwhile, the Mayor assesses his own new partnership...

I love how even the shutters turn the single panel into six long skinny mini-panels.

I also love the relieved tension in Gordon here. He knows it's just a reprieve, but there's still a bit more time yet before things come to a head. The tension is palpable right off the bat.

Speaking of whom, Batman takes to the skies on his Bat-Glider, oblivious to the criminals he's hunting, the cops who are hunting him, and the good Doctor himself:

... Ooooookay, so, that's maybe the first sign that there's something wrong with ol' Hugo here. The aspect of one-sided conversations with a female mannequin seems derivative of Clayface III. Of course, Preston was "married" to his. I'm guessing that's too much of a commitment for Hugo, with his issues with women, as we'll see soon enough.

Also, note that he already has a "Batman" costume even before he meets Batman. Right from the start, he's obsessed with Batman. Or rather, Hugo's own idea of what Batman is.

For all of Hugo's elated fantasies, it's contrasted with the reality of Batman's grim frustration, as his raid on the mob is interrupted by Max Cort and the Task Force. Bruce didn't sign onto this crusade to fight cops, even deluded and obsessive cops.

Batman escapes, along with the criminals, and Hugo is the only one close to happy, as he gleefully envisions Batman as "a killer... a killer who doesn't kill... making red love to the night itself..."

I love that last line. It seems like he feels that Batman is immune to any sense of pain, even physical pain, when he causes pain to others.

Frustrated, exhausted, and still lacking a car, Bruce ends up walking back to Wayne Manor, where Alfred reminds him that the Mayor's hosting a small dinner party. Bruce accepts the invitation due to the presence of one guest in particular...

Meanwhile, Gordon starts to realize he's made a mistake in hiring a fanatic like Max Cort, who is all but dying to blow away Batman, who attempts to make a "peace offering" by delivering a trussed-up mobster. Cort responds poorly, to say the least.

Gordon tells Batman that they need to find a better way to meet up than in his office, and decides to try a different tactic. Yes, this story also serves as the introduction of the Bat-Signal!

Do you think he's actually sleeping with "her," or that he just likes having the company of a female figure who won't talk back or correct his "brilliant" ramblings?

Either way, the way he hides the mannequin indicates to me that while Hugo is clearly insane, he's also smart and functioning enough to know how to hide it. Of course, a good detective like Jim Gordon could probably tell that something's very wrong here.

Thankfully for Hugo, he's only dealing with Max Cort.

Ooooh, slashy! Seriously, if they go with these characters for the film, you know there'll be fic. Honestly, it says something about how little this story is known that there almost certainly isn't fic already.

But that's just conjecture. As we see, Hugo actually does have an interest in human females, but not as much interest as he has in hearing himself speak:

Oh, well, that's reassuring! Thank god for Max Cort's basic morality!

Also, we keep getting further glimpses into the psychological motivations of this Hugo Strange, hints of an origin that we never see. He seems to have far, far more issues (at least with women, and with his own self-worth) than Pre-Crisis Hugo ever had.

And yet, Pre-Crisis Hugo eventually became more and more obsessed with Batman himself, to the point that his character arc of Bat-Mania seemed to carry through to his Post-Crisis counterpart. This Hugo is very much the next step in old Hugo's evolution.

Aaaand now I'm starting to sound like Hugo myself. Carrying on...

But instead of going home, Cort puts on the costume and proceeds to beat the crap out of an entire biker bar, where he gets a lead on a seller of unregistered guns. He pays the dealer a visit at a most inopportune time:

The Night Scourge chooses Catwoman as his next target, whom he almost succeeds in decapitating, but Batman intervenes. Cort escapes, and Catwoman thanks Batman with a lead pipe to the head, because she resented the help. That's one reason why it's taken me so long to warm up to Selina as a character.

And in the Batman costume, Cort carries out Strange's command:

The Mayor tells Gordon that if the vigilante task force does not succeed in nailing Batman and saving Catherine, then Gordon will fired and blacklisted. With no choice, Gordon passes the info along to Max Cort, who is all to happy to report to his men, "Shoot to kill."

But where exactly is the Mayor's daughter?

At this point, I have to wonder if Moench has crossed a line with this take on Hugo. Is this Hugo Strange too perverse, too unstable, too damn loathesome? Has he lost touch with the Master Criminal Moriarty-ness of the original? Or is this still perfectly in keeping with what makes him a great villain?

On the run from the relentless cops, Batman wants nothing more than to seek solace in the Batcave, but has to settle for hiding in the sewers. At this point, he decides that the cave can wait...

Yeah, Hugo's unstable, but he's not THAT unstable! He actually planned to lose his cool! Batman's usually great at jabbing the psychological wounds of his enemies, provoking them to make a mistake, so I love how Hugo's one step ahead!

Also, what's in the head? Could it be Fear Dust?

The sheer triumph in Hugo epiphany gives me chills. He's a detective in his own way, and a brilliant one at that, at least when he isn't caught up in his own theories. He's intelligence bolstered by madness, and the result really does make him an extremely formidable opponent for Batman.

In the throes of the hallucinogen, Batman frantically runs through the streets of Gotham. Cops shoot at him, cars try to run him down, but all he sees is his parents' murder over and over again.

Meanwhile, the Night Scourge kills a pair of thieves, telling himself that he's better than the Bat, who of course gets the blame. It occurs to me that a sense of inferiority is what really unites Strange and Cort in their motivations against Batman. Cort fears that he's not good enough, while Strange is convinced that Batman is his own personal √úbermensch.

It's almost like if Lex Luthor were an obsessive, insane Superman fanboy, and now Hugo knows exactly how to hit Batman where it hurts.

Oh Hugo, you so batshit.

Batman wakes up by the dockyards, splashed by harbor water on the rocky shore. Still coming down from the drugs, he manages to elude sailors and dock workers trying to impale him with harpoons, and makes it back to Wayne Manor on foot, in the daylight.

And just when he's at his lowest, just when he cannot feel more defeated, he discovers Alfred's body on the floor.

Suddenly, Hugo's mannequin feels less like a gimmick to display his perverseness and more like foreshadowing (not to mention a direct link to Pre-Crisis Hugo's use of "Mandroids"). And if Catherine voiced Martha Wayne, it kind of makes you wonder just how much she knows too.

This violation is a level of psychological torture that no other villain has ever attempted, much less to this effective a result. Seriously, Hugo is an utter bastard, and it works. No other could jab the "my parents are DEAD!" wound better than Hugo.

Thankfully for Bruce, Hugo did not discover the cave (unlike Pre-Crisis Hugo), so that's where Bruce flees for solace, giving himself over to the bats and to the darkness. And even then, he can't turn off the thoughts raging through his mind:

While the Night Scourge continues his rampage, Bruce pulls himself together, remembering that Hugo Strange is behind it all, and that he can't let the dream die...

He dedicates the next three days to finishing construction on the Batmobile. On the last, with one day left on the Mayor's deadline, he calls up Gordon (who's already onto Max Cort) and proposes a plan. In another touch that yet again makes me think of how Dr. Hurt should have been Hugo Strange, Alfred tells Batman "God speed... for it's the Devil you face tonight."

It was an incredibly risky bluff, because Hugo could easily have called Batman "Bruce" with the police listening. Notice that Hugo's been caught, but he knows he hasn't been proven wrong either. Really, if his mask of sanity hadn't started slipping away here, he still might have been able to salvage this situation.

At Gordon's suggestion, Batman tracks down Max Cort and catches him changing into the Night Scourge costume. They battle, and at the decisive moment, Catwoman saves Batman's Bat-Bacon. Cort responds by panicking and fleeing.

In his panic, Cort exposes himself to his collages as the Night Scourge. He tries to kill Jim Gordon, and the other cops shoot Cort dead. Batman thinks it's because, as with Strange, the cops thought that Cort was the Batman. Therefore, just like Strange, Cort is consumed by the very anti-Batman hysteria he spread.

Realizing that Batman saved his daughter's life, the Mayor decides that the police's time and energy may be spent on better things than going after vigilantes. So at the end, it's a victory. Or at least, it's a gauntlet that has been passed. At least until the next one.

And with that last line, my thoughts once again turn to how perfectly this story would fit in the Nolanverse for The Dark Knight Rises. I still don't see it happening because most people just don't think of Hugo Strange as main villain material. Obviously, I disagree, but I don't represent your average film goer, nor even your average comic fan.

But either way, hey, maybe this'll finally encourage DC to put Prey back into print, along with Strange Apparitions. If I were an editor of collected editions at DC, I'd even throw in a bonus to the Prey TPB and include Moench's own Down to the Bone, because that one too deserves to be read and treasured.

This is Hugo's last appearance for about ten years, until Devin Grayson and Doug Monech decided to write their own sequels to Prey. Weirdly, I greatly prefer the former version to the latter, wherein Moench and Gulacy fail to recapture the lighting in a bottle. But we'll certainly be looking at both in the next couple posts.

Date: 2010-12-14 02:28 am (UTC)
aaron_bourque: default (Default)
From: [personal profile] aaron_bourque
Ah, but at the time this was written, it was surprisingly less a misinterpretation than it should have been.


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