It's a storyline about political intrigue and corruption, of ghosts and paranoia, and the arc I present here is one that starts in a political rally and ends right in the Batcave itself. Even from the issues here, I can already tell this this was a sprawling tale compared to the tightness of Englehart's Strange Apparitions, from which it cribs extensively to the point of plagiarism at times, as you might be able to tell right away:
But for all that, it's still an intriguing Batman epic, one which has been lost in the shuffle of fan memory between O'Neill/Adams and Miller. If any of you have read the whole run, do chime in and let me know how it stands in your memory. And for those who haven't, let's take a look at subplot which most concerns the theme of these posts...
Note: these scans are from Batman #346, 354, 355, 356, and Detective Comics #510, 513, 518, and 520.
Batman's feeling about Hill show you right away that even the World's Greatest Detective can be damn wrong sometimes. Not to spoil you right away, but it's an interesting reminder of how human and fallible he used to be.
What grabs his attention is the last panel a store owner calling for help as a robber makes off with the cash, taking advantage of the rally's noise to slip away unnoticed. When Batman swings in and wallops the robber, reporters mistakenly assume he's breaking up the rally, and even question if that sniveling weasel Reeves is right!
Indeed, Reeves does make another mistake, and loses the election to Hill, who immediately carries out his campaign promise:
I wish I had the issue where Peter Pauling was introduced, so that we could have the appropriate "GASP!" reaction, but we can surmise that this is bad news all around.
So, Rupert Thorne is back after his mental breakdown at the end of Strange Apparitions! He seems to be in tip top shape too, able to maneuver his way back into Gotham's political world, now more powerful than before! With Gordon out and Pauling in place, things look even more grim for Gotham once Batman went missing for a week (later revealed to have been kidnapped by Two-Face and his one-time HenchGirlfriend).
Hill should be pleased, but tensions continue to mount:
Ha-ha, he's back! Or is he?
Remember, they were never clear about the nature of the Hughost in Strange Apparitions, which is probably part of that story's enduring appeal. The best explanation we could get was that the ghost was indeed real, since Batman fleetingly saw it in passing.
Plus, don't forget, Rupert Thorne actually saw the dead body of Hugo Strange in the first place. Y'know, back when he killed Strange.
Among the many subplots in this year-long story is Vicki Vale's, who gathers evidence that Bruce Wayne is Batman. However, this evidence finds its way into Rupert Thorne's hands. And so, in another move that directly recalls Strange Apparitions, he hires a certain professional for the job:
Unfortunately for Vicki and Thorne's theories at that particular moment, the Bruce Wayne Deadshot's after is, in fact, the Human Target in disguise as Bruce Wayne! He was hired at the behest of Alfred while Batman recovered from a nasty case of vampirism.
I was actually hoping to find scans of that, if only for the part where Vamp!Batman lunges at Alfred and says that he has "terrible urges... urges I can't control!" Classic "Context For The Weak" panel if ever I saw one.
So when Batman and Bruce Wayne are seen in the same room together fighting Deadshot, that pretty much kills Vicki's theory and Thorne's "proof." But he's a tough guy. He's not worried about reprisals from Deadshot. He's never been afraid of Batman. When you're Rupert Thorne, Boss of Gotham, what is there to worry about?
In frantic desperation, Thorne spills the entire story to Dr. Thirteen, every criminal detail, except for insisting that Strange's death was entirely an accident. Thirteen smells the bullshit, but can't resist a good ghost story to debunk.
Going further inside Greytowers, Dr. Thirteen discovers Hugo's secret lab, seemingly abandoned along with everything else:
Zoinks! And finally, someone else has actually witnessed the Hughost firsthand, up close and directly! So it's not all in Thorne's mind! But if that's the case, what does that mean for Dr. Thirteen? What could the vengeful spirit of Hugo Strange do to him?
Jinkies! (... Okay, I'm done.)
Meanwhile, Pauling and Hill have enough of their minds just trying to hold their power while Jim Gordon and Jason Bard are bearing down on them with proof of election fraud. And just when things couldn't get bad enough, who should bust in, soaked outwardly in rainwater and inwardly with booze, armed, pissed, and paranoid as hell...
After that literally breathless climax, the wheels of justice finally turn by the next day...
Perhaps Hill was sincere in his belief that he was acting for the greater good, which may have been what Batman sensed in him earlier, but Jim still rightly nailed him in his assessment.
Perhaps that's why the two would still clash in stories after this one, particularly once Hill hires a corrupt cop to spy on Gordon and dug up any dirt that could be used against him. That new cop turns out to be Harvey Bullock. So you can imagine how well that turned out for Hill.
If you'd like a glimpse at the original Bullock saga, you can find it here at the Nothing But Batman blog. You gotta love any character whose very first line of dialogue is "Belch!" Later on, Bullock accidentally gives Gordon a stroke with a snakes-in-a-can prank. I can't decide if that's awesome or absurd.
But far as we're concerned, that wraps up the Strange Saga of Rupert Thorne. He did indeed go to Blackgate, where he's been incarcerated ever since, making only one other appearance since 1982. And with Pauling dead, it appears to be another case where evil has consumed itself. So it's a happy ending for all.
WHATTATWEEST! I mean, really, as if Pauling and Hill were clever enough to construct such an elaborate holographic device and mimic Hugo's voice!
But then again, Thorne was there when Strange died! He saw the body, so he could be forgiven for not even considering the possibility that Hugo survived. So that raises a question of how, which will be addressed soon enough.
But I'll save that for the next post, which I'll dedicate to a one-two punch of stories: first, a finale to this subplot by Conway himself, and a standalone epic by Doug Moench that pulled a Daredevil: Born Again literally one month before the first part of D:BA actually hit shelves.
This is where Batman's original arch-nemesis finally steps up his game. Professor Hugo Strange is back.