I'm posting it here as the next part of my Hugo Strange series, as it was his only appearance in the ten years after Prey, and it's *also* tied to New Year's Eve.
In keeping with Batman: The Animated Series' treatment of villains, Hugo is given unprecedented character depth, sympathy, and a tragedy which matches (perhaps even rivals) the stories of Harvey Dent and Mr. Freeze.
But let's not kid ourselves. I know the main reason why folks love this story. It's a testament to the greatness of these comics that Hugo's sad story could run in the same issues as moments like this:
These scans are from the final issues of The Batman Adventures, #34, 35, and 36. The first part is written by Kelley Puckett, the last is by Ty Templeton, and the middle is by both. So it was essentially a passing-of-the-torch to the Templeton-helmed Batman & Robin Adventures. All these issues are awesome and should be collected, but especially this story.
For those who don't know, Hugo appeared in one episode of B:TAS: The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne (the only time since the original Golden Age appearances that people remembered Hugo having a misshapen skull), and while this story occurs after those events, it gets only the briefest of mentions. So treat it almost like a new intro to the character in this universe.
The main story, however, focuses on the familiar dance between Batman and Catwoman, how they can never peruse anything as long as they're on opposite sides of the law, etc. It's a reminder of their deadlock as characters, something which has been lost over the years. And rightly so, because characters should be allowed to develop, and it gets ridiculous to keep up dances like that and, say, Lois trying to prove that Clark is Superman. Character development is essential. Still, it's that sense of classic timelessness which made TAS so appealing.
But for now, we're skipping all that to focus on Hugo and his ex-wife. Wait, Hugo Strange was married? Sure, the possibility that Hugo was married (and divorced) had been raised in the post for Prey, but this is the closest we've EVER gotten to actually seeing a personal life for Hugo Strange, even if it is TAS' Hugo.
After that abrupt ending, I'm afraid I must hit you with a MASSIVE WALL O' TEXT to fill you in on what happens between this and the next scan. This is a testament to storytelling of Kelley Puckett (creator of Cass Cain), who crams tons of silent storytelling in a handful of panels. As such, in all my posts here, I've never had to go into so much detail to explain what happens between scans. So bear with me.
We cut to Batman catching Catwoman in the process of robbing a jewelry store. With no warning, Batman suddenly realizes he's on the ground, inside a bank, watching Hugo Strange run of with a bag of cash. How'd he get there? Where's Catwoman? What the hell happened?
Later, Bruce examines the security cameras, watching him attempt to foil Hugo's robbery, right before Hugo blasted him with the "prototype interference scrambler." None of which he remembers. It's as if those fifteen minutes of his life had never happened at all.
It's now December 31st (hey, that's today!). Hugo does not know why he must complete his new machine by midnight, only that he must. He fears that he's going mad, but dares not stop. He writes in his diary, "Several hours remain. The machine is complete, yet, as I feared, the quartz crystal has proven to be an inferior medium." Indeed, the quartz explodes, and Hugo realizes he needs something stronger. Something like a diamond.
Using his mind-erase ray, he steals a massive diamond from a museum that's currently being cased by Selina Kyle. She slips away, avoiding the ray, and manages to overheard Hugo's directions home to his cab driver. Thus, Hugo's on his way with the big honkin' diamond, and Catwoman's on his tail.
At his apartment, Hugo is confronted by Batman, who wants to know why a man would want to remove his own memories, putting them into a diamond for storage?
With desperation that we'd never see from Hugo Strange in the comics, he pleads, "Leave me alone! There's no time! It's almost midnight!"
And for Batman, that's when the sad, sobering realization sinks in.
In his panic, Hugo tries turning the ray on her, but Batman leaps in the way, taking the blast:
Catwoman blows up the machine, sending Hugo flying outside. Before the whole thing explodes, she carries out Batman's unconscious body, and them remembers, "Oh right. Giant diamond with Batman's memories! But more importantly, GIANT DIAMOND! Yoink!" and grabs it too.
Hugo, meanwhile, stumbles off, which leads into a near-wordless chain of pages that powerfully display the storytelling prowess of Puckett and the late, great Mike Parobeck:
At the risk of robbing this moment of its power, damn, David Strange really won the genetics lottery in that family, didn't he? Not that it helped him. Or Hugo, for that matter.
The next morning, Hugo's found sleeping in an alley, muttering how he "won't do it." Meaning he won't work for Rupert Thorne. When a couple of concerned citizens check to see if he's all right, Hugo attacks them.
It's like that Frank Miller Daredevil story where a brain-damaged Bullseye saw DD everywhere, only here's it's somehow more absurd yet more sad.
Meanwhile, back at Selina Kyle's apartment, she's beholds her two prizes: a ridulously huge diamond, and a brainwashed, unconscious Batman, dreaming of the time he was seven, and chased a rabbit toward a dark hole. Nothing further than that.
Selina considers her options. I mean, she could tell him who he really is, and that his memories are trapped on the giant diamond in her possession. But where would be the fun in that?
I love her look in that last panel. Is it guilt for her manipulation? Is she joyfully moved at the realization that she and Batman are finally on the same side as partners? Both? Neither? I leave it to you.
They hit the Herbert Rothchild Memorial Exhibit of jewelry (screw you, Herb! Eh, he wasn't going to miss those shiny things anyway), and thanks to Bruce retaining instinctual knowledge of his physical abilities, the heist goes off without a hitch! Yay, thievery!
There is so much "awwww" with Bruce in this storyline, you don't even know.
Selina plots their next heist--not realizing that this one's a trap being set by Commissioner Gordon and Robin--but Cat!Bruce is reluctant.
And you're a jerk, Selina. But then again, she has her reasons, which become more clear soon. But first, let's check in on how Hungry Hungry Hugo is doing:
Oh good, he seems to be getting better! Or not.
What was I saying about Selina? Oh, right! Her reasons for being a jerk!
Maybe you already figured them out, but it only became clear to me once Cat!Bruce ended up saving Selina from Robin's trap. Before this point, I saw her as just being a manipulative con artist. But when she sees Bruce sweeping in to her rescue, she joyfully exclaims to her kitty, "Isis! He followed me here! He cares!"
Thus, it's further evidence for the idea that she's not just acting out of mercenary interests, but also a desire to be with Batman, even if it's a lie. After all, once he gets his memory back, it'll all be over and they'll have to go right back to the deadlock dance. As long as she can keep her conscience down, I imagine she'd be content to keep Bruce the way he is.
Not that it could have lasted. After all, for all intents and purposes, he's still a seven-year-old kid. As I'm sure she was reminded while witnessing the "battle" between Robin and Cat!Bruce:
One of the all-time greatest pages in scans_daily history? Yes. Yes it is.
Robin convinces Bruce that they're friends, and tries to assess the situation.
The look on Robin's face says it all. Geez. Bruce never finds out the truth, which is probably for the best. After all, if he had, we wouldn't have had more moments like this:
Unfortunately, while he has all of Batman's physical skills, his seven-year-old mind is still prone to mistakes. Something has to be done, but according to Karl Rossum--the guy who created HARDAC, neither of whom have made it into regular DC continuity yet--fears that Batman's memories don't even exist anymore!
Batman's facial expressions are a welcome respite from the unrelenting sadness that is Hugo's backstory. Also, notice that this is the sole reference we get to his TAS appearance with the "blackmail machine." Therefore, it's interesting that we get no indications that Hugo remembers his discovery that Batman is Bruce Wayne. A byproduct of the memory erasing? Possibly.
Also, it's a nice touch having Rupert Thorne be the one responsible for David Strange's death and Hugo Strange's breakdown. It brings the Thorne/Strange dynamic to the TAS universe, only now it's far more personal and painful than mere revenge for "killing" Hugo himself. There's no sense of evil fun or catharsis to be gained from this revenge.
His story, as I've already said, is a tragedy. And it just keeps going.
Hugo hails a cab, calling the driver "David" and demanding to be taken to Thorne's penthouse. There seems to be no happy ending in sight, neither for Hugo or for Bruce, no matter what happens.
I've been trying and failing to articulate just how those panels hit me. "Poignant" doesn't seem to be evocative enough. It's the perfect way Templeton captures the child's mentality in how little Bruce expresses his feelings of betrayal and anger. Even without seeing Selina's face or even getting clues from her body language, you cannot help but feel how those words must have felt like a punch to the gut.
With the diamond and Rossum's help, Bruce regains his memories. Every single last one of them.
Remembering everything about David Strange, Batman realizes there's only one person that Hugo would be trying to see, and what's worse, the insane scientist has no compunctions about walking into the office of Gotham's #1 mobster.
God, there's still something so shocking about that kind of violence in a TAS-style setting. This scene--indeed, this whole story--would not have been nearly as effective in regular DCU, with more "realistic" art. I don't know about you, but for me, that "KRAK!" never fails to shock me.
Even now that Hugo's taken his revenge, the true tragedy of his hollow victory is revealed once Batman arrives.
Seriously. That has to be one of the saddest yet most humane tragedies to come out of TAS. Just as that show created a pillar of tragedy in Mr. Freeze, who was a blank one-note villain in the comics, so too have Puckett and Templeton created a rich, powerful story for Hugo Strange.
The difference is, Hugo's not really a villain here. He barely resembles the same character from The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne. In truth, there are no real villains in this story, not even the evil characters like Thorne. That's a hell of a thing in superhero comics, especially the supposed "kids" stories.
That said, if you didn't want to think Hugo could be rehabilitated and have a happy ending, this actually could serve as the basis for a fine Hugo Strange origin story in the regular DCU. The guy may have been nothing more than a scientific genius and subpar criminal, but now that his mind's been taken apart, who's to say this isn't what sets him on the path of being an insane master criminal, with issues of identity and women floating around in the back of his misshapen brain?
Believe me, I'd prefer this poor guy find some peace. But failing that, becoming an all-time great master villain isn't a bad second choice. Either way, we'll never know, as his only other appearance in the DCU is a brief cameo in Justice League Unlimited, where Hugo works for Cadmus. Apparently, he was intended to have a larger role, but the jerkwad producers of The Batman didn't want any shared Bat-characters in JLU. I'm still bitter about that.
So, with Hugo's sad story concluded, where does that leave Bruce and Selina?
Suddenly, the status quo has never seemed sweeter.
It's because of stories like this that I honestly consider the TAS comics--all four series--to be the greatest Batman comics of the past twenty-five years. Maybe if these comics ever actually had crossovers into the DCU or "mattered" in some way continuity-wise, more people would have cared.
As it is, I'm just glad I recently managed to complete my entire collection of The Batman Adventures, Batman & Robin Adventures, Batman: Gotham Adventures, and Batman Adventures, until DC finally wises up and reprints the whole series.
Happy New Year, folks! Drive safely, drink sensibly, and try not to get your memory wiped!