One of the most exciting titles coming out of the DC Universe: Rebirth event of the past month is the newly revamped Batman, penned by writer Tom King and artist David Finch. We're two issues into the new run under the Rebirth banner, and last week's Batman #2 kicked the dynamic into high gear — introducing four new antagonists whilst calling back to an excellent entry in the series.
We're entering spoiler territory now, so if you haven't gotten around to reading Issues one and two of Batman yet then make like Joker and surf on outta here.
Issue one of the Rebirth Batman sees the Caped Crusader preparing to forfeit his own life to save a plane-full of people, but his self-sacrifice is interrupted by the arrival of two new superman-esque heroes sporting the monikers 'Gotham' and 'Gotham Girl'.
After stepping into to assist the Gotham duo in taking down Solomon Grundy at the beginning of Issue 2, a new threat reveals itself when an ex-army man named Bob Castro enters the office of Jim Gordon to confess to freeing Grundy during a transfer to Arkham Asylum. Before Gordon can learn any more information about the how and why of what Castro did, the man lifts a letter opener from Gordon's desk and stabs himself in the neck. His last words?
"The monster men are... coming. Aren't they... strange...?"
If you're familiar at all with the Batman back-catalogue you'll probably understand this reference, harkening back to a long running Batman villain and a classic comic book story from a decade back.
Hugo Strange and the Monster Men
This was of course a reference to Professor Hugo Strange, one of Batman's earliest recurring antagonists who appeared in the comic before even the Joker. First introduced in Detective Comics way back in 1940, Strange went on to to become one of Batman's most formidable nemeses, partly as he was the first to discover the true identity of the Caped Crusader. He also featured as one of the primary antagonists in Batman: Arkham City, alongside Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Ra's al Ghul.
Hugo Strange has long been associated with the concept of "monster men". One of his primary traits is his inhumane experiments, which turn ordinary men into huge zombie-like monsters possessing of superhuman strength and often cannibalistic inclinations. His subjects are often the criminally insane or unwilling kidnap victims, and he has numerous backstories depending on which continuity you're reading from.
One of the most famous Strange stories is entitled — you've guessed it — Batman and the Monster Men, written by Matt Wagner and released in 2006. This story takes place as part of the baseline DC continuity, set a year after Bruce Wayne has taken up the Batman mantle in Frank Miller's Batman: Year One.
Batman is still relatively new to the crime fighting game at this point, and he's only really come up against the ordinary side of the villainous: his primary targets being gangsters and street thugs. Batman and the Monster Men charts not only the first time Hugo Strange creates his Monster Men, but also the first time Batman faces off against properly monstrous villains.
Arguably it's the tipping point which changes him from a street vigilante to a fully fledged superhero, a path which leads eventually to the Justice League (and Batman kicking their collective asses on a regular basis). So it's a pretty important story and a notable moment in Batman's heroic development.
Strange Times Ahead For Batman
We didn't have to wait long after this tease to have our suspicions confirmed, as Hugo Strange himself popped up at the very end of the issue in a therapy session with a mysterious patient named Roger. But that's not the only surprise here.
Though we expected to see Strange appearing the minute we heard the words "monster men", what we didn't expect to see was the Professor standing side-by-side with Amanda Waller and Sam Lane (father of Lois Lane).
"Congratulations, Miss Waller", Sam Lane says, "You've finally saved Gotham City". This certainly seems to suggest that Waller has teamed up with Strange and the military in some fashion, but what exactly are they working on together? And will Roger become the first of Strange's monster men?
Speaking of Roger...
It's not yet clear exactly who this new character is, but writer Tom King confirmed to Newsarama that Roger is indeed a villain. If I had to guess, I'd bet that this is Roger Hayden — a.k.a. the second Psycho-Pirate.
Roger Hayden was a young man sent to jail after attacking his abusive father, where he hears of the existence of the Medusa Masks: Gold masks which allow the wearer to protect and manipulate the emotions of others. After being released from jail Hayden finds the masks and fuses them into one, using their powers to become a super-villain.
He messes with the Justice League and Bruce Wayne a few times, and played a big part in the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, in which he is notable as one of the few characters to keep their memory of the event after the universe is restored. These memories, however, eventually drive him insane, and he's later killed by Black Adam during Infinite Crisis. He briefly appeared in the New 52 as a member of the Twenty, but hasn't been seen since.
Psycho-Pirate deals in emotional states, so the fact that Strange appeared to be guiding him through a series of different emotions is a big hint. That and the fact that Rebirth has messed with the continuity once again. If Roger — like Wally West — can remember the ten years of continuity erased by Doctor Manhattan, it could explain why he's locked up in an asylum, and why Strange and Waller are so interested in him.
The Monster Men Crossover Event
Bringing it back to Hugo Strange now. Batman Issue 2 was pretty clearly a set-up for the upcoming "Monster Men" crossover, which is planned to span Batman, Detective Comics and Nightwing, beginning with Batman Issue 7 in September. According to King and Finch "the Gotham/Gotham Girl story" will be wrapped up by the end of Issue 6, ushering in the "Night of the Monster Men" crossover with the other titles.
More excitingly though, the "Monster Men" crossover event is set to bring in the rest of the Batfamily to combat the new foes. Batman, Batwoman and Nightwing will take to the streets of Gotham to try and stop the monster men from destroying the city, and we've had "a motorcycle death race" teased for Batman and Batwoman in Detective Comics #941— sign us up!
What do you think Hugo Strange is up to? Tell us in the comments below!
Sources: Newsarama (King and Finch interview).