While costumed heroes all seemed to take off pretty quickly in the grand scheme of things, costumed villains were apparently not a thing right away. As such, characters like Superman and Batman initially fought against gangsters, foreign spies, corrupt businessmen and politicians, and mad scientists. Most of those were very much the real thing in the real world, so perhaps the mad scientist character type was the prototype for the real supervillain. Most of these characters were more or less forgotten after a period, but a couple have managed to hang around.
Take, for example, the Batman foe Professor Hugo Strange.
Hugo Strange first appeared in Detective Comics #36 in a story from Batman creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane. That was February of 1940. Keep in mind the Joker didn’t appear until April of that year, so Hugo beat out the Clown Prince of Crime when it came to reoccurring Batman villains.
Oh, Strange wasn’t the first character with any kind of supervillain name to face off against the Caped Crusader. Characters like Dr. Death and the Mad Monk came earlier. But this is about Hugo Strange. What was his deal?
Well, he was a genius chemist who managed to morph some hapless types into “Monster Men,” giant, massively strong men who could go out and commit crimes for him. Batman managed to stop them, using a bit more lethal force than we normally accept from him. Strange appeared to fall to his death at the end of that story, and there are a lot more details there, but that’s the basic story: Strange made the Monster Men, Batman defeated them, and Strange appeared to die.
Really, he’d be a forgettable character if it wasn’t for one little thing: Hugo Strange might know Bruce Wayne is Batman.
Yes, and that is more or less how every Hugo Strange story since then has gone. His personal focus moved from chemistry to psychology, and he uses those skills to figure out Batman’s real name, and then maybe Batman does something to fool Strange later into doubting his own (correct) conclusions.
By the by, Matt Wagner’s Batman and the Monster Men, retelling the original Golden Age story is really good stuff.
Now, that said, Hugo Strange does appear from time to time in other mediums.
He’s been in the Arkham video game series.
He’s been on the live action series Gotham as portrayed by actor BD Wong.
And he’s been on a few Batman cartoons, like Batman the Animated Series.
Though I will make a note of another animated series appearance, namely on The Batman.
Why that one? Well, he was initially voiced by actor Frank Gorshin, best known for playing the Riddler on the 60s Batman series. That’s kinda neat.
So, really, this is a guy whose whole thing is he might know who Batman is.
Considering how many of Batman’s regular foes would love that bit of information, he hasn’t done too shabby for himself.