Batman has one of the most colorful and memorable armies of enemies in all of superhero comics, rivaled only by the Flash and Spider-Man. And most of Batman’s enemies are, in many respects, just normal (if mentally ill) people with weird gimmicks. But there are a few of Batman’s enemies that do have some kind of superpowers. Most noteworthy of the superhuman may be the likes of Clayface and Mr. Freeze. That hasn’t stopped other creators from trying to find some new superhuman opponents to take on the Batman, some more memorable than others.
Among those somewhat memorable ones, there’s Dr. Phosphorus, a radioactive guy who is perpetually on fire.
Dr. Phosphorus started life in May of 1977 as Dr. Alex Sartorius in Detective Comics #469 by Steve Englehart. A member of the Tobacconists Club of Gotham City, Sartorius was looking to start a nuclear power plant, and to that end, he was asking for financial help from the Tobacconists Club chairman, Gotham mob boss Rupert Thorne.
Yeah, that’s right. He hung out with mob bosses…and smokers!
However, the people of Gotham didn’t want a nuclear power plant nearby. That forced Sartorius to take the plant far outside the city. An accident there involving radioactive sand that had converted from silicon to phosphorus turned Sartorius into Dr. Phosphorus, a radioactive being perpetually on fire. His clothes burned away, and his skeleton was visible. Also, future incarnations would show he was still a smoker. But I suppose if you are a radioactive monster-man, lung cancer is the least of your concerns.
His first plan was to try and poison Gotham’s water supply, but Batman managed to foil that. Then Thorne hired Phosphorus to take out Batman, a plan that also failed and ended with Phosphorus’s falling into the nuclear reactor of his own plant and presumably dying in the resulting explosion.
He wasn’t. During Underworld Unleashed, Phosphorus sold his soul to the demon Neron for the ability to control his body heat and not burn through his clothes. That sounds much better than asking the demon for a cure, but what do I know? From there, Phosphorus would go on to match wits with, well, not Batman. No, for some reason, writer James Robinson made him a regular adversary for the Golden Age Starman Ted Knight, a confrontation that ended more or less when Knight dropped Phosphorus down into a deep chasm but not before Phosphorus gave Knight a dose of radiation that would eventually kill the old man (sort of, Starman is a great series that I highly recommend).
Phosphorus survived the fall, with a scientist later claiming that whatever was human in Sartorius burned away a long time ago, and he was something of an inspiration for the Batman Beyond character of Derek “Blight” Powers.
From there, he’s basically that burning guy Batman has to take on once in a while when the Corrosive Man was busy.
Wait, the Corrosive Man? Oh, I think I know who the next entry in this series will be.