The second act of Batman: Zero Year has just begun. We've seen Bruce Wayne become Batman for the first time as he fought the Red Hood Gang. Unfortunately his victory was a little short lived as Riddler made his first public appearance, shrouding Gotham City in complete darkness.
In this darkness (and in BATMAN #25), we're seeing a strange new case for Batman to deal with. There have been some murders with the bodies left in a pretty strange and gruesome fate. As Batman and the Gotham City Police Department (separately) try to uncover who is responsible, this is going to lead to Batman meeting a old enemy for the first time.
There will be some spoilers from BATMAN #25, so be sure to read that issue first!
The murders in question were scientists for Wayne Enterprises.
After managing to obtain samples from the crime scenes, Bruce is able to figure out that a formula was injected into the victims, which caused them to be "ripped apart from the inside." Digging deeper, he finds that the formula was created at Wayne Enterprises by a man named Doctor Karl Helfern.
Hellfern would become known as "Doctor Death." As a scientist, he had been experimenting with a "death by pollen" formula in order to blackmail the wealthy citizens of Gotham. If they refused to pay tribute, they would die.
Knowing that "the Bat Man" was bound to be attracted to this sort of dastardly plan, Hellfern knew he'd be wise to deal with him sooner rather than later.
Doctor Death placed an ad in newspaper with a message for Batman. He simply stated the time and place where he would commit a murder and challenged him to try to stop him without the aid of the police.
This was a trap of course. Batman was greeted by a couple thugs and Hellfern's right hand man, Jabah.. Batman was shot but managed to escape. (Interestingly enough, because Alfred wasn't originally part of Bruce's life at this point, Bruce had to go to the family doctor in order to get patched up).
In a later encounter, it appeared that Doctor Death met a fiery death himself.
Of course this wasn't the end of Doctor Death. He did return for another round with Batman...the very next issue!
Hellfern managed to escape his burning laboratory through a secret door. Needing funds to reestablish himself, he set a new scheme to steal diamond and jewels from a rich widow. Batman figured out his scheme and managed to stop him, only to discover that Doctor Death was disfigured from the fire.
Hellfern wasn't scarred but was bound to a wheelchair. He released a "strange silvery dust" upon the city which would cause a rash and burning of the skin. The citizens would then weaken and pass out until their eventual death. Hellfern had an antidote for those willing to pay.
He eventually got a taste of his own medicine (or a taste of his own poison) but instead of being disfigured, he broke out in hives when given the antidote.
In BATMAN #25, Helfern (again, with one "L") is a different story altogether. Bruce wasn't sure what exactly his story was and whether or not it was Uncle Philip that hired him.
His appearance is also pretty different. With his motives unknown, we'll have to wait until BATMAN #26 to find out what he's after. It does appear he could have a similar motive to his Golden and Silver Age appearances. He seems determined to make the citizens of Gotham City pay. This could be purely for monetary gain if he plans on blackmailing them. But killing other Wayne Enterprise scientists almost gives him the angle of seeking revenge. Unless those scientists were getting in the way of his research.
There is also the question of what caused his appearance? It could be the result of his own carelessness in his research. Chances are he blames others for his appearance.
Whatever the case is, it was an interesting choice for Scott Snyder to take such an obscure character and throw him into the Zero Year mix. It'll be interesting to see what today's readers think of this new (old) villain.