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BATMAN #25 - Who is Bruce Wayne's New (Old) Enemy?

The lights are out in Gotham City (courtesy of Riddler) and out of the shadows comes a new (old) enemy for Batman.

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.

There was a character named Doctor Karl Hellfern that appeared back in DETECTIVE COMICS #29, in 1939. (Thankfully the spelling of his named was changed as the original was a little cheesy).

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.

In later appearances, Doctor Death's story was changed slightly. In BATMAN #345 and DETECTIVE COMICS #512, Hellfern's plan to blackmail the rich citizen's of Gotham was revealed.

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.

33 Comments
Posted by Al_capOWN

Anyone know where I can buy Detective Comics 29?

Edited by Wardishy

@al_capown Comixology has those old Detective Comics issues, starting with 27 and going up. Cheap too. You'll find it as #28-29 in Detective Comics (1937-2011).

Posted by anthonyhillman

Doctor Death also showed up in Tony Daniel's Batman run working with Black Mask, Hugo Strange and Fright to create a new version of the Reaper.

Posted by PunyParker

Doctor Death....catchy...

Posted by doombot890

This is probably the only series from the new 52 that actually makes sense and doesn't leave me thinking that DC tried to make all the characters act like Marvel's Ultimate version of themselves (being total dicks) and failed

Posted by Wilbertus

I've said it before, but my gripe with this issue was that there was too little Riddler. I was hoping that the blackout and the Riddler would have a more direct effect on the story.

That being said, I did really enjoy the story as more of a 'Batman vs. Doctor Death prelude' if you will. I didn't know the character, but I expected that a guy with a name so obvious had to have come from older issues. It's really cool that you digged this up. I really like the way they portrayed him in Batman #25 too. I'm really curious to see where Snyder will take it from here, but I trust that it will be awe-inspiring.

Posted by dannymalt

Good article. Very interesting, I had no idea the history of this Dr. Death character.

Posted by etragedy

I'm always surprised by people who claim to be Batman fans and they've never heard of Doctor Death.

Doctor Death was Batman's first arch-nemesis. For those interested I recommend reading both Detective Comics #29 as mentioned above and Detective Comics #30, which has 'The Return of Doctor Death'.

Those issues are also essential reading because they have other firsts too, including the first use of the utility belt, and the first appearance of the Batmobile!

Edited by iceslick

@etragedy: It's pretty easy for Batman fan to not know who he is especially in this day and age, because all his villain history is in 33 issues, he's never made a cartoon, TV, movies or video game appearances. Most people aren't gonna care about a character that's barely been used. Even when the utility belt and the batmobile has marked more of a history than the villain himself neither is everyone that old to had a hand of a comic book that came out in the 1940's. It's especially even harder to read older comics because they aren't in stores unless there's real hard value in it and they have yet to be all digitize or been put in a volume. Thankfully, they have this one and I might go read up on it.

@g_man: Thanks for telling us this info Tony! I'm really glad you did this because as you can see not many people know who he is. I didn't know who he was and I just thought he was a new villain and I totally forgot he made an appearance in Justice League Beyond #18. I think he barely made his appearance known since he died in that issue. I gotta read it again. This is the main reason I like the New 52 because it's a chance to get a better and newer interpretation of old characters especially if they haven't been used since the 40's. But there are times when new interpretations don't work and they become worst than the old. But I doubt with Scott Snyder hands it will get into that situation so I won't talk about that. I wonder what Snyder will do with Dr. Death next because his whole entire run especially zero year has been amazing!

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Posted by Mrgreenlantern

Dr.Death on the last page is one scary dude.. show that to the kids if they dont go to bed =p

Posted by etragedy

@iceslick: Actually the Doctor Death issues are reprinted in Batman Chronicles found in most comic book stores in America, as well as most major bookstores. It's also been digitized and are available on Kindle and other e-readers.

Posted by iceslick

@etragedy: Ok cool, thanks for letting me know. I might check those too then.

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Edited by kaiklown
Posted by StMichalofWilson

Interesting

Posted by Tavo5691

@al_capown: Wait like 4 months and you´ll find in your LCS xD

Edited by War Killer

After reading Batman #25 I thought the whole thing with Doctor Death was a bit random, but I'm curious as to where Snyder plans on taking this story. The twist at the end with Lucius Fox was a big surprise and I'm really interested as to how he and Bruce go from where issue #25 left off to the close relationship they have in the present day.

Edited by MadeinBangladesh

I didn't know the character at all, maybe that's why I didn't like this issue that much.

Posted by tupiaz

Interesting that Snyder is taking old characters and update them. I think this is a very good way to approach comics. There are so many old characters that haven't been used much and can be updated and giving new elements instead of just creating new characters.

@etragedy: Then it's good to have you as an fan police that can tell us who are the right fans and who are the wrong. People don't know every character.

@g_man: Thanks for a good article that gave information about some obscure Batman mythos. I would like to see more articles like this in the future the character doesn't real matter.

Posted by CrazyScarecrow

@iceslick: Yeah but today we also have sites like Wikipedia or Comic Vine to provide this kinda of information about these obscure characters.

@etragedy:I am surprised when people who call themselves Batman fans don't know that Alfred was never originally there for Bruce.

Edited by etragedy

@etragedy:I am surprised when people who call themselves Batman fans don't know that Alfred was never originally there for Bruce.

It's because of movies. If it happened in a cartoon or movie, then it must be true.

Same reason why they don't know Batman's first recurring foe. If they weren't in a cartoon or movie, they never existed.

Posted by iceslick

@crazyscarecrow: The problem with that is you have to hear of name Dr. Death in order to begin searching about the villain. The name is not gonna magically appear someone's head these days. They gotta have to something that relevant to new medium in order to get to the approach.

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Posted by CrazyScarecrow

@iceslick: Or they could go through all the old issues the site has information on and click upon one of the first Batman Detective Comic appearances and land on the issue with Dr. Death. That or you could also look up a history of Batman and villains on the internet. Though I do see what you are saying a bit.

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