Think of Batman’s greatest villains and who comes to mind? No doubt the Joker is there at the top, along with the Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin, Two-Face, Ra’s Al Ghul, Scarecrow, and Poison Ivy as the A-list, with room even for the likes of Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Mad Hatter, and
KGBeast Ventriloquist to round it out. Maybe throw in a few more recent additions, such as the Court of Owls and Harley Quinn, and you’ve got a group of varied and interesting villains for the hero, a rogues gallery that is arguably the best in the industry.
Seldom will someone bring up Hugo Strange, however, and that’s a shame; of all of Batman’s adversaries, he’s been around the longest, predating even the Joker. Sure, Bats scuffled with a few forgettable and nameless thugs early on in his career when his character was still being refined and honed into the hero we would come to know and love, but the first one to make an impact was the mad Professor Strange.
In the past few decades, the character has made sporadic but memorable appearances, most notably in the classic Legends of the Dark Knight arc Prey and Matt Wagner’s Batman and the Monster Men. It’s the former story, where Strange deduces that Batman must really be Bruce Wayne, that has defined the character, weird obsessions and off-model Batsymbols notwithstanding. The past few years have brought about a sort of renaissance as well, with Strange featuring prominently in Arkham City and joining the cast of Gotham. It’s fitting, then, for Jeff Parker to use him in the context of Batman ’66, and having him be the main thread to tie the worlds of the Caped Crusader and the agents of U.N.C.L.E. together works perfectly.
After a few brief appearances in the main title, Hugo Strange is finally used to his full villainous potential in Batman ’66 Meets the Man From U.N.C.L.E. as he is revealed to be the mysterious Corvid. His plan? Not world domination, but unity.
Well, world domination through the use of psychology, but semantics, right?
I’m sure there will be some sort of missile/death ray/laser used to hold some country/city/monument ransom at some point, which I’m a hundred percent in support of*, it’s just refreshing to see a different spin put on the world domination trope.
To reach his ends, Strange does lots and lots of research on Batman, his rogues, the men from U.N.C.L.E. and anyone else he can to best craft his plan. The heroes will be the trustworthy “face” to draw people to his ideals, and Kuryakin and Solo will encourage their agency to join T.H.R.U.S.H. in reaching a common goal. It’s pretty clever, but the best part is the rogues’ indignation at being profiled:
I don’t know why, but Siren being so offended at his breach of confidentiality is hysterical.
The script is pretty smart, with snappy quips and some self-aware ribbing of the usual cliches and tropes of the genre. Parker’s always had a good handle on the fun aspect of these books, and here he proves he may be able to spin a pretty solid, straight spy yarn.
The strength of the script is a boon, as there isn’t much action here. It’s a really dialogue-heavy installment, but everything is interesting. Not once does the issue drag, even with what amounts to an extended monologue taking up a vast majority of the book.
That said, it’s still mostly exposition, given that this is the penultimate installment and they need to set up the final conflict. Naturally, Strange’s ends don’t quite justify his means, as he plans to brainwash everyone on Earth to align with him and his idea of a great society.
Well, he tried.
It’s the profiling sessions performed on our heroes that provide the best visuals of the issue, with Hahn, Kesel, and MadPencil breaking out some genuinely trippy colors and psychedelic images.
There’s also a pretty solid analysis of Bruce Wayne’s motivations and the character of Batman in general, so bonus.
I’d originally ended this review with a lamentation that after next month the future of Batman ’66 was uncertain, and then the very next morning they announce the next crossover. So take heart, chums: the final page here promises an exciting closing chapter for this story, and we have to wait but a month before getting more.
- You love Batman ’66.
- You love The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- You’re a big Hugo Strange fan.
Overall: A wordy installment with strong dialogue and some genuinely creative visuals, this book is fun. Flat-out entertaining, even comforting, every element works to make this both a tongue-in-cheek superhero tale and a pretty credible spy thriller as well.
*In a spy comic. I do not support global domination and/or death rays.