It’s funny to me that, for as much as supervillains want to best Batman, they almost never seem to care who he is under the mask. It doesn’t matter really; they’re just as happy to keep battling against the Dark Knight and if they happen to get a peek underneath, all the better. I mean, how many times does someone knock him out and then tie him up only for him to awaken and find himself in the bad situation? None of them looked? It’s an interesting psychological study of the already mentally disturbed. However, when someone ELSE finds out Batman’s secret identity, three of Gotham’s most wicked seem willing to pay any amount to get the answer. This is the case in “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne.”
A storyline plucked right out of the comics, this episode introduces (in his sole appearance in TAS), Dr. Hugo Strange, one of the first supervillains to figure out Batman’s true identity. Dating back all the way to 1940 in issue #36 of Detective Comics, Strange is Gotham’s resident mad scientist, doing everything from letting loose a lightning machine to turning people into giant zombies, to spreading a fear powder, all before he was killed off in issue #46. Eventually, he was brought back in the 1970s and begins the scheme that is depicted for the most part in this episode here.
We begin with a woman waiting on a bridge at night, carrying a small case. She is met by a car full of typical Gotham gangsters. They’re there to make a trade: a video cassette for the woman’s case. It turns out, the woman, Judge Maria Vargas, doesn’t have enough money (light about $20,000. Did she think they wouldn’t notice?) and the thugs go to leave with the tape, but Batman arrives. While he defeats the thugs, Judge Vargas does a tumble off the bridge. She’s hurt and unconscious but not dead. Commissioner Gordon is particularly dismayed by this; he doesn’t know why she’d be in deep to anyone. The thugs’ car is registered to a weekend spa for mental health from which the judge has just returned. Batman goes off, plan in brain.
He’s going to check himself in as Bruce Wayne and investigate the retreat’s proprietor, the aforementioned Dr. Hugo Strange. Strange wastes no time (probably because these are short episodes) in putting Mr. Wayne into his special machine. In forcing patients to talk out their fears, his machine records a video version of their memories and he uses these to blackmail the wealthiest people in Gotham. He asks Bruce about his parents, about his own guilt in their death, and he asks what Bruce wants now. Bruce answers, unable not to, “revenge,” and the video screen shows the Bat symbol. This is all Dr. Strange needs.
He immediately calls three of Gotham’s worst criminals to come for an auction so he can make some moolah off of this. It makes sense; Bruce Wayne, being Batman, is not going to pay anything. Likelier he’ll just beat the snot out of Strange. But, if Strange sells the secret to someone who can do something about it, and not even tell Bruce Wayne, all the better. He calls up the Joker, the Penguin, and Two-Face who all hop on a plane with bags full of money.
Meanwhile, breaks into Strange’s lab whilst the scientist is away making his calls. He discovers the method behind the computer and decides he needs to set up his own plan. He gets into the machine and has himself a good ol’ think, removes the subsequent tape, then destroys the computer, only to be caught and tied up behind placed in a safe place for Strange to give away to the winner. However, Bruce is the smartest of cookies.
After a hefty bidding war, the three criminals decide to pool their resources and buy the tape’s contents outright. When watching the tape, all they see is Strange talking about what suckers the three supervillains are and how he’s going to make a fool out of them for believing him. Oh, bad luck, Hugo. Now that the gig is up, the three villains decide to fly Strange up in the air and drop him to his death for wasting their time. Batman can’t let that happen, of course. After everyone’s on the ground and arrested, Strange sees that maybe he didn’t know what he thought he knew after all.
This episode is great for a few reasons. 1) it, again, deals with this rarely-asked question of Batman’s secret identity. 2) it points out the utter ridiculousness of the idea of Bruce Wayne being Batman. When Strange blurts it out to save his own life, Joker and Two-Face are insulted he’d come up with such a clearly and obviously false premise. And 3) it features another great team-up between three of the best villains in the Rogues Gallery. In the comics, it was Joker, Penguin, and Rupert Thorne with the story ending with Thorne going crazy and admitting to his own crimes. This one couldn’t have ended that way, so a nice Two-Face addition does wonders. These three guys are rivals, but as we saw from “Almost Got ‘Im,” they like to hang out from time to time.
While the finding out of Bruce’s identity doesn’t make him all that nervous, it does offer the tiniest bit of backstory to Bruce’s scarred psyche. Next week, we’ll look at a two-part episode that gives the entire backstory to a different hero, and makes his plight and seeking of revenge the focal point. It’s “Robin’s Reckoning” next time.