Doctor Death (comics)
Doctor Death and Batman, Detective Comics #29,
artist Bob Kane
|First appearance||Detective Comics #29
|Created by||Gardner Fox (writer)
Bob Kane (artist)
|Alter ego||Doctor Karl Hellfern|
|Team affiliations||Science Squad|
Doctor Death is a mad scientist and supervillain appearing in publications by DC Comics. The character was created by either Gardner Fox or Bob Kane as an enemy of the superhero Batman, and first appeared in Detective Comics #29, released July 1939. He is notable as the first traditional supervillain to be encountered by the Batman, as well as his first recurring foe.
In his first appearance in Detective Comics #29, Doctor Death develops a lethal chemical agent from pollen extract and enacts a plan to use the poison to extort money from wealthy Gotham City citizens. He is assisted by a large East Indian manservant, Jabah. He decides to eliminate Batman, and threatens to kill someone unless Batman stops him. Batman defeats his two henchmen, but is wounded by a bullet from Jabah, though he escapes using a gas pellet. He then gets to Death's base, meeting him in his lab, and chases him around the building. In an attempt to evade capture by Batman, Doctor Death ignites chemicals in his laboratory, presumably killing Jabah and himself in the resulting explosion. Doctor Death next appears the following month in Detective Comics #30. With a new accomplice, a Cossack named Mikhail, Doctor Death is this time successful in claiming a victim in his extortion scheme, but discovers from the widow that the poisoned man lost his fortune in the Great Depression. Batman intervenes in the plot, following Mikhail back to Death's base, and upon apprehending the doctor, discovers that Doctor Death's face is horribly disfigured from the lab explosion, resulting in a brown, skeletal appearance.
The scriptwriter for Detective Comics #29 and 30 is an issue of dispute, leaving the creator of Doctor Death uncertain. Batman creator Bob Kane is officially credited as scriptwriter of these issues, though later Gardner Fox, the scriptwriter of Detective Comics #31 and 32, claimed authorship.
Bronze Age revival
After several decades' absence, Doctor Death was reintroduced by writer Gerry Conway in Batman #345 and Detective Comics #512 (1982). Conway's story is an update of the original 1939 tale. In this version, Doctor Death is depicted as a paraplegic, but his deadly gas gimmick remains the same. He is assisted this time by a manservant named Togo.
Doctor Death was revived once again in Batgirl #42-44 and #50 (2003–2004) by writer Dylan Horrocks. Updated for an era of increased terrorism awareness, the modern Doctor Death is a producer of biological weapons, often selling them on the black market to terrorists and other criminals. He is now depicted as a bald, gnome-like man wearing a lab coat and an oxygen mask. This incarnation of Doctor Death plays a minor role in Batman: War Games, Act Three where he is seen working with the crime lord Black Mask, releasing a gas into a crowd of panicking gangsters. Batman suspects that he and Black Mask are attempting to wipe out their competition.
Doctor Death remains active in the DC Universe following the events of Infinite Crisis. In the second issue of 52, he is mentioned as one of many mad scientists who have gone missing. He is depicted later in the series among other captured scientists and mad geniuses on Oolong Island that make up the Science Squad.
He was seen joining forces with Black Mask again in Batman #692, in his Ministry of Science.
The New 52
In The New 52, a reboot of the DC Comics universe, a new version of Doctor Death makes an appearance in Batman #25 as part of the story arc Batman: Zero Year. He is once again established as one of the first supervillains encountered by Batman early in his career. A disgruntled former Wayne Enterprises scientist, Doctor Death murders several people with a serum that causes uncontrolled bone growth. He is depicted with a skeletal appearance, a result of testing his serum on himself. Doctor Death joins forces with the Riddler to try and seize control of Gotham City during a super-storm.
In Batman #29 (2014), it is revealed that Hellfern created his bone serum in an attempt to eliminate human weakness. This was motivated by the death of his son, a soldier who had been sent to locate the missing Bruce Wayne overseas. Doctor Death battles Batman aboard a blimp in the midst of the storm. He is struck by shrapnel from an explosion, which causes his mutated bones to begin growing again, seemingly killing him.
A different character named Doctor Death appears in Doom Patrol (Vol. 1) #107 (November 1966). In Sandman Mystery Theatre #21 (December 1994) Wesley Dodds encounters a serial killer named "Dr. Death." This Dr. Death is responsible for euthanizing his elderly patients (in a reference to Jack Kevorkian).
- "The Batman Meets Doctor Death". Detective Comics #29, July 1939. The Batman Archives Volume 1. New York: DC Comics, 1990. 22-31.
- Detective Comics #30, August 1939. The Batman Archives Volume 1. New York: DC Comics, 1990. 32-42.
- Daniels, Les. Batman: The Complete History. Chronicle Books, 1999. ISBN 0-8118-4232-0, pg. 18.