Victor Zsasz

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Victor Zsasz
a bald white man, shirtless, his torso covered in tally marks.
Zsasz on the cover of Batman: Streets of Gotham #4 (November 2009). Art by Dustin Nguyen.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1 (June 1992)
Created by Alan Grant
Norm Breyfogle
In-story information
Team affiliations Secret Society of Super Villains
Notable aliases Mr. Zsasz
Abilities Extremely cunning
Strength and agility typical of a dedicated athlete
Unpredictability

Victor Zsasz (/ˈʒæz/ or /ˈzæz/) is a fictional supervillain who appears in comic books published by DC Comics, usually as an enemy of Batman. He is a serial killer[1] who usually kills with a knife and carves a tally mark somewhere on himself for every victim.

Fictional character biography[edit]

Zsasz first appeared in Shadow of the Bat #1 (1992) as part of the Batman: The Last Arkham four-part story arc, and his origin story was told in Batman Chronicles #3 (1996); both stories were written by Alan Grant and drawn by Norm Breyfogle. As revealed in the foreword to the trade paperback form of The Last Arkham, Zsasz's name is derived from that of psychiatrist Thomas Szasz; Grant saw the name while visiting a library.[2]

Origin story[edit]

In Batman Chronicles #3, told by Zsasz himself, it is learned that Victor Zsasz was the head of his own international company and had amassed a large personal fortune in addition to his family's wealth. At the age of 25 his parents died in a boating accident, sending him into a deep depression. He turned to gambling, losing money in competitions around the world. One night, he ended up in a Gotham City casino known as the Iceberg Lounge, where he gambled everything he owned and ended up losing it all to the Penguin; afterwards he saw that his life was empty, driven by desire, and there was no point to his existence. While he was attempting to commit suicide by jumping from Gotham Bridge, a homeless man tried to assault him with a knife after he refused to give him money. Instinctively grabbing the knife, Zsasz saw in the man's eyes that all life is meaningless and that nothing nor anyone matters. He then proceeded to stab the man to death as a "gift" for saving his life. From then on, he dedicated himself to "liberating" others from their pointless existence (Zsasz often refers to victims as "zombies"). He usually preys on young women, but has no qualms over whom he murders. He slits his victims' throats and leaves them in lifelike poses, adding a tally mark to himself each time. He has been diagnosed as insane and is regularly incarcerated in Arkham Asylum courtesy of Batman, breaking out on occasion to carry on killing.

Later story arcs[edit]

During his debut appearance in Batman: Shadow of the Bat's opening story arc, Batman: The Last Arkham, Zsasz bribes a contractor to include a secret passage leading out from his cell during the asylum's reconstruction under its new head, Jeremiah Arkham, who inherited the asylum from his uncle, Amadeus Arkham. Although Zsasz is restrained during the daytime when he is being treated personally by Jeremiah Arkham, he is brought back to his cell at night where he would leave the asylum through the secret passage, unbeknownst to the night guards. After murders fitting his modus operandi begin surfacing, Batman and Commissioner James Gordon fake Batman's insanity in order to get him inside the asylum and investigate Zsasz. Jeremiah Arkham is exceptionally brutal towards Batman, who had supposedly murdered a police officer; over the course of the "treatment", Zsasz had warped Jeremiah's mind and turned him into a mere henchman. Due to these continuous conversations with Jeremiah Arkham, Zsasz realises Batman is a plant and subsequently murders both the contractor and another inmate at Arkham who knows of Zsasz's ploy. Both Nightwing and Batman catch up to Zsasz when he tries to escape for the final time and put him back in Arkham.[2]

Zsasz later appears in Part 3 and 4 of the Knightfall saga. In Part 3 of Knightfall, Zsasz takes an all-girls boarding school hostage and holds the students at knife point until Batman arrives, briefly leaving to kill two police officers who were sent to arrest him. Though weakened both physically and mentally due to the strain of pushing himself for so long to capture the escaped inmates, Batman fights with Zsasz and tries to ignore the lunatic's mockery. He finally snaps, after Zsasz says that they are really one and the same, and administers a savage beating.[3][4] In part 4, Zsasz's appearance is a mere cameo, depicting him being led out of the boarding school by police and Harvey Bullock personally threatening him.

During the No Man's Land storyline, Zsasz is a patient in Dr. Leslie Thompkins' field hospital for a brief while, proving to be eminently deadly even when unconscious and strapped to a stretcher when he manages to open one of the arteries of a field orderly with his fingernails. Once he wakes up, he is confronted by Dr. Thompkins, whose utter selfless charity sharply contrasts with his total emptiness; she briefly gives him pause, but is finally repelled by his profound evil.[5]

Zsasz later appears in Detective Comics #796, where he fights Stephanie Brown in her role as Robin. He attempts to slit her throat, but is distracted by her unexpected ferocity and falls back, where he attacks and attempts to kill Batman. However, Stephanie eventually defeats him.

Zsasz makes a brief appearance in Infinite Crisis #7. He is part of the Secret Society of Supervillains and is one of the many of their members sent to attack the city of Metropolis. The Society loses.

Zsasz is not seen in any major villainous role again until Detective Comics #815, released in March 2006, entitled "Victims". Before a quarterly psychiatric review, Zsasz kills his guards with metal poles attached to his neck bracket and escapes to kill again. Batman hunts for Zsasz, which proves unsuccessful until Zsasz gains access to a charity event (attended by Bruce Wayne) and stabs his beloved butler, Alfred Pennyworth, in the stomach. Wayne drives Alfred to the hospital, saving his life. To lure Zsasz to him, Wayne holds a press conference in which he announces that Alfred is still alive. Having already made a scar for Alfred, Zsasz realises that his tally is off by one (Zsasz remarks: "My skin... it's crawling... every inch of it feels... wrong.") During the second part of "Victims" (Detective Comics #816), after a fight with Batman, Zsasz proceeds to the hospital to finish off Alfred. Batman catches him off-guard and knocks him unconscious, thus saving Alfred's life and sending Zsasz back to Arkham. Throughout this appearance, Cliff Chiang's artwork portrays Zsasz with visual elements commonly associated with the skinhead subculture, including work boots resembling Doc Martens, tight jeans, a white tank top, suspenders or "braces," and a close-cropped hairstyle. Additionally, Chiang's portrayal of Zsasz is more outwardly physically imposing than the gaunt, wiry physique created by Breyfogle and favored by most subsequent artists. No dialogue in the story arc references Zsasz being a skinhead nor does it explain his increased musculature, and it is likely these visual elements were the decision of the artist.

Zsasz is later seen again in the Gotham Underground story arc where, in issue 3, he appears in a disguised Batman's cell at Blackgate Prison and attempts to kill him with a knife. He ends up cutting Batman's arm just as he was waking up and the resulting fight ends with Zsasz being knocked unconscious and Batman being rushed to the hospital.

A naked, desperate and totally deranged Zsasz appeared in the first issue of Batman: Cacophony (2008), written by film director Kevin Smith, killing a young couple and threatening their children before Batman subdues him. His thoughts move so quickly that there are no spaces between the words. In the issue, Batman says that of all the criminals he fights, he hates Zsasz the most.

In the Battle For The Cowl storyline, Zsasz is recruited by a new Black Mask into a group of villains aiming to take over Gotham. This arrangement is explained further in a continuous story arc through the Streets of Gotham series, with Mask hiring Zsasz after he saved the former's life following a confrontation with former employee Firefly. Black Mask presents Zsasz with a briefcase filled with cash and advises him to finally live out his dream, knowing full well any 'dream' of Zsasz's would culminate in mass murder. Apprehensive at first on how to go about this, he eventually decides to take Mask up on his offer- dressing in Armani suits and purchasing a warehouse as his base of operations. During an investigation into the discovery of several children murdered by Humpty Dumpty, Damian Wayne is 'captured' by a man soliciting runaway kids with promise of a free meal and a place to stay. Damian discovers the man to be a close associate of Victor Zsasz, and that Zsasz has been slowly building a financial empire using runaway children and kidnapped orphans in a 'fight to the death' arena where people bet on the winners. The winning child faces a new contestant, and so on, until the last child left fights Zsasz one-on-one, with promise of freedom for winning (with it clearly evident none have won thus far). Having seen the horrors that Zsasz has left, as well as a haunting memory of seeing the dead bodies of children he killed, Damian questions why Bruce or Dick have allowed a man like Zsasz to be left alive- despite their moral code against murder. Damian manages to subdue Victor and attack him viciously with a sword, after which he falls into Gotham Harbor. Not wanting to defy his mentor and late father's beliefs, he promises Dick that the blow wasn't fatal since he "missed Zsasz's spine" but indicated that his survival was slim.

Zsasz is later seen in captivity in Detective Comics, after Black Mask's (Jeremiah Arkham) apprehension, in Arkham Asylum. While no reference is made to Zsasz's injury (nor does he appear to be injured), his presence in Arkham alongside Jeremiah strongly suggests the events of this issue take place subsequent to the injury, meaning he did survive the attack.[6]

Zsasz has appeared various times in The New 52, as an inmate of Arkham,[7] and he is later seen attacking Batgirl in the Narrows, while on Venom.[8] Zsasz next appears in Detective Comics (vol.2) #18 written by John Layman. He is released from Arkham Asylum by the Joker prior to the events of Death of the Family. Later, he is hired by Ignatius Ogilvy, the Emperor Penguin, to "leave [his] mark on Gotham City", he is given a knife with Emperor Penguin's insignia on it.[9] Zsasz is later instructed to put the Man-Bat serum on the knife, as part of Emperor Penguin's plan to turn the population of Gotham City into Man-Bats through an airborne virus. Zsasz is temporarily transformed into one.[10]

During the Forever Evil storyline, Nightwing had just retrieved Victor Zsasz from Chicago and was bringing him back to Arkham Asylum. Victor Zsasz was then abducted by Superwoman and Owlman.[11]

Powers and abilities[edit]

In addition to his wiry-yet-tall physique, Zsasz is extremely agile and flexible, able to go toe-to-toe with even Batman for brief bouts. Though he favors slitting his victims' throats with knives, he has no reservations about tossing blades at opponents if the occasion calls for it, and even carries several spare knives for this purpose.

Though he personally dislikes guns, considering them "unreliable", Zsasz is known to occasionally carry firearms in order to coerce his selected victims.

Even barehanded, Zsasz is a formidable opponent; as he is locked away in an enormous steel containment unit for 16 hours a day, he has made a habit of practicing isometrics in the cramped space to strengthen his body.

Zsasz is incredibly intelligent, and is described as having "a brilliant criminal mind".[12] He is constantly thinking quickly both while incarcerated and active, and some of his escapes have been a result of his cunning schemes.

Zsasz is completely unpredictable, having no qualms about who he kills, when and where. Thus, he is almost impossible to track, even if signs of his modus operandi appear evident, as there is no motive or clue trail to follow. Such unpredictability also renders him a danger to anyone and everyone who may encounter him.

During the Streets of Gotham story arc, it is learned that Zsasz sees the world as bathed in red, and everyone in it as a victim he has murdered. He envisions both friend (Black Mask) and foe (Dick Grayson) as having died at his hand with their throats slashed. During his battle with Damian, Zsasz begins to lose his composure when he begins to see him as a living human being rather than as a dead body.

Other versions[edit]

Crimson Mist[edit]

In Batman: Crimson Mist, Zsasz is one of the vampiric inmates of Arkham Asylum whom Batman slaughters. Batman tears Zsasz's chest open with his talons to mark the scar which will represent Zsasz' own life; he then drinks Zsasz' blood and cuts off his head.[13]

Flashpoint[edit]

In the alternate timeline of the Flashpoint event, Victor Zsasz is imprisoned in the military Doom prison.[14] During the prison break, Zsasz is killed by arsonist Heat Wave.[15]

In other media[edit]

Television[edit]

  • Victor Zsasz appears in the Fox series Gotham, portrayed by Anthony Carrigan. He is portrayed as a hitman working for Carmine Falcone (John Doman). He first appears in "Penguin's Umbrella" where Carmine sends him after James Gordon (Ben McKenzie). Zsasz and two women enter the Gotham City Police Department, where he announces that he is there for Gordon. Gordon's fellow detectives abandon him, and Zsasz then engages him in a gunfight. Zsasz wounds Gordon and kills a female police officer who crosses his path where he adds a tally mark on his arm for her as his 28th victim. Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones) come to Gordon's rescue. Falcone then sends Zsasz to kidnap Gordon's fiancé Barbara (Erin Richards) and bring her to him after her attempt to negotiate with Carmine Falcone to spare Gordon's life. After he reaches an understanding with Gordon, Falcone orders Zsasz to let Barbara go.[16]

Film[edit]

  • Zsasz appears briefly in the 2005 film Batman Begins, portrayed by Tim Booth.[17] Zsasz is on trial for several murders, committed on orders from Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) tries to get him sent to prison, but he is sent to Arkham Asylum thanks to the testimony of the hospital's administrator Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), who is on Falcone's payroll. He escapes during Ra's al Ghul's (Liam Neeson) attack on Gotham, and attacks Rachel and a child she is protecting. A promotional website for The Dark Knight reveals that Zsasz is still at large.[18] His last name is misspelled as "Zsaz" in Batman Begins, but correctly spelled in the promotional material for The Dark Knight.
  • Victor Zsasz appears briefly in the direct-to-video animated film Batman: Assault on Arkham, voiced by Christian Lanz. Zsasz takes a woman hostage, but Batman saves her by shooting his grapple-gun's hook into the brick wall behind them, then quickly retracts it so a chunk of the wall hits Zsasz in the back of the head.

Video games[edit]

  • Tim Booth reprises his role as Zsasz in the Batman Begins video game, in his original incarnation, rather than "the hitman" he's described as in the film. He first appears when Flass is attempting to interrogate him for information about Falcone's new 'partner', Batman releasing him from his chain in order to scare Flass into departing Zsasz's cell so that Batman can question Flass, using Zsasz as a threat. Zsasz later makes a brief appearance during the riots where he attempts to terrify Rachel Dawes, but she takes him out with her taser while Zsasz is distracted by Batman's arrival.
  • Zsasz appears as one of the villains in Batman: Arkham Asylum, voiced by Danny Jacobs. During the initial stages of the Joker's takeover, Zsasz manages to escape confinement and take a guard hostage in Prisoner Pacification, strapping him to an electric chair. Batman manages to sneak behind Zsasz and render him unconscious. However, Zsasz later manages to get free, killing guards in their break room (positioning them for playing poker) and in the garden (where he positioned them to read books). Joker found him there and recruited him to torture Dr. Young for the TITAN formula; Batman manages to render Zsasz unconscious again, but Dr. Young's rescue is short-lived as a bomb takes her life shortly after. He is later seen in Scarecrow's final hallucinations as one of the villains escorting Batman into Arkham, similar to the guards who brought the Joker into Arkham Asylum at the start of the game. Later in the hand-to-hand combat challenge modes, Zsasz appears as an NPC that Batman must fight along with the thugs. He carries two knives, and must be stunned to attack.
  • Victor Zsasz appears in the sequel Batman: Arkham City, with Danny Jacobs reprising his role. Batman must track him down and foil his murders in a side mission, with Zsasz calling him on various payphones and instructing Batman to find another phone within a time limit before Victor Zsasz starts killing hostages. He explains his backstory over the course of the mission via phoning the player, including him losing his money gambling against Penguin (who cheats) in the Iceberg Lounge, eventually revealing he feels his only purpose in life is killing. Batman eventually tracks him down to his hideout by tracking the series of communication towers he uses to bounce his telephone signal, and stops him before he kills two hostages; however Detective Mode reveals a body in the water, suggesting a hostage tried escaping or committed suicide. Batman then puts Zsasz in a cage where he kept his prisoners. It is mentioned by Penguin that Victor Zsasz has murdered over 100 men, women and children. It's also made apparent that he was captured by Penguin and put on display before escaping.

Books[edit]

  • The tie-in book for Batman Begins featuring the development art, and the visual guide to the film, also feature a shot of Booth in costume, referring to Zsasz as a serial killer. In the credits and script for the film, as well as all the books and the graphic novelization, his name is spelled "Zsaz". The novelization of Batman Begins refers to him as "Victor Zsasz", as does the videogame.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1.
  2. ^ a b Breyfogle, N. & Grant, A. (1996). Batman: The Last Arkham. DC comics. ISBN 1-56389-190-5.
  3. ^ Batman #492.
  4. ^ Batman #493
  5. ^ The Batman Chronicles #18 (Winter 1999)
  6. ^ Detective Comics #865 (July 2010)
  7. ^ Batman #1
  8. ^ Batman: The Dark Knight #2
  9. ^ Detective Comics (vol. 2) #18 (May 2013)
  10. ^ Detective Comics (vol. 2) #19 (June 2013)
  11. ^ Forever Evil #1
  12. ^ The DC Comics Encyclopedia.
  13. ^ Batman: Crimson Mist
  14. ^ Flashpoint: Legion of Doom #1 (June 2011)
  15. ^ Flashpoint: Legion of Doom #2 (July 2011)
  16. ^ Gotham ep. 7 "Penguin's Umbrella" Directed by Rob Bailey. Written by Bruno Heller. November 3, 2014
  17. ^ Spence D. (2005-01-19). "Tim Booth 11 Questions - Music Feature at IGN". Music.ign.com. Retrieved 2010-12-29. 
  18. ^ "The Ha Ha Times". Thehahahatimes.com. Retrieved 2010-12-29.