Doctor Hurt has been the force behind the scenes driving most threats to both Batmen in all of Grant Morrison's run for the last four years. Applying the foremost rule in suspense, Morrison has kept Hurt a mystery right up to the present, with clues to his nature and identity shown to us one at a time, in a striptease that seemed to conclude when Bruce Wayne beat him once, but was completely reset when Hurt somehow reemerged to send wave after wave of attacks towards the new Batman, Dick Grayson.
Who is Doctor Hurt?
He's literally the biblical Devil. He's probably the 18th Century's Thomas Wayne. He's gone by the names Doctor Simon Hurt, the Black Glove, and El Penitente. He's claimed to be Bruce's father Thomas. But all of those identities, sometimes utterly different in their activities and language, exist under a cloud of uncertainty; it seems almost more appropriate to refer to Hurt as "they" rather than "him". They, in chronological order, (and varying levels of certainty) have been:
1) Possibly "the Devil" in Gotham sometime around 1650 (ROBW #2)2) Thomas Wayne, a devil worshipper in 1765 (B&R #10)
3) Doctor Thomas Wayne, a 150-year-old casino/brothel owner around 1880; the shame of the Waynes for unnamed crimes (ROBW #4)
4) Possibly Jack the Ripper (ROBW #4)
5) A prominent Gothamite named Hurt who went missing in 1978 (Batman #678)
6) The titular head of the Black Glove club starting twenty or [much?] more years ago (Batman #681)
7) A research psychologist working for the U.S. Army about 10 years ago (Batman #674)
8) Still a psychologist working for the Gotham police about 8 years ago (Batman #674)
9) The head of the Black Glove directing attacks on Batman (Batman #665-681)
10) The Devil (Batman #681, #666, #701)
11) El Penitente, a drug lord in Mexico staging a massive attack on Gotham (B&R #4-11)
12) A man posing as Thomas Wayne, returning to Gotham to reclaim that identity (B&R #13)
That is a bizarre patchwork quilt of aliases and activities. It is further complicated by the fact that Doctor Hurt lies and speaks cryptically. He has referred to himself as "the hole in things... the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning", "the double you", "the shadow", "the dark twin". Aside from the many suspected lies he has told, he claimed, with Alfred as his only audience, that he is the recent Thomas Wayne; that he sees Alfred as a betrayer and Bruce's biological father, Martha as unfaithful, and Bruce as an usurper. He has called Gotham "home" and before he takes on the identity of a surprisingly alive Thomas Wayne, he says that he about to reclaim what has always been rightfully his, "for so many years."
There is moreover the mysterious and ever-ambiguous suggestion that he has supernatural powers, but none have been demonstrated up-front. The power he seems most often to demonstrate is immortality, but in any given scene, this is only suggested -- we have never seen him experience any definite trauma, and it is only indirect testimony saying that he over 150 years old by the time of ROBW #4. The devil in the story has given those powers also to Lane and to Damian in Batman #666. Moreover, the priest in B&R #11 asks Hurt for protection from gunfire, indicating a belief that such protection is within his means. Hurt gives specific details regarding the victim of Le Bossu in the first pages of RIP, and it is never explained how he could know such things. Finally, and most important to the story, Hurt places a curse on Bruce to wear the cape and cowl only one more time. This is not proven to be real instead of a bluff, but Bruce writes in his casebook that the curse is a "deathtrap".
At the core of all of this are facts that, if chosen selectively, suggest a rather straightforward explanation: That Doctor Hurt is the older Thomas Wayne, granted some sort of supernatural powers during a rite of demonic worship, was driven off by the scandal of his bloodletting, and is ever in wait to return, having made bids to unseat the reigning male of the Wayne family once and perhaps more times.
But this explanation leaves a lot of additional information unaccounted for, and the other information is hard to square away. Why does Hurt claim when Alfred is the only audience that he is the younger Thomas Wayne? If he wants to live the life of a wealthy man in Gotham, why is he undertaking actions to destroy it? If his goals are driven by self-interest, why doesn't he just kill Bruce and get on with it?
Roughly speaking, we have seen Doctor Hurt (or those who might be him) in five distinct stories: As the voice whose face is never seen in the "Club of Heroes" story, as the Evil Psychologist running experiments on people, as the leader of the plan in RIP, the shadowy El Penitente / Doctor Hurt in Batman and Robin, and as Old Thomas Wayne (OTW) in ROBW. His appearance changes from c. 1880 to the present, as he appears to be 10 years older than Alan Wayne then, and passes for about sixty to pose as Thomas Wayne in the present. This could be explained as a great slowing, but not halt, of the aging process.
More meaningfully, his language and attitude changes. This is a natural consequence of changing circumstances... people at the zoo talk about animals. But in Hurt's case, it is more than that. OTW is needful and desperate. He has not procured immortality and is consumed by the pursuit of it. He speaks of Barbatos in the third person and is not, as some earlier conjectures had put it, Barbatos in possession of a human body from the time of the devil worship that had already taken place over 100 years earlier. OTW is angry, jumps into action, and never seems at ease. His singleminded pursuit of having the box opened highlights an anxiety that "Doctor Hurt" never shows except when the helicopter is about to crash.
In the present, Doctor Hurt is almost overpoweringly relaxed and smug. His poses look relaxed, he drinks champagne, and he's as often as not smirking. He speaks in terms of good and evil and universals. I performed a statistical breakdown of the word frequencies in his language during each story: In RIP, phrases such as "ultimate" and "noble spirit" are repeated, while "good" and "evil" dominate his language across all of his present-day appearances. Evil for the sake of evil has become his goal.
Is it possible that Hurt is simply like the Devil and has acquired immortality but must, in return, corrupt noble souls for the sheer sake of corruption? Could his actions as the evil influence on the world's wealthiest individuals a sort of payment that this man is making with the Devil as his boss, a separate entity? Then Hurt is not the Devil, but is a man working for the Devil. And to be clear, this is the villain whose identity was wrapped up as a secret that was eventually revealed to be the Devil.
The actual explanation is probably complex. Neither Hurt's actions nor his personality are consistent with the simple account of a 250-year-old man who just wants the family fortune back. It seems that neither simple explanation works: He's not the Devil even when he's 150 years old. But he's still obsessed with the Wayne fortune and getting back what's his when he's supposedly the ultimate evil being in the world. In fact, the latter impulse increases over time: In RIP, he uses the second person far more often than the first person singular, and uses the first person plural almost as often as the first person singular. In B&R, there is no "team", and his dominant pronoun use has switched to the first person singular. Emphasis on "my" and "mine". He wants what's his, and it seems to be utterly material. What does the Devil care with a nice house? Why would he call Gotham City his home? We cannot decide if Hurt is a man, OTW, or the Devil, because he plainly isn't either of them alone in any straightforward manner.
Morrison has made repeated references to the television show "Twin Peaks", both in the comics themselves, and in interviews. It's useful to consider the answer to the central mystery of "Twin Peaks" as a possible template for the Doctor Hurt story.
In "Twin Peaks", a girl named Laura Palmer is killed. This mystery became probably the most-talked about mystery on television since "Who Shot J.R.?" and until "The X-Files". Who killed Laura Palmer? A mortal man possessed by an evil spirit. The mortal man happened to be her father. The spirit, BOB, was not referred to as a demon, but filled the definition well enough to be considered one.
Leland Palmer was born an ordinary child. As a boy, he encountered BOB (who may or may not have been possessing some previous host), and somehow made the decision to allow BOB into him. From that time on, Leland was the host of BOB, but only thought, spoke, and acted as BOB part of the time. Usually, he was Leland. At times, BOB would take over and commit acts of unspeakable evil. When Leland was once again in control, he had no memory of what BOB had done. He wasn't even aware that BOB took turns controlling him. He either never had access to such knowledge or repressed it. And so the man/demon continued until he was finally caught for his crimes. BOB would have remained captive along with Leland had he not taken control and then suicidally injured Leland. Upon Leland's death, BOB floated free, until the final moments of the final episode, when he found a new host.
Morrison works in patterns. His seemingly standalone story in Batman #700 had numerous points of similarity to his larger Batman run as a whole. And one element in that story was Two Face Two, a character who had two personalities that split time controlling the body. When the big, handsome face wakes up, he asks, "What has he done this time? The bad little face? I'm so sorry I fell asleep." The two faces of Two Face Two work just like Leland and BOB. If Morrison is absorbing that pattern into his Batman run, it is plausibly a pattern that also explains the two-faced nature of Doctor Hurt. Old Thomas Wayne calls Gotham home and demands to possess again what is rightfully his. He abruptly snaps in Batman #679 and rants that he is the younger Thomas Wayne and calls Bruce the usurper of what is his. At other times, as the Devil, he smirks and speaks of inevitable victory. The body of Old Thomas Wayne. Sometimes the mind of Old Thomas Wayne. Sometimes the mind of the Devil.
And so he calls himself "the double you".
Gothic, The Sequel?
As noted above, we know that Morrison repeats story elements from one story to another. His JLA story "Rock of Ages" reads in some ways like an early draft of Final Crisis, even down to Darkseid hitting Bruce with his eye beams in the moments before Darkseid's defeat. It's clear that much of Morrison's long run with Batman duplicates features of the first story he ever wrote for a Batman monthly: 1990's Legends of the Dark Knight #6-10, "Gothic". Morrison has said that "Gothic" came from asking himself if a man could cheat the Devil and he decided that he couldn't. But he went on to say that RIP is the story of how Batman does cheat the Devil.
The number of known similarities between "Gothic" and the ongoing saga of Doctor Hurt is rather incredible. There are times when similarities are probably not meaningful, and arise by coincidence, being common to this genre in general or Morrison's works specifically. But the great number of alignments between the two stories is far beyond coincidence. A book could be filled with the details; for the sake of brevity, I will list in elliptical form story elements common to both "Gothic" and Morrison's post-Infinite Crisis Batman work. The length of this summary illustrates why I am not including more detailed citations.
A story opens with a man hanging upside-down at the mercy of his captor. The story features quotes from Paradise Lost. The villain's plan is centuries old. There is a countdown in days to an event in Gotham that seems harmless but is reputed to bring an apocalypse. Villains use the bat-signal to summon Batman. Villains use an upside-down symbol as a perversion of the regular form. The stories involve architecture. The stories involve roses as an instrument of death. Death is set against the ironic backdrop of children's rhymes. The villain knows Batman's identity. A woman is burned at the stake. Someone in the story is skeptical of the supernatural, but the story is supernatural. A villain is cited who kills seven victims but the eighth victim-to-be saves himself. The villain has an association with Bruce's father. An instrument of destruction is inside a box referred to within the story as a casket. The villain stands over a captive Batman and talks to him as to a child, psychoanalyzing him as a weak victim of past trauma. The villain's plan is to culminate at the stroke of midnight. Someone needs to "cheat the Devil". The villain takes a ship to England. The villain has supernaturally-derived longevity and is shown at work in the 1760s. The villain plans to unleash a plague in Gotham City. Batman arrives in a place contaminated with plague germs already wearing a gas mask. A villain attacks Batman's left arm. The villain seeks an extension of his already prolonged life, from mere centuries to all eternity. The villain is required to shed innocent blood to procure his life extension. Longevity does not entail invulnerability, and people with devilish life extension respond with an understated "Ow" when subjected to severe trauma, including being raked with gunfire. The exact vocabularies of the stories align, with "rites", "atrocious" / "atrocities", and the biblical phrase "good and faithful servant". A villain kills five crime bosses. Bruce survives an attack and then calls Alfred, asking him to bring Band-Aids.
Given this rather enormous list of coincidences, it is reasonable to wonder, when the case of Doctor Hurt features some unknowns, if the answer may be found in "Gothic". This could explain the "double you".
DCMB poster and standout Batman historian jgiannantoni05 suggests that Doctor Hurt began like "Gothic"'s villain, a man -- Old Thomas Wayne -- who made a deal with the Devil, but like Manfred, a man nonetheless. Sometime between ROBW #4 and the present, having lost his bargain, OTW forfeited his soul and the Devil came into possession of the body. To quote the villain himself, "Wayne became Hurt". If so, I would add per the earlier discussion that Hurt still is likely sometimes OTW, and probably switching personalities at times before our very eyes. As when he somewhat abruptly assaults Alfred in Batman #679. An assault that begins, perhaps not coincidentally, with the words "Wake up."
Endgame: Doctor Hurt's Attack
Whoever Doctor Hurt is, we have seen him put into motion what the solicit for B&R #15 calls his "final confrontation"with our heroes. What's coming?
Given what we absolutely know, what is hinted at by #666, and what the parallels with "Gothic" suggest, most of the details seem to be in front of us. Doctor Hurt may be seen as a single entity, but the "double you" analysis makes more sense: Doctor Hurt wants to take on the identity of Young Thomas Wayne, which seems like a logical priority for OTW, and living that life in that mansion doesn't necessarily work for or against the goals of the Devil.
There's a new Black Glove in town. As Senator Vine asks Hurt for protection in #12, we see five businessmen in domino masks waiting at the station. The Black Glove has room for five fingers, no more. Senator Vine isn't going to fit. He can count his remaining lifespan in heartbeats.
The Devil wants to settle a score with "Batman". To do so, he will try to kill Bruce Wayne's protege and most beloved companion Dick Grayson, corrupt Bruce's son Damian, and inflict mass casualties on Gotham City.
Kill the people of Gotham? That wasn't the deal that Hurt's underling Santos pitched to Gotham's mob bosses back in B&R #4. He proposed addicting the population of Gotham to drugs that they sold. That would be enormously profitable. Killing everyone in the city isn't profitable at all. That's not the plan of a mobster -- it's the plan of a devil.
But it is what is coming. Phosphorus Rex said so in B&R #3 ("They'll kill us all"), the Joker said so in #13 ("It looks like everybody dies"). And it matches the pattern of "Gothic". Manfred planned to save his own soul from the end of his 300-year deal by offering the souls of millions of dead Gothamites in his stead. He would do so by unleashing a plague from the Gotham cathedral whose construction he began. This would be set into motion by a lunar alignment that would allow light to enter through a rose window, at which time gear wheels would turn and place a phial containing the plague virus into the path of a bell which would be smashed the glass at midnight, releasing the epidemic in the heart of the city. The same addiction that could be used for profit may be lethal if the victims are not given their fix.
We already know that Hurt's plan crucially depends upon germs and upon a rare alignment of the Moon -- on the day of a solar eclipse, he refers to the "black sun" shining soon. He says this in the Wayne Manor library, a room whose importance has been foreshadowed heavily. The room has a large window which allows moonlight to enter in B&R #10. The Sun and the Moon follow nearly the same path through the sky -- any window that allows moonlight to enter will allow sunlight to enter during the day. When the eclipse happens, it will be observable from that window. This is somehow, by cosmic or mechanical necessity, essential for Hurt's corruption of Damian. Maybe he wants a more youthful body than the one of an older man he now has. Maybe an eclipse is cosmically empowering for acts of possession and soul jumping. Damian will be tempted to deal with the Devil (who "exists. I've met him") in order to save Dick Grayson and countless citizens of Gotham. Dick sees that the city could be held for ransom. But Hurt probably doesn't want money. He has money. He wants souls, bodies, death. That's the threat. That's the setup.
The solicit for the next issue says that if Dick and Damian "can't truly bond as a team, they're dead!" Right now, Dick has been shot down on one side of the city while Damian is making a big mistake beating the Joker on the other. They lose that round: Three days later, Dick is lying near death, and Damian is in captivity, asked to make a pact with the Devil. Bruce Wayne beat Manfred in "Gothic" and Doctor Hurt in RIP. If Dick's not as good as Bruce was, everybody dies.