‘The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne’: the 29th aired (and the 37th produced) episode of Batman: The Animated Series, best remembered as the episode where Bruce Wayne’s secret second-life as Batman is exposed. And responsible for the exposition is the brilliant, crafty villain that is Dr. Hugo Strange.
The episode’s concept, of course, sets up a great episode. With Batman’s anonymity at risk and Bruce Wayne challenged in ways not previously seen in The Animated Series, this episode is one of the best.
This is also the only episode in the entire series to feature Hugo Strange. Hugo is one of the Batman franchise’s oldest villains, whose first appearance even pre-dates the Joker. He is a formidable opposition to Batman and arguably forces him into a more vulnerable position than any other villains in the series.
However, he didn’t appear again after this episode – especially considering the way the episode ended for him – makes you wonder: what happened to Hugo Strange?
Before answering that question, let’s recap the episode… (scroll down if you just want answers!)
The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne: Summary
The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne – Intro:
Judge Maria Vargas – an important political figure in Gotham city – haggles with some gangsters on a bridge over a videotape. Batman watches on as the gangsters demand an extra $100,000 from the huge sum of cash that she’d already given to them, and the Dark Knight intervenes.
The videotape falls, landing on one of the bridge’s H-plates. Judge Vargas gingerly attempts to retrieve it while Batman deals with the gangsters, but falls. Batman saves her just in time, while the videotape drops into the river below.
Commissioner Gordon appears on the scene; he discusses with Batman what information the tape possessed that Vargas placed so much value on. Gordon insists that Vargas is a good citizen, with nothing to hide. Batman, though, explains that there was definitely something on that tape that she didn’t want people to see.
Gordon then mentions that Vargas had been on vacation to the Yucca Springs Health Resort – a relaxation retreat owned by Daggett Industries. Batman has a hunch that the vacation is somehow related to Vargas’ behavior, and informs Robin that he thinks he himself must “need a vacation.”
The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne – The Resort:
He visits the resort as Bruce Wayne, accompanied by Alfred the Butler.
Bruce makes an appointment with Dr. Hugo Strange, with whom Vargas had previously had an appointment. Hugo puts Bruce on a machine, which he claims will “lower his defenses” and allow him to talk more freely about the causes of stress in his life.
Bruce is reluctant to talk about them, but Hugo asks him about his childhood, the loss of his parents … and as Bruce resists those conversations, Hugo’s machine pictures Bruce’s thoughts – about his parents’ death, for example – on a screen. Hugo continues to ask questions, and his screen eventually pictures a thought that proves Bruce Wayne is, in fact, Batman.
Bruce leaves the room appearing quite stressed, but without knowledge of what the machine was actually doing.
Hugo, though, is fascinated by the new information he has extracted from his ‘patient’. He makes a phone call to the Joker, Harvey ‘Two-Face’, and Penguin to propose an auction for evidence of Batman’s true identity.
The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne – Detective Work:
While Hugo is busy elsewhere, Bruce Wayne looks around the experiment room and studies the machine. He soon finds a collection of videotapes including one labeled ‘Maria Vargas’.
He watches it and discovers that, as a child, Judge Vargas started ‘The Great Gotham Dock Fire’ while playing with matches. Bruce realizes that the machine records thoughts, and understands that Hugo has evidence of his secret identity.
When he looks to find his tape, he realizes it is missing. He proceeds to destroy the other tapes anyway, but just then Alfred calls him to inform him that Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin have just arrived. Bruce then understands that Hugo plans to sell-off his secret – ‘The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne’, no less.
He then decides to make a new tape and destroys the machine. Just as he is about to leave, Hugo turns up with the gangsters who held Judge Vargas to ransom at the beginning of the episode. They capture Bruce – who doesn’t struggle – and lock him up.
The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne – The Auction:
Hugo begins the auction, safe in the knowledge that Batman is locked up. After some aggressive bidding, the Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin agree to pool their funds together to buy the tape for a combined total of $51,240,685.53 (the 53 cents coming from the Joker’s purse).
However, Bruce Wayne has managed to escape his cell! And, avoiding the watchful eyes of Hugo Strange and his security team, manages to switch the tape containing evidence of his identity with the tape he made before destroying Hugo’s machine.
The footage of this new tape shows Hugo boasting about how he was going to trick the villains, claiming that he could imagine Batman to be anybody in the world.
The villains are furious and laugh off Hugo’s claims that Bruce Wayne is Batman. In trouble, Hugo tries to escape to the airport.
The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne – The Ending:
The villains follow Hugo to the airport and catch him before he gets on a plane. They then take him on the plane themselves, threatening to throw him out. Before they can, though, Batman cuts the fuel tubes, dropping the plane to the ground. The police quickly arrive at the scene to arrest the villains.
Hugo tells the police and the villains that Batman’s alter-ego is Bruce Wayne. But just as he does Bruce Wayne walks onto the scene and stands right next to Batman. Batman tells everyone that he knew about Hugo’s scheme already, and Bruce had agreed to pretend he was Batman to help expose that scheme.
When the crowd moves on, the Bruce Wayne who turned up takes off his mask to reveal himself as Dick Grayson (Robin) – who is wearing leg extenders to be as tall as Bruce Wayne. Thus, ‘the strange secret of Bruce Wayne’ is secure once again.
‘The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne’: Takeaways
As has been said already, this episode does a great job of threatening Bruce Wayne’s equilibrium by putting evidence of his identity right in the hands of one of his enemies.
Bruce/Batman is forced to act extremely quickly – improvising a plan within what seems like an extremely short time since discovering Hugo’s intentions. To solve the puzzle that was Hugo’s plan, formulate a counter-plan, and execute that plan? Nobody can deny just how impressive that is (even if it is just a cartoon … pfft!)
It is also a testament to just how well Bruce Wayne hides his strange secret that it took an invention as intricate and ingenious as Hugo Strange’s thought-recording machine (I mean, come on?! That’s some insane levels of sci-fi!).
After watching the episode, one can’t help but wonder just how difficult it is to conceal a secret of such enormity – Batman being the public icon that he is, and Bruce Wayne being the famous playboy that he is … would that even be possible in real life? That question alone might require another entire article…
What Happened to Dr. Hugo Strange in ‘The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne’:
That is the question that really stuck with me after watching the episode: what happened to Hugo? Sure, he was taken to Arkham Asylum and locked up along with the other criminals … but he never appears again in the entire Animated Series.
Many people don’t realize that Hugo Strange is one of Batman’s oldest villains – appearing first in Detective Comics #36 (only the 9th comic in the entire original Batman series). Even in that series, the sinister psychiatrist is the first of Batman’s enemies to reveal his true identity. Also, after falling to his presumed death on several occasions, regularly returns to threaten Batman with new schemes and ideas.
It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, that he never returns to threaten Batman’s identity again in the Animated Series – and his fate is never revealed to us fans.
So his fate, and what happened next for Hugo, is all down to speculation. But here are some of the possibilities…
5 Possible Outcomes for Hugo Strange:
1. Batman & Robin’s Bruce Wayne Trick Really Fooled Him…
… and, as a result, Hugo’s mental health deteriorates in Arkham Asylum. He becomes riddled with self-doubt thanks to the twisting of his perception of what he believes Batman’s identity was. This possibility would explain Hugo’s absence from the rest of the series.
2. He Is Still Convinced that Bruce Wayne is Batman…
… and is simply waiting for his opportuntiy to escape Arkham Asyum to prove what he knows to be true. By this theory, Hugo would spend his days in Arkham plotting his actions following a potential release.
3. He Not Even Affected by the Batman Identity Conundrum…
… and so lives a fairly normal life of an everyday prisoner. Given the lack of coverage on his story after this episode, perhaps this is the most reasonable explanation (too boring for coverage in a TV series).
4. He Passes Time by Psychologically Manipulating Inmates…
… that’s what he did for a job in Batman: Arkham Asylum (the video game). This could be very relevant example as to how Hugo would’ve spent his Arkham days as a prisoner in the Animated Series! Or perhaps he actually enjoyed his time there, treating his everyday interactions as intellectual opportunities. In this scenario, he would actually be very happy in Arkham! (And hey, wouldn’t that make for a great episode?!)
5. A Combination of the Above
He is undecided on whether or not Bruce Wayne is Batman and simply makes the best of a bad situation in Arkham. He wants to leave but is able to occupy his time by studying the psychology of other prisoners.
For sure, though, this is all mere speculation. But i’s certainly fun to think about because Hugo Strange is, without doubt, one of the most underrated villains in the entire series.
What Can We Learn From ‘The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne?
‘The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne’ shows us just how vulnerable a secret as big as “being a masked superhero” can be.
If it is your intention to keep a secret as significant as Bruce Wayne’s, then you are going to want to put some serious protections in place for that secret. Blessed with great wealth, Bruce Wayne has serious advantages when it comes to concealing his secret.
He has a Batcave beneath the enormous grounds of Wayne Manor – and his secret was safe down there with it … mostly.
But even someone like Bruce Wayne has challenges keeping that secret. So what are you going to do to keep your secret? It’s something to think deeply about before deciding to become Batman or any other secret alter-ego.