FROM PYGMALION TO PYG
Professor Pyg—arguably Batman’s strangest and creepiest rival ever created—was conjured up from the deepest darkest recesses of the mind of Grant Morrison, making his first appearance in Batman #666 (July 2007), an issue that takes place in the future and actually shows Pyg already dead! Morrison, in an IGN interview, described Pyg as “one of the weirdest, most insane characters that’s ever been in Batman. We hear a lot about Batman facing crazy villains, but [artist Frank Quitely and I] tried to make this guy seem genuinely disturbed and disconnected.” (Note that Andy Kubert was the artist that gets credit for first drawing Pyg, which is technically true—but, thanks to a funny way of debuting, it’s really Frank Quitely that should get the illustrative credit. It was Quitely who actually designed Pyg’s look and first fleshed-out his actual present-day narrative debut. The Pyg that Kubert designed was published first, but it was merely a corpse without any of the character’s signature details.)
Morrison’s main inspirations for the schizophrenic rogue came from the Cypriot/Greco-Roman myth of Pygmalion (made famous in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) and from George Bernard Shaw’s stage play Pygmalion, about the very same myth. Further inspiration came from Frederick Lowe and Alan Jay Lerner’s My Fair Lady, a direct musical adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion. All of these stories focus on man’s desire to transform others into supposedly “perfect” states. In the original Pygmalion myth and in various stage, movie, and opera adaptations, the titular character builds a sculpture (named Galathea in some iterations) that comes to life. In other versions of stage and film adaptations, scientist Henry Higgins transforms uncouth Eliza Doolittle into an idealized high society woman. According to a Newsarama interview, Morrison’s inspiration to create Pyg also came from Kahimi Karie’s song about Pygmalion entitled “Pygmalism,” written by Momus. Based upon Pyg’s strong desire to maim and mutilate others and his macabre look, which includes a pig head mask and blood-stained apron that hangs over a well-fed paunch, it’s probably safe to assume that Morrison and Quitely had The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Leatherface and other psychotic serial killers (fictional and non-fictional) on their brains when fleshing-out Pyg as well.
Pyg’s horrific origin story reflects the Pygmalion concept of “idealized” transformation. Before he was the mass-murdering Pyg, he was Hungarian super-scientist Lazlo Valentin, an agent of the international spy organization known as Spyral. Valentin designed various pharmaceutical products for the group, including a pseudo-Alzheimer’s-inducing compound that would later be used by Nazi spy-leader Otto “Dr. Dedalus” Netz. Morrison links Valentin to Netz (also Morrison’s creation) here in the same fashion that the legendary Pygmalion of Cyprus and Ovid’s Pygmalion both parallel the Greek myth of Daedalus, another character that gave life to statues.
While under the employ of Spyral, Valentin was subjected to his own chemicals and tortured, leading to violent paranoid schizophrenia, drug abuse, and disfiguring surgery. Of course, Morrison’s other diabolical creation, Dr. Simon Hurt, was at the center of this origin story, manipulating and guiding Valentin through his descent into madness. Valentin, like Pygmalion, sought to transform others for Spyral and Hurt. But he wound up getting transformed himself by Spyral and Hurt. Pyg, along with others like Eduardo Flamingo and the Replacement Batmen, are psychologically ruined men turned evil by Hurt.
The theme of forced “idealized” transformation continues with Pyg’s own henchpeople, called “Dollotrons.” He turns folks into Dollotrons by permanently melting masks onto their faces and performing surgery to turn them into his mindless slaves. While ranting about Dollotrons and butchery, Pyg references “H.H.,” likely Henry Higgins, the main character in Shaw’s Pygmalion and My Fair Lady (played by Rex Harrison in the 1964 George Cukor film adaptation). Pyg’s signature grotesque animal pig mask and other dialogue hints that Pyg was also inspired by yet another Rex Harrison role, Doctor Dolittle (from Richard Fleischer’s 1967 Doctor Dolittle). The fact that Doctor Dolittle and Eliza Doolittle are so-closely connected (via both Rex Harrison and the exact-sameness of the surnames) is coincidence, but the synchronicity of the connection is something that Morrison surely couldn’t ignore when ingeniously crafting Pyg.
As detailed in his origin references and via his fixation on creating Dollotrons, Pyg’s constant super-villain theme is the extreme sculpting of minds and bodies via physical and psychological torture. While My Fair Lady‘s Henry Higgins clearly fits the “H.H.” dialogue in this Pygmalion-esque regard, another “H.H.” also figures into Morrison’s Pyg story: real-life 20th-century psychologist Harry Harlow. As scholar Rikdad reveals, “Harlow’s experiments, intended to show the importance of nurturing human children, subjected rhesus monkeys to isolation and deprived them of affection. In one such experiment, the monkeys were given milk by a ‘mommy’ made of hard metal wires, which provided sustenance, but no comfort. These monkeys ended up irreversibly damaged psychologically, whereas monkeys given a similarly artificial but soft cloth-covered mommy did not.” In the comics, Pyg displays a nasty prop he calls his “mommy made of nails,” patterned on Harlow’s apparatus. Pyg also mentions his “despair pit” in the comics. As Rikdad points out, “Harlow called an even-more horrific piece of lab equipment the ‘pit of despair,’ which was a dark isolation cage in which he placed baby monkeys, leading them to grow up even more damaged psychologically.” Obviously, both Henry Higgins and Harry Harlow are at the core of Pyg’s vile character.
Interestingly enough, Rikdad details another lynchpin of Pyg’s characterization—the idea that he worships at the feet of an evil darker evil. Beyond wanting to please his master Hurt (who Morrison often identified as a stand-in for Satan himself), Pyg gives shout-outs to monstrous mythological females—such as Mormo, Tiamet, and the Gorgon Queen—as mother figures that he aims to please in his campaign of destruction, bloodshed, and mayhem. This ties into the idea of mothering or nurturing those in one’s care, but doing so in a negative way. Mormo, Tiamet, or the Gorgon each function as “mommies made of nails.” They’ve anti-nurtured and damaged those under their power—just like Pygmalion sculpting Galathea, Henry Higgins re-training Eliza Doolittle, Harry Harlow torturing his rhesus monkeys, Simon Hurt breaking Lazlo Valentin, and Professor Pyg creating Dollotrons.
THE MODERN AGE
As mentioned above, Pyg first debuts in Batman #666 (by Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang, and Guy Major, 2007), albeit as a fresh corpse. The first time we see him in present day (and alive) is in Batman & Robin #1-3, entitled “BATMAN REBORN” (Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Alex Sinclair, August 2009-October 2009). At this point on the timeline, Bruce Wayne has been Omega-zapped into the distant past (see Final Crisis and The Return of Bruce Wayne for details). With Bruce believed to be dead, former Robin/Nightwing Dick Grayson has taken up the mantle of his former mentor, becoming the new Batman. With Bruce’s son Damian Wayne by his side as the new Robin, this untested fresh Dynamic Duo takes to the streets. Unlucky for them, Pyg is their first challenge.
Batman and Robin debut against Pyg’s henchman, Mr. Toad, and some Russian mob drug-dealers. They apprehend Toad, but the Russians get away with the drugs and attempt to skip town. However, the drugs belong to Pyg, who kills the Russians, takes his goods back, and adheres one of his horrific Dollotron masks on Sasha, daughter of one of the Russians. (Sasha’s uncle is one of Pyg’s customers, who have used the drug to enslave women for the mob. Sasha says that the people who make and trade these new drugs sent Pyg to kill her papa. While not explicitly mentioned, this is the first time we can infer that Pyg works for Simon Hurt, via his El Penitente drug cartel.) Toad’s contemporaries (and other Pyg henchmen), known collectively as The Circus of the Strange (Big Top, Siam aka Kushti, and Phosphorus Rex), show up to try to break him out of jail. The new Dynamic Duo battles the Circus, but have very little chemistry, and the end-result is a disaster. Several cops are injured and, in the chaos, Toad is mysteriously killed and left with a domino in his hand. This is the start of a series of domino killing that will eventually be revealed as being connected to Joker. After their debacle at police HQ, an upset Damian takes off after Pyg by himself. Pyg’s Dollotron henchwomen kidnap Robin right away. Batman eventually saves Damian, stops the Dollotrons from releasing a narcotic flu virus across the city, and apprehends Pyg. At the crime scene, Dick finds another domino. Meanwhile, Sasha, now with a grotesque mask permanently attached to her face, stumbles away, distraught over the fact that Batman and Robin failed to help her. By the end of the arc, former Robin Jason Todd (now going by Red Hood) returns, recruiting Dollotron Sasha (now going by Scarlet) as his twisted sidekick.
We next see Pyg in Batman & Robin #13-15, entitled “BATMAN & ROBIN MUST DIE!” (Grant Morrison, Frazer Irving, and Alex Sinclair, August 2010-November 2010). Batman (Dick Grayson) theorizes that the antidote—delivered in the earlier opening Batman & Robin arc—that “cured” Gotham’s populace of Pyg’s viral narcotic is actuality an even more potent remotely-activated version of the same narcotic. Pyg needs only to trigger the virus and all the citizens of Gotham could potentially turn into stark-raving junkie madmen. As Batman and Gordon rush to GCPD HQ, the Simon Hurt’s 99 Fiends army shoot down the flying Batmobile. Hundreds of Pyg’s Dollotrons swarm upon Batman and Gordon while the Fiends break Pyg out of Arkham. Back at GCPD HQ, Damian beats Joker with a crowbar. A bloody Joker tries to explain that they share the same goal of bringing down the Black Glove (Hurt’s organization, of which Pyg is a henchman) and then scratches Damian with Joker Juice hidden under his nail. Joker then blows his way out of GCPD HQ with the incapacitated Robin in tow. Meanwhile, at their Park Row lair, Hurt and corrupt US Senator Vine reunite with Pyg. Coupled with Hurt, Pyg is fully unhinged, taking PCP and ranting about the destruction of reason. He mentions being in Arkham was akin to the “rats in Rockville,” which, as Rikdad says, is likely a reference to the fictional asylum “Rockland” from Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” Day one of Hurt’s chaos ends as the Dollotrons kidnap Gordon and render Batman unconscious. Luckily, Alfred is able to rescue and patch up Batman, who is unconscious for several hours while Pyg activates his citywide viral narcotic, turning hundreds of Gothamites into crazed violent junkies. As Pyg prepares to torture Gordon, Senator Vine is stricken with a fatal case of laughter. Joker has used his vast resources to lace the catered snacks inside Hurt’s HQ with Joker Juice. The final “Finger” of the Black Glove slowly and painfully laughs himself to death while Batman begins firebombing the building with a Bat-helicopter. Batman saves Gordon, but the latter has been affected by the viral narcotic and clubs the Dark Knight back into unconsciousness. Concurrently, Joker has broken into the Bat-Bunker with a tied-up Robin and a live nuclear bomb. Hurt’s third day of chaos begins with 18% of Gotham’s population inflicted with Pyg’s virus. Hurt, now the undisputed king of Gotham, makes his public debut, posing as a returning Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) and claiming that he never actually died all those decades ago. Amid a media blitz, Hurt makes his triumphant return to Wayne Manor. Robin easily saves the commish but is captured and thrown alongside Dick in the Manor. Hurt then plugs a .32 caliber pellet in the back of Dick’s skull designed to cause permanent neurological damage within twelve hours if not treated. A crazed Hurt then demands that Damian pledge his allegiance to him. But who should return to save the day? Bruce Wayne! Bruce has literally just arrived directly from the final page of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6. Interestingly, in this arc, Hurt tells us that Pyg enjoys corruption for its own sake. Pyg is shown hanging upside down on an inverted crucifix, mirroring his debut in Batman #666.
The story immediately continues in Batman & Robin #16 (Grant Morrison, Frazer Irving, Cameron Stewart, and Chris Burnham, January 2011). Hurt welcomes Bruce by turning loose the 99 Fiends on him. Batman, Batman, and Robin kick ass. While Bruce enters the Batcave, Damian and Dick take on Pyg. During this confrontation, Pyg refers to himself as “Napoleon”—not the French statesman, but the Josef Stalin allusion “Napoleon the Pig” from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Using Pyg’s enflamed H.H.-style “mommy made of nails” prop, Dick and Damian take care of Pyg by manipulating his own Dollotrons to attack him. Bruce beats Hurt to a bloody pulp before realizing that Alfred is tied-up inside gyro-copter wreckage at the bottom of the Batcave’s deepest underwater pool. Bruce dives in, allowing Hurt to escape. However, as Hurt emerges from a secret mausoleum exit, Joker is eagerly awaiting with his own trap. On cue, Hurt slips on Joker’s banana peel and breaks his neck! The Clown Prince of Crime shovels Hurt’s limp body (and now Jokerized rictus grinning face) into an empty grave. Across town, Damian defuses the nuclear bomb in the Bat-Bunker. Joker sings and dances in celebration all over Wayne Cemetery until Bruce punches his lights out. Within hours, the viral narcotic has been neutralized and Dick has made a speedy recovery following a round of emergency brain surgery from Doctor Pennyworth. Joker and Pyg are both incarcerated, although only Joker knows the secret burial location of Hurt (right under everyone’s noses). Later, Bruce makes his public return and drops one of the biggest bombshells in the history of Batman, announcing that he has personally financed Batman’s war on crime from the beginning and that, from this moment forward, Wayne Enterprises will fund a global anti-crime network known as “Batman Incorporated.”
Batman Incorporated #3-5 (Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, Pere Pérez, Michel Lacombe, Nathan Fairbairn, and Chris Burnham, March 2011-May 2011) is an important arc because, for the first time, it gives us the “Son of Pyg”: Pyg’s legit son, murderer Johnny Valentine. Batwoman chases after him through Kathy Kane’s recently re-opened circus, collecting an “Ouroboros” pendant clue from him, which leads to a British military secret hidden in the South Atlantic (i.e. where Doc Dedalus supposedly remains imprisoned on one of the Falkland Islands). Remember Dedalus is the guy Pyg built bio-weapons for back in the day. This leads to Batwoman, The Hood, Gaucho, and Batman (Bruce) all converging upon the Falkland Islands to confront Dedalus and Scorpiana. However, when they arrive they learn that Dedalus has long since switched places with a decoy. Not only that, his deceased handlers were also working for the terrorist organization Leviathan, which, unknown to the heroes at this juncture, is run by Talia al Ghul.
Chronologically speaking, Pyg’s next Modern Age appearance is in the much-maligned Convergence series. In issue #3 (Jeff King, Stephen Segovia, Jason Paz, and Peter Steigerwald, June 2015), alternate Earth versions of a couple heroes fight against a gaggle of baddies, including White Knight, The Absence, Victor Zsasz, Eduardo Flamingo, Riddler, Old King Coal, Man-Bat (Kirk Langstrom), Simon Hurt, and Pyg. Overwhelmed, an alternate-Earth Batman detonates a suicide-bomb, killing himself to take out the villains. Pyg is blown to smithereens. Of course, we can ignore this as basically being non-canon, erased from existence due to a long complicated process involving retcons, reboots, and various other later publications. It’s a story not worth mentioning further, so I won’t.
Continuing onward. The also-much-maligned series Damian: Son of Batman (Andy Kubert and Brad Anderson, December 2013-March 2014) gives us our next chronological Pyg. (This series had the confusing distinction of being published in the New 52 era, but written for the Modern Age, hence its quasi-canonical status in both continuities.) Our story, in relation to Pyg, begins with a fifteen-year-old Damian arguing with his dad in the Batcave. This leads to Bruce getting accidentally impaled on a sharp item. Alfred rushes in to stabilize Bruce and orders Damian to leave. Naturally, Damian becomes Batman for the first time ever—the 666 version of the character from Batman #666 (the very comic that originally debuted Pyg). Damian’s first challenge as Batman, much like his first as Robin alongside Dick (when Dick became Batman for the first official time) is against Pyg (sporting a new look) and his Dollotrons. Pyg kicks Damian’s butt and blows him into the Gotham River, nearly killing him.
Will Batman-666 get his revenge? Well, not really, but, as we already know, Pyg gets what’s coming to him in Batman #666. As referenced in Batman #666, Morrison’s Batman #700 (August 2010), and Damian: Son of Batman #1-2, Damian takes three years to hone his craft as Gotham’s primary protector, during which time he gains a motley rogue’s gallery, including Pyg, which hints at unspecified return matches against the crazy villain. We also learn that Pyg has become one of Gotham’s top mob bosses during this time period, so it’s possible that Damian beats him up a few times for good measure—albeit off-panel.
Eventually, we come full circle on the Pyg ouroboros for the Modern Age. We started with Batman #666 and that is where we shall end. In Batman #666, Michael Lane, former substitute Batman and former Azrael, returns to Gotham obsessed with destroying Damian at the behest of his master, Simon Hurt. Dressed in his old substitute Batman costume, Lane kills five of the top Gotham mob bosses, including Pyg.
And that’s all she wrote! Join us in the next installment of this article, where we look at the life and times of Pyg in the New 52, New Age (Rebirth Era), and various other spin-off media.