Not with a whimper, but a bang. The dark and convoluted path of Doctor Hurt comes to an end (apparently, for now) in Convergence #3 as the second Batman of the fourth-or-so Earth Two sets off an explosion that kills himself, Hurt, and some of Hurt's lackies in order to save Dick Grayson. In an unacknowledged quirk, this is Thomas Wayne (the father of the New 52's Bruce Wayne) killing Thomas Wayne (an 18th-century ancestor of New Earth's Bruce Wayne). So, it's a fitting time for an obituary for the villain of Batman R.I.P., and one of Grant Morrison's finest creations.
Hurt was visually designed to match the unnamed doctor who appeared in the "Robin Dies at Dawn" story back in 1963. This benign and largely-undefined character was brought back in cameos starting with Batman #673 (though his hands, perhaps, were seen holding binoculars at the end of Batman #665 and his handiwork was on-panel as far back as #655) and was gradually, hint by hint, developed into the major villain of Morrison's two-year run on Batman, and then played a similar role in Morrison's Batman and Robin and concurrent Return of Bruce Wayne. Otherwise, he has hardly appeared at all. Presumably, his long life span would let him remain alive and very unhappy where the Joker buried him on the grounds of Wayne Manor. He appeared in a singularly dark role in Batman, Inc. vol. 2 #5, as an adviser to the President of the United States who convinces the Commander in Chief to destroy Gotham City with nuclear weapons. This was in a possible future which was averted, but it did assert that Hurt remained a piece on the table who could appear again. In Convergence #3, Jeff King writes his apparent finale.
I think the saga of Doctor Hurt proves the power of the unseen, and conversely, the weakness of the obvious, the flaw in storytelling that lays everything bare. In a few tantalizingly brief appearances strung out over a year and a half, Grant Morrison made Doctor Hurt into a villain of tremendous intrigue and potential, someone who could perhaps out-plan Batman, someone who could perhaps have become a major villain on a par with Luthor or the Joker, but who was instead dismantled into a mere raving thug, first by Morrison, and now finally by King. There was an unrealized potential here, and DC Comics are the poorer for it.
At the end of Batman #680, with Doctor Hurt hosting the Black Glove party in Arkham Asylum, with a maddened Batman falling prey to Joker toxin while Jezebel Jet smiled with evil joy, who was Doctor Hurt? We didn't know. The set-up, as we understood it, was that the mystery "Who is the Black Glove?" was the greatest mystery we'd seen in comics for a very long time. It had gradually become apparent that Doctor Hurt was the Black Glove, not the henchman of a higher-up, but who was Doctor Hurt? It was a mystery, and everybody had a guess.
What, at that point, did we know about Doctor Hurt? Very little. We knew that he was evil, ran the Black Glove organization that met annually to bet on life and death, and that evil itself, rather than power or riches, was his apparent motive. We knew that he especially hated Batman, and that he had been planning for a very long time to make this one, decisive bid to destroy the caped crusader. And with a promise that Bruce Wayne would be sidelined from DC Comics, it looked like he was going to win. In a sense, he did.
I believed that Doctor Hurt was the Devil. And this was the correct idea, to a point. To the extent that Batman #681 was going to reveal anything, that's what it was going to reveal, and I thought this had been made clear a few issues earlier. Eventually, a Grant Morrison interview revealed as much: "This is the story of how Batman cheats The Devil." But it was an ambiguous reveal, to fit the tone of Batman, R.I.P. to its logical (non)conclusion.
Morrison's run on Batman was intended to homage and exemplify spooky, ambiguous stories. The original Zur En Arrh story seems to be a dream, but Batman ends it with a gadget called the Bat-Radia in his hand, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. A revamped Bat-Mite (called "Might") appeared with no explanation as to whether he was real or a fantasy. It was only later that I realized the artful ambiguity of the word "Might" itself: It can mean power, or it can be the modal verb "might" meaning "may" or "can be." Bat-Might was ambiguously real. He might be a figment of Batman's imagination, or he might be a magical fifth-dimensional imp. Finally, in a laugh line, he tells a frustrated Batman that imagination is the fifth dimension. Was he imaginary or from another dimension? Yes and no. Neither answer is right, and both are. This ambiguity, playing everything right down the middle, was also behind the nature of a minor character named Honor Jackson. A struggling, drugged, mind-zapped Bruce Wayne spends one day wandering the streets of Gotham with Honor Jackson only to find out that Honor Jackson had already died. Did Batman imagine him, or did a magical Bat-Might resusitate Honor Jackson so he could spend a day redeeming his failed life by helping Batman? Yes and no. The story works hard to avoid giving us a clear answer. And we were being given half the answer right then of "Who is the Black Glove?" Meaning that we weren't going to get an answer, or that we were going to get a spooky answer that begs a follow up. "Doctor Hurt was The Devil… or was he?"
So, yes, Doctor Hurt was played right down the middle the whole way, as a "man who may or may not have been some manifestation of the Devil" (in Bruce's words) or as something else. But that something else was never defined. The story teased that perhaps Doctor Hurt was Bruce's father, but this possibility was never in keeping with DC's sacrosanct lore, and was eventually refuted. But that something else remained vague. Whatever Doctor Hurt was, where was he five years ago, or twenty, or fifty? Where did his timeline begin? When Doctor Hurt was at his best, we didn't know, and we would never know. Like the long-teased, but never-delivered (well, for a long time, anyway) origins of the Joker or the Phantom Stranger, the ambiguity of Doctor Hurt was what made him interesting. He was evil, a master planner, a perfect foil to Batman, and inspired Damian's remarks in a possible future: "I know The Devil exists, or at least something which might as well be The Devil. I've met him."
When Doctor Hurt returned in the second season of Morrison's Batman work, the mystery was maintained for a while. We saw that Hurt had somehow survived (even Batman didn't know how) and stepped into the role of a Mexican drug lord, and had an army of intriguing cronies who had been broken and made into slaves. This was all in keeping with the ambiguous (and oddly psychological) evil of Doctor Hurt as the focus of evil in the world, "the hole in things." A brilliant scene in Batman and Robin #13 showed us a fantasy that couldn't be real, of Doctor Hurt killing the Waynes then taking over as an evil Thomas Wayne. This ambiguity remained and remains: Did Doctor Hurt order the murder of the Waynes? Would Bruce have died had not Joe Chill lost his nerve because he'd had a boy of his own? Did Bruce's survival of the hit ruin Doctor Hurt's plan to become the dark lord of Wayne Manor? It's a compelling vision and made more powerful by its ambiguity. We don't know. We may never know.
And then it unraveled. A few scenes, beginning in the "Western" chapter of Return of Bruce Wayne, then elegantly reprising "Dark Knight, Dark City" and an old World's Finest tale, unmasked Doctor Hurt as an older member of the Waynes, coincidentally named Thomas, who had sought a deal with The Devil and inadvertently summoned a force sent by Darkseid and was changed by it. It all fit, it all made sense, it tied things together, but Doctor Hurt the master became Doctor Hurt the servant, and there went the mystery.
Still, ambiguity remained. Still, he arguably embodied the central evil in the universe. But the myth was weakened. I think there was a lost opportunity to build Doctor Hurt into a pivotal force in DC Comics. There was no logical way to salvage his debut as a villain with one really big, years-long plan, but maybe he could have been kept lurking in the shadows, part of something big and dark and mythic. But the end of Batman and Robin's first year and a half dismantled that possibility.
And now he ends here. His final line is a disappointingly cliché, "And I say, first we kill this Batman, then we kill the other one, and his boy!" He's simply an opportunist, looking to stick someone with a knife when the occasion arises. It's like seeing Doctor Fate sit down in his boxers, turn on the television, and eat peanut butter out of the jar. The mystery is gone. And so is Doctor Hurt. But it's the mystery we'll miss more.