The Ultrahumanite debuted in Action Comics #13 in 1939. He was introduced as a mad, balding genius code-named Ultra. He was distinctive in two ways: He was the first returning Superman villain, and he was the first transsexual character in comics. After his first appearance in Action Comics #13, Ultra came back seven months later in Action Comics #20 as Dolores Winters, an actress.
Because the Ultrahumanite encountered Superman early in his career during the Golden Age, he was classified as an Earth-Two villain. During the cusp of the multiverse era of DC comics, he made one final transplant. He placed his brain in a mutated albino ape. This incarnation of Ultrahumanite would later be voiced by Ian Buchanan in Bruce Timm and Company’s Justice League.
There was a post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Ultrahumanite that was seen in James Robinson’s and Paul Smith’s The Golden Age, portions of which were briefly incorporated into DC continuity. However, not many readers know that there was an Ultrahumanite, of sorts, on Earth-One. He did not harass Superman, though. He faced the Dark Knight.
The story was written and illustrated by Jim Starlin. P. Craig Russell finished the artwork, and Wally Wood’s ex-wife, Tatjana Wood, colored the story—or, in the case of the Ultrahumanite as an albino ape, did not color. The tale spanned two chapters found in Detective Comics 481 and 482.
The story opens with Batman being summoned by Commissioner Gordon to the aftermath of a grisly murder. The butchery shocks even “the world’s greatest detective.” He almost immediately comments on the similarity between the crime scene and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” One of the first detective stories, “Rue Morgue” introduces a killer using a conditioned orangutan as his murder weapon.
Batman sights a clue at the murder scene. It’s a picture taken during the war of the victim along with two other men–a man named Xavier Simon and Batman’s father Thomas Wayne. The photograph brings a memory to the surface of Batman’s mind.
Batman tracks down Xavier Simon, but he finds that Simon has been confined to a wheelchair–which would seem to drop him from Batman’s list of suspects. However, during their meeting, Simon boasts that he wanted to get revenge on the others–and that during his research he has discovered Batman and Bruce Wayne are “one in the same.”
Simon furthermore relates a fanciful tale that he has tapped twisted science to transfer his mind into an ape’s brain. Batman doubts his claim, but the chapter ends with Batman facing an albino ape possessing Xavier Simon’s voice and, worse for Batman, Simon’s malignant intelligence.
The second chapter of the tale opens with Batman, bound to an operating table, awakening to face Xavier Simon in his new form of an albino ape. The ape informs Batman that “Xavier Simon plans to die.” This is no suicide plan. He has bequeathed is fortune to Bruce Wayne, and he intends to transfer his mind from the ape’s brain into Batman while simultaneously transferring Batman’s mind into the husk of Xavier Simon’s old body.
He then intends something even more nightmarish. Once the transfers are completed, he will kill Batman by strangling the decrepit form of Simon.
Needless to say Batman’s anger fuels his survival. His role as the greatest escape artist on the planet gets tested, and he bursts free of his bonds. Batman engages in a brutal battle against Simon’s ape form, and it all ends on the rooftop.
The ape hoists Batman over his head and is about to throw him to the streets of Gotham below, but Batman sees a “glint. He “shifts his weight” to prepare for his final escape. A security guard unloads his gun into the ape’s back, and the combination of impact and shock sends Xavier Simon plunging like King Kong to the concrete.
Whatever happened to the Earth-One Ultrahumanite?
For the good of Gotham, for the benefit of the world, for the sake of survival, Batman let him die.