Alexander Sartorius is a mad criminal with radioactive powers. He is primarily an enemy of Batman.
A crack in a reactor core caused Alex Sartorius to get "five million slivers of (radioactive) red-hot sand" into his body. Burning forever, he started a quest for revenge against the people he blamed for his terrible fate.
A leering skeletal face—projected by lasers—leered down at the audience of a rock concert at Gotham's Sprang Stadium. Toxic phosphorus fumes were being pumped through the ventilation system into the sealed dome. The audience's life span, the madman cackled, could now be measured in minutes. The death toll from the ensuing stampede for an exit and the poison is unknown, but Police Chief O'Hara would later shudder that "it was TERRIBLE!"
Nearly twenty-four hours earlier, in the wee hours of a winter morning, Gotham General Hospital had unexpectedly been thrust into crisis mode when more than four dozen citizens were admitted in the span of an hour. Among the victims rendered comatose by a fast-acting poison was Alfred Pennyworth, butler to millionaire Bruce Wayne. Three minutes after Wayne had brought Alfred to the hospital, Batman was on the case.
The Dark Knight soon learned that the police had already received a note claiming credit for the outbreak: "Phosphorus BURNS when exposed to the AIR! The good citizens of Gotham City have earned my RIGHTEOUS WRATH, and THEY will BURN for it -- for I am -- Dr. Phosphorus."
Systematically checking off possible avenues that might have spread the virus, Batman hit on the source just as he prepared to drink a glass of water. "Of course! Gotham's a twenty-four hour town, so it must be only night-workers who have drunk water so far. But there'll be SEVEN MILLION MORE PEOPLE getting up in the next two hours -- !" The alert reached Commissioner Gordon too late—he'd already been infected—but a call to the Assistant Commissioner enabled the water system to be sealed off before the count of victims began to multiply into the hundreds of thousands
Batman himself headed for the Gotham Reservoir and found the instigator of the Phosphorus Plague was still on the scene. The madman was a ghastly sight, a glowing skeleton whose nearly invisible flesh surrounded him in a white outline. The aura, he proclaimed, was "living phosphorus" and the flaming man proved more than an unprotected Batman could withstand. Suffering from multiple burns, the Dark Knight could only watch as his deranged foe fled. "You never say die, Batman! That is why I cannot kill you now ... not on our first encounter. The thrill of the game would be ended too soon!"
Although the radioactive burns represented a clear problem, the Dark Knight was determined to see the case through to its conclusion. The Gotham City Council didn't help matters when they inexplicably banned Batman's activities during the recovering Commissioner Gordon's absence. In the wake of the Sprang Stadium massacre, Batman realized that a nuclear power plant three miles offshore was the only facility in the area capable of concealing the radioactive villain.
Hoping to solve both of The Batman's problems, Bruce Wayne invited much of the City Council and other influental Gothamites to a weekend dinner party aboard his yacht—that just happened to sail near the plant. Making his apologies to his date Silver St. Cloud, Bruce slipped into a radiation-shielded costume and confronted Phosphorus in the nuclear facilty. With his burning touch no longer effective, the villain made a feint intended to cast Batman into the reactor core—only to plunge to his apparent doom.
The Dark Knight didn't piece together the full story until a week later, when he eavesdropped on a meeting of Councilman Rupert Thorne's cronies. After Phosphorus' first encounter with Batman at the Reservoir, he'd had an intimate conversation with Doctor Bell, a practitioner at Gotham General and, more importantly, a member of the City Council. Bell had induced his friend and fellow physician Alexander James Sartorius into joining the inner circle of Gotham's influential Tobacconists' Club and convinced Sartorius to invest in a forthcoming nuclear power plant.
Eventually, protests from the city's citizens forced the reactor to be constructed outside the city limits, three miles offshore. "Now, the plant needed more money to cover the structural changes -- and there was no more money. We had already dangerously overextended ourselves -- so we had to cut corners elsewhere." While checking out the site in a private tour in November of the previous year, Sartorius witnessed the newly-installed reactor core beginning to break open.
It was far too late to flee so the doctor took cover behind a blockade of sand bags " -- and then everything let loose!! Five million slivers of red-hot sand were driven through my body! But not -- hee hee -- ordinary sand. No! RADIOACTIVE sand -- blasted upward one level on the chemical scale. Atomic number fifteen -- silicon -- became number sixteen -- phosphorus. Phosphorus -- which must forever BURN!"
Under penalty of death, Bell was instructed by Phosphorus to muzzle Batman by declaring his activities off limits in Gotham. Thorne was determined to leave Batman's outlaw status intact and the Dark Knight, whose wounds were still radioactive, was in no position to fight back. Over the next few weeks, Batman's burns were healed—by Hugo Strange, remarkably enough, who discovered Bruce's secret identity. Thorne, meanwhile, suffered a complete breakdown soon after murdering Strange and confessed to decades of wrongdoing—including his role in hampering Batman's activities.
The return of Doctor Phosphorus was heralded by flaming footprints outside the power plant two years later. After paying a brief visit to Thorne at Arkham Asylum, the skeletal terrorist prepared to punish the citizens of Gotham for once again threatening to close down "his" nuclear facility. Proclaiming to Batman that the core had given him even greater power, he shouted that "Dr. Phosphorus shall reign over all!"
While chatting with Barbara Gordon at a nuclear protest rally, Batman keyed in on Phosphorus' likely means of attack when Babara mentioned the chance of rain (as in reign). The Dark Knight concluded that "Phosphorus HAS to try seeding the clouds with material he's irradiated. There's no other way!" Batman—again clothed in an anti-radiation uniform—and Batgirl raced for the airport and, as anticipated, the villain was preparing to take off in a private plane. Batman disabled the craft by ramming it with the Batmobile, but he was rendered unconscious as a result. Doctor Phosphorus had no such problems.
With no protection from the burning man, Batgirl could do little more than dodge his attacks—until she remembered Batman's costume. Pulling off his shielded cape, Batgirl encircled Phosphorus with it and tightened its grip with her lasso. The villain's flames were extinguished and a groggy Batman awoke to find "the situation well in hand".
Doctor Phosphorus soon joined Rupert Thorne in Arkham but spent a period at large after being freed from Arkham by Ra's al Ghul. Ra's wished to use Phosphorus in his plans against Batman, but after Clayface stated he would follow no man's orders and stalked away, Doctor Phosphorus was the first to follow, prompting fellow rogues Cluemaster, Black Mask, Captain Stingaree, Tweedledum, and Tweedledee to leave as well. However, He was soon back in his custom-made glass cell at the asylum after being recaptured.
Later, Phosphorus had been transferred to the Belle Reve facility in Louisiana and it was there that he and the other inmates were unleashed by the inhuman Neron, who offered to fulfill their greatest desires in exchange for their souls. Sartorius agreed to the deal and was transformed. Now he glowed with an orange-red flame that he could control with such skill that he could wear clothing (a quaint, gangster-derived suit and tie) without burning it off. His power, Phosphorus claimed, was "twenty times what it was" and he was now capable of projecting bursts of fiery energy from his fists.
The villain would subsequently wonder whether the bargain had been worth it. "Ahh, but the joy of a cigarette ... that he can hold one again". Now a chain-smoker on the order of Infinity, Inc. ally and current DEO director Mister Bones, Phosphorus kept a cigarette clenched between his teeth as he stalked Ted (Starman) Knight through the old man's observatory home on his first outing as a free man. Sartorius had been approached by the female Mist while in Belle Reve and, newly enhanced, he agreed to work on her behalf to murder the foe of the original Mist—Knight.
Having failed to stop the burning man with water, Ted—already burned on the arm—gambled on a final strategy and used his cosmic rod to knock Phosphorus into the room where he prepared his unique liquid coolant. The fire was extinguished as the fluid poured over Phosphorus and Knight knocked him out with a blow to the head by a steel bar.
While awaiting trial in Opal City's Cray Prison, Phosphorus was among several flame-based villains who suffered ill health or had their powers temporarily negated by invading white Martians (mentioned in JLA # 4). Faking a relapse, Phosphorus engineered a horrific escape from Cray. "Seventeen guards were killed in the breakout, many dying hours afterwards from a severe and advanced form of radiation poisoning." A baffled Ted Knight wondered why the radiation had failed to affect him in their earlier clash.
The desire for revenge against the elder Starman burned in Phosphorus but he vowed to bide his time and entered into an alliance with other enemies of the Knight family and their friends. Phosphorus struck the first blow against Mikaal Tomas before making his long-awaited second attack on Ted Knight.
This time, Phosphorus had given Knight a significant dose of radiation, which gave him terminal cancer. In a third and final confrontation, Knight was determined to ensure that Phosphorus would harm no one else. During the battle, he used his cosmic rod to tear the pavement from beneath Phosphorus and drive him into the earth, apparently killing him.
After the supposed death of Doctor Phosphorus, Oracle suspected that there may be more to the villain's story than what has been revealed. Having fought him while she was Batgirl, she was initially skeptical that he was even the same person. "While this Doctor Phosphorus appears to have recovered somewhat from the tragic madness that had afflicted James Sartorius, his mental state is still far from sound. As noted, he has adopted a bizarre style of dress and the demeanor of a b-movie gunsel."
Phosphorus returned in Detective Comics #825, where he was being held in Cadmus Research laboratories. When one of the scientists examining him said he heard Sartorius had died, the other replied, "From being crushed? Hardly. Everything human in Sartorius was consumed by fire long ago. We believe his powers manifested a fusion reaction that completely sublimated his central nervous system--creating functional facsimiles of his heart, his lungs, his kidneys--all working in concert to produce a near-endless supply of clean energy."
Phosphorus was able to escape from Cadmus, and once again sought revenge on the people who had caused his decision. He was defeated by Batman during an attack on Rupert Thorne, and he was imprisoned in Arkham Asylum.
Phosphorus briefly appears in Batman and Robin #25 were he fought Robin but was defeated by Nightwing.
In Batgirl #6 Phosphorus was hired by Roulette as part of a show to kill Batman who was injured when his Batmobile crashed. Phosphorus was the first hunter to catch up with Batman and was deciding whether to kill Batman or give him cancer when robin attacked him he overpowered Robin but Roxy Rocket's rocket crashed in to him after Batgirl overpowered Roxy Rocket.
Powers and abilities
Doctor Phosphorus has burning skin, toxic emissions, and can manipulate radiation. When he sold his soul to Neron, Doctor Phosphorus was granted better control of his powers with more control of it so his clothes won't burn off him.
In other media
- The character Blight from the animated series Batman Beyond has a design that strongly resembles Doctor Phosphorus.
- In The Batman, Firefly's mutation from the Phosphorus Isotope causes him to become Phosphorus, who is somewhat based on Doctor Phosphorus. He has the same powers of Doctor Phosphorus, but he burns orange flame instead of white.
- Doctor Phosphorous, or rather, his civilian identity of Dr. Alex Sartorius, was referenced in Batman: Arkham Knight twice. First in the interview tapes with Simon Stagg, which were made by Sartorious in an attempt to expose his former employer for his crimes upon learning of his deal with Scarecrow. Second in the Arkham Knight City Story "Lab Rat", which elaborated on his fate that was alluded to in the ending of the third part of the Stagg tapes. Specifically, he was accused of betrayal, made a test subject of Crane's fear gas, and then hallucinated his being consumed by fire (acting as a subtle nod to his identity of Doctor Phosphorous from the comics).
- Doctor Phosphorus makes several cameos in the film The Lego Batman Movie alongside other Batman villains.