The strange history of Robin villain Lord Death Man

DC’s Robin ongoing has not been lacking in villains. If you have been following the events of Shadow War, you know that classic baddies such as Prometheus have chosen a side in the war between Deathstroke and League of Assassins, alongside newly-introduced ne’er-do-wells like Angelbreaker. And though Shadow War has officially drawn to a close, the Robin series has not dropped its inclusion of some of DC’s worst supervillains and, in the latest chapter of the story, weirdest.

Spoilers ahead for Robin #15

Lord Death Man

Lord Death Man in Robin #15 (Image credit: DC)

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Robin #15 is written by Joshua Williamson, drawn by Roger Cruz, inked by Norm Rapmund,  colored by Luis Guerrero, and lettered by Troy Peteri. The issue finds Damian Wayne striking out on his own to implement the lessons he’s learned in Shadow War. One of the goals he sets his eyes on is to reform Lazarus Island, a former territory of the League of Shadows. Along with DC Pride star Connor Hawke, Robin seeks to turn the Island into a refuge for people like himself, whose lives have been touched by supervillainy.

But just moments after Robin says this, a supervillain appears on the shores of Lazarus Island, though it doesn’t seem like he’s there to conquer. Before we get into his motivations, however, let’s answer the question – just who is Lord Death Man?

Death Man in Batman #180

Death Man in Batman #180 (Image credit: DC)

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Originally introduced in 1966’s Batman #180, the villain called “Death Man” was created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff. He was a powerful gangster with the ability to go into a coma-like state, fooling his enemies into believing him dead, only to revive himself. Despite his unique power, the character didn’t seem to have much sticking power in American comics. Luckily for him, a resurrection was coming.

In 1967, manga publisher Shōnen King licensed its own Batman stories directly from DC. Creators Jiro Kuwata, Toshio Okazaki, and Takashi Minaomuru began creating Batman stories for Japan, and the antagonist they chose for him was Death Man, renamed “Lord Death Man” after the Japanese translation. 

The manga lasted about a year and went largely unnoticed by American audiences, until David Mazzucchelli (of Batman: Year One) fame, rediscovered the stories at a Japanese comic convention in the early 90s. Mazzucchelli told friend and novelist Chip Kidd about what he’d found, and after years of investigation and compilation, Kidd released Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan. Once again, Lord Death man had washed up on a distant shore – this time, the shores of the United States. 

Lord Death Man in Japanese Batman manga

Lord Death Man in Japanese Batman manga (Image credit: DC)

Since then, the character has made appearances in comics and other Batman media. Most notably, Grant Morrison used him in their Batman Inc. saga, and the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold released an episode based on the original manga. Since the Rebirth of the DCU, LDM has tangled with the likes of Harley Quinn and the League of Assassins, trading his coma-like trick death for real, supernatural healing abilities drawn from Lazarus Pits. 

Oh, and did we mention he picked up a sidekick?

In the pages of Robin Annual #1, it’s revealed that the mysterious character Flatline, who can steal the abilities of dead people, was at one point the protégé of Lord Death Man. The mysterious character entered the Lazarus Tournament, a Mortal-Kombat-style competition that was central to the lead-up to Shadow War, as a representative of LDM, though we only caught glimpses of him via flashbacks. 

Lord Death Man and Flatline

Lord Death Man and Flatline (Image credit: DC)

Now Lord Death Man has ventured to Lazarus Island himself, although in a far worse state than last we saw him. As Connor and Damian rushed to the nearly drowned villain’s side, he pleads for their aide, shouting:

“Flatline is out of control! She’s trying to kill me for good! You’re my only hope!”

What happened between Lord Death Man and Flatline that the former sidekick would want to murder her mentor? What secret has she discovered that could end the immortal life of Lord Death man forever? And how will this affect the budding romance between Flatline and Robin himself, as we saw in previous issues?

We’ll have to keep reading to find out. For now, Robin #15 is on sale in comic shops and digital platforms everywhere June 28. 

While we don’t know what’s next for Robin and Lord Death Man, we do know it will have something to do with Batman Vs. Robin, an event coming to DC this September.

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