5712 in-depth character profiles from comics, games, movies

Zeiss (Batman enemy) (DC Comics) in a long leather coat under the rain

Philo Zeiss


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

Philo Zeiss is an intriguing Batman opponent, and a top-end martial artist. He was created by Ed Brubaker and Scott McDaniel in 2000.

Unfortunately, he has been sadley under-used, and even jobbed  a bit. Surely can better stories be told ?


Background

  • Real Name: Philo Zeiss
  • Marital Status: Unrevealed
  • Known Relatives: Parents (deceased), Viktor (uncle).
  • Group Affiliation: None
  • Base Of Operations: A huge, luxurious villa in Gibraltar.
  • Height: 6’1” Weight: 197 lbs
  • Eyes: Greenish grey Hair: Reddish brown, currently shaven bald.


Powers and Abilities

Philo Zeiss is a world-class martial artist and athlete. His optic nerves, frontal lobes and spinal columns have been altered to give his superhuman speed. As a result, he can see the world in slow motion.

He’s also hypermnesic , particularly when it comes to remembering images in perfect detail.

The goggles, they do something

Zeiss owns an intricate pair of goggles. The lenses act as high-speed camera shutters, allowing him to perceive the world as a super-rapid series of freeze frames. This is similar to a bullet time effect. With his enhanced nervous system and his photographic memory, he can precisely study those images and analyze an opponent’s combat style.

Zeiss briefs a mercenary sniper

Thus, after watching somebody fight, he is particularly redoubtable. Zeiss becomes able to predict and counter most of his opponent’s best moves. And he continues to study the freeze-frames he acquires even as he fights. However, if he is deprived of the goggles, he loses a major asset.

A recent appearance revealed that the Goggles also had sophisticated night vision capabilities, plus some sort of computer analysis suite and HUD. Our game stats assume they have a limited ability to defeat smoke and similar visual cover, but that wasn’t clearly demonstrated.

Nemesis

When fully prepared, Zeiss is practically invincible when fighting street-level heroes. He completely outclassed Catwoman, who is a world-class acrobat and martial artist. He was clearly superior to even the legendary Batman in close combat.

First rate fighters such as the Huntress and the Question didn’t even try to fight him. They knew that, even being two against one, he’d just slaughter them.

Zeiss also has a remarkable ability to wage psychological warfare. This makes his ability to take on an opponent he has prepared again even harder to deal with, but doesn’t help otherwise.

He’s also good with all sort of security, criminal and detective skills – for instance when it comes to tracking down people, or shadowing a target. He’ll usually find his man.

Discrepancies

A couple of Zeiss’s appearances depict a markedly different performance from his prior and subsequent fights. Both occurred during the War Games cross-over , which had numerous continuity problems when it came to the abilities of the characters.

This profiles rationalises those appearances by postulating that Zeiss was weakened by a recent grievous wound.


History

Philo Zeiss was raised in Zurich, Switzerland. His parents died when he was a child. Little Philo was left under the care of Viktor, his elderly uncle – who worked as a gardener for a Sicilian expatriate.

When Viktor died the Sicilian, seeing a kid left alone in this world, took Philo under his wing. That was out of loyalty toward his old gardener. The man was still a don in the mob, and noticed Philo’s eyes – cold, grey eyes. According to a home country tale, such eyes were the eyes of death.

A view through Zeiss's goggles

The don superstitiously assumed that a boy with those eyes would be a master of violence. Thus, he had the kid accompany his enforcers so he could watch and learn. Then, training started. And, indeed, Philo had formidable talent for the martial arts, and found great solace in them.

Cosa nostra

When Zeiss was old enough, he joined the Sicilian’s enforcers. He soon was the Don’s bodyguard and main soldato. He was very, very good. No one could touch him.

The Sicilian asked Herr Zeiss to risk an experimental surgical procedure. The goal was for him to reach the next level, that of the superhuman martial artist. Zeiss immediately agreed despite the considerable risks. After all, the youth believed that he owned his life to the Don.

The operation worked, leaving him with superhuman reflexes and efficiency. Zeiss could now see the world in slow motion. Furthermore, he could perfectly recall, and accurately replay in his mind’s eye, the moves of his opponents.

Zeiss in the darkness

When the Don died from old age, Zeiss became a freelance bodyguard for top crimelords in Europe. He gained a superb reputation. He kept on intensely training for years, as he wouldn’t be satisfied by being anything but the very best in the world. In this quest, he heard about the Batman, an undefeated master of uncounted fighting arts.

Zeiss started looking for security contracts in Gotham. He hoped that it would allow him to pit his abilities against Batman. Powerful underworld backers heard of this and sponsored his relocation. They believed that Zeiss could be the man who’d kill Batman.

A man with stroboscope eyes

Philo Zeiss’s first fight against the Batman was a clear victory. Thinking himself ready, Zeiss was ordered by his backers to seek a rematch and go for the kill.

To set this up Zeiss became, with the help of the Penguin, the accomplice of Jeremy Samuels. Samuels, the former head of the Wayne Enterprises security, had gone criminal after the senseless death of his family. He was known to be a very intelligent professional.

Zeiss had him stage two daring heists. The first was intended to be foiled by the Batman, while Zeiss watched him for afar. The robbers were actually all trained martial artists. This setup allowed Zeiss to record an entire live fight in his head, using his photographic memory.

The Swiss-German bodyguard accompanied Samuels on the next hit. He engaged the Batman in combat, clearly dominating him. However, Samuels suddenly had a change of heart when he realized Zeiss would soon kill Batman. He raised his gun.

Samuels was shot dead by the police. From their angle of view, it looked like he was going to shoot the Batman from behind. Then, a stray bullet from Samuels’ Uzi shattered Zeiss’ goggles. Though this forced Zeiss to flee, the operation had been tightly run. It left no lead for Batman to determine whom Zeiss was.

Mister Moxon

Philo Zeiss next became the personal bodyguard of Lew Moxon. Moxon had been the legit front man for the Gotham mob 20 years ago. He had gone as far as to enter the political race to be elected Mayor. This ambition went sour, and after his connections were revealed Moxon had to pay a fortune in lawyers and leave the US. Moxon had only come back in recent years.

Zeiss' goggles

Moxon was back to reclaim his former position. Obviously, this made the recruitment of a world-class bodyguard a wise investment. Howbeit, this resulted in some Gotham exposure for Zeiss, allowing Oracle and Batman to identify him at least.

Moxon’s enemies sent another man with preternatural skills to kill him – Deadshot. Having repeatedly clashed with Batman, Deadshot cleverly played the dark knight so he would interfere with Zeiss’s work. While Zeiss and Batman fought, the marksman shot Moxon.

Lew Moxon narrowly survived, but this was thanks to Batman’s last-second reaction. Thus, the incident was considered a failure of Zeiss’s. During the clash, though, Zeiss demonstrated a talent for getting under Batman’s skin and unnerving him with his smug attitude.

Murder incorporated

Moxon’s daughter, Mallory, a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, then took over her father’s assets. She immediately launched a brutal gangland war against the “Odessa mob” in Gotham. These were the ones who had hired Deadshot.

Zeiss headed those efforts with ruthless efficiency. He killed three key Russian mafia lieutenants. Then Zeiss correctly predicted that Batman would try to intercept him when he made his move on the current big boss.

Zeiss’ plan was good. He dispatched the Russian boss’s bodyguards and took his little girl hostage to prevent Batman from intervening. He also made sure that his partner, a sniper, had a clear shot on their target.

However “Santa Klaus”, a lunatic escaped from Arkham Asylum and pumped full of a drug prepared by the Joker, wandered across the scene and decided to kill everyone.

In the ensuring confusion, the Batman rescued the kid. The sniper mistakenly chose to shoot Santa Klaus. To escape, Zeiss triggered large explosive charges he had set through the building, eliminating the sniper so he wouldn’t talk and executing a clean getaway.

Devil in the details

However, Batman then had a stroke of luck. He accidentally discovered the month-old corpse of a man wrapped in a rug and stuck inside a chimney. The cadaver was that of an occasional courier for a gadgetry expert living in Gotham – one Rex Cooke. Cooke had repaired Zeiss’ goggles after the Samuels incident. Zeiss had killed the courier to cover his tracks.

Zeiss in a fighting stance

Zeiss had made sure no clue were present, but had missed just one fingerprint. This was sufficient to link him to the murder.

As Batman confronted Zeiss, Zeiss quickly gained the upper hand. But suddenly Batgirl came in through the window and, surprising Zeiss, kicked him hard enough for the Batman to take away Zeiss’ goggles. Zeiss was so big on his “duel of the world champions” narrative that he simply didn’t expect the Batman to “cheat”.

Improvising, he took Mallory Moxon hostage, demanding his goggles back and a free pass out of here. But the wheelchair-bound Lew Moxon entered the room and ordered him to leave his daughter alone and surrender. Being serious about the made man’s code of honour and discipline, Zeiss obeyed.

Catwoman

Zeiss spent a long time in solitary. But he eventually got out when the mob needed him for a complex hit. Catwoman had recently eliminated Black Mask, who until then controlled Gotham’s East End turf. The mob was a part of the various parties who wanted to fill the vacuum.

They had Zeiss broken free during transport. Zeiss trained with men provided by the Penguin to regain his edge after the time he lost behind bars. Then, he devised his strategy.

He had a posse of ex-Joker henchmen make a move on the East End. That was so he could study Catwoman in action. Then, he employed psychological warfare :

  • Stabbing Slam Bradley.
  • Briefly taking hostage one of the Alley Town Irregulars.
  • Slashing one of Catwoman’s minor protegés face to leave him with a scar.
  • Shooting down random East Enders to remind Catwoman how vulnerable was someone who wanted to protect such a large expanse.

Cat fight

Knowing that Catwoman would not fight well after he thus made her furious and destabilised her, he seized the initiative. Zeiss confronted her physically at the time of his own choosing.

Zeiss goggles closeup

When Catwoman and Zeiss finally fought, Zeiss’s psychological warfare and extraordinary speed and skill allowed him to ruthlessly maul Selina. He broke one of her arms and stabbed her in the belly. He told her that he actually didn’t care about the contract. By killing her, he wanted to strike at the Batman.

However, just before he was to inflict the coup de grâce, he was stabbed from behind by an elite agent of the Beti-Ma. The Beti-ma was an ancient Egyptian cat cult allied with Catoman. Zeiss was taken to an hospital.

War games, part 1

After he recovered, Philo Zeiss went to work for another of the traditional Mafia families in Gotham, the Galantes. He was present as a Galante representative in a major Gotham mob meet that accidentally degenerated and shook the balance of power in town.

Surviving that flashpoint, Zeiss saw an opportunity for profit. The Galante paid well and, as they lost men and relatives in the gang war, thirsted for revenge.

Mr. Aquina, the interim capo for the Galantes, sent Zeiss to kill all the other crime bosses in town. He randomly told the European hitman to start with Orpheus. Zeiss quickly located his target and burst in.

As it turned out, Orpheus had just been murdered by Black Mask, who was impersonating him. Zeiss defeated Black Mask within seconds. He was about to kill him when Batman, who was looking for his ally Orpheus, came in.

War games, part 2

Somehow, Zeiss was quickly defeated. Our No-Prize hypothesis  would be that, despite his usual smug confidence, Zeiss was actually suffering from the sequelae of the sword wound inflicted by the Beti-Ma agent. Hypothetically, that left him considerably weaker and slower than he cared to admit.

“Orpheus” (actually Black Mask in disguise) arranged for Zeiss to recover and get away.

Under unclear circumstances, Zeiss ended up taking control of some Gotham dockland for an unrevealed party. In so doing, he killed a half-dozen interfering cops. He ran into Catwoman again and attempted to gain his revenge, but seemed much weaker and slower than during his previous clash with her. Zeiss nevertheless gained the upper hand, but was then taken out.

Catwoman had consulted with Batman as to ways to defeat Zeiss if he ever attacked her again. Thus, she had been given a small flash-bang charge with smoke specially intended to severely inflame Zeiss’s eyes. That made him unable to use his enhanced sight and goggles. Catwoman clobbered Zeiss as he was reeling from the chemical.

Pyrokine

Zeiss, apparently fully recovered, was hired in 2005 by unknown parties. The job was to take down a powerful pyrokinetic named Jay Huskey, who was on the run. He piggybacked on an ongoing FBI investigation also looking for the young man, and made his move when they found him.

Zeiss fighting with knives

However, one of the two Bureau agents present was Travis “Bloodhound” Clevenger, a giant of a man with enormous strength and unbelievable stamina. Clevenger was also wearing a stab-resistant vest, which allowed him to withstand Zeiss’s blows until a lucky punch of his dazed Zeiss.

Somehow, Clevenger managed to get into a nearby car and ram Zeiss before he could recover, knocking him out. Clevenger used the special tranq syringe Zeiss had sourced to deal with Huskey, and successfully used it to take the pyrokinetic out.

Hunting in question

In 2010, Zeiss was hired by the Network. The job was to put an end to the constant disruption created by the vigilante activities of the Question and the Huntress. Over a few weeks he watched how they dealt with various small-fry attackers he had the Network throw at them. Then Zeiss shadowed them to their base of operations.

The Huntress and the Question had actually arranged to be found. Their goal was to get somebody who could have some information about the Network. They weren’t expecting Zeiss, though.

The two vigilantes didn’t have a prayer against a prepared Zeiss. Still, the Huntress managed to get the drop on him long enough for him to listen. They brokered a deal, and the pragmatic Zeiss double-dipped. The Question faked her death and that of the Huntress so Zeiss would get paid $3M by the Network, then get another $3M from the heroines for information about his employers.

Zeiss negotiated for two millions plus the Huntress’s Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder . In exchange, he gave them the netbook with all the records of his contacts with the Network.

The smug mercenary then drove away in his new car. Meanwhile, the Question and the Huntress cleaned the fake blood and resumed their investigation.


Description

Zeiss’ eyes are special, and often completely bloodshot. He frequently wears some sort of staples maintaining his upper and lower eyelids wide open in order to increase his field of vision.

Zeiss moves in an extremely efficient way. In fact, when he’s fighting, he hardly seems to be moving.

A typical Zeiss move was to take half a step back and let the bullet a cop had just fired at him disarm the Batman. The bat was going to spray OC in Zeiss’ face at close range, and was thus himself hit by the exploding spray’s content. Minimal effort, superhuman speed, perfect timing and complete awareness of the environment.

Zeiss apparently started shaving his head while in prison, and continues to do so.


Personality

Zeiss is an intense Warrior with a capital W. He’s smart, ruthless, and brutal. He always thinks tactically, planning ahead and using all available means to reach his goals. He studies the weak points of his opponents, and develops clever strategies. Yet he doesn’t go for something too complicated and intricate, so his plans tend to survive contact with the enemy.

Whether strategically or physically, he will seize the initiative and not let it go.

He’s not an hired thug, and makes his own plans. He enjoys using psychological warfare and leveraging the red buttons and weaknesses of his opponents.

Zeiss face closeup

Zeiss is very, very big on being the top dog, the ultimate fighter, the toughest man in the world. It is a religion for him. He acts very calm, cool, confident, in control, like a man who is always on top of everything – and he usually is. There might be overcompensation issues in that.

He is very articulate, but calmly smug. He will often play this smugness, infuriating his opponents by treating them like rabble and making fools of them. This is part of the psychological games he plays. Yet it would seem that it’s also largely an expression of his real personality.

An intense killer

Failure can make him emotionally even more intense. He actually begged Moxon to have him back after Deadshot crippled him. This failure affected him so much he simply followed Moxon’s order to surrender during the next confrontation – he simply couldn’t fail the man twice, and his Sicilian code of honour made it mandatory to follow the orders of his boss to the letter.

Zeiss considers it a matter of life and death to be totally loyal to the capo, and keeping his mouth shut – the omerta.

Zeiss prefers not to leave witnesses. He will often murder people he has to associate with who could reveal information about him. He knows how his secrecy and rep can be powerful weapons, letting him move in the underworld like a ghost.

Being so intense, Zeiss tends to spend lots of Hero Points  in his key fights – 50 or more. Combined with his formidable skill, speed and psychological warfare, that can make fights even against world class martial artists one-sided. He does not always have that many HPs, though, and he will not spend large amounts against opponents he doesn’t consider as being worthy of it.


Quotes

“See ? You’re far easier to hurt than you imagine.”

“You know, I would have heard you if it weren’t for all that rain.”

“Batman ! Grim protector of the mewling nobodies. What an unexpected bonus ! You’ve no idea how long I’ve anticipated this – our final duel.”

“For God’s sake, Clevenger ! You can’t beat me. Give it up already !”

“Save your words. You have made the wrong enemies. You have cost them merchandise. You have denied them profit. And they cannot allow that.”


Sharing

The links to follow us and/or subscribe to our monthly newsletter are at the bottom of this page.



Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Zeiss

Dex: 10 Str: 04 Bod: 05 Motivation: Mercenary
Int: 07 Wil: 07 Min: 07 Occupation: Enforcer
Inf: 07 Aur: 04 Spi: 05 Resources {or Wealth}: 006
Init: 038 HP: 060

Powers:
Enhanced initiative: 12, Recall: 06

Skills:
Acrobatics: 08, Martial artist*: 10, Military science (Demolition): 06, Weaponry (Firearms, melee, missile): 10

Advantages:
Iron Nerves, Language (Swiss German, French, *possibly* some Sicilian and/or Italian), Expertise (Personal security/bodyguard, Surveillance techniques), Schtick (Psy-ops).

Connections:
Underworld (High), Penguin (Low).

Drawbacks:
MIA toward personal excellence and martial supremacy, SIA toward Mafia honour and sense of duty, Power Loss (Enhanced Initiative drops to 06 APs if he hasn’t specifically studied any one of his active opponents), Power Loss (DEX and the linked Martial Artist drop to 08 against an opponent which he hasn’t specifically studied).

Equipment:

  • Special Goggles [BODY 04 /DEX/ 12, Enhanced Initiative: 04, Ultra-vision: 06, Sharp Eye, Limitations : Ultra-vision can only engage 3 APs outside of simple night vision ; /DEX/ cannot raise the user’s /DEX/ by more than one Column ; /DEX/ is only fully useable by a subject with at least 8 APs of Enhanced Initiative or Superspeed – if not it is lowered by one Column; Enhanced Initiative and Sharp Eye are only useable by a subject with least 8 APs of Enhanced Initiative or Superspeed. Zeiss’ Initiative with the goggles fully on is 44]
  • Zeiss also carries a brace of high quality Knives (x5) [BODY 12, EV 03 (05 w/STR, 11 w/Martial Artist), Dart bonus, Note : can be thrown] and often fights with a pair of those, favouring heavy trench knives.
  • More rarely, Zeiss carries a pair of Beretta 92F 9mm pistols [BODY 04, Projectile weapon: 04, Ammo: 15, R#02] or a .44 magnum Desert Eagle [BODY 04, Projectile weapon: 05, Ammo: 08, R#02] depending on what he intends to shoot.
  • With his high-level connection with the underworld and Wealth, Zeiss can usually obtain speciality gear (such as tranq shots intended for superhumans) as needed.

Seconds sight

There are various conditional modifiers to Zeiss’s combat skills, with or without the goggles. Here is a review.

  • As usual, /DEX/ (from the goggles) does not increase the wearer’s DEX-Linked Skills when it’s active.
  • The two sources of Enhanced Initiative (his own and the goggle’s) stack, since Initiative points are not APs.
  • The penalty to his Enhanced Initiative for unknown opponents brings Zeiss below the threshold for fully activating the goggle’s bonuses.
  • Thus in situations with an unknown opponent, Zeiss loses 6 Initiative points from his reduced Enhanced Initiative, does not access the four points of Enhanced Initiative from the goggles, and cannot fully access the /DEX/.
  • Against an unknown opponent, while wearing the goggles, Zeiss’s DEX drops to 8 as stated. But the goggles, even with most of their bonuses down, still bump that back to a 10. Thus against an unknown opponent Zeiss has an adjusted DEX of 10, a Martial Artist Skill of 08 and an Initiative of 32.

By Sébastien Andrivet

Source of Character: Batman comics and associated titles (DC Universe)

Helper(s): Selina Revamped (defunct Geocities site) for providing the initial list of appearances ; Peter Piispanen, Roy Cowan.

Subscribe to our MINI-NEWSLETTER !

One bare-bones e-mail per month. Plain text. Short. To the point. Learn more.