The last issue of Batman saw the World’s Greatest Detective take on a sordid arms dealer, an “excessive amount of ninjas,” a picaresque New God and a trudge through bitter, snow-buried lands straight out of a Russian novel en route to KGBeast, who shot Nightwing in the head and left him for dead back in Batman #55.
Now, it’s Batman vs. KGBeast in what could very well be a fight to the death. Can Batman bring the Beast to justice for what he’s done without crossing the line?
First, beautiful covers from Tony S. Daniel and Francesco Mattina that wonderfully set the tone of this issue and complement this splash page from the last one.
Second, this issue picks up right where the last issue left off — with Batman stalking the Beast’s cloistered cabin after last issue’s quasi-odyssey looking as derangedly determined and intimidating as we’ve seen him in some time — and doesn’t miss a beat. The opening sequence is a riveting first round to the knock-down, drag-out fight; pistolfire tears through wooden doors and Batarangs split apart window-panels as the two combatants size one another up, and eventually tumble together, bloodied and battered into the blustering winterscape.
The issue-spanning fight scene is interspersed by scenes from a Russian parable, “The Animals in the Pit,” one which little Anatoli Knyazev, long before he became KGBeast, begs his father to read him before bed. The folktale features a group of adorable anthropomorphic animals who, on their way to the St. Petersburg Church, one-by-one tumble into a pit and become trapped. Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy provide the art for the folktale segments and their art looks like what you’d expect from a folktale book — well, until the animals start viciously devouring one another, which is rendered in all its grisly glory. Let’s just say, Russian parables are every bit as metal as you’d expect them to be, and what the animals do to ensure their survival ends up being every bit as savage and jarring as the fight between Batman and KGBeast. Which all makes sense of course, by issue’s end.
Although the juxtaposition of “The Animals in the Pit” and the Batman/KGBeast throwdown is done well and the payoff is worth the wait, there are still a few things about this issue that bothered me enough to consider it overall very good, but not great. First, the fight scene is an intense and gripping one and I know both opponents are supposed to be fatigued — but I can’t remember the last time someone, Batman included, blocked or slipped an attack during a fight in Tom King’s run. Either the New 52 universe features every character at staggering 100% accuracy or Batman has decided if he’s going to win anyway, he might as well make Rocky Balboa look like Floyd Mayweather when it comes to eating punches, because this issue features an egregious amount of pro-wrestling-style traded punches and kicks.
Second, Batman’s dialogue, even though he has about 3 lines total, just seems incongruous. A bad-ass scene in this issue, one whose result will have the fandom talking for the next few weeks, is thrown off by Batman, much like he did in “I Am Suicide,” talking about breaking someone. Save Frank Miller’s “Goddamn Batman” from All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, I can’t think of a time when that’s fit the spirit of Batman’s character. Before that, Batman refers to himself as “The World’s Greatest Detective.” That might be true, but it’s usually his enemies calling him that, and not him boasting it with arrogance.
Even so, Tony S. Daniel (pencils/inks) and Tomeu Morey’s (colors) art once again does the trick, as the fight scene hooks from start to finish; the second page closeup side-by-side of KGBeast aiming his pistol at the front door from within and Batman’s scowling face as he nears it from without is pulse-pounding and masterfully sets the tone for the looming battle.
With “Beasts of Burden” King has given us another skillful, suspenseful arc that has salivating for the next. Bring on The Penguin.