You know what? I love the KGBeast and I don’t care who knows it.
A pretty bold statement, I know, because the Beast is without question one of the goofiest Batman villains ever created. I mean, just look at the guy:
Sure, it might say “Soviet Super-Assassin” on his resume, but let’s be real here: That guy’s about two zippers away from full on bondage gear, and the fact that he’s wearing leather trunks and a pair of thigh-high boots really isn’t helping much.
Then again, maybe it’s because of his goofiness that I like him so much, and since I haven’t talked about Batman in, what, two days? I thought that tonight, we’d take a look at the story that introduced him to us: Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo’s Ten Nights of the Beast.
Originally released as a four-part story in 1988’s Batman #417-420, Ten Nights was one of a lot of stories, like The Cult, that were vying to be the Next Big Thing in the wake of Year One and Dark Knight Returns. But whereas The Cult attempted to bridge the gap and make DKR the official future by throwing in stuff like a tank-like Batmobile and a darker villain, Ten Nights tried to recapture its spirit by making it as big a story as possible.
With the side effect being that it was absolutely ridiculous.
Seriously, this thing is the 1980s Action Movie of Batman stories. It’s what would happen if you let Jeph Loeb write Batman. The real Jeph Loeb, I mean, the guy who wrote Commando, not the self-parody who actually did write Batman. I wouldn’t let that guy write me a check.*
So here’s how it goes down:
Laughing Boy up there is Anatoli Knyazev, a ruthless, highly trained super-spy from the Soviet Union who operates under the codename “The KGBeast,” a name so gloriously ridiculous that it wouldn’t be surpassed until the debut of the Beast’s own protegé, the NKVDemon. In any case, he’s gone rogue and come to America to assassinate ten government officials on a list that includes President Ronald Reagan in order to stop them from developing the Star Wars project.
It is, therefore, the Eightiesest Story Ever Written.
In order to achieve this goal, the Beast–following the same model of Soviet Efficiency that brought us Ivan Drago–decides that the best plan of action would be coming to Gotham City and killing pretty much everybody. Seriously, the body count in this thing is ludicrious; the Beast leaves a bigger body count that tops even John Rambo’s personal best. Over the course of the titular Ten Nights, the Beast manages to personally murder well over a hundred Gothamites, including nailing eighty at once when he poisons the soup at a fundraiser:
Admittedly, they’re all Republicans, but… Nah. Nobody deserves that.
Anyway, exactly why everyone involved in the SDI–up to and including the President of the United States–is hanging out in Gotham City is never really addressed, but they are, and that means that when the Beast starts killing people by the handful, he has to deal with Batman. But while the Batman of the late 80s was probably at the height of his career as an ass-kicking international crime-fighter, the Beast stays one step ahead of him, thanks largely to the judicious use of a tactic often employed by Batman himself:
After a while, though, Batman ends up catching up with the Beast on a rooftop, and that’s when this thing just stops even trying to make sense. While following the Beast from one roof to another, Batman manages to loop a rope around one of his wrists, effectively trapping him.
Unfortunately for Batman, the Beast is currently armed with a fire axe which was just shown on the previous page to be fully capable of cutting through the line in question, even when wielded one-handed, with a little bit of effort. So as far as traps go, it’s not exactly Batman’s best.
And yet, the Beast chooses the absolute worst way of getting out of it:
Dude straight cuts off his own hand.
Starlin obviously meant for this to show that the Beast was as ruthless as his namesake and willing to sacrifice anything to accomplish his mission, but what with the fact that he could’ve also escaped by cutting the rope that is right there, it really just makes him seem like a dumbass. I mean, hands are pretty useful in one’s day-to-day life even if one is not a super-assassin.
And it’s like he totally realizes it, too. There’s a shot on the next page where he looks over his shoulder at Batman as he escapes, and while the narration assures us that he’s swearing vengeance, I’m pretty sure that he’s actually just going: “Wait. I could’ve just cut the rope. … Shit.”
After that, the story pretty much coasts to the finish line, with the KGBeast replacing his severed hand with a customized knife/gun thing–because, you know, comics–and eventually heading down to the sewer to fight Batman, who–what with the fact that the Beast has Diplomatic Immunity, which was a major plot point in at least three of Starlin’s Batman stories–decides not to take him into the police, instead just locking him up down there until he dies of starvation.
(Click for a larger image)
Of course, eventually someone realized that Batman luring criminals down to the catacombs for a nice cask of Amontillado was probably not the best way for the character to work, and so Marv Wolfman later revealed in Batman: Year Three that he later called the cops and told them where to find the Beast.
And that makes this the only story where a villain’s complete disregard for human life pushes Batman to the point where he has to unleash his ultimate weapon: The Time Out.
*: This is a lie. Jeph Loeb can write me as many checks as he wants, and with each one, I will swear that ULTIMATES 3 is the greatest comic book I have ever read.