SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman #56 by Tom King, Tony S. Daniel, Danny Miki, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
Every longtime Batman fan knows the origin of The KGBeast, right? It was established when the character was first introduced in Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo's "Ten Nights of the Beast" arc in Batman three decades ago. In that story, taking place during the final years of the Cold War, a covert KGB group known as The Hammer dispatched "The Beast" to Gotham to kill several U.S. officials. Hence, the "KGBeast" moniker.
Not so fast, though. It's a different world now, both outside our window and within the context of DC Comics' Rebirth era. The Soviet Union is gone, and the character's Rebirth reintroduction in Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr.'s All-Star Batman again simply referred to him as The Beast. In Tom King and Tony S. Daniel's Batman #56, there's no mention of any covert Soviet cells or other spy games. In their place, we get some surprising changes to the character's origin.
The Beast is still Anatoli Knyazev, at least, and this issue confirms his Russian heritage by way of a defining encounter with his father. According to intel Batman receives from Bronze Tiger, Knyazev was trained by several unnamed operatives that Knyazev later killed - "a bunch of old-school dead guys." One of them, however is still alive – and he's no mere former Soviet KGB agent.
That surviving individual isn't a mere survivor – he's a god. A New God, to be precise: Kanto, former resident of Apokolips and one-time student of Granny Goodness.
That's right – the villain once called The KGBeast was trained in part by one of Darkseid's Elite. It's no surprise now that one of Knyazev's trainers remains alive. It's also safe to say no one saw any of that coming.
In a post-Cold War world with no Soviet Union, Apokolips would certainly serve as an intriguing backdrop for Knyazev's origin. But since the other operatives involved in forging The Beast are dead, and therefore presumably mortal, it doesn't really track that The Beast would have trained off-planet. For his part, Kanto seems right at home causing sadistic mischief right here on Earth.
While KGBeast has historically been a moderately prolific Bat-foe in multiple media, the character has never really come across as one of Batman's more dangerous foes. A dated origin doesn't help boost his relevance in a modern era, either. So a refreshing of the character's background is a clever move, and Rebirth gives the opportunity for that to happen. And other tweaks could still be pending.
The Beast's assassination attempt on Nightwing also elevates the villain's standing in Batman's rogues' gallery. If The Beast was ever in danger of falling to the level of Kite Man or Condiment King, he's now more in league with true villains like The Joker, thanks to the severity of his actions. A higher profile combined with a revamped origin could stand to put The Beast at the forefront of Batman's list of enemies.