Most comic book super villains follow the same basic path: They’re introduced with great flair and given great importance. Then, the writer who introduced the character leaves the title, and a later writer brings the villain back (at this point, we’re already past the worst case scenario of no one ever using the character again, period), only this time the character doesn’t have quite as much intrigue. Then, the villain ends up either working for another villain or being part of a larger group of villains and is diminished as an adversary. Then, the character is killed off and/or replaced. Finally, if the villain is lucky, a later writer comes around and tries to redeem them.
The KGBeast is one of those lucky characters who managed to be pulled up from the scrap heap. Here is how it all went down.
During his run as writer on “Batman,” Jim Starlin was heavily influenced by the work that Frank Miller had done on “Batman,” both with “The Dark Knight Returns” and the “miniseries within a series” approach of “Year One.” Starlin liked the edge that Batman had in “Dark Knight Returns” and the more realistic and often political approach that Miller’s stories took in that miniseries. Starlin therefore tried to have a more realistic and edgy take on Batman in his work, as well. However, Starlin also liked the idea of Batman being a very human character when it came to fighting. Starlin was very much against the idea of Batman being a “Bat-God.” In Starlin’s first “Batman” work, the prestige format series, “The Cult,” Batman is brainwashed and even forced to kill an innocent person.
In “Ten Days of the Beast” (which was marked by it not just being a “miniseries in a series” like “Year One,” but even had its own unique trade dress to make it look even more like it was a separate miniseries), Batman goes up against a Soviet assassin by the name of Anatoli Knyazev, who is in Gotham City specifically to murder the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. The Russians called him the Beast, while the Americans had a more colorful name for him, the KGBeast. Here we see him carrying out his first assassination inside of Gotham City (art by Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo).
Starlin’s interest in the Beast was to have someone who was more than Batman’s equal. When Batman fails to take him out in “Batman” #418, Batman has to remark that he’s finally met someone better than him.
The Beast is cybernetically enhanced and has mastered all of the deadliest weapons in the world. He also puts his mission above everything, even his own body. We see this in “Batman” #419, when Batman seemingly has the Beast pinned down with a strong cable, but the Beast responds by cutting his own hand off!
In “Batman” #420, the Beast then replaces his hand with a gun! Check out how cool Mike Zeck makes the Beast look on the cover of the issue…
Throughout the issue, as Batman and the Beast fight through the sewers of Gotham City, Starlin stresses that Batman is no match for the Beast, and thus, he decides that the only way he can stop the Beast is by cheating. Batman uses his superior knowledge of the subway to maneuever the Beast into a room where Batman can trap him, with the intent of letting the Beast starve to death…
Starlin clearly wanted his take on “Batman” to be an edgier one (note that Starlin’s run is most famously known for killing Batman’s partner, Robin).
The next time that the KGBeast showed up was in the miniseries, “Robin III: Cry of the Huntress,” the final miniseries starring Robin before he got his own ongoing series. In the series (written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Tom Lyle, Grant Miehm and Bob Smith), the KGBeast is now involved in more generic criminal enterprises. While the KGBeast does well against Robin and Huntress in the series, he ultimately serves to prop up one of Dixon’s own creations, the blind villainous martial artist, King Snake, who defeats KGBeast fairly easily…
The KGBeast next showed up in “Troika,” the crossover of all of the “Batman” titles of the time (plus “Robin”) that saw the return of Bruce Wayne to being Batman (following Dick Grayson’s fill-in stint after Bruce reclaimed the Batman title in “Knightsend”. Once he got the title back, Bruce needed some time off before going back to regular duty). In the story, KGBeast is part of a plot to smuggle in a nuclear device into Gotham City hidden inside a baseball. In the final part of the story in “Robin” #14 (by Chuck Dixon, Tom Grummett and Ray Kryssing), now even Robin is able to defeat the Beast…
That pretty much was it for KGBeast as a legitimate solo threat in the “Batman” universe. It’s fascinating how that works in comics. All you really need is one bad defeat and you become so diminished in the eyes of the readers that no one will buy you any longer as a credibly threat to Batman. Once you get beaten in a one-on-one fight with Robin, what drama is there in a fight between you and Batman?
The next time the Beast shows up, he was now a henchmen of Lock-Up during the “No Man’s Land” crossover in “Nightwing” #35 (by Chuck Dixon, Scott McDaniel and Karl Story)…
The next step in KGBeast’s descent to the bottom came in “Detective Comics” #817, the first part of the “One Year Later” era of the “Batman” titles following “Infinite Crisis.” James Robinson wrote it and Leonard Kirk and Andy Clarke drew it. The whole story is basically a commentary on how KGBeast was once a prominent villain and now he’s kind of a schlub. It begins with the Beast doing a penny ante assassination, thinking about how far he’s fallen. He’s then knocked out by Harvey Dent, who Batman had left in charge of Gotham City.
The Beast is then killed by the Tally Man to make it look like Dent killed the Beast. When his body is found, the meta-commentary continues, as we are told that yeah, the Beast used to be someone big. Not anymore, though.
KGBeast later fought Batman during “Blackest Night” as a Black Lantern.
A very different version of Anatoli Knyazev appeared as an ally of Oliver Queen on the TV series, “Arrow.”
Now, in the new DC continuity post-Rebirth, Scott Snyder reintroduced the Beast (noticeably dropping the KG part of his name – when he is introduced, the caption with that part of his name is even crossed out) as one of the villains hunting down Batman and Two-Face in “All Star Batman.” In “All Star Batman” #3 (with art by John Romita Jr. and Danny Miki, who make for a really interesting visual art team together), the Beast is shown again and he is a bad ass once more…
In the following issue, after he successfully captured Batman, Two-Face and Duke Thomas (Batman’s latest crimefighting partner), the Beast revealed his new status quo. He is, essentially, a pure hunter now – of the most dangerous game on Earth – man!
The Beast will appear more during this arc, but Snyder clearly has more plans for the Beast, who has “marked” Batman by stabbing him with his knife (which has 666 detailed on it) and will continue to hunt Batman in the future. The Beast is now clearly one of those rare villains who actually find redemption and start fresh as cool villains once again. Time will tell if later writers can keep up the momentum that Snyder has established for the Beast.
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