“Batman: Ten Nights of The Beast”
Writer: Jim Starin
Artist: Jim Aparo
The KGBeast, a Russian assassin arrives in Gotham to eliminate the key members of America’s “Star Wars” missile defense program. As he nears his ultimate target it appears that the Dark Knight may have finally met an adversary who is not just his equal, he may be facing someone who he cannot beat.
The year is 1988, we are less than a year removed from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, the story that defined Batman’s origin. We are a year away from Tim Burton’s Batman, the movie that defined Batman as a pop culture icon and we are just a stones throw away from A Death in the Family the story that defined The Joker as the greatest Batman villain of all time.
In between all of this, if you look closely, you will find Batman #417 – 420, Jim Starlin’s Ten Nights of The Beast.
I started collecting Batman with issue #414, an amazing issue that introduced me to a Batman that was not from the Adam West TV show or the Super-Friends Saturday Morning Cartoon. This was a Batman who was a detective, who went out at night and in my very first issue faced a tragedy that blew my twelve year old mind right out of the water. He didn’t win, in fact I think it is one of the few times that you seem Batman lose his composure in front of Commissioner Gordon.
That comic still remains one of my favorite Batman stories of all time because it sets up what is to come in only three issues time. The possibility that he may not win.
Before I start on the story let me say that the team of Starlin, Aparo and DeCarlo is, for me, the #1 Batman team of all time. The writing of Jim Starlin is often overlooked when people talk about Batman in the 80’s. The names “Miller” and “Moore” always come up but Starlin didn’t just write four issues or a one shot, he was writing this book every single month and he was killing it. Jim Starlin took Miller’s Year One and ran with it.
This is a street level vigilante who survives on his wits, his intimate knowledge of Gotham and his training. There were no cosmic gods in this Gotham, no time travelling adventures and his adversaries were rarely colorful or gimmicky. The threats that Batman faced were exactly that, threats. A wrong move could leave the Dark Knight with a knife in his leg, a bullet in the side or even close to death. He was human and because of this Starlin’s stories were nothing short of amazing.
Jim Aparo is arguably one of the best artist to pencil a Batman book. His artwork shows us a lean yet muscular hero, almost the body of an Olympic level swimmer. His fight scenes or the times where Batman gives chase are easy to follow and give Batman a sense of grace and brutality. He has a sense of finesse about him but Aparo never makes him appear superhuman.
He shows us that the Dark Knight uses no real energy on the base thugs of Gotham but then his artwork will quickly shift. In an instant it shows a sense of urgency whenever the odds shift against him. Aparo can convey the change with just a quick glance over the shoulder or the appearance of a greater threat using a single panel. Much like the Dark Knight he is simply the best, a man at the top of his game. I simply adore Jim Aparo. If you have never checked out his art, you are in for an absolute treat.
The pace of the story is textbook, it is comic book writing 101. Starlin sets up the KGBeast as a monster that operates with no remorse and an unwavering dedication to his mission, taking the time to research each target before arriving in Gotham, The Beast is shown as smart, devoted and methodical. He dispatches his victims with clinical precision and even when he does cross paths with Batman he is still successful in eliminating most of his targets, a rare and wonderful beat in the story.
They say that a hero is only as good as his villains and The Beast is the key to this story because if he doesn’t work the entire story falls apart. Most of the story is devoted to the Russian Assassin, his thinking, his methods and his motives are on display. He is always the force driving this story forward. and even when he is not on the page the other characters are talking about him and reacting to him.
Time after time Batman is beaten but because the way The Beast is set up by Starlin it makes perfect sense that he could. This is not a magical or mythical character, he is the the perfect counterpoint to Batman and it is just a sheer joy seeing the two confront each other over the four issues that make up this story.
Without spoiling the ending and it is a spectacular ending, this story finishes in a way that very few stories would or even could end. The final showdown through the sewers of Gotham with both men putting everything on the line is the perfect finale to an amazing tale.
The script is tight, the artwork is first class and the characters are captivating. Almost thirty years on and this story still set the bar.
This is not a book that relies on it’s ending to make it a classic. It a classic because it is everything a great Batman story should be. Ten Nights of the Beast hits every beat at the perfect time. From the setup of The Beast, the rooftop chase where he proves the lengths he will go to and the final encounter in Gotham’s sewers. When we finally reach the last issue there is no other way this story could really end.
Images courtesy of DC Entertainment