After the somewhat shocking events of Batman no. 55, I have a lot of questions and I’m sure you all do as well. But Tom King doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to provide answers, instead bringing us along on Batman’s actions in the aftermath of losing Nightwing. And Batman appears to be going a long way from Gotham to resolve things, so don’t expect to find out all about the immediate fallout in this follow-up in the “Beasts of Burden” arc.
I admire the way that King stays focused on Batman’s pursuit. This could have easily gotten bogged down in exposition about Dick or more melodrama about Batman’s mental meltdown. Instead we get the Dark Knight focused and at the top of his game. No whining or blubbering or righteous speeches, just Batman in pursuit with his head in the right space and his fists at the ready–and Tom King can’t resist throwing in a head-butt as well because of course he can’t.
What King does best here is use the same framework as he did in the previous comic of showing Batman about his business while Dick’s would-be assassin blithely goes about his own. This time the action with KGBeast involves a visit to his father who is socked away in a remote cabin on the other side of the world with a snowstorm closing in around him–a destination that Batman shares, even if he is a few steps behind.
Who is more beastly? The Beast or the man who bred him?
The action in the cabin happens over the course of what might be less than an hour. Once again framed in a nine-panel arrangement, it spans what appears to be a single conversation between Anatoli and Vasily, father and son who haven’t spoken to one another in the last twenty-six years. Despite sharing a drink, it’s apparent early on that the two regard each other with mutual contempt and disgust and this interview is likely not going to end well. KGBeast’s father is apparently every son’s nightmare: a man impossible to please let alone love.
Meanwhile, Batman’s arc throughout this issue seems to take place over what may be days of his investigation as he extracts information from various contacts, including Kanto, who in the world of Tom King’s Batman is still wearing his silly purple and gold Flynn-inspired garb from Apokolips. Last I knew Kanto was killed in Final Crisis; if we’ve seen him before this since then, I’m not aware of it, but maybe one of you eagle-eyed readers who are interested in the New Gods may have more information. Regardless, Kanto’s run-in with Batman is short-lived, humorously played, and gives Batman the lead on KGBeast that he’s looking for.
In perhaps the highlight of this book, King and the art team deftly execute a double-page spread that effectively gets Batman from one location to the next, filling in everything we need to know with mere snippets of dialogue as signposts as to where Batman has traveled and what he’s done to track down Anatoli Knyazev.
So many ninjas
Speaking of art and execution, Tony S. Daniel and Danny Miki are once again throwing down some serious pencils and inks. Along with the aforementioned spread, specifically noteworthy this time is Batman’s cape, which seems to take on a life of its own, invoking for me the work of Jock and Francesco Francavilla in Batman: The Black Mirror. With a good number of long wide shots, we get to see Batman storm-tossed, but bent into the wind, determined, undaunted, and that cape spreading out behind him like an ominous threat.
In the realms of nit-pickery, I have to say Alfred’s early expressions in the Batcave seem a bit over-the-top to me–almost comically severe. Also, there’s a moment in which Kanto draws blood with a saw blade through fabric or leather that doesn’t actually seem to split open? Like I said: real nitpicks, but they stand out in a book that’s otherwise glorious to look at.
Some readers might feel frustrated by what seems to be a stalling issue full of filler, but I am enjoying the way King is building this story up. Many share the concern that he won’t be able to being it to a satisfying conclusion as so many of his previous stories have suffered similar fates–coming out of the gate strong only to fritter out and die before the finish line flag. Right now this one is still in the race as far as I’m concerned. I still have a lot of questions, and maybe even more after coming to the final page here, but I am patient and hopeful that they will be answered.
- You’re here for the dramatic and stunning artwork of Daniel & Miki, who continue to turn out issue after issue of sweet, sweet eye-candy.
- You’re interested in following KGBeast back to his homeland to meet the family.
- You want to watch Batman plow his way forward: is it justice he’s after? Or revenge?
Tom King paces his way through this investigation deliberately in a way to maximize the suspense: explosive action here, quiet tension there. While some of the dialogue feels all over the map from clunky to over-rehearsed, his sense of the theatrical helps carry this story forward with not only some unexpected featured guests, but some curious reversals as well. “Beasts of Burden” continues the theme of legacy and responsibility, and though what seems like digressions may frustrate some readers, my hope is that King is winding us up for still bigger things to come.