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Tom King concludes “Beasts of Burden” with a simple, but satisfying final confrontation between the Dark Knight and the Russian hitman who shot Dick Grayson. Your mileage may vary according to your hopes and expectations, but I loved this.

Storywise there’s not much to say without spoiling the whole book. I didn’t even include any major art caps from this because you really ought to enjoy the action first-hand yourself. Batman has reached KGBeast’s cabin in a remote snowy forest of Russia after trudging who knows how long through a snowstorm. Despite this arduous (and no doubt exhausting) journey, he’s probably running on pure adrenaline at this point. He’s tired, but he’s also still angry and he’s determined to have his justice. And yes, there are larger questions: who hired KGBeast, what was their ultimate goal, are they still plotting, etc. But none of that matters to Batman right now.

All he’s interested in doing is opening up the proverbial can of kick-ass on the man who shot Dick Grayson. And in case there’s any doubt at all: he does.

Man vs. Beast vs. Beast vs. Man

Tony S. Daniel is the lone wolf artist on the KGBeast and Batman sections throughout this issue, and the action is pitch-perfect. Because this comic is basically one grand showdown without much else going on (aside from a tale of hungry little animals), it’s all on Daniel to carry this forward in an interesting way–and for anyone who loves a well-choreographed and thrilling fight, he absolutely succeeds.

There’s almost no dialogue here: letterer Clayton Cowles gets to go to town on special effects noises–everything from splintering wood, gunshots, crunching snow, crunching bones, and a wide array of grunts and gasps. The splash page climax has some of the biggest boldest lettering you will see in a comic, and everything about the placement works perfectly not to compete with the image, but to give the full sense of motion; it’s an excellent overt example of how lettering helps guide our eyes.

My one quibble artwise is with the bedtime story. Mark Buckingham and Andrew Pepoy step in to render the nine-panel-a-page interludes, and they are generally quite beautiful in terms of the lovely border design and the magical forest and castle, but I thought the animals were kind of disturbing to look at right out of the gate (i.e. not cute enough). So I had a sinking feeling from the start that this story was not going to go well.

Very very very hungry

Maybe there isn’t much of a desire of hide the fact that it’s going to go dark since it is KGBeast’s father who is narrating the story and therefore how sweet can it be, really? But I would have liked to have been a little more deliberately deceived by the art being less heavy-handed on the shadows, and more deliberately sweet-looking up front. Probably just a personal preference; I loved everything else about this sequence. And since by now most of you know how ghoulish I am, we’ll just leave it at that.

I know there’s some of you who are going to flip over my score here. “A ‘9’ for THIS!? Get a rope!” but hear me out. King has fallen flat on arc after arc: always white hot out of the gate and then things fizzle into wailing melodrama and head-scratching resolutions. But none of that happened here. Batman got a satisfying revenge and justice, the art was mostly incredible, and I don’t know about you, but I got the warm fuzzies turning the last page. And no, I’m not a sociopath.

Some of you may object to how it plays out, either because it’s a moral quandary or because it’s a bit of thematic retread from Batman Begins. The moral quandary is good: we should ask ourselves these questions more often, more deeply.  As for the retread, I’m okay with that; it’s different enough in terms of the circumstances to give it a new flavor. King also manages to pull off one final reversal in the nine-panel juxtaposition. It’s a reversal not only in terms of the bedtime story itself, but it addresses and reinforces the overall thematic question in a new way: just how fine is that line between Batman and his foes?

Taken as a whole, “Beasts of Burden” is a major success. The story is dramatic without being ridiculous, explodes with action without being a dull endless battle sequence, it has pathos–both for the hero and the villain, and it invites us as the reader to question our desires for vengeance as well as what we would choose to do in this situation ourselves.

Recommended If…

  • Batman vs. KGBeast, no holds barred! (do you really need more than this?)
  • Cute bonus story allegory about furry little animals lost in the forest. So cute!  So, so cute.

Overall

“Beasts of Burden” leaves us with more questions than answers, but with a conclusion to Batman’s pursuit of KGBeast that will hopefully satisfy fans hoping to see the Dark Knight avenge his fallen former partner-against-crimes. Batman has been deeply questioning his decisions in the past: raising up young crime-fighters, losing his way in self-absorption and paranoia, working against the GCPD when he should be working with them. He doesn’t necessarily find answers here in the deep snows of Russia, but this tantalizing subtle glimpse into his psyche gives us an interesting launching point for his future adventures. Also, the book is just stunning: both gripping in terms of the action, and a glorious feast for the eyes!

SCORE: 9/10

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