Ever since Frank Miller penned the legendary The Dark Knight Returns miniseries, Batman has enjoyed a very long run in terms of quality comic book story-lines and cultural and commercial relevance, quite likely becoming DC Comics’ most important character above the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman. So when it comes to picking some of the Caped Crusader’s finest stories in the last thirty years or so, there’s plenty to choose from, but Jim Starlin and Jim Amparo’s Ten Nights of the Beast should be considered a cult favorite of classic comic book storytelling.
The late 80's were a very joyous time for Batman fans due to the high number of quality stories that were coming out of the comics and Tim Burton’s first Batman movie became a classic of the superhero genre, but Ten Nights of the Beast should be highly regarded by it's great writing, skillful artwork and for having one of the Dark Knight’s most challenging foes.
What is Ten Nights of the Beast?
Image by DC Comics
The governments of the United States and the Soviet Union are holding peace talks regarding various topics, but one of the latter’s biggest and most dangerous hit-men has gone rogue, starting his mission of murdering ten major American politicians that were located in Gotham. He was Anatoli Knyazev, also known by his code name, the KGBeast.
Batman gets involved in the situation by Jim Gordon and both of them plan different strategies to stop the Soviet assassin, but their efforts are thwarted multiple times, with the KGBeast killing most of the people on his list until leaving just one more target: then-president Ronald Reagan.
After various plans and strategies, Batman and the KGBeast finally meet for one last showdown, in one of the most controversial and challenging resolutions in the former’s vast history.
How was it?
Image by DC Comics
I have always found Jim Starlin’s stint in the Batman title quite interesting given the fact that he is mostly known for his work with cosmic characters (creator of Thanos, developing Adam Warlock, writer of the Cosmic Odyssey, Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War events, etc.), so him taking on a street level character such as the Caped Crusader paved the way for some of the best stories of this decade, especially this one, where he presents a new villain to face Batman and does something quite clever: makes him even better than him.
The KGBeast is a very solid villain because he not only has the brutal force to overpower his enemies, but also the intelligence to trick Batman and his allies time and time again, which increased the level of adversity and, as a result, an increase in drama, which is always good. By the end of the four-issue story, it feels that the Soviet hit-man is more of a force of nature than a common man–something that strikes an interesting parallel with Batman himself.
The story’s writing style and pace makes for a very fascinating comparison to what comics are nowadays: there is a lot of action going on in each issue, with a lot of information and resolutions that would make for a larger story if this were done in 2019. But Starlin is a legend of the business and for a good reason: he makes every page count and keeps the ball rolling by focusing on what matters, which is the conflict between Batman and the KGBeast.
Starlin has never been shy at having his characters make difficult decisions and this is something he does by the story’s climax. Batman traps the KGBeast in the lowest depths of Gotham’s sewer system, apparently leaving him to die. There have been opinions and interpretations of this being Batman breaking his number one rule of no killing, although other readers claim that he didn’t–regardless, it was a very controversial resolution that has lived on for a long time, and was even somewhat repeated by Tom King in his dreadful Batman run.
I sometimes view the KGBeast and this story as the proto-Bane and proto-Knightfall: a very strong and yet intelligent enemy that outclasses Batman, pushing him to the edge of his capabilities. So perhaps there is more to appreciate about this story, like what it offers to the Batman mythos as a whole.
What about the art?
Image by DC Comics
Along with Neal Adams and Greg Capullo, Jim Amparo is definitely one of the most important Batman artists and this story is yet another example of how much of a master he is. Every passage, panel and action sequence is done with intelligence, with a very good understanding of anatomy and seizing all the space that the page provides to keep developing the story, which I think is also due to the fact that Starlin is an artist himself so they both understand the language of that craft.
Perhaps his artwork is not as flashy as what popular artists of the time such as Todd McFarlane, Art Adams or Jim Lee were doing at the time, but it was done in a very detailed, capable and professional manner, understanding what fit the tone of the story. There are no splash pages here, but there is dynamism, especially in the climax of the story, that can’t be denied.
You cannot comprehend this era of Batman without Jim Amparo’s artwork and it’s one of the high points of Ten Nights of the Beast if you’re a long time comic book fan. If you’re more into modern stuff, then Amparo’s art could be a great entry point for you.
What it represents?
Image by DC Comics
Ten Nights of the Beast is a very solid and entertaining Batman story with a lot of unconventional elements related to the character (a lot of political elements, a very minor role to then-Robin, Jason Todd, and the aforementioned resolution), but there is also very good characterization, a quality plot, a very solid villain and a lot of action that makes this a great thriller that you don’t get a lot from the Batman titles these days.
The 80's were a very peculiar and yet fruitful time for Batman, so this is a story (and an entire run) that you definitely shouldn't miss.