In our previous installment, we examined the life and times of KGBeast from 1988 until 2011. In this installment, we’ll look at the rest of KGBeast’s comics history up until October 2018. We’ll also look at KGBeast’s alternate media appearances and his non-canonical comics appearances too. Here we go!
In 2011, DC rebooted its entire line into a new continuity with the Flashpoint storyline. While there was certainly good intention with the reboot and some worthwhile storytelling involved, there were undeniable continuity issues right from the get-go. The story of KGBeast was one of the worst offenders. It was all quiet on all fronts for KGBeast until New Suicide Squad Vol 1 #2-4 (by Sean Ryan, Tom Derenick, et al, October 2014 to January 2015). Sean Ryan was tasked with giving a new origin for Knyazev, and chose to do so in the pages of New Suicide Squad, which sees the Suicide Squad enter Moscow for a mission. After tangling with the Rocket Red Brigade, the Suicide Squad comes face-to-face with Commander Anatoli Knyazev, who is a high-ranking officer in the military but certainly not the murderous monster assassin we know and love. Deadshot and Knyazev shoot each other up, nearly killing one another. This leads to the final page of the arc, where an advocate for MARS Systems (a private defense contractor) visits Knyazev in the hospital and offers to enroll him in their program, which will turn him into a super-soldier. Thus, you have the New 52 origin of Knyazev, just prior to becoming the KGBeast. Not quite as cool as his original origin, but no continuity issues to speak of—not yet anyway.
Interestingly, we first see a New 52 KGBeast in November 2014’s Grayson: Future’s End #1 (by Tom King, Tim Seeley, Stephen Mooney, and Jeromy Cox). This is strange because it takes place in an alternate continuity, years into the future. In this story, the Futures End version of Dick Grayson—(who is an alternate version of Dick but has the same past history as the primary timeline version)—faces off with KGBeast, who has ascended in rank to the highest levels of Russian government and military. Dick tells KGBeast that Batman said he was a total joke of an opponent, even having had to bite his own lip in order to not laugh while fighting him. This basically cemented the New 52 KGBeast, as of late 2014, as a failed military commander reborn as a supposed super-soldier via MARS Systems, who then fought Batman so poorly that the Dark Knight did all he could not to laugh in his face. Sean Ryan had set the stage for a writer to do what he or she pleased with the new KGBeast. King and Seeley, first to tackle the character, decided to treat him as a complete joke. (King retained his seemingly comical view of KGBeast, even after the assassin’s character assassination was retconned to make him a badass again, via the invention of the Bat Burger fast-food chain—debuting in April 2017’s Batman Vol. 3 #16—that features the KGBLT, a sandwich named after KGBeast, on its menu.)
Knyazev’s next appearance (and first official canon New 52 appearance as KGBeast) occurs in Aquaman and The Others #6-11 (by Dan Jurgens, Lan Medina, Roy Allan Martinez, and Matt Milla, December 2014 to May 2015). In this series-ending epic, entitled “Alignment: Earth,” Jurgens and company deliver KGBeast, but not a rookie created by MARS Systems—THE KGBeast of old. This, by all means and appearances, is the old school KGBeast. In “Alignment: Earth,” Jurgens and his creative team invented a super-villain team called Mayhem to take on Aquaman’s Others. At the heart of Mayhem is none other than KGBeast himself. And with the inclusion of a very badass, highly-trained killing machine version of KGBeast, Jurgens canonized KGBeast’s Modern Age legacy in the New 52, essentially bringing a version of “Ten Nights of the Beast” into continuity. Likewise, Jurgens added NKVDemon to Mayhem as well, canonizing KGBeast’s training and affiliation with Gregor Dosynski and some version of “When the Earth Dies” and/or “Troika” in the New 52. In this tale, we get some added information to KGBeast’s history. We learn that Vostok (and the other Vostoks) trained with KGBeast at some unknown point in the past and also that he has a long combative history with the master martial-artist/US Government agent known as The Operative (Joshua Cole). Aquaman and The Others #7 and Aquaman and The Others #9 gives us a detailed flashback—the first of its kind—showing a younger KGBeast on an early mission, before fighting Batman and losing his hand. In this flashback, we see a highly-capable KGBeast detonate a bomb at the US Embassy in Berlin in order to steal some government files (with help from Russian agent Gary Korec). KGBeast easily evades Cole and leaves dead bodies behind, kicking-off their long feud. All of this seems to add up to a retcon, erasing Sean Ryan’s Commander Knyazev/MARS Systems origin and making King/Seeley’s KGBeast loser line as false. (The former is undeniably a retcon, meaning that Knyazev’s appearance in New Suicide Squad must be ignored. In regard to the latter: As we will learn in later comics appearances and references, KGBeast was never a loser—and he never was on any timeline. KGBeast is a badass and not to be messed with. Therefore, in Grayson: Futures End #1, Dick must be lying in order to get under KGBeast’s skin.) In the main action of “Alignment: Earth,” KGBeast, having assembled Mayhem, takes down the Others and steals a flash drive with information that will allow them to launch old Soviet nukes. Eventually, the Others thwart the nuclear strike and face-off against Mayhem. During the brawl, Cole gets his long-awaited revenge, defeating KGBeast in combat. In the end, Others members Ya’Wara and Vostok sacrifice their own lives to destroy a Russian moon-base that was being used by KGBeast.
KGBeast returns in All-Star Batman #3-5 (by Scott Snyder, John Romita Jr, Danny Miki, and Dean White, November 2016 to February 2017). And if Jurgens was a fan of KGBeast, Snyder is a MEGA-FAN. Our story, entitled “My Own Worst Enemy,” returns KGBeast to his former glory, and then some. The tale starts with Batman traveling to the old Arkham Home in Massachusetts with a restrained Two-Face in tow. All the while, a bevy of hired killers come after them, thanks to a major hit put out on the Dark Knight by Two-Face himself. (This story is quite complicated, but I’ll just give the CliffsNotes version for brevity’s sake here.) In Washington DC, Penguin, Great White Shark, and Black Mask hire the former Soviet killing machine, who is now working as an assassin for the US Government and calling himself simply “The Beast!” After successfully fending off dozens of attackers, Batman—still lugging a captive Two-Face by his side—is targeted by the Beast, who appears and shoots at a SWAT van that is tailing Batman, causing it to crash. The Beast—showing a return to greatness that we really haven’t witnessed since his original debut—brutally murders the SWAT Team and begins fighting the Caped Crusader. When Two-Face gets involved, the Beast lodges several throwing stars in his face. Lark (Duke Thomas) arrives, hitting the Beast with a car. Batman and Two-Face pile-in and Lark drives them off. The original Royal Flush Gang (with youngest and newest member, Ten of Spades) arrives only to be immediately blown-up by an already-recovered Beast. After refueling at Harold Allnut’s farm and taking down some Court of Owls Talons, Batman and Lark commandeer a biplane and fly toward the Arkham Home. Just as Batman is about to get rid of Two-Face’s coin, the Beast drops down onto the biplane from a plane above and knocks-out the heroes. Later, Batman, Lark, and Two-Face awaken as captives of the Beast on an abandoned casino riverboat. The Beast vows to take them to his manmade island HQ at “The Location of the Beast: 666” (6th parallel, 66th meridian west coordinates)! Shortly thereafter, an explosion rocks the boat, freeing all three captives. Outside, Lark looks on in horror as hundreds of weapon-wielding regular citizens, all decked-out as bargain basement Mad Max-looking super-villains, converge upon their location, all out for Batman’s blood. Batman blows the riverboat off of its mooring, causing he and the A-list villains to float away. Batman, Lark, and Two-Face eventually arrive at the old Arkham Home where Batman finds a serum that could potentially turn Harvey either fully evil or fully good. Batman instead injects Two-Face with a booster shot that Harold whipped-up, which ends Two-Face’s threat. All of a sudden, a persistent Beast spears Batman through the chest. The angry mob has also followed and begins shooting at Beast, still eager to get their hands on Batman themselves. Batman tackles the Beast off of a cliff and is rescued by Lark before collapsing due to injury and exhaustion. Lark and a bloody Batman limp away as the bewildered mob parts for them in the pouring rain.
DC’s Rebirth initiative brought about another reboot, following the “Superman Reborn” arc. Both Scott Lobdell’s Red Hood and The Outlaws Vol. 2 Annual #1 (October 2017) and Scott Snyder’s All-Star Batman #10 (July 2017) referenced “My Own Worst Enemy,” both specifically referencing the Beast’s new status quo for the new timeline. Both issues basically reconfirmed the canonization of “Ten Nights of the Beast” for the Rebirth Era as well. No matter how many reboots there are, you can bet that Snyder is going make damn sure the Beast is canon! Interestingly, Bane: Conquest #12 (by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, and Gregory Wright, August 2018) references the Modern Age’s Batman: The Vengeance of Bane II—the story where KGBeast kicks the crap out of Bane just for fun, after which Bane trains and bests KGBeast in a rematch, thus earning the Russian’s respect. However, the canonicity of Bane: Conquest is in question. It might not be canon since it kind of appears to not jibe with Tom King’s ongoing Batman mega-arc, which revolves around Bane. Time will tell on this one, but if Bane: Conquest is non-canon, then KGBeast’s fights with Bane might be non-canon too. Let’s hope not, because those fights are awesome.
The first official Rebirth appearance of the Beast (aside from his appearance in the Rebirth-branded New 52 “My Own Worst Enemy” arc) is in the aforementioned Red Hood and The Outlaws Vol. 2 Annual #1 (by Scott Lobdell, Tyler Kirkham, and Arif Prianto, October 2017). In this Annual, the Beast attempts to hijack a large arms cache leftover from a recent fight between Batman and the Colony. Lobdell continues to show off the Beast as one of the DCU’s top villains. Knyazev not only holds his own against Red Hood, Artemis, and Bizarro, but actually sort of defeats them. Only Nightwing’s intervention, which turns the fight into a four-on-one handicap match, causes the Beast to go down. Good stuff.
The Beast also shows up in Harley Quinn Vol. 3 #41 (by Frank Tieri, Inaki Miranda, Moritat, and Jeremiah Skipper, June 2018), in which dozens of Gotham super-villains show up in Harley’s Coney Island turf, thanks to an invite from Penguin, who is trying to horn in on her territory. The Beast can be seen duking it out in a giant rumble with many others. Notably, he takes a baseball bat to the face from Harley herself and can be seen knocked-out with many other bad guys towards the end of the issue. A fun cameo, but not one really worthy of our killer Beast.
And, bringing closer to the present, as of August 2018, the Beast has most recently appeared in Bane: Conquest #8-12 (by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, and Gregory Wright, February 2018 to August 2018). As briefly mentioned above, this entire story might be non-canon. The anachronistic appearance of King Faraday, which could contradict his appearances in Suicide Squad, plus the focus around Bane during a time where Tom King seems to have a monopoly on the character, all point toward a messy continuity situation. Continuity issues aside, this is a great arc that picks-up on a lot of Modern Age threads that Dixon and Nolan were working on decades ago. For my money, this is Bane done right—but I digress. We’re here to talk about the Beast! In this tale, Bane engages in an all-out war with Kobra. Eager to recruit new blood to help him in the fight, Bane goes to Siberia to recruits the Beast. Knyazev has become a pub arm-wrestling champion of sorts, winning money from the locals left-and-right. Seeing his old pal Bane, the Beast joins up right away, looking for action. Bane then follows by recruiting King Faraday, Gunbunny, Gunhawk, Shaka Usuthu, Kiang, Harpo, and “Crow” (actually Batman in disguise). Eventually, remotely-guided by Kiang and Dionysius, Bane’s crew hikes up Mount Baekdu on the Chinese-North Korean border and infiltrates a big Kobra base. As Bane’s crew (including the Beast) kicks ass, Bane steps back and pummels King Faraday, mistaking him for a disguised Batman. This prompts Batman to shed his disguise. Bane winds up teaming with Batman against the greater threat of Kobra anyway. In the end, Darkseid’s general Steppenwolf, angry that Kobra has stolen New God technology, arrives from Apokolips and saves Bane’s gang, killing all the Kobra soldiers. The Beast, along with a few others, escapes to Apokolips!
In late August 2018’s Action Comics #1002, Brian Michael Bendis and Patrick Gleason gave a fun wink-and-nod to the Beast, via a post-it note on Clark Kent’s work computer at The Daily Planet, which reads “Is KGBeast tied to election hacking?” Could the Beast have been a liaison between Putin and Trump in the 2016 election? Makes sense to me—although the Beast would probably claim there was no collusion.
Finally, Tom King has recently brought the Beast back to Gotham for his “Beasts of Burden” arc. Presumably working for Bane, a quiet and calm Beast (after murdering a man with his bare hands) shockingly shoots Nightwing in the head—as seen in Batman Vol. 3 #55-57 (by King, Tony Daniel, Danny Miki, and Tomeu Morey, released in September-October 2018). Nightwing survives, but won’t be the same. (Until someone reboots him so that he’s back to being the same, of course.) In any case, the ramifications for the Bat-Family are huge for now. Dick loses his memory and becomes “Ric,” a dude that bears little resemblance to the Nightwing most folks know and love. King also shakes-up KGBeast’s backstory as well, seemingly linking his Russian training to Apokolips. The evil New God Kanto, one of Darkseid’s minions, apparently helped train the Beast. The details of this training are vague at best, delivered partially by Bronze Tiger. Is King’s linking of Kanto and the Beast a reference to Bane: Conquest? Or does this outré re-imagination of the Beast’s past stand on its own? Either way, getting Kanto involved is quite strange. There’s also the question of whether or not the Russian Government has been aided by Apokolips. Not long after Dick’s shooting, King delivers a depth of psychology to the Beast’s character the likes of which he hasn’t really seen before. In a small cabin in Russia, the Beast shares a drink with his dad, who we learn was abusive to him as a child. The Beast, in fact, first called his abusive dad “The Beast” back in the day. Startlingly, the Beast (Junior) puts a bullet in pop’s head. Stone cold. Not to mention, we learn that the Beast killed his entire family at some point in the past. Ice cold. No sooner does Papa Vasily Knyazev’s warm blood drip onto the floorboards does the Beast hear crunchy footsteps in the freshly fallen snow outside. Batman has found him. Batman Vol. 3 #57 delivers a showdown long in the making—and it’s very very personal. Nearly the whole issue is devoted to a knock-down-drag-out melee between the two proud warriors. Much blood is shed, but in the end, it’s Batman breaking the Beast’s neck! The Beast offers to tell Batman who hired him in exchange for help, but, just like Batman did when they first met in the 80s, he tells him to piss-off and walks, leaving him to fend for himself (basically leaving him for dead for the second time). I’ll say the Beast definitely wound-up in the worst shape of his career after this one (aside from that one time he died, of course), but, in terms of characterization, King brings Anatoli Vasilavitch Knyazev (we learned his middle name!) back to his roots while shedding some new insight into his past. In an interesting touch, we also learn that young Bruce and young Beast both shared a favorite Russian fairy tale in common—a particularly dark fairy tale not typically befit for a youngster.
That’s it for the continuity comics. Now that we’ve looked at the canonical history of KGBeast from 1988 to 2018, it only makes sense to look at KGBeast’s other appearances in alternate universe material or other media too.
Believe it or not, KGBeast’s first ever alternate universe appearance was in a video game, making it his first ever non-comics media appearance as well! KGBeast, modeled after a generic 8-bit ninja sprite, appears in the 1990 Batman video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System! Wielding a katana, KGBeast acts as the mid-level “henchman” mini-boss in stage one. Because the video game is linked to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, this means KGBeast is a part of the “Burtonverse,” where he is one of Joker’s hired stooges.
In the late 1990s, Marvel and DC unbelievably teamed-up for a brief spell to put out joint comics. This ultimately resulted in the Amalgam line, which consisted of characters that were mashed together from both universes. As such, Dark Claw Adventures #1 (by Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, and Linda Medley, June 1997) gave us, if only for one issue—and in a hologram training program, no less—The Omega Beast. Marvel Russia’s deadliest mutant villain Omega Red merged with DC Russia’s deadliest good ol’ KGBeast.
KGBeast’s first television appearance is in the amazing Justice League Unlimited animated series, where he shows up for five episodes from 2004 to 2006. In the series, which attempted to utilize lesser-seen Bat-villains into its narrative, KGBeast is given his full comic book history from the Modern Age and is a formidable opponent for all that come up against him. He’s also consistently seen working with other villains, although he changes allegiances to suit his needs. Towards the end of the series, the animated KGBeast is killed by Darkseid.
In the Flashpoint Multiverse (an alternate universe created during the Flashpoint reboot series), as seen in Flashpoint: Legion of Doom #1-2 (by Adam Glass, Rodney Buchemi, José Marzan Jr, and Artur Fujita, August to September 2011), a version of KGBeast is seen as a prisoner in the Hall of Doom where he is a member of the Meta Gang. This KGBeast gets executed by Amazo.
KGBeast made his jump to live action in the Green Arrow series, Arrow, where he’s appeared in thirty-three episodes thus far (2013-2018). Played by David Nykl, this version of the character is the leader of the Solntsevskaya Bratva, a Russian criminal syndicate. Retaining much of the same characteristics of the KGBeast from the comics, including his KGB background, this Knyazev is much older and operates as a suit-wearing mobster. And, instead of being rival to Batman, he’s an antihero of sorts, often acting as a protagonist and ally to Oliver Queen. The Arrow series is also the first time we ever get to see scenes from Knyazev’s childhood. Young Knyazev is played by George Klimovich. With the seventh season underway, we may see more of Knyazev (young and old) on the small screen.
KGBeast was introduced into the best-selling video game universe based on the Arkham Asylum series (known as the “Arkhamverse”), but ironically never appears in any of the actual Arkham games, only spin-off material. After getting a brief mention in Derek Fridolfs’ Batman: Arkham Unhinged comic book series, KGBeast appeared in the 2014 direct-to-video animated feature film Batman: Assault on Arkham. In the movie, KGBeast (voiced by Nolan North) is a member of the Suicide Squad. But KGBeast is merely a plot device in this flick, fodder for Amanda Waller to demonstrate that her neck bombs are real. KGBeast doesn’t last long before Waller blows his head clean off.
In Batman: Li’l Gotham #10 (March 2014), Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen treated fans to a cute mini Li’l KGBeast, although we only see Li’l Batman dragging his ass through the snow in Russia.
Last (and I guess least), KGBeast appears in Zack Snyder’s much-maligned Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Played by Callan Mulvey, Knyazev is a Russian weapons trafficker/assassin in the employ of Lex Luthor. In the film, Knyazev is at the center of a Luthor-backed African mission that successfully frames Superman for the deaths of innocent civilians, leading to the public backlash against the Man of Steel. After successful assassinations for Luthor, KGBeast kidnaps Martha Kent and holds her hostage, an act that ultimately leads to his death in an explosion during Batman’s rescue.
And that’s where we leave off with the Beast! Who knows if we’ll be seeing him in future films or video games, but—as stated above—he’ll definitely be showing up on Arrow. If we take all recent comics as canon, the Beast, not too long ago, hung out with evil New Gods on Apokolips (one of whom was revealed as a mentor of sorts) and conspired with Putin and Trump in the undermining of American democracy. And now that we’ve seen the comics version of KGBeast return in the “Beasts of Burden” arc—in the pages of Batman Vol. 3 #55-57, we know that King has finally seen the light and hopped aboard the Beast love-fest—at least to some extent. Although, leaving him with a broken neck definitely sends some type of message. Sure, Batman was mad as hell, but, as I said above, the Beast is now probably at his lowest point (in current continuity). Will the Beast bounce back? Is he capable of recovering, and will he ever be the same? I’d wager a guess that he’ll be back one day.
Here’s to thirty years of the Beast and thirty more.