In March of 1988, who could have guessed the Cold War had pretty much run out of steam and was soon to end in only a couple years’ time? Certainly not creators Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo. Enter Anatoli Knyazev, the Soviet super-soldier unleashed into the heart of America in the pages of Batman #417. In their arc, entitled “Ten Nights of the Beast!,” which was advertised almost like its own mini-series, complete with its own trade-dressing on the regular Batman covers, Starlin and Aparo sculpted a cybernetic martial artist that had mastered every deadly weapon known to man. Having trained as part of the KGB cell known as The Hammer, which also spawned metahuman Superman-adversary Zed aka the Russian General Zod (as referenced in Action Comics #804 by Joe Kelly, Pascal Ferry, Cam Smith, and Guy Major, August 2003), Knyazev became the killing machine known as KGBeast. According to Starlin’s lore, by the time KGBeast enters the US, he’s already killed over 200 people, including real-life Egyptian President Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981. Now on American soil, the deadliest man on the planet has gone rogue, with plans to heat up the Cold War to a boiling point. Thus begins the Modern Age history of KGBeast, which we’ll examine in this first part of our retrospective piece.
“Ten Nights of the Beast!” (Batman #417-420—by Starlin, Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, and Adrienne Roy, March to June 1988) sees the Russian murder machine enter Gotham with the goal of crippling the US Government by assassinating the Secretaries of the Department of Defense. Aided by both the Hammer and a Shi’ite terrorist organization, and having been fully-disavowed by Mikhail Gorbachev himself, KGBeast begins a brutal ten-day killing spree, aptly reflecting the title of the arc, during which he murders over 100 people. At one point, KGBeast famously severs his own limb to escape capture, later returning with a cybernetic gun arm in its place. Issue #420 ends on day ten with Batman—backed by the CIA—outwitting Knyazev to save President Ronald Reagan! Afterward, Batman, having faced one of the greatest challenges in his career, defeats KGBeast by locking him in a storage room in the sewer.
Two years later, in Batman #445-447 (“When the Earth Dies!”—by Marv Wolfman, Aparo, DeCarlo, and Roy, March to May 1990), KGBeast’s sadistic successor and protégé, NKVDemon (Gregor Dosynski), whom he’s spent a long time training, attempts to outdo his master. While KGBeast doesn’t make an appearance, you can be sure he’s paying close attention. Unlike the KGBeast, Dosynski is too lazy to come all the way to the US, so Batman has to fly to Moscow to confront him, defeat him, and save Gorbachev’s life.
KGBeast comes back in Robin III #1-6 (“The Cry of the Huntress”—by Chuck Dixon, Tom Lyle, Bob Smith, and Roy, December 1992 to March 1993). In Robin III, new Robin Tim Drake meets Ariana Dzerchenko, who will become his girlfriend for a few years in the comics. When gangsters threaten Ariana’s family again, the Boy Wonder winds up facing-off with the returning KGBeast! The USSR has collapsed, but, like many others in Russia, the Hammer has found capitalism to be quite to its liking, now operating as a crime syndicate. KGBeast—who should have rightly changed his name to CapitalismBeast or CrimeBeast or something—attacks on behalf of the Hammer. During this arc, KGBeast holds his own against both Robin and Huntress but fares much worse against King Snake (Bane’s dad and leader of the Ghost Dragon gang). King Snake kicks KGBeast’s ass in a scene that sees him act as a jobber to make King Snake—Dixon’s original creation—look good. This won’t be the last time, unfortunately, that KGBeast is used as a prop to get others over or to advance another character’s narrative.
In late 1994, KGBeast shows up in Gotham once more, this time with some backup. The whole Bane/Az-Bats saga has recently ended, and Dick Grayson is playing the role of Batman for a brief moment while Bruce gets ready to return. In Robin Vol. 4 #12—or Robin Vol. 2 #12, depending on how you personally number your volumes—by Dixon, Phil Jimenez, John Stokes, and Roy, December 1994, which is part of the “Prodigal” arc, we are introduced to the Russian Troika, a team consisting of Russian super-villains Colonel Vega, Romana Vrezhenski, the Dark Rider, and—of course—KGBeast. After “Prodigal” wraps and Bruce is back behind the cowl, his very first taste of action is against the Troika in the aptly named “Troika” arc from Batman #515 (by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, John Beatty, & Roy, February 1995), Batman: Shadow of the Bat #35 (by Grant, Barry Kitson, Ray McCarthy, and Roy, February 1995), Detective Comics #682 (by Dixon, Graham Nolan, Scott Hanna, & Roy, February 1995), and Robin Vol. 2 aka Robin Vol. 4 #14 (by Dixon, Tom Grummett, Ray Kryssing, and Roy, February 1995). Bruce, having gone through all he has with Bane and Az-Bats is now a lot grittier than usual, kind of like an angry dad. This is bad news for the Troika, which, by the way, means “Triad,” meaning “three.” The Troika foursome realizes that they should just change their name and then—nope! Vega, Romana, and KGBeast screw-over the poor Dark Rider and kick him off the team into the waiting arms of Batman. Ice cold. Eventually, Batman and Robin are able to stop the Troika from detonating a nuclear device, but they can’t prevent Harvey Bullock from getting shot by KGBeast. Interestingly, Bullock getting shot by KGBeast leads to important narrative shake-ups in other titles. While Bullock is laid-up in a coma, MacKenzie Bock becomes Montoya’s new partner. KGBeast winds up in Blackgate Prison, which immediately leads us to an encounter with Bane!
In Batman: Vengeance of Bane II (by Dixon, Nolan, Eduardo Barreto, and Roy, 1995), entitled “The Redemption,” we are treated to the villain match of the century: KGBeast versus Bane! Two of Batman’s most skilled and dangerous foes are locked in prison together and they hate each other’s guts. Surely this must be a fantastic match, no? No. Bane is a shadow of his former self, having wasted away in Blackgate for months and months. In fact, he’s gotten incredibly soggy, fat, and unfit in this time. KGBeast kicks the shit out of Bane just for fun. This leads to Bane, while in the infirmary, befriending Buzz Galvan and the Ratcatcher. With their help and inspiration, Bane decides to get back into shape. First, he murders another inmate, which gets him a long stint in solitary confinement. After a few months of constant work-outs and meditation in solitary, Bane emerges a new man. Back among the regular population and back in peak physical condition, and also now without a Venom addiction, Bane sets his sights on KGBeast. The rematch takes place and Bane wallops KGBeast as revenge for the trouncing delivered to him before. KGBeast responds with an offer of friendship. It’s not an easy thing to do, but Bane has earned KGBeast’s respect. Word up. KGBeast, along with Galvan and the Ratcatcher, even helps Bane escape from jail.
KGBeast goes off the radar for two years until Batman Plus #1 aka Batman Plus Arsenal #1 (by Devin Grayson, Rodolfo Damaggio, Robert Campanella, and Lee Loughridge, February 1997). The always superb Devin Grayson, in a story called “Beauty and the Beast,” sees KGBeast as a top-notch assassin-for-hire. The tale begins with super-villain Cheshire detonating nuclear bombs in Qurac, virtually destroying the entire nation. In retaliation, Quraci nationals, led by a now out-of-prison KGBeast, kidnap her. Who could possibly care enough to risk life and limb to save a woman who literally just nuked an entire country? Arsenal, of course! Why? Because Cheshire is the mother of his child. Arsenal is Roy Harper. You may know him better as former Teen Titan, Speedy! Anyway, Roy travels to Blüdhaven and asks Dick Grayson to ask Batman to help him out. Batman and Arsenal then team-up and travel to Zurich, where a solo Arsenal takes out KGBeast (!) while Batman rescues Cheshire and learns of an added layer to the mission. Unknown to Roy, his daughter Lian Harper had been kidnapped by KGBeast as well, and Cheshire was being blackmailed for a ton of cash. Lian, being held back in the States, is saved by Nightwing. Any book by Devin Grayson usually makes for a good read, and this one’s no exception, especially if you are into some amazing Roy banter.
Next up is Batman and Wildcat #1-3 (by Dixon, Beau Smith, and Sergio Cariello, April to June 1997). In this one, Dixon poses the straightforward question: Who is the better pound-for-pound fighter in the DCU—Ted Grant aka Wildcat or Batman? The two get to fight each other in this tale, and we almost find out the answer. Almost. For anyone who doesn’t know, Wildcat is a long-time JSA member, former boxing heavyweight champ, and one of the many men who trained a young Bruce Wayne long ago. In this story, promoter Ernie Chubb organizes a televised metahuman MMA tournament and hires Lock-Up to kidnap all the participants. The overachieving Lock-Up does a hell of a job too. The main contestants he successfully nabs are KGBeast, King Snake, Panara, Monsoon, Killer Croc, and Steeljacket. Hector Ramirez (Ted’s protégé), eager to impress his retired mentor, dons the Wildcat costume and enters the tourney only to be promptly pummeled to death by Croc. Batman and the original Wildcat rush to the scene where they are captured and tricked into squaring-off against one another. They never finish the fight, however, and instead team-up and take out all of the bad guys. Batman easily takes down KGBeast and Monsoon at the same time. Once again, KGBeast’s status as a top dog is lowered tremendously, although yet another KGBeast-involved story has a big impact on the wider DCU narrative: Wildcat decides to officially come out of retirement after this.
When we next see KGBeast, Gotham has turned upside-down. A massive earthquake has rocked the city and the US Government has given up hope, abandoning the entire city to become a dystopian “No Man’s Land” (NML). There’s a lot going on in this “No Man’s Land” mega-arc (and if you haven’t read it, you definitely should, because it’s some of the best Batman there is), but KGBeast’s role is fairly simple: Batman, having taken over the remnants of Blackgate Prison, has appointed Lock-Up as his personal warden. Lock-Up immediately appoints KGBeast as his top man. From late 1997 until late 1999 (nearly two years of publication time), KGBeast is Batman’s warden—as seen in Batman: Blackgate #1 (1997), Batman: Blackgate – Isle of Men #1 (April 1998), Batman #565 (May 1999), Detective Comics #732 (May 1999), Legends of the Dark Knight #119 (July 1999), Detective Comics #736 (September 1999), and Nightwing Vol. 2 #35-37 (September to November 1999), by many, many different creators, too many to list here. Because this arc goes for so long, this means Lock-Up and KGBeast are wardens of Blackgate for well over half the time Gotham is NML. Depending on your version of canon, NML lasts for 333 days, 323 days, or 230 days. In any case, this means Lock-Up and KGBeast run Blackgate with an iron fist for hundreds of days. Eventually, things get out of control in Blackgate. In the end, the heroes realize that Lock-Up and KGBeast have long given into their sadistic desires (basically right from the start) and have begun to enjoy their warden privileges a bit too much. This forces Nightwing to regain control of Blackgate for Batman.
And that’s pretty much it for KGBeast being used as a character with the same worth he held during his original debut in the late 80s. We don’t see KGBeast for almost seven years, with the exception of a brief reference in Scott Beatty’s Batman: Gotham Knights #46 (December 2003), in which KGBeast urges his Russian mob pals to recruit a recently paroled Spook. By the mid-2000s, KGBeast was considered a dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War comic era. Thus, it was with this mindset that James Robinson used KGBeast as narrative fodder, a mere plot device in Detective Comics #817 and Batman #652 (with art by Leonard Kirk, Don Kramer, John Kalisz, et al, May to June 2006). In Robinson’s “One Year Later/Face the Face” arc, our story begins with the murder of KGBeast by a mystery assailant. At this point, the Caped Crusader has just returned from a year abroad. During that time, Harvey Dent—rehabilitated and surgically repaired—has been the primary protector of Gotham, having been trained and approved by Batman himself. Harvey has done well protecting Gotham, but Batman just doesn’t trust him when KGBeast, Magpie, Orca, the Ventriloquist, and Killer Moth all turn up dead. These characters are thrown in the fridge, victims of a new Tally Man, mainly so that Harvey can get blamed in order to return him to his Two-Face roots. Thus ends the Modern Age saga of KGBeast—the LIVING saga, anyway!
KGBeast returns in Nightwing Vol. 2 #141-143 (by Peter Tomasi and various artists, April to June 2008)—as a corpse! Yes, KGBeast’s cadaver plays a role. There’s still life—narrative life—in the old boy yet. In this arc, called “Freefall,” Nightwing, now operating out of NYC, visits Gotham only to stumble upon grave-robbers (who have also recently stolen the corpse of a 13th-century knight and the corpse of Black Condor) unearthing the corpse of KGBeast. Nightwing fights the grave-robbers, but they are able to escape with KGBeast’s severed head after a re-animated half Black Condor/half 13th-century knight monster attacks. After an autopsy of the monster by Dr. Mid-Nite, it is determined that the creature is a clone made-up of the DNA of various deceased metahumans and warriors of the past. All the clues point to Talia al Ghul, so, while Batman is busy on his normal Gotham patrol, Nightwing and Robin go on a little trip to her African island HQ. Once Nightwing and Robin arrive, they discover that Talia is nowhere to be found, but she has hired the evil scientist Creighton Kendall to create a clone army for her. If you are making a clone army, why not throw in a bunch of KGBeast DNA! Kendall’s program is shut down, so we never get to see an undead monster version of KGBeast…
…until Blackest Night! That’s right, you get your wish, KGBeast fans! In Blackest Night: Batman #1-3 (by Tomasi, Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, and Nei Ruffino, October to December 2009), all of Earth’s dead begin to rise as a zombie apocalypse gets underway. When Deadman’s body rises up as one of these zombie “Black Lanterns,” Deadman faces an evil zombie version of himself, which causes him to freak out and seek Batman’s assistance. Of course, at this point, Bruce is lost in time, so Dick is currently Batman. Batman, Robin (Damian Wayne), and Deadman team-up to take on a chilling cavalcade of reanimated cadavers, including KGBeast, Blockbuster, Ventriloquist, Deacon Blackfire, Magpie, King Snake, the Trigger Twins, Abbatoir, and Captain Boomerang. These zombie villains attack GCPD HQ. Batman and Robin, armed with flamethrowers, then assault the Black Lanterns and rescue Commissioner Gordon and Babs. Red Robin (Tim Drake) jets in from Europe just in time to help face-off against the zombie versions of his parents and Dick’s parents. With a little help from a Deadman-possessed Etrigan, the heroes freeze themselves, confusing the zombies, who then fly off in search of more dead bodies. Eventually, the “Blackest Night” arc, to which this mini-series was attached, ends and KGBeast finally gets to rest in peace.
If a new millennium KGBeast was considered an antiquated relic of another time by DC publishers and authors (with Tomasi as the notable exception), the DC higher-ups sadly doubled-down on this idea in the immediate aftermath of 2011’s Flashpoint reboot. However, a few writers, notably Dan Jurgens, Scott Lobdell, and Scott Snyder, seemingly in direct response, fought against the grain to restore KGBeast to his former glory. In the next part of this article, we’ll take a look at KGBeast in the New 52/Rebirth Era and his first appearances in non-canon comics and other media. In the continuation of this article, we’ll take a look at KGBeast in the New 52/Rebirth Era and his first appearances in non-canon comics and other media. Until then, please leave some comments. See you soon!