#31 & #32 begin the five part story "The Bat and The Beast" by writer Peter Milligan (HUMAN TARGET
) and artist Andy Clarke (The Jokers Asylum: Two Face). The premise for The Bat and The Beast had me rolling my eyes way before the book even hit the shelf, (and this is coming from someone who didn't bat an eyelid when he heard that King Tut was going to be making an appearance).
"Can Batman win a fight against a Russian Bear?"
Do I care?
But I picked up the book anyway because BC has proven to be full of surprises, albeit at both ends of the quality spectrum, and I have to admit to once again being pleasantly surprised by the story being crafted here in BC by Mr Milligan and Mr Clarke.
The story thus far: a major mobster called "The Tsar" (guess where he's from), who controls 90% of Moscow (yep, you guessed it), is attempting to hold Gotham at ransom with the use of a a nuclear bomb (the usual Saturday afternoon events for local Gothamites) with the Tsar planning to split the ransom money with the Gotham mobsters and buy his way into the Gotham underground, thus expanding his criminal empire from Russia to America. Batman, being the all round awesome hero that he is, manages to get The Tsar to rethink his plans of attacking Gotham through the use of a single phone call (see, I told you he was awesome), only to have the Tsar inform Batman that he will simply target another American city (oh darn). This leads Batman to take the mountain to Mohammad and go om a global venture to Moscow to track down the Tsar, encountering a genetically engineered child Olympian who has grown up to resemble a hairy bear....of course.
Now, I admit that the above explanation does nothing to make this story sound anything other than what the silly premise would already lead you to believe you would get with this story, however there is more to this story than just that. The silly concept of Batman vs. A Bear is contsructed into a genuinely interesting tale that explores the classic Batman theme of Fear. This theme is explored from the usual criminal perspective, both in relation to Batman and the Tsar, but also from Batman's perspective as he encounters an opponent who uses fear with far more extreme results than Batman has ever received via his own methods. It is this thematic exploration that provides this story with the depth necessary to make it a thoroughly engaging read.
Also, a persopnal favorite in here are the numerous moments between Batman and Gordon. Mr. Milligan plays their interactions as friends or old partners, which is a welcome change from the usual rude and obnoxious way Batman is often written in these familiar settings. Looks like Mr. Milligan was paying attention to No Man's Land. Mr Milligan also does a very good job of portraying Batman in a city other than Gotham, with similarities and differences observed. Mr. Waid would benefit from paying attention here if he ever chooses to go back to Barcelona.
While I haven't been a huge fan of Mr. Clarke's art in previous Batman ventures (DETECTIVE #829 & #830: "Siege"), he does a very serviceable job here, not detracting from the story in any way and elevating it in crucial moments, such as a beautiful page where a contemplative Batman is faced with his human limitations and a shocking panel of Batman witnessing the power of fear.
Overall, “The Bat and The Beast” is a worthy arc in a very hit and miss title, that provides an interesting perspective on a well worn theme. I am not getting the same feeling of excitement that I had after the first issue of the "King Tut" story, but I am definitely interested and engaged enough to return next month to see where the story heads. And if this arc maintains the strength it has so far, the BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL hit and miss ratio may start to look a heck of a lot nicer, making it a much more worthy addition to the currently stellar Batman line of titles.