Batman Versus Predator by Dave Gibbons, Andy and Adam Kubert – Comic Review [Bellarius]
Examining the “versus” craze of the 90s, Bellarius gives his thoughts on Batman Versus Predator.
“One of the best examples of how to have Batman work with science fiction elements to date. No, really.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
During the greater excesses of the 90s, the idea of versus comics were booming. There had always been a craze for seeing one character fight another, but three particular staples of science fiction found dominance during this time: Xenomorphs, Predators and Terminators. A big part of their success came down to the surprisingly excellent early Alien Vs Predator comics, and deals were made between DC and Dark Horse to have their heroes take the fight to the aliens and machines. Even up to as late as 2007, companies were still working on these sorts of crossovers and trying to make cash from them. The quality of these tales was decidedly mixed. Superman vs Terminator, Batman/Aliens II and a lot of the bigger named ones are widely reviled, but among these were some surprising successes. This is one of those we’re looking at today, which proved to be so successful it ended up winning an Eisner award.
It’s business as usual in Gotham as Batman sets to work uncovering the latest deals and negotiations between organised crime leaders. First making contact with one supposed ‘philanthropist’ as Bruce Wayne, he soon begins picking out the involvements and rivalries surrounding Gotham’s heavyweight boxing tournament. However, his carefully made plans soon begin to fall apart as an outsider arrives in Gotham and begins taking heads. With a serial killer on the loose, Batman must race to unveil this mystery, unaware of just what he is facing.
What makes the comic so effective is its visual direction and overall tonal approach. Despite the presence of a Predator, the comic has a very neo-noir atmosphere and is initially treated as a far more grounded tale than Batman’s frequent escapades. It’s something more in line with the Christopher Nolan films or early Batman: The Animated Series episodes, where everything is treated with a specific brand of realism and a very distinctly un-science fiction style, yet there just happens to be a superhero and an alien hunting one another throughout this. The comic doesn’t suddenly go full bore the second the Predator arrives, it instead opts to utilise him more as a mysterious hitman. Much like thePredator films, the comic uses the alien sparingly. While he is constantly present, constantly hunting and cutting others down, he is only seen in brief glimpses.
The comic constantly manages to keep up a continual momentum without ever seeming overly cluttered. Batman himself is seen having to do the detective work when he first appears, attempting to figure out what the audience already knows and pinpoint the alien’s location. The criminal gangs are seen turning increasingly paranoid, first with their own dealings leading them to suspect one another, then even trying to turn the killings to their own advance. All the while the police are trying to keep order and Gordon is finding himself handling a foe with ever fewer boundaries and limitations than the Joker. There was obviously a very careful consideration as to what elements the comic would retain from either universe and ultimately the plot works as an amalgamated version of Predator 2’s police procedural tale with Batman doing what he does best.
With all this said however, there is one reason above all why it truly works: It doesn’t treat Batman as completely infallible. All too often pop culture and even comics writers (JLA: Act of God, anyone?) cross over into hero worship territory where the character can easily counter any foe with some pre-made plan and destroy them within moments of running into them. The comic thankfully avoids this entirely and it’s not afraid to show him losing, as Batman’s first real fight with the Predator goes so badly he effectively disappears for a large segment of the comic. This said, it still clearly depicts just why he is one of the big three of the DCU and, even at his weakest, he remains as brilliant as ever. It shows him constantly thinking, recovering, calculating against his foe and then returning with a means to truly bring him down. It emphasises more research, careful planning and learning from mistakes rather than Bats just strolling through the predator’s defenses.
The artwork here is fantastic, emulating elements from the mid 80s and keeping a very low key set of colours. Everything present is extremely subdued, fitting with the overall style of the comic and relies heavily upon the inked illumination to add flecks of colour to the works. It’s a surprisingly effective turn on the comics despite Batman himself keeping to the old dark blue and grey outfit he was better known for in the pre-Tim Burton years. Anyone who has read Watchmen will be familiar with shades of this look, and Gibbons’ distinctive style. I would say more but doing so wouldn’t really do it justice, so instead just be aware that the Eisner award was given to this comic thanks to its inking quality.
Now, this said the book does suffer from a few distinct failings. Along with some compressed storytelling elements which make certain events hard to follow, the panels can prove to be hard to follow in certain sequences, especially during a few of the mob scenes. While the dialogue works fine, the actual images fail to really lead from one to the next, and the points which work the best are often the most simple. These are sadly few and far between however. In addition to this, the comic does break the Predator’s honour code a too many few times, and going against what the films had established more than once. This is especially awkward when he guns down an unarmed blind man, having left him alive briefly only as a messenger.
Those two really are the only truly major shortcomings however, and it holds up extremely well despite the odds being stacked against it. It offers great fights, plenty of detective work, carries over the best elements of the Predator films, and never felt then need to throw in the Rogue’s Gallery to liven things up. It’s an extremely skillfully made comic which is well worth a look if you’re a fan of the dark knight.