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This is one of those Batman tales that fans seem either to hate or love with no middle ground in between. A long awaited match (allegedly ~ I for one was never really waiting for this to happen), the story sees Batman investigating the crimes of a killer called the "See-Through Slasher" and finding himself taking on much more than he could ever have bargained for!
This has much in common with the Rbocop Vs Terminator story that I read many years back in that it seems like just a comic book match made merely for the sake of it. I can well imagine a room of writers sitting around the table either randomly suggesting scenarios they would like to see or alternatively picking comic book character names out of a hat and fitting them together! How about Billy The Fish meets Rogue Trooper? What about Captain America Vs Popeye? That sort of thing....
The plot too reads mostly like a re-hash or re-imagining of Predator 2 but set instead in Gotham and utilising the Batman franchise with all its familiarity. Hence we get the Batmobile, the Bat-Cave and of course Alfred thrown into te mix just in case we happen to forget what comic we are reading!
It's not all bad though. The artwork is good and it is nice to see Batman challenged in a way that he is not normally by something that comes from outside his universe. But I can't help thinking that this book came out at a time when there were just a few too many of these such titles floating about and for that comes across ever so slightly weaker than it might have done otherwise. About this time a Superman Vs Aliens comic was also released and Batman Vs Dredd was still fairly fresh in everyones minds.
I can understand trying to keep a character fresh but, like I said, too much of this feels like it has been inspired or borrowed from Predator 2 and unfortunately, and this is a hard thing for me to say, but I actually think the film did it slightly better!
Is this for Batman fans or is it for Predator fans? I am not entirely sure and neither, it seems, are the writers meaning that this is more of a mash-up than a match made in heaven. Still there are worse Batman stories out there than this and if you want a relatively short Batman tale that is a little different from the norm, then this might just be worth checking out.
But other than that, it can be summed up by two words; distinctly average!
Batman versus Predator is a 1991 comic book crossover by Dark Horse Comics written by Dave Gibbons with art by Andy Kubert. The story begins with a big local heavyweight boxing match in Gotham City with both participants backed by different shady and powerful underworld crime figures - Alex Yeager and Leo Brodin. Later that night the winning boxer of the contest is brutally murdered ('Marks on his body look like a net was used. Cut him to the bone then his head and spinal column were removed') in his apartment, leading Batman and the police to suspect and fear that a nasty gang war between rival mobsters and their crews is now on the cards with Brodin, gangster backer of the losing boxer, the chief suspect for the murder. The police and Batman are puzzled and somewhat troubled though by the unnecessarily grisly and gruesome nature of the killing. 'Who'd Brodin hire for the hit? Jack the Ripper?' muses Jim Gordon's assistant.
The mayor of Gotham duly organises a summit between the rival gangsters in an attempt to calm matters before they get out of hand but the meeting is gatecrashed by a huge, shadowy, almost invisible figure armed with elaborate weaponry who creates yet more bloody havoc and destruction. With some old fashioned detective work in his high-tech lab and the help of butler Alfred, Batman tracks down the mysterious killer to a junkyard hideout but barely escapes with his life when he is discovered and engages the Predator in a brutal fight. With the help of his remote controlled Batmobile he somehow makes it back to Wayne Manor where Alfred places him comatose in the Batcave's medical unit. As this apparently unstoppable and uncatchable killer continues his violent killing spree, Batman lies injured, presumed dead, and the National Guard is called in ready to sweep the streets unless Batman answers the Bat signal by a certain time. This will produce yet more casualties, something everyone is well aware of while they await any signs that the city's greatest protector is still alive. 'Our killer,' muses a groggy Batman. 'I don't believe it's of this world. I think it's on safari here in Gotham...' Has The Dark Knight finally met his match?
One of the more critically well received of the numerous crossover comic book stories, Batman versus Predator sounds ludicrous on the face of it but is a surprisingly dark and violent piece of art with a decent story that - while a tad derivative - does the job reasonably well. The alien Predators are essentially intergalactic big game hunters and when one pitches up in Gotham it immediately starts picking off who it (sometimes slightly erroneously) assumes are the most powerful people - or 'prey' - available, like the city's two most famous heavyweight boxers and its most salient crime lords. The biggest prey in Gotham though is of course Batman who faces his biggest ever challenge and may even be completely out of his depth. The art by Andy Kubert is deliberately muddy here with very few bright colours used which, on the plus side, helps to make the infra-red point of view perspectives and laser beams of the Predator much more striking and fun when they are deployed. The story seems to take place entirely in the dark with rain often splattering down on the gothic architecture of Gotham. While it was probably sensible to go for this approach - the Predator would have fitted less comfortably into a brightly lit world of spangly costumed superheroes - if I had a criticism it would be that occasionally I found it a little difficult to actually follow what was happening with all the dark blues, grey and black and had to skim over certain pages more than once.
The Predator is certainly well drawn and enjoyably violent in the story, leaving some gruesome carnage for the police and Batman to find. For a while the authorities are puzzled by the nature of the killer and it becomes known as The Slasher, an invisible or 'see-through' killer that is slowly but steadily making the streets of Gotham no go areas. The story arc has Batman soundly beaten by his first encounter with this extraterrestrial Alan Quartermein and forced to recuperate bed-ridden in the safety of the Batcave while the killing spree goes on outside. When he asks Alfred how he is, his faithful butler replies, 'Rather poorly I'm afraid sir. Deep puncture wounds, extensive lacerations, third degree burns and severe concussion. You're lucky to be alive.' This sets the scene for a climatic and much bigger showdown between Batman and the Predator which is somewhat reminiscent of the final act of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and also contains a few nods to the Predator films made by John Mctiernan and Stephen Hopkins in the eighties and early nineties. Predator 2 in particular with its urban city environment seems to be a big influence here. In this universe other more high powered DC superheroes don't seem to exist - or at least are not mentioned - which is a wise move I feel. The personal and daunting nature of the challenge Batman faces to protect the people of his city is therefore heightened, something that obviously wouldn't be the case if it was possible to just telephone The Justice League or Superman. Batman is really a loner who relies on his courage, wits and ingenuity rather than special powers and Batman versus Predator is aware of this.
While the story veers towards the predictable at times in Batman versus Predator there are some nice moments that lift this slightly above the more straight ahead and daft cash-in crossovers. I enjoyed seeing Batman have to do some detective work - he tracks down the Predator's hideout by analysing metal rust flakes in his lab - and also deploys his technological expertise to make himself more of a match for the equally technologically minded Predator. The final showdown between the pair is certainly entertaining with a coda that supplies another nod to one of the Predator films. While Batman versus Predator I feel is not as good as its reputation would suggest or the people behind it seem to feel - there are no less than three somewhat self-indulgent introductions from those involved telling us what a brilliant job they all did - it's certainly not bad at all and those on the lookout for a Batman graphic novel to dip into could probably do a lot worse.