The Comic Cave is a fortnightly feature where we spin the Wheel of Comics and see what graphic novel story it brings up for us to deep dive into! This week we take a look at Batman Versus Predator, the very first time the Predator crossed-over with a pre-existing comic creation.
When the Predator franchise first came to comic form in 1989 it was a success for publisher Dark Horse, who had taken something of a gamble with the IP. Unable to use the character of Dutch, played in the film by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the writers instead created a brother character, a cop who has to deal with the alien hunters coming to the big city. Whether or not the popularity of that story, later re-printed under the name Predator: Concrete Jungle, led to the second Predator movie taking a similar route in its own story is conjecture, but what we do know is that the popularity of the book led to Dark Horse investing more into the franchise.
That same year Dark Horse crossed the Predator over with their other big 20th Century Fox franchise, Aliens, creating Alien vs Predator. Much like all of the best pairings, it’s hard to think of the two franchises as not being linked. It feels like they must have always been designed to go together, because they work together so perfectly. And it’s become a pairing that has only continued to grow in popularity over the years, even surviving terrible films. Putting the two of them together in comic form basically printed money for Dark Horse, and so the next question was ‘what other cross-overs can we do?’.
According to Dave Gibbons, who would pen the script for the cross-over we’re looking at, the idea to jump universes and put the Predator in the pages of Batman belonged to Dark Horse editor Mike Richardson. At first glance it might seem like a strange pairing, and it might seem like the only reason to put the two together is to cash in on Batman’s sales numbers. But when you consider that Batman not only exists in a universe with aliens, but is best friends with one, him fighting the Predator isn’t too outlandish. And when you look beyond his familiar rogues’ gallery and see that he’s fought demons, vampires, ancient gods, and all kinds of supernatural, there’s nothing that’s really too out of character for Batman to fight.
The book opens in Gotham City, where a boxing title match is underway, with each of the fighters representing one of two warring crime bosses in the city: Alex Yeager and Leo Brodin. Across the city, in one of the junkyards, a man sits in his trailer watching the fight when something spooks his dog. Investigating, his gun drawn and ready, the man is blown apart by an invisible killer. The Yautja hunter enters the trailer, watching the end of the fight on the screen, with Yeager’s fighter crowned the city’s champion.
Later that night the winning fighter is relaxing in his hotel room with his girlfriend when the skylight shatters, and the Predator drops into the room, thirsty for blood. When the police come to investigate they find the blood and carnage and the Bat-signal is immediately lit. Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and his right-hand woman, Detective Kandowski, examine the scene, finding the headless boxer and the traumatised girlfriend, all whilst the invisible killer watches on. The Predator identifies Batman as worthy prey, and follows him as he leaves to question Leo Brodin and his men, believing them responsible for the death of the winning fighter.
Batman goes to Brodin’s gym, and briefly fights with the criminals there, but leaves satisfied that Brodin had nothing to do with the death of the champion fighter. Returning home to Wayne Manor, he spends some time time thinking over the case, but is summoned back out into the night by Gordon, who reveals that Brodin’s gym was hit after Batman left, and that everyone but a blind trainer was slaughtered. As they lead the trainer out of the gym he’s shot by an energy blast, killing him. The GCPD open fire on the rooftop, but fail to hit anything. Three red dots briefly appear on Batman’s chest, before the creature leaves, his warning given.
In the Batcave, Batman examines some rust left behind at the gym, and comes to the conclusion the killer is hiding in a scrapyard. As he goes off to watch over a meeting between the crime bosses and the mayor, he sends Alfred to check out junkyards for him. At the meeting the Predator attacks once again, and Batman learns that he’s dealing with an alien. Brodin manages to wound the creature, and it escapes. Using Alfred’s information, Batman heads to one of the scrapyards to confront the monster.
Unfortunately, the Predator comes close to killing Batman, and he’s forced to flee in the Batmobile before it finishes the job. Heavily wounded, he begins to recover at Wayne Manor as the Predator continues his hunt. Over the coming night more victims are claimed by the creature, including the Mayor, and Leo Brodin. It seems like everyone who makes a statement on television about stopping the murders becomes the creature’s next victim, and once Commissioner Gordon appears on the news he becomes the next target.
As Batman lies in his hospital bed, recovering from his wounds, he works on technology that he’ll need in order to challenge the alien once again, knowing that until he does there’s no way he can survive. As Batman continues to fail to answer the Bat-signal the city starts to lose hope, and the Predator reigns supreme. Eventually, it comes for Gordon, killing its way through his protection detail. It’s only thanks to the sacrifice of Detective Kandowski that he survives the night. As he retreats back to GCPD to think of a plan the Bat-signal ignites. Gordon and his men rush to the roof, to find an armoured Batman waiting for them. Rematch time has come.
Batman uses the signal to lure the Predator in, and the two clash once again. His new armour protects him from the energy weapons, and his mask lets him see the creature, giving him half a chance. The two fight across the GCPD roof, over the edge, and into the street below. Knowing the city is no place to fight the monster, Batman summons the Batmobile, and drives away, with the Predator clutched onto the bonnet, trying to kill him. Speeding out of the city, Batman takes the creature to the forest outside Wayne Manor. Here he uses bat swarms to disorient it, causing it to crash through a hole into the Batcave, where a net is waiting for it. However, the Predator breaks free.
Fortunately, Batman was prepared for this, and lures it into a trap, caging it behind thick metal bars. With nowhere to go, knowing that it’s lost, the monster activates the bomb on its wrist. Batman recognises it as a bomb, and stops it from going off; he breaks it, but releases the Predator in the process. The creature begins to get the upper hand, and starts beating Batman across the cave. It’s then that we get the best moment in the book, an ‘ahem’ from off panel as Alfred stands holding a blunderbuss. A polite ‘That’s quite enough thank you’, then Alfred shoots the Predator in the chest. I love Alfred Pennyworth, and this might be one of the greatest things he’s ever done.
The heavily wounded Predator escapes from the cave, up into Wayne Manor, where it smashes through the window in the games room back out into the forest. Batman follows behind, grabbing the first weapon he finds in the wreckage, a baseball bat. Finding the creature in the woods he starts smacking it around with the weapon with a ridiculously brilliant ‘it’s me… Batman’, before the forest is illuminated by an alien ship. Several Predators come out, including their leader. The leader hands the defeated Predator a sword, and it uses it to take its own life, ending its shame. The sword is then presented to Batman as a trophy, and the aliens leave.
The first question for stories like this, where two unconnected things come together, is ‘is it actually any good?’. Yes, absolutely so. Batman Versus Predator does the perfect thing for a crossover: it makes both sides work well. The Predator in the book here does do some things a little differently to others we’d seen by this point and since, such as taking hands as well as heads as trophies, and does kill an unarmed man at one point, but he still seems to be playing by rules. Much like the creature in Predator 2, which focuses on Danny Glover’s character to a scary degree, this monster is doing his own thing, and going to an extreme, but you can see a twisted logic to it.
The Predator goes after the champion boxer because the TV said he’s the city’s champion, so that makes him worthy prey. After his death, the other boxer is declared champ by default, so becomes a target. And as the TV that has been left running in the trailer the creature has set up shop in keeps showing people who declare that they’re going to stop the killings and bring the Predator down it adds more and more victims to the list. The only person really who ends up becoming a target the traditional way is Batman. This Predator is different to most, but he’s still recognisably a Predator, and he still gets moments to shine, he still gets gory kills, and to be scary, and so the book ticks those boxes.
But the Predator was probably the easiest thing to get right here; making it work with Batman is the harder part. Luckily, Gibbons is experienced with the character, and knows how to make something as outlandish as this work in his world. Batman fighting the Predator feels no more out of place than him dealing with Bane, or the Joker. And, as with some of his villains, he has to investigate to find the bad guy, he is physically challenged, and has to overcome the odds using his brain to win the day. In some ways it almost feels like a proto-story for Knightfall in which Batman will be so beaten by his opponent that the city falls into terror, and the next Batman builds armour to fight him. So yes, this absolutely works as a Batman story too.
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Other characters like Gordon and Alfred get utilised well here too, and the scenes in which Gordon is saved by Kandowski are dark and upsetting, and Gordon’s reaction to it makes it the only death in the book that feels like more than just a moment of gore and spectacle; she was someone you were supposed to care about, and Gordon makes you do so. But as my enthusiasm earlier made clear, Alfred is the stand out here. Alfred defending the Batcave with a gun is something that gets used again in future stories, but none of them work as well as they do here. The fact that this is all in continuity for the DC universe, and that these are our regular versions of these characters makes it better too (you actually get to see a Predator mask in Batman’s trophy room in issue 56 of JLA a decade later).
The art on the three issue series is by Andy Kubert, with his brother Adam lettering and inking, with Sherilyn van Valkenburgh on colours, and looks absolutely gorgeous. Kubert is a name that folks into comics will recognise, and Andy and Adam are sons of the great Joe Kubert, who founded The Kubert School which has taught many comic artists over the years. The book is suitably grim and gritty looking, with dark colours and grime abounding. But it also has a sharpness and crispness to it that makes this a wonderfully atmospheric and detailed book to read. The Kuberts are true giants of the industry, and most pages of this book could easily adorn any wall.
The success of the series, released as three prestige bound books, led to further crossovers between the two characters, though none received the acclaim that the first did. As with most DC crossovers with the Predator and Alien franchises, the first time is usually the best, and thanks to Disney now owning Fox, and the Alien and Predator books being made through Marvel, there will not only likely never be any more crossovers with DC, but no more copies of these stories printed. So, if you ever find a copy of Batman Versus Predator on the shelf, do yourself a favour, and grab it whilst you can.
Batman Versus Predator was published by DC Comics and Dark Horse from December 1991 to February 1992.
Next time on The Comic Cave – X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont and John Bryne.