"Batman Confidential" is the new "Legends of the Dark Knight," isn't it? Like "Legends of the Dark Knight," the book has shifted from an "early stories of Batman's career" theme into "random, not-current Batman stories." After all, that's the only way to explain "Batman Confidential" #31, the first part of "The Bat and the Beast," with its modern cell phones and references to Al-Qaeda. But, just like the shift for "Legends of the Dark Knight," this change for "Batman Confidential" might not be such a bad thing.
The story itself, "The Bat and the Beast," starts off slowly, introducing Fyodor, the "beast" of the story. We never get a clear look at what his appearance is, although I can't help but fear that we're getting a massive setup for the punchline of Batman fighting a Russian circus bear, minus the circus. On the bright side, though, Peter Milligan makes the story of warring Russian organized crime factions interesting enough, although the further it goes on the more you start to wonder just when Batman will show up. Ironically, it's once he does that the book gets slightly less interesting. Threatening phone calls and exposition dumps about the Russian mob just doesn't sparkle, after all; I can't help but note that Milligan's sending Batman to Russia for the remaining chapters, so hopefully that will make the story a little more punchy.
On the other hand, Andy Clarke's art is gorgeous. Fans of Clarke's on "R.E.B.E.L.S." will find a lot to like here, too. Clarke brings to mind artists like Travis Charest with his thin lines and immense attention to detail. It's hard to imagine just how long it took Clarke to draw every single window in the Gotham skyline at dark, or all the worn out patterns on the floor in the building where Fyodor trained as a child. David Baron's colors really help Clarke's art pop, too; I love how Fyodor's eyes glow in the darkness even while we catch just glimpses of the face around them, or the icy blue shades of a Moscow winter. Even the glow of lights outside the building that Batman and Gordon are in cast a perfect hue on the glass. This is just a beautiful book, through-and-through. (It is a little puzzling that Clarke didn't get to draw the cover here, though, especially with such a generic image from Guillem March. Maybe later issues will rectify that situation?)
Back when "Legends of the Dark Knight" shed its original "very early stories of Batman" mandate, I remember being sad to see that idea go. Once it became clear that the quality of the stories wasn't going anywhere, though, it actually ended up being a good thing, freeing up the creators to tell all sorts of good Batman adventures. Hopefully the same will be true here with "Batman Confidential." Regardless, Clarke's art alone is reason to come back next month, although the potential of Milligan's story is certainly there to boot.