Crossover comics are not typically known for being the best of the medium. And expectations slide even further when it’s a crossover with a film property. Phrases like “cash grab” and “cynical” come to mind.
Crossovers can prove the haters wrong by acknowledging the irony or leaning into a weird but sincere mashup. But the far rarer outcome is when a group of all-time creators actually make an all-time comic. And that is exactly what happened with 1991’s Batman vs. Predator.
Who made Batman vs. Predator?
The Eisner Award-winning — yes, it won an Eisner — three-issue series was written by Dave Gibbons (yeah, the co-creator of Watchmen). It was pencilled and inked by Andy and Adam Kubert, titans of superhero draftsmanship and scions of the legendary Joe Kubert. The book was lent some genuinely unforgettable colors by Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh, and some, well, very 1991 covers by Arthur Suydam.
Why review Batman vs. Predator now?
Batman vs. Predator is a beautifully crafted and gripping comic, and it is never ever ever going to be reprinted again.
In one of the final casualties of Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Dark Horse Comics has lost its longstanding claim on the Predator license to Disney-owned Marvel Comics. Marvel announced its intention publish new Predator comics earlier this month. This means that if Batman vs. Predator were to be reprinted again, it would require an agreement between Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, the Walt Disney corporation, and Warner Bros. To put it mildly, this seems like an improbable outcome.
Batman vs. Predator will continue to be available on digital platforms for a while at least. But if you’re ever going to truly own a copy of Batman vs. Predator, and not simply permission to read it through a third-party app, now is the time to start scouring the secondhand market. It was most recently reprinted in DC Comics/Dark Horse: Batman vs. Predator, a compilation of three different Batman/Predator stories, but the sequels from other creative teams simply do not live up to the original. If you can find a copy that’s just the Gibbons/Kubert storyline for a lower price, go for it.
What is Batman vs. Predator about?
Batman vs. Predator is what it says on the tin. The Predator arrives in Gotham City, and attempts to find the biggest badass living there so that it can defeat them in single combat. The alien begins, thanks to a radio broadcast of a championship boxing match, by brutally slaughtering the winner of the match in his own bed.
But this is Gotham, and a murder in which a man’s hands are severed and taken as trophies is just a Tuesday night. Batman and the police initially assume the killing is related to a long-simmering feud between two rival mob bosses, until the so-called “See-Through” Slasher keeps killing on both sides. You see, in Gotham, the Predator is indistinguishable from any other serial killer.
Gotham’s Mafia fights the Predator, Gotham police fight the Predator, Batman fights the Predator multiple times — all eventually culminating in an issue-long battle that ranges from the rooftops of Gotham, to the Batcave, to Wayne Manor, and the surrounding woods.
Alfred even gets involved, with the Chekov’s antique blunderbuss carefully introduced in the first issue.
Is Batman vs. Predator good?
Reader, I want to be very clear about this. Batman vs. Predator is not just a good tie-in comic. It is a great Batman comic.
The art in the story alone is enough to put on a wall. Van Valkenburg’s colors don’t just look beautiful — they emphasize the Predator’s alienness by contrasting its harsh colors — heat vision reds and greens, sickly yellow blood — with Gotham’s traditionally muted look, which she softens further with watercolor-like washes.
A comic is always going to look good when the Kubert brothers work together, but in Batman vs. Predator they really pull out all the stops, with Andy pencilling, and Adam both inking and lettering. Andy’s figures are posed for maximum dramatic impact, and between his layouts and Adam’s letters, the two show a breathtaking mastery of how to control the reader’s eye. Just look at how the dialogue and sound effects in this page pull your attention through every beat of the action one by one:
The impact of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One is everywhere in Batman vs. Predator. Gibbons includes James Gordon as a central POV character, invents compellingly disgusting corrupt politicians and mafia bosses to thread the Predator’s rampage around, and he and the Kuberts deliver lots of exposition through media talking heads on the TV.
It’s subtle homage, but it has the effect of grounding a non-editorial premise — What if Batman fought the alien from those movies? — in a specific time and tone of Batman story; indeed, the definitive Batman story. This is not a story about what might happen, in an alternate universe where an alternate Batman could meet the Predator, these homages say. This is a story about what actually happened when Batman met the Predator.
Without getting into spoiler territory, Gibbons also effectively mines the bones of the Predator movies that had been released at the time, incorporating plenty of references to specific moments. He also spends a shocking amount of time — a full issue of a three-issue series! — not showing Batman at all, in favor of seeding doubts within the reader. He twists the tension higher by focusing on Alfred’s fears that Bruce will go back for a second match before healing from his first, and on James Gordon’s fruitless efforts to halt the murders in his city, as he worries that Batman has been killed, or worse, that he has abandoned Gotham to an alien killer whose rampage is inciting a mob war.
In the three-part structure of Batman vs. Predator, you can even see a shadow of what would later become the biggest Batman event of the 1990s: Knightfall, Knightquest, and Knightsend, in which Batman is defeated by Bane, Gotham is terrorized by a blade-wielding usurper while he recuperates, and the hero eventually wins back his place in a fight that ranges from Gotham to the Batcave to the manor grounds.
And like the Knightfall saga, Batman vs. Predator is really about how far Bruce Wayne can push himself, physically and emotionally, to be the guardian he wants to be — and what Batman and his ideals mean to the people of Gotham City.
And again, not to spoil anything, but... It is also about Batman beating the shit out of the Predator with a baseball bat. Batman vs. Predator is a must-read comic. And if you have ever thought about picking up a copy, now is the time to lock that in.
One panel that popped?
What’s missing from this panel is the entire issue before it, which is just about the Predator rampaging unopposed through Gotham while Batman builds an exosuit while recovering from being badly burned and blinded in their first fight. Even a reader certain that Batman will win is asked to wonder what it will cost him to do so. It’s the kind of emotional groundwork that should come standard with every Guy vs. Other Guy story, and rarely does.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.