With the recent buzz about the casting of Tom Hardy as Bane in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, it’s timely to look back at the earliest of Bane’s greatest hits that have eluded collections (for now).
The first of these is Batman: Vengeance of Bane -- a 1993 64-page special that debuted the character. The Bat-office of the time had similarly introduced Azrael in the four-issue Batman: Sword of Azrael mini-series that appeared around the same time (with some “noob” called Quesada on art). This was cleverly done to get the major players on board in service of their starring roles in the imminent Knightfall epic.
Now let’s get one thing straight at the outset: Vengeance of Bane was an amazing debut adeptly handled by Chuck Dixon and artists Graham Nolan and Eduardo Barreto. Bane is often misremembered as a one-note muscle-headed character whose be-all-and-end-all was to snap Batman’s back. Reading this story it’s obvious that Bane had much more preplanned potential longevity than his fellow villain Doomsday (not that it hasn’t prevented “the big D” from coming back time and again).
Born in the ultimate version of underprivileged misery, Bane was a newborn sentenced to a South American prison, Pena Dura, for the insurgent crimes of his father. At the age of six his mother died and her body was thrown to the sharks that infest the waters of the desolate island prison. Without a mother, the boy was moved into general population, exposed to the thieves, murderers and other predators. The child quickly decides that he won’t be a victim and viciously takes his first life. His punishment is years in a cell that floods every evening, fighting to survive each day against rats and crabs. Bane uses the years productively, emerging from the cell as a beast of a man with a will as hard as his body.
Highly charismatic, Bane assembles a circle of operatives to educate him and assist him in his planning. Older inmates Trogg, Zombie and Bird are deadly criminals, each amusingly named after 1960s recording artists. They become devoted to him and his plans, recognizing someone who can lead them out of captivity.
Bane survives involuntary experiments with the Venom drug (introduced by Dennis O’Neil in the Legends of the Dark Knight story “Venom,” which is itself collected in trade paperback), escaping both mere humanity and the prison bars. Bane has heard tales of Gotham as the greatest city of the world and Batman as the man who stands against anyone wanting to control it; the imprisoned boy who has overcome every adversity in life sees overcoming Batman as the next stage of his fight for freedom.
To say Vengeance of Bane has aged well is unnecessary, because as a story it hasn’t aged a bit. It really is a pity that the appearance of Bane in the wrestler mask has led to many forgetting the mind behind the mask. Many depictions of Bane in both the comics and cartoons show a drug-frenzied rager, but the beauty of the Dixon/Moench/Nolan character is he would have been as big a threat even without the drug (something Gail Simone has explored through his membership in the Secret Six).
The second early book of note is (the imaginatively titled) Batman: Vengeance of Bane II: The Redemption from 1995 (I would have called it “Bane Again” myself). The story, produced by the exact same creative team, details Bane’s recovery from his defeat at the hands of Bat-understudy Azrael during Knightquest.
Again in prison (offshore Gotham locale – Blackgate), Bane must rebuild himself after his humiliation. The story parallels the earlier tale by showing the process of Bane building himself and refocusing his life. The Venom drug becomes symbolic of his weakness and he is motivated to destroy all his associations with it. Bane creates a network of minor Bat-villains to assist him in his plans, but this time they are mere pawns, unlike the acolytes he gathered in the first book.
After that first story, this is a more familiar tale, but no less enjoyable for it [indeed I think the parallels made the second book as good as it was -- ed.]. Nolan and Barreto’s art have gotten even better -- a splash page of Bane escaping the prison by diving off the cliff into the waters far below is utterly breath-taking.
There’s time for one more encounter with the Knightfall-recovered Batman, as Bane hunts drug-dealers who have been selling Venom to petty criminals. Batman fails to re-capture Bane, and Bane slips out of the city, alone and unbound, seeing himself as a truly free man for the first time in his life.
One of the most compelling things about Bane is the similarities and differences between him and Batman. Bruce Wayne was born into wealth and privilege -- Bane was born in poverty and oppression. Bruce’s parents were cruelly taken from him -- Bane never knew his father and his mother was a shell of a woman, waiting for death to end her misery. Bruce was cared for by Alfred in a mansion -- Bane was alone in a prison. Bruce travelled the world with endless resources at his disposal, learning all he could to prepare for his crusade-- Bane spent years alone, learning in his solitude about physical and mental strength.
Both rail against injustice, but Bruce is fighting against the indiscriminate injustice of crime while Bane’s crusade is about the discriminating injustice that targeted him personally. It’s heady stuff that’s hopefully going to be recognized in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises movie.
[Great point. Let’s not forget we already saw the Bane stereotype in Batman and Robin. Here’s hoping Christopher Nolan recognizes the intricacies of the Bane character in the upcoming movie, rather than just casting the villain as a background thug. -- ed.]
As with all good characters, Bane’s story continues elsewhere. I’ll be looking at the next two major stories in an upcoming Uncollected Editions.