Uncollected Editions #4: Batman: Vengeance of Bane (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

[Continuing our "Uncollected Editions" series by Paul Hicks]

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.
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13 comments:

  1. Bane as a mindless goon in the Batman and Robin movie was ridiculous! But, so was the rest of that movie. I'm pretty sure they stopped making super-hero movies for a while after that mess came out.

    It seems that people have forgotten that Bane, unlike Doomsday, didn't just show up and beat up Batman. Bane broke Batman mentally first. He orchestrated the release of all the inmates in Arkham, so by the time Bane fought Batman, Bruce was already exhausted from days (I think) of rounding up the escaped inmates. Plus, Bane figured out Batman's secret identity on his own! Far, far, from a mindless goon. The set-up and initial parts of Knightfall were great; as I recall, it was when "Az-Bats" came on board that things started to go downhill. At least, that's how I remember it. I got out of comics while Bruce was still in the wheelchair, so I can't fairly comment on the ending.

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  2. Agreed that in the general reputation that the 1990s hold (Death of Superman, Knightfall, Emerald Twilight), Bane is conflated with Doomsday as an origin-less berzerker, as Doomsday was, rather than a character with a rather detailed backstory. I remember finding Vengeance of Bane unusually compelling, having expected it to be just a one-off special before we knew what Bane's role would be. Dixon gave depth even to Bane's henchmen.

    The Chuck Dixon/Graham Nolan/Scott Hanna team rather defined the Batman era for me for a while. Batman: Legacy as a whole is not the greatest crossover, but their Detective Comics #700 within was a joy to look at.

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  3. While I was researching this, my kids saw Bane and identified him as 'that funny guy in Lego Batman'. Where Bane is in the pecking order in that game says a lot about how most people remember him.

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  4. Too funny! Thanks for sharing; looking forward to the next column.

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  5. Since we're talking about 90's Batman, my favourite team was Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. Breyfogle in particular is still my all-time favourite Batman artist. I hadn't seen his name in a long time, then a few months ago I noticed he's drawing Archie now! From what I saw though, it's still the Archie house-style look; I wouldn't have guessed he was the artist on it.

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  6. Also two great Bat-names. I'm not so familiar with the early part of their run, but their Anarky issues are classic, as are their early Tim Drake stories.

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  7. Grant and Breyfogle's early Detective Comics run is superb and a highly creative streak featuring the creation of Scarface, Ratcatcher, Zsasz and Anarky. It's bound to be an Uncollected Edition of the future.

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  8. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Zsasz didn't show up until the Shadow of the Bat series.

    Also, I think the fact that Grant/Breyfogle were moved from Detective over to Batman was a sign of how great they were. Otherwise, why not just leave them on 'Tec? I'm not sure, but I think they actually switched with whoever was doing Batman at the time; I think Jim Aparo might have still been the artist (and Aparo is one of the quintessential Batman artists, I think, just behind Neal Adams).

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  9. Indeed Zsasz premiered in Shadow of the Bat (the Last Arkham storyline), but the story was by Grant and Breyfogle.

    I always thought the Grant/Breyfogle Zsasz story in Knightfall was a super-scary portrayal of that character, and also a good demonstration of how Batman and the Tim Drake Robin could work independently of one another.

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  10. Yep, you're right about Zsasz. Anyone remember those homeless guys Alan Grant had in Gotham, led by the dude in the little cart - 'Legs'. Man, they showed up everywhere whenever he wrote Batman.

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  11. @CE-I hate to nitpick but the Knightfall Zsasz story (if I remember correctly it was part 3) was by Moench & Breyfogle. grant just wrote the Anarky sequence which was a 3 parter from shadow of the bat (16-18) I believe with not-so-spectacular art by Bret Blevins. These weren't even numbered as being parts of the storyline just indicated as such.

    My favourite take on Bane is in the issues before Knightfall by Moench & Aparo. In one of them Bane injured Killer Croc. In the Marvel vein, DC can put out a prelude to Knightfall collecting the now-out-of-print SWORD OF AZRAEL, VENGEANCE OF BANE & the Moench/Aparo issues. VENGEANCE OF BANE II can be accommodated as an aftermath to Knightfall featuring Troika and the handful of issues before Prodigal & then reprint Prodigal too...sigh.

    Am going nuts in my contemplation & frustration at not being able to complete a set of Post Crisis Batman. Have given up & started hunting down single issues instead.

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  12. Quite right about that Zsasz story, Aalok -- it was Moench and Breyfogle. Still a great creepy story.

    Agreed we should get a Bane collection. Also that four-part Troika storyline between Knightfall and Prodigal would be great fodder for DC Comics Presents.

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  13. Also -- not only do I remember "Legs" by Alan Grant, Hix, but I also still want to know about that mysterious nun Chuck Dixon used to write, who could disappear so fast that Robin Tim Drake, at least, if not Batman, couldn't follow her. Appeared a couple times, I believe.

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