So I’ve been thinking about this dude.
After the pretty gangbusters opening arc of Tom King’s Batman, Bane’s turned out to be the real villain of his first year or so - springing off of I Am Gotham through Steve Orlando’s gonzo fun filler Night of the Monster Men crossover into I Am Suicide under Mikel Janin, and the upcoming finale arc I Am Bane. It makes sense: he’s a major villain who can challenge Batman on a physical playing field that plays into the strengths Janin and Finch, his intellectual nature suits King, and he’s one of the most prominent anti-Batmen. I always thought he was probably the best of said anti-Batman bunch, in that he was the only one who was both on-point and not kind of painfully obvious (though Prometheus is also great, just not as a Batman villain). I liked him in what I read of Secret Six. I sure liked him in The Dark Knight Rises, even if he was ultimately kind of flat thematically as anything other than The Ultimate Nemesis. But what King had to say in an interview got me thinking:
Bane comes out of a conversation I had with Andy Khouri when he was my editor on Omega Men. He said, “Have you ever taken a close look at Bane?” I said, “Yeah, when I was a kid, I really liked that story, it was really frightening,” and he was like, “No, I mean have you ever really looked at that Chuck Dixon issue with his actual origin? Read it again, it’s the most fucked up thing ever.”
It wasn’t just that he was born in a prison, it was that he was born and stayed in this cell for 17 years, and every night, it flooded and he almost drowned, and he had to tread water and eat raw fish. Just the willpower of surviving, that his origin is like Conan’s origin, pushing that wheel until he’s the only one left.
So, I followed Mr. Khouri’s suggestion, and ended up checking out both issues of Dixon, Graham Nolan, Eduardo Barreto, Adrienne Roy and Bill Oakley’s two issues of Vengeance of Bane. And spurred on by that I happened to stumble on amypoodle’s semi-famous (acknowledged by no less than Grant Morrison as the closest he has to a ‘take’ on Bane) mindlessones post on him. And now, I have to agree: it is the most fucked-up thing ever. And Bane went from an interesting background presence to one of my conceptually favorite Bat-villains literally overnight, for the same reason Superboy Prime is my favorite evil Superman: he’s what happens to Batman when you burn away everything that makes him a hero, and leave only the power and the pain and the drive, pushed all the farther in absence of the rest.
What stands out about him immediately is that there is no flashy gimmick, no acid-spitting lapel or question mark cane or bisected suit. Even Ra’s Al Ghul has his cape and sword, but Bane has no such flourishes, beyond the mask sealing away the last of what’s human in him in service of a singular purpose. But like Ra’s, he’s one of the only Batman villains to directly seek (a sort of) order rather than pure self-service or chaos for its own sake. Batman might fight madness and anarchy and the world spinning out of control, but Bane represents the actual literal thing Bruce Wayne goes out every night to punch: Bane is the Batman of crime.
He was born in a cell, and while his parents crucially defined him as much as Bruce’s, they’re not guardian angels who were taken from him along with all sense in life. They defined his order: his father wasn’t the paragon who inspired him, he was the monster who left him to hell by fleeing his punishment, and by the laws of Santa Prisca consigned his son to his fate, Bane’s first and only experience with ‘justice’. His mother wasn’t the saint he lives to avenge, but an abject lesson in what happens to the weak when she passed in his childhood, nothing more or less. He came as close as conceivable to being raised by capital-c Crime, and was damaged just as Batman is for devoting all of himself to justice.
It’s just as crucial as cracking Batman’s spine that he then shows off his broken body to Gotham; he still lives by prison rules, and with the same kind of infantile definition of reality that imagines the way to beat criminals is to scare them with a bat costume, figured the way to win the world was to saunter up to the biggest bastard in it and publicly crush him. He had his life stolen by crime too - even more thoroughly, because he had nothing to hold onto, not memories or a home or even a symbol outside of himself - but Bane was born to it and tried to bend the world to those rules with his bare hands, through cunning and force and the knowledge that there was nothing out there that could physically endure the way he could, not even the Batman. As amypoodle put it:
In Bane we see the triumph of the literal over the metaphysical, the body over the mind, ego over illumination, the flesh over the self. He makes us acutely aware of all of our limitations in that he symbolises the grotesque, cumbersome boundaries of the physical. In Bane all of Batman’s aspirations are scaled down to one, bloated point. We’ll never be more than a bag of sinews, bones and skin, he seems to argue and, in the final analysis, that’s what will break us.
It’s telling that Bane wears a mask that renders him faceless, in that he’s dissolved his humanity, his personality, in a sea of gristle. The guy’s one big bicep, hard, mechanical and cruel. This is not to say that he’s not intelligent – he’s quite brilliant and calculating, in fact – but his intelligence is in the service of his physicality and its implicit desire to dominate. Everything is geared towards the moment of conquest, the moment of breakage, and in that, like the Flash’s no 1 rogue, Gorilla Grodd, he’s a symbol of genius chained to the animal. There’s something fundamentally Darwinian about Bane. He takes the soul out of the evolutionary process (not that, scientifically speaking, it was ever there anyway) and underlines, with the help of a little back breaking, the idea that self-realisation can only be achieved in the material sphere. The mind is just another tool of domination and control, and enlightenment essentially reduces to transforming the body and it into a fist.
It’s in his almost childlike simplicity that he works: he’s nothing but the drive, the obsession of the ultimate human to control everything around him, just through crime instead of justice. And while he’s floundered over the years with his immediate ambition of destroying Batman obviously not being in the picture, he’s still open to a number of directions. He’s tried to build a family as the father figure in Secret Six, in context a kind of twisted parody of the Bat-clan still built on crime and his need for authority and stability. He’s tried kicking Venom to varying degrees of success, his inborn need for conquest and superiority at odds with his desire for freedom after a life of confinement. He’s gone straight and searched for father, his genius mind searching for some kind of meaningful self-actualization but never holding onto it in the long run. He’s going after something both totally reasonable and utterly disturbing in King’s arc, which I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t read the preview for Batman #9. And he’s utterly, frighteningly logical as the true villain of King’s run (even if I’d really like to see more of what he set up with Strange too) - if Gotham in the first arc was everything that Batman might have been if he hadn’t been broken, Bane is what might have been if there had never been a guiding light to let him live for anything other than his pain.
So while clearly people have had trouble with him, I think he has a hell of a lot of potential to be exploited, and with King taking an interest I bet a whole lot more people are going to see it. It’s not even truly that hard, either: even Geoff Johns’ fill-in dialogue for the Infinite Crisis trade to patch up a continuity error, however unwittingly, tapped right into his soul, because at the end of the day this is all he has: