Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Primer: Bane

With The Dark Knight Rises less than a week away, I thought I would spend some time talking about that film's most misunderstood character: Bane. Bane has popped up in comics and other media since he was first introduced back in 1993. He has become, in the comics at least, a layered character with a complex web of emotions and motivations. In other media, Bane's motivations and background tend to be simplified, so I am very curious to see how he is handled in The Dark Knight Rises. But before the movie, let's talk about the character as he has come to be in the comics.

Bane was created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan for the one-shot Batman: The Vengeance of Bane in 1993. In the issue, readers meet the child who will grow into Bane. Bane was born on the island of Santa Prisca, a Caribbean hellhole that is home to terrorists and criminals, with little to no law. Bane's father was part of an attempted revolt against the reigning government, and since he escaped, his pregnant lover was locked up in his stead. When the baby was born a boy, the father's sentence was passed on to him: life in prison in Pena Duro, the hardest prison in the world.  We watch Bane grow from a young boy into a man who is the pinnacle of human achievement, and pushed beyond that by the super steroid Venom, a drug that vastly increased his size and strength. Bane is one of a group of characters introduced over the years to serve as Batman's equal and opposite number; not the Joker, who serves as Batman's opposite, but as a cracked mirror version of the Dark Knight. Specifically, though, Bane was introduced to be the centerpiece villain of Knightfall, the upcoming Batman family event.

One of the key factors that has made Bane an interesting comic book character has been one that has been ignored in most of his other media appearances: Bane is smart. Bane is really smart. Bane is a character who found his way out of prison, who took over Gotham's mobs, who deduced Batman's identity, and is almost entirely self taught. He trained his body to be as good as it could be even before the Venom started coursing through his system. That is what makes Bane a good nemesis for Batman: that he meets Batman on not just the physical plain, but the mental one as well.

After finally escaping Pena Duro, Bane went to Gotham because he had heard of Batman, and wanted to defeat him. As a child, his dreams had been haunted by one nightmare: a monstrous man-sized Bat creature (I don't know why he didn't go after the more accurate target of Man-Bat, but hey, supervillain logic isn't people logic). Bane believed he would be the king of men when he finally defeated his fear, symbolized now in his mind as Batman. Ater observing his target for some time, Bane decided on his moves, and he set his pan into action.

Knightfall was the event that ran through the Bat titles throughout summer and fall of 1993. In it, Bane broke open Arkham Asylum, and let Batman, already on the brink of complete exhaustian, run a gauntlet of his greatest foes, exhausting himself further. And when he was finally completely done in, Bane was waiting for him at Wayne Manor, where Bane took him... and broke him. Bane broke Batman's spine over his knee and left him for dead on the Gotham streets.

With Batman defeated, Bane set himself up as the new king of Gotham. But here's where Bane's plans fall apart: Venom eventually begins to effect the mind of the person taking it. Bane grew more impulsive, and his anger began to overwhelm him, leading to his confrontation with, and savage beating by, Jean-Paul Valley, aka Azrael, twho took Bruce Wayne's place as Batman while Wayne recovered. And this is where most people's knowledge of Bane ends. He was the villain of one of the seminal Batman stories of the past twenty years, but his porfile has been lower since, not taking part in most major stories. But that doesn't mean the stories he has taken part in haven't been interesting, and he hasn't grown as a character.

Bane's next full appearance is in Batman: The Vengeance of Bane II: The Redemption, and it's here where Bane's journey starts taking turns that are different and makes him more than just another Batman villain. After awakening from the coma Azrael put him in, Bane retrained his body to perfection and kicked the Venom habit, knowing it weakened his mind. Bane then declared himself, "Innocente," innocent of all his crimes, feeling they were a result of his ruthless upbringing and the Venom. After escaping Blackgate and stopping a group of street crooks who have been selling Venom on the streets, Bane confronts Batman, declares his innocence, and leaves Gotham, in search of the father who left him to suffer for what he had done.

Bane disappeared from comics for a year, and when he reappeared, he was in unusual company. Bane had become the new heir to Ra's al Ghul. Ra's al Ghul, the immortal international ecoterrorist, had spent years trying to convince Batman to marry his daughter, Talia, and become his heir, but Batman had refused and thwarted many of al Ghul's plans to cut the human population by 99% and create and Eden on Earth. It seems Bane had no such compunctions. This is another example where Bane and Batman were placed in the same situation and took very differing positions. Bane might not have found his father, but found a father figure; however, as one might imagine judging by Bane's luck with fathers, al Ghul simply viewed him as a means to an end, and when Bane failed in his mission, al Ghul didn't even look for him. Bane was once again out on his own.

Over the next six years, Bane only appeared in four different stories in the DC Universe. Three were minor; a one shot that was timed to be released with the unfortunate film Batman and Robin, where Bane appeared as a character unrecognizable to his comic counterpart, an arc in Azrael, where he confronted the man who once defeated him; and an issue where he exacts revenge of Ra's al Ghul by destroying his Lazarus Pits. The other appearance, more substantive, was working for Lex Luthor. Luthor sent Bane into an earthquake ravaged Gotham, to destroy documents and to pave the way for Luthor's expansion into Gotham. The price Bane was given was information, and once Bane received it, he left Gotham, not even confronting Batman in the end.

Bane's next major confrontation with Batman, in the pages of Batman: Gotham Knights,  was more one of a deeply personal nature. Some of the information that Bane had received from Luthor allowed him to track down information on four men who might be his father. And one of those men was Thomas Wayne. Bane arrived back in Gotham to confront his 'brother." Batman of course has a test done, and discovers Bane is not his brother, but Bane has begun to attempt to make himself a better person, a hero of sorts. Bane leaves Gotham to hunt down the other men who might be his father, and tried to do some good along the way

Finally, in a Himalayan cave, he finds the man: Sir Edmund Dorrance, the international criminal and Batman rogue known as the King Snake. Dorrance and Bane fight, Batman arrives, and while Dorrance falls to his death, and Bane, nearly dead, in healed by one of the very Lazarus Pits of Ra's al Ghul. Bane walked out of the pit a changed man, swearing that he was now going out to be something better. The story of Bane's quest for his father was not a popular one among fans (or at least among fans who post on the internet). People said it was out of character, and that the revelation of Dorrance as King Snake's father was just not right, as writer Jo Duffy had hinted that Bane's father was El Jefe del Pais, the current dictator of Santa Prisca. A few years ago, I met Scott Beatty, the writer of that arc and regular collaborator with Bane co-creator Chuck Dixon, and he told me that Dixon had always intended for King Snake to be Bane's father.

Bane's next appearance is one of those odd cases that can only occur in a shared universe. Bane next appeared in an issue of the DC crossover Infinite Crisis, where he is seen as part of the Secret Society, a coalition of supervillains, where he kills the hero Judomaster. This might have been an attempt to return Bane to his villainous roots, but it seems to discard all the character growth that had occured over the past decade. When the collection of that story was released, they gave Bane new dialogue, a statement saying, "I finally know who I am. I am Bane. I break people." This seems to cement the idea that someone in the Powers That Be wanted Bane to be a villain again, but it seems many of the writers who would follow this up decided that Bane needed to continue to grow.

Bane's next few appearances dealt with him trying to bring some justice to Santa Prisca, his home. He overthrew the cartels that controlled it and set up democratic elections. Of course, even when at his most altruistic, Bane still works in a way that is violent and not exactly what one would call heroic. When he found the elections had been rigged, he declared martial law. He was next taken on as part of the US government's Suicide Squad, an organization that granted supervillains in jail a chance at reduced sentences in exchange for working covert ops that most would consider suicide. Bane seemed to have been hired to help run herd on the Squad, but when the government decided to exile all supercriminals to an alien world, Bane was betrayed and left on the planet, but returns with the others.

After his return, Bane joined the Secret Six, a team of semi-reformed supervillains, who had taken up lives as mercenaries. Secret Six was a quirky comic, at times hilarious, at times violent, and always driven by character. Bane served as the voice of reason on the team, which was made up of some of two other former Bat villains, Catman and Deadshot, Scandal Savage, mistress of blades, Ragdoll, the lunatic and contortionist, and Jeanette, a Banshee. Bane was often seen attepmting to temper the more unusual tastes and whims of his compatriots.

Bane developed a strange relationship with Scandal Savage. Bane had spent years searching for his father and trying to settle that particular relationship, and now that he seemingly had, he had developed paternal feelings for Scandal, someone who had a contentious relationship with her own father, the immortal villain Vandal Savage. Bane went out of his way to attempt to protect Scandal, even during the darkest of the Six's missions. Gail Simone, the writer of the series, also addressed Bane's addiction to Venom head on, with Bane always one moment of temptation away from taking the Venom again, always having the drug and the equipment he'd need to take it with him, always tempting himself.

At the end of their series, the Six went to hell to retrieve the soul of a fallen ally. While there, the demon Blaze, one of the most powerful evil forces in DC hell, told them that they were all damned, no matter what they would do. Having returned, and his chance at redemption taken away, Bane decided it was not worth it anymore. He made another run at batman, this time trying to break him psychologically. The attempt failed, and Bane was imprisoned again. This time, his return to villainy seemed permanent, and more developed. Bane's most recent appearance, after the massive changes caused by Flashpoint and the New 52, Bane was returned to his massive, Venom-using mastermind that he was in his beginnings, although his look is more like the one he had in the Batman: Arkham Asylum/City video games.

When Bane has appeared in other media, his personality and motivation have varied wildly. His appearances on Batman: The Animated Series and in Batman: Arkham Asylum/City was similar to his appearance in Knightfall. Unfortunately, the film Batman and Robin presented him as a mindless oaf, the thrall of Poison Ivy, and while the other recent cartoon versions of Batman, The Batman and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, have not made Bane as much of a simpleton, they have not quite gotten his cunning right either.

So, that's the story of Bane. How do I think he will be treated in The Dark Knight Rises? Well, I think we will get a Bane that is very much like the Bane from his earliest appearances, strong and smart, but probably without the more outlandish element of the Venom. I look forward to finding out in five days time.

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