Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Batman Vs. Bane

Well this is a pretty strange packaging of some 1990s comics, recently assembled and published to appeal to readers who might understandably want to learn more about Bane and his dealing with the Ra’s al Ghul in the wake of July’s Dark Knight Rises movie.

The five comic books in here all had “Batman” in the title—this collects the 1998 miniseries Batman: Bane of the Demon the with 1993 special Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1 that first introduced the villain—but Batman himself just barely appears, and never actually fights Bane.

Batman appears in the last 14 pages of the Vengeance story, following clues laid out by Bane and his henchmen Bird, Zombie and Trogg, allowing the freshly-arrived-in-town Bane to stalk Batman and make the plans to break him that he would engage in during the “Knightfall” storyline.

He doesn’t appear at all in Bane of the Demon, save for a one-panel flashback and a one-panel prelude to the next story (the “Legacy” crossover story/event, which I’m not even sure is available in trade any more).

So Batman: Bane of the Demon might have been a more sensible title for the trade.

Both are by the same creative team of Bane co-creators Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan, the latter inked by three different inkers throughout the collected comics, each of ‘em dynamite at their craft (Tom Palmer, Eduardo Barreto and Bill Sieknkiewicz).

The origin story in Vengeance is a solid one that aged pretty well. I remember being extremely impressed by it and by Bane when I first read it as a teenager—Dixon sure put in the work to thoroughly introduce Bane as a credible figure of menace, a feat that seems even more impressive when one compares it to more recently-arrived Batman villains like, say, Hush, or any of the many new characters created by Grant Morrison during his run.

By spending the first half of the book showing us the doomed Bane growing up in one of the world’s worst prisons, it also goes a way toward making the villain seem sympathetic. Even once he crosses the line and starts killing dudes by the dozen, one can still appreciate the up-by-the-bootstraps nature of his origin story, which included millions of push-ups and sit-ups, daily underwater fights with fish (his prison cell was under sea level), and a lot of reading.

They take Bane-as-sympathetic figure even further in Bane of the Demon, as he is essentially the hero of the piece—he’s still pretty monstrous, and continues to kill his opponents by the roomful, but Dixon plays him as extremely cunning and ruthless, a brainier villain than a brawny one, and the entire story offers an interesting exploration of the character by contrasting him to Ra’s al Ghul, who bests him in some ways and is bested by him in others, and Batman, who is barely present, but whose boots Bane finds himself in when Talia takes a (verytemporary) sexual interest in him and Ra’s considers him as a potential heir.

The book concludes with three of the two-page origins that ran at the end of 52 and Countdown (Say, did DC ever collect all of these from both weeklies into a trade? It’s kind of too bad they went to all that trouble and then rebooted, negating all of the relevant information in these; they oughta do ‘em again for the New 52 continuity, but then, DC obviously doesn’t actually know it’s own phantom five-year continuity at this point).

There’s two from Countdown, both written by Scott Beatty.

The one for Bane is drawn by Graham Nolan, which sees the artist basically redrawing the same scenes from his Vengeance, only inking himself and given better, more modern coloring.

The Ra’s al Ghul one is drawn and colored by Cliff Chiang, and it’s kind of a mess, using the first five panels to retell Birth of the Demon, one panel to retell the original Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Ra's storyline and then closing with three panels covering Batman: Death and the Maidens and “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” storyline. It’s a lot of story, and Beatty has to over-stuff the pages with narration boxes to get it all in. Revealing a weakness in the Grant Morrison spearheaded “Resurrection” storyline, I’d read it as it was published, and had no idea that much of what Beatty says happened in his summary actually happened in that mess of a storyline.

From 52, there’s the Mark Waid-written, Andy Kubert-drawn two-page, six-panel origin of Batman. It’s notable, perhaps, for its variance from “Year One,” at least in the staging and dressing of the bat-through-the-window scene, which isn’t the fevered, semi-religious event it is in Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s telling, but a more calm and casual one in which Bruce Wayne is writing a letter rather than bleeding to death after wounds sustained while trying to fight crime not dressed up as a creature of the night.

Despite the questionable decisions of titling and packaging the trade, these are fine stories from Batman’s fruitful 1990s, featuring superior art from one of the better of his artists of that era. Personally, I had a blast re-reading Vengeance and reading Bane of the Demon for the first time. I picked this up after Dark Knight Rises, so I read all of Bane’s dialogue in Tom Hardy’s voice, which…oh man, I want to go reread “Knightfall” and Secret Six in Hardy’s Bane voice now…


Steve M said...

Thanks for the review, Caleb, I was thinking of picking it up. It is a weird pairing of Vengeance of Bane and Bane of the Demon - why no Vengeance of Bane II?

collectededitions said...

Those 52 and Countdown origin pages were collected in a volume called DC Universe: Origins ( It would be a fascinating study now to see, page-by-page, what percentage of that book is no longer in continuity? 75%? 90%?

I agree with Steve that this book skimped on the content -- this is a fine volume to feed movie-curiosity, but something longer-lasting for the versed fan would have included Vengeance of Bane II, the Bane special (in DCU continuity but released, of all things, the Batman & Robin Schumacher movie), and maybe one or two more Dixon-penned Bane stories. I was initially very interested in this and then passed on it when I saw the final contents.