Banner Art by Jim Aparo
Let me go ahead and put Knightfall in a protective bubble here. It’s an entertaining and well-written story with a lot of interesting components. Even Bane is at his best in this story. He’s intelligent, scheming, and dangerous in a way that he simply is not anymore.
This also doesn’t really have anything to with the Dark Knight Rises either. Full honesty, I don’t think it’s as bad as many others do. I even kind of liked its version of Bane a little. I liked the voice and the mask. I can see why people don’t like it. I personally kind of dig it. I don’t know why Little Finger was talking so weirdly at the beginning of the movie, though. Maybe he just can’t do an American accent very well.
Also Bane was pretty cool in Gail Simone’s pre-Flashpoint Secret Six comic.
Now that I’ve already loaded this thing with caveats, which is not a good way to start any piece of writing, let’s get down to why Bane does not work. When you have a character like Bane, Doomsday, Prometheus, or Morlun, where their main defining trait in their first appearance is that they dramatically defeat the hero or even symbolically kill them, it’s hard to adequately make that character a part of the hero’s normal rogue line-up. Prometheus and Morlun never really had this problem. Doomsday stories are probably a little more abundant than they should be, but they’ve never truly defanged him as a threat with the exception of maybe the Reign of Doomsdays which for some reason I read all the freaking way through.
Bane, on the other hand, has been made a part of Batman’s regular lineup of rogues. The first problem here is that now you’ve made him less intimidating at the outset. You can’t have him cripple Batman on every outing, because it would become weary and repetitive. So, Batman has to come out of most of these with minimal damage. Yeah, yeah, Batman learning his enemies yadayadayada. That doesn’t change the fact that Bane will never be what he was on that first appearance in Knightfall.
The second issue with Bane is that, while you can gussy him up all you like, his gimmick is that he is on steroids. Yes, it’s called “Venom,” but it’s still pretty much steroids. It functions like a hyper-efficient yet unwieldy form of steroids (efficient because the effects are immediate and dramatic, unwieldy because he needs them constantly pumped into his body to work). At the end of the day, he’s just a strong guy who is moderately intelligent and moderately good at fighting. He was good at fighting and intelligent during Knightfall, but that detail didn’t survive the story. He doesn’t really have anything going on beyond the Venom enhancement these days.
The third issue is that a lot of writers still treat him like he is the Batman of bad guys. He’s still this untouchably awesome character though his image has been sullied through so many defeats. These defeats are a direct result of him being a regular Batman rogue now. We’ve seen him taken down just too many times. He’s not as scary as the Joker. He’s not as intimidating as Hush. He just isn’t the same kind of threat anymore.
Here, I might be treading the line between criticizing Bane and criticizing the Forever Evil tie-in, Arkham War. This was the story I read when I finally knew that I did not like Bane. I used to like Bane, and he kind of started losing my interest over time. My interest in him died during Arkham War.
Arkham War had a good premise, with the idea that the lunatics of Gotham are now running the asylum of—well, Gotham. However, despite the prelude in the Scarecrow one-shot implying that it would focus more on him, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and the like, the story decided it would be about Bane by the second issue. Bane had taken up the Batman role here and decided, pretty much arbitrarily, that he was going to topple every other villain in Gotham. So he does it. He takes down every last one. He even dresses up in a suit that looks like the crummy super-Batman suit from Batman v. Superman v. the people v. OJ Simpson. Not only does he wipe out all of the more iconic, interesting, and awesome Batman rogues in one fells swoop, he does so while they are all also on Venom. The sole thing that gives Bane an edge over your average joe, the likes of Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, and Killer Croc had access to. Killer Croc alone should be practically Hulk-sized with claws the size of Damian Wayne. But no, Bane wins.
Again, that may be more of an indictment of Arkham War than it is Bane, but the point remains that he has become this Batman-esque, “I’m the best of all the villains because people say so” thing going on where he is presumably more dangerous because he did a thing 20 years ago, ignoring all the times he has been brought low since then. It’s a little more frustrating because this is a Batman villain, and his peers are the likes of the Joker, the Riddler, Scarecrow, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, the Penguin, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Killer Croc, Ras al Ghul, Hugo Strange, Hush, the Court of Owls, and the list goes on and on of villains that are more compelling than Bane. Bane’s backstory about being born in a prison could be intriguing, but virtually none of his character is informed by that. He frankly does not compare to these other characters. However, he’s still around. He’s still supposed to be the most dangerous Batman villain. Hell, there’s a significant Bane story coming up in Batman and/or Detective Comics.
Maybe if we stopped pretending Bane was this untouchably awesome bad guy for a little while, I might muster some interest in the character again. In the interim, he keeps me away from Batman comics when he shows up.