Who is Bane and Why is he in “The Dark Knight Rises”?
If you’re like me, growing up in the 90’s you probably first encountered the Batman villain Bane in one of two ways; either you saw that masterwork of modern cinema Batman and Robin (originally subtitled: Rubber Clooney Nipple-o-Rama) with this incarnation:
Or in this iconic image:
Win. Wherein your childhood hero gets snapped in half like a twig by a ‘roid-raging Strong Bad.
In either case, the visual story is simple: big, scary, muscle-head with tubes in his neck and a Mexican Spiderman mask. Batman and Robin: Rubber Clooney Nipple-o-Rama confirmed this idea by portraying Bane as a skinny little prisoner guy who gets jacked up on Venom (Bane’s ‘legal in the MLB’ drug of choice) and becomes a hulking moron with such feats of brilliance as the following dialogue exchange:
POISON IVY: Step on it, Bane.
BANE: (Inexplicably wearing a jaunty chauffeur’s cap) STEP!
So this is the man that Chris Nolan is bringing us to end his superb Batman trilogy, following up Liam Neason’s Ra’s Al Ghul, Aaron Eckheart’s Two-Face, and Heath-fucking-Ledger’s Oscar winning Joker?
Well, not exactly.
Because despite how Bane is often portrayed (in video games, the aforementioned movie, and several comic books since his debut), Bane is actually a bit of a perfect storm for Batman: he’s a genius-level criminal mastermind WITH superhuman strength; essentially mixing the two most common villain types into one bad-ass problem for the Dark Knight. Essentially, consider Batman himself; he’s got the intelligence covered and is trained to the point of perfection, but he lacks super powers (other than the never explained one to be able to engineer every imaginable tool into the shape of a bat). So now we’ve got a problem: Bane is both a mental and physical challenge for the Bat. Neat.
Nolan clearly understands this, as he cast his favourite ever Tom Hardy to play him. At first I was confused by this, as the intellectual Hardy would be perfectly suited to any number of Bat villains (early rumours pegged him as Hugo Strange, a psychiatrist obsessed with Batman’s identity) but then Hardy apparently started in on a Popeye approved all spinach diet and bulked up into a beast as seen in Warrior and the first promotional shot from the film, where Hardy’s back looks like an infinite desert of awfulness.
Jawas are a big problem for Tom Hardy. He gets them out with a tiny comb.
This leaves us with an incredibly capable actor who is the size of a bus. Perfect fit for the intelligent Bane of the early comics and much more suited to be the final boss of the Bat-trilogy.
Bane’s history is pretty neat, though like most characters there have been a tonne of ret-cons (retro-active continuity for the uninitiated, wherein a past story is re-written in a new one) and is now a bit of a mess. It’s also important to note that the Bane stories need to be read with your 90’s craptitude filter on high, as there is a lot of weird stuff that just doesn’t fly today (like his costume, which really makes no sense at all…and how he randomly watches TV with it on…Weird.)
Essentially, Bane comes to us from the lovely island prison of Santa Prisca where he was born and forced to live out his father’s life sentence. Through a series of (what I can only assume to be Oliver Twist-style Dickensian) adventures, he ends up running the joint as head criminal badass. Soon thereafter, he gets jacked up on Venom, puts a crew together and decides to go prove to Gotham who is the baddest ass motherfucker in town (clearly failing to realize that it’s Shaft, no matter where you are) and thus hatches a scheme to set all of Batman’s villains against him all at once, observe his technique, and then take him out. Batman is under the weather the whole time (chronicled in the occasionally awesome Knightfall arc) and finally ends up fighting Bane in Wayne Manor.
“But wait a minute, Tom, no one knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman!”
You know how everyone makes jokes about how Superman really just adds glasses and slicks his hair back and it’d be soooooooo obvious…? Yeah, Bane thought so too. He just followed home every rich guy in Gotham, staked out their house, and finally caught Batman leaving the Wayne Manor grounds. Awesome.
It’s this kind of thing that makes Bane so interesting; he’s got the brute force to back up smarts, meaning the hero can’t just defeat him by targeting one or the other (in Knightfall, Bane is ultimately defeated by lame stand-in Batman, Azrael who simply cuts his Venom cords with his razor arms…yeah, the Bane character pretty much loses all the awesome as soon as he breaks Batman due to some wildly inconsistent writing and a need, I suspect, to give us a reason to like 90’s surfer-dude hero Jean Paul “Azrael” Valley:
This is around the point where the Bane angle falls off a bit, but judging from Nolan’s previous films, the character of the early work is the kind of thing we should expect, especially given the Hardy casting choice.
Ultimately, Bane was chosen as the villain to pretty definitively beat Batman (though Bruce did recover because of his psychic girlfriend frying her brain with a magic healing blast while fighting her evil brother in England…seriously, look it up LINK). While many others have since in a variety of ways, that image of Bane breaking Batman ranks right up there with the death of Gwen Stacey and Cyclops holding dead Jean Grey as a definitive image and moment for the character.
As a result, I think we’re in for an awesome villain…although if at any point he wears a chauffeur’s hat I’m going to demand my money back.
And for those in the know…
Strong Bad only later realized that Homestar Runner was not the Batman.
For Bane: Essential reading.
For Batman: Interesting; iconic moment; non-essential.
These books are a major moment in the Batman mythology, but ultimately there’s a lot of rubble to sort through first; the 90s aesthetic hurts the books quite a bit, as does the narrative voice and style (particularly in the second and third volume) largely due to the fact that these stories are collected from across multiple Batman series with a multitude of writers. Bane, though a fantastic character also has “bright shiny object syndrome” where suddenly key villains like Joker are regulated to minor threat status, which I found troublesome. Ultimately, they aren’t easy reads, though interesting ones. The most important moment is the one featured in the panel above.
I am greatly indebted to IGN’s Bane profile of a few months ago for filling in some backstory gaps that weren’t included in the Knightfall and KnightsEnd collections (the storyline falls in the middle of a run, so there are some uncollected loose ends on either side). (Additonal background from the character profile in Batman: Arkham Asylum)
Knightfall vol 1: Broken Bat
Knightfall vol 2: Who Rules the Night
Knightfall vol 3: KnightsEnd
These collected volumes build up the bulk of the article above; Volume 1 deals with Batman running Bane’s gauntlet (though Bane himself was introduced a few issues beforehand) and then fighting Bane himself (including the iconic image used above)
Volume 2 deals with Jean Paul Valley’s assumption of the Bat-mantle and his gradual slide into violent vigilante, most notable for the reactions of Robin (who actually justifies why Batman needs a Robin pretty succinctly but pointing out that without a comic foil to lighten the mood, the Batman can get pretty scary dark pretty fast) and Nightwing. Valley basically kicks Robin to the curb “Go home, Sam.” styles and Nightwing is pissed that Bruce doesn’t pick him to assume the mantle which is particularly interesting in light of the recent Battle for the Cowl arc in which Nightwing (the original Robin, Dick Grayson all growed up, for the uninitiated) refuses to assume the mantle despite everyone’s desires that he does (he thinks he can’t live up to the legend). This culminates in a suit of badass bat-armour that is basically made of weapons (ever wondered what a killer Batman would look like?) and the disappointing rematch with Bane. The writing drops off pretty hard in this volume. Just a head’s up…
Volume 3 skips ahead in time, avoiding the disastrous KnightQuest arc with the aforementioned psychic healing thing and Jean Paul seeing visions and killing criminals (he was brainwashed by a religious order some time ago). Volume 3 is all about Bruce struggling with super hero rehab (he inexplicably becomes a ninja who wears a bat mask for half of it. Yay 90’s logic!) and is kinda useless until the final battle between Wayne and Valley, which culminates in Wayne justifying exactly why Batman doesn’t wear twelve tonnes of body armour all the time and defeats Valley by evoking the very origin of Batman. Awesome. Otherwise it’s kind of poorly written.
Batman and Robin: Rubber Clooney Nipple-o-rama: The final death rattle of the original Batman series, Batman and Robin amped up everything wrong with the Joel Schumacher films, making the Bat-gadgets farcical (Batman and Robin have frigging Bat-skates built into their shoes??? Ugh.) The film is hilarious (though not as it intends to be) highlighted by Arnold Schwartzeneger’s absurdly awesome Mr. Freeze yelling such gems as: “Evybudy FEEEESE!” and Clooney smirking his way though everything including delivering news about Alfred’s terminal disease. The film’s so bad, Schumacher himself apologizes on the DVD commentary track, admitting that at some point it was just about selling toys and taking responsibility for the film’s failure (good on ya, Joel!) It also included Bane.
KnightsQuest: The uncollected chapter of the Jean Paul Valley Batman saga, it chronicles Wayne’s trip to England to find Robin’s kidnapped father and Valley killing criminals. Robin got a spin off series when Valley kicked him out and Alfred quit when Wayne insisted on continuing to endanger his life despite being so injured. In it, Wayne is healed when his doctor/love interest engages in psychic combat with her evil psychic brother, the result of which heals Wayne’s broken spine and reduces her intellect to that of a child. Yep, psychic McGuffen. Thanks to our friends at Wikipedia from filling in the gap!