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We’re back!

So, turns out four plays in four months is a bit crazy!  As a result, I realize my blogging has been a bit intermittent (partially because I was convinced I’d be able to catch up) but then I realized I didn’t want to burn down half a season in a day, so I’m just going to pick up and continue from where I was.  In future, I will let y’all know when these little busy periods begin so you know I haven’t been lost to space madness or a tragic transporter accident.

Cheers yo.  Modern Mythology and the Helpful Nerd will be back with brand new posts in May.

TREK-A-DAY: The Enterprise Incident

EPISODE FIFTY-SIX: The Enterprise Incident

This one is a tonne of fun, packed full of wacky hijinks, screaming Kirk, and Spock almost gets laid by a Romulan commander.  Good times.

Under super top secret orders, Kirk feigns exhaustion and irritation (laying groundwork for accusations of acting as a maverick to protect the Federation from war), Kirk invades the Neutral Zone and gets beamed aboard a Romulan vessel.  Spock is a surprise to the lady commander, who didn’t know tall, dark Vulcans worked on the Enterprise.  She immediately sets her sights on him and the Enterprise, while Kirk is to stand trial for breaking the peace.  This all turns out to be a ruse to get Spock closer to the commander; to this end he fake kills Kirk with a non-existent “Vulcan Death Grip” (not to be confused with the Vulcan nerve pinch).

Then things get wacky.  Spock attempts to seduce the commander (and succeeds in spades) and Kirk gets surgery to look like a Romulan.

BEHOLD!

Together, they pull off an epic scheme to steal the secret Romulan cloaking device aboard the ship and everyone walks away a winner (aside from Spock, who is kinda bummed that he didn’t get some…and the Romulans, who lose lots.)

It’s a packed episode, but a good one.  Romulan Kirk is silly, Kirk being a dick to the crew is fun, and who can resist the charms of Mr. Spock?  It’s fun watching his very logical game at work.  Just an enjoyable space romp making good use of the characters and the political atmosphere of the series.

TREK-A-DAY: I, Mudd

EPISODE THIRTY-EIGHT: I, Mudd.

And now for the return of everyone’s favourite space pimp, Mr. Harry Mudd.
-McCoy is worried about a crewman who doesn’t smile, but he can only deal with it by dissing Spock.
-Uh oh, he’s up to no good.
-Kirk is irrationally back in his green wrap…they really like that for him this season.
-Crewman Jerk has planned a new course; apparently this is the worst, for some reason. Also, apparently ANYONE can hijack The Enterprise. There’s a possibility I’m doing it right now.
-Oh no, Crewman Jackass just wrecked engineering! Now he’s on the bridge. Does no one carry a phaser anymore?
-Crewman Jackass REALLY wants to go somewhere. If they deviate course, the ship explodes. He’s an alien…nope, pregnant with circuitry. Some kind of android. He sas he means no harm, but will blow up the ship if refused. That is harm, in my books.
-For an android, he has really bad skin (and as one with bad skin, I can vouch for this)
-He also swaggers a lot for an android.
-Wow, he has demanded all the main characters but Scotty beam down. Sorry, Scotty.
-And Sulu; Chekov is the resident navigator.
-Wow, apparently Mudd has an army of robots. Winning. He made the Cylons, apparently.
-Kirk just hates him a lot.
-Mudd has claimed himself the king of the planet. Winning.
-Mudd just referenced how he escaped the prison Kirk left him in and is now running the show. This is epic fan service.
-Kirk just re-iterated the history of Mudd post commercial break. That only angered Mudd more. He is now referencing his love of beauty. His women are now robots. 500 of the same model. Happy International Women’s Day, everyone.
-Mudd is the 1%. He got out of jail, then scammed again, dodged a death sentence, stole a ship, and then dragged The Enterprise to his planet. He has 500 androids…that want to learn about humanity. Like an army of Datas…but selfish. They want to study a starship captain (like a deeper version of last episode),so he’s trading them for freedom. Also, Mudd has a robot version if his wife…but he’s a little messed up about it.
-It’s a little weird, this version of Mudd. I’m happy to see him back, but they’ve given him a bit too much.
-The robots are from a dead civilization. This must have been another point of contention for Original Trek fans…again with the Data plot.
-“Why should we leave you?” Kirk: “Because we don’t like you. Now leave, doot doot doot doot.” Best shooing away ever.
-The manbots all wear Bowie tights.
-Mudd picked lots of lady models. Ironic, since he was one of the few out actors on the show at the time.
-Hahaha, Scotty hates Mudd so much. Also, Mudd has been beaming the people down and replacing them with his android army. This makes Data and his brothers seem a bit insignificant…he has 500,000 androids that live for thousands of years. Mudd is literally the answer to their prayers.
-Uh oh, Chekov is all kinds of into the robo-ladies.
-The robots are the best at making everything. What’s cool about all this is the robots just wanting to understand humans to better serve humans…no rebellion, just wanting to lend a hand.
-Kirk wants no paradise, just the ship.
-the robots hate the human condition: solution: we will take over the galaxy…to save us from ourselves.
-Dang. Uhura just faked mutiny so the robots will…watch a mime musical by McCoy and Scotty on Mime instruments??
-The plan: be confusing and ridiculous. Effective against robots AND the audience.
-Spock just broke hearts and robots by declaring he loves one and he’s one robot.
-the crew just mime killed Scotty with mime phasers.
-Seriously. It’s absurdorama hour. They are all having so much fun.
-it’s like Hook, they are threatening the robots with MIME.
-They just mimed a golf swing.
-Here’s my Clone High scan grade joke again, as they break the leader with a logical quiz.
-Mudd is assigned to house arrest on the planet…WITH WIFEBOT AS HIS WARDEN! Owned. There are 500. This is actually the worst torture I’ve seen Kirk dole out.
-Fun. A great character return, though not the best episode. Godspeed, Harry Mudd. See you in the animated series.

TREK-A-DAY: The Squire of Gothos

EPISODE SEVENTEEN: The Squire of Gothos

First, a confession: I didn’t want to watch an episode today. I was tired and didn’t want to to think enough to enjoy an episode of Trek, but I’m ever so glad I did.

Today’s episode had one of the more interesting names, The Squire of Gothos. Which essentially boils down to Kirk vs the Fop. Particularly amazing about this episode was the use of old school theatre convention to relate how out of touch the Squire is, referencing Napoleonic France and Faustus. Essentially, The Enterprise encounters a childlike intelligence who has only outdated earth records build his universe; this episode holds a special place in my heart for being the direct point of reference for the fantastic Futurama episode about Star Trek where a child holds the crew captive for his amusement then gets chastised by its parents; this is, of course, a precursor to Q and is well executed.

Again, a charming episode that won me over and further proof of just how damn well the original Trek does things. Also, one of great fop performances of film.

TREK-A-DAY: Conscience of the King (UPDATED!)

EPISODE THIRTEEN: Conscience of the King

There is far more to be said of this episode than my NyQuiled up brain can handle right now, so suffice to say that this is one of the best episodes of Trek I’ve ever seen, largely due to its focus on the madness of acting. The writer deftly weaves multiple Shakespearean plots together along with a whodunnit and mystery as to whether or not an actor recently brought aboard the ship is a war criminal. There’s a neat ‘Nazi/Dictator in exile’ feel to it and the suspense and stakes are well built.

For an actor/nerd, this episode is a joy, allowing the bevy of fine performers to flex their classical muscles and mixing in great nods to the Bard thematically as well as literally.

I’ll come at this with a brain tomorrow, but for tonight the rest is (contented) silence.

CONTINUED

So, to clarify: this isn’t by any stretch one of Star Trek‘s best episodes.  It’s fun, but not earth-shattering.  For an actor or Shakespearean scholar, though, this episode is all kinds of incredible.  It subtly works all kinds of Shakespearean themes and motifs into the episode (taking its basic structure from Hamlet, with Kirk receiving the call to vengeance from a recently dead friend, but having his doubts.) and it deals with how crazy we actorly folk are (the final moments with the daughter are particularly awesome.)  Anyone who’s acted seriously for any length of time can identify with the weirdness that comes from stepping into a character and how blurry the line between performance and reality can get at times (hence show crushes/cast party hook-ups).  This is a really special episode for me: it incorporates great commentary on Shakespeare and acting into an Agatha Christie in Space kind of murder mystery and plays out like a crazy mixture of other shows, from Hamlet and Macbeth to Murder She Wrote.  I got a whole lot of love for all of those things and this episode made me quite happy.

It also signals the future incorporation of performance and Shakespeare in the Trek universe, played out on everything from film titles (The Undiscovered Country) to Klingon Bridges, the Holodeck, and beyond.

TREK-A-DAY: The Corbomite Maneuver

EPISODE TEN: The Corbomite Maneuver.

Uh oh, it’s another early episode! It’s early in the morning and for the first, but not the last time, here’s a drunk Trek-A-Day..
-So, the big problem so far is that there are only four people on the bridge and there’s a magic floating ‘cubical object’
-Turns out Kirk is in sick bay for a check up, involving the random wall leg press (frequently used) and the wall monitor (apparently the only device in sick bay worth checking)
-Everytime the cube shows up, a facsimile of the ACME industries theme from Looney Tunes plays.
-Kirk insists on walking through the hallways post physical wearing no shirt and a towel. This is why the Concordia Yacht sank.
-Kirk got a shirt, Enterprise still blocked by magic cube (not Borg, just technicolor)
-Kirk just bitchsmacked a random crewman:
CREWMAN ASSHOLE (Bailey): We’ve got phasers, why not just blast it?
KIRK: I’ll take that under consideration, when this becomes a democracy.

OWNED.

-There’s a neat ‘here there be dragons’ feel to this episode; sometimes during space travel shit just happens.
-Crewman asshole is definitely headed for space madness. He keeps challenging Kirk and is clearly a bit player. Combined with the manic music associated with the cube and his frequent close ups, he’s headed for a space tomb.
-New solution: shoot it. They blew it up. Bailey was right.
-New question, go home or go on. Five year mission over?
-Kirk just remembered the quote I was parodying. Spock thinks exploring is irrational.
-Bailey cocked up the attack so Kirk is making them run drills. Against the stationary cube. That took 18 hours to attack and was destroyed by a single phaser blast. Kirk keeps rubbing his temples, either needs Motrin or a mid-episode twist.
-YEOMAN RAND IS BACK for one episode only (from the past), she hates him (serving him lunch while he’s drunk), and he complains about being assigned a female Yeoman, given that he
already has a woman to worry about, The Enterprise. Man this context would have been great early in their relationship. You know, instead of after she disappears.
-Damn. Cube is done, but now there’s an orb. Mishmash between the Death Star and a kaleidoscope.
-“United Earth Ship Enterprise”, eh? The DVD is kind enough to cite the proper order of the episodes, but the airing order makes increasingly less sense. I would have buried this episode, too but still…
-Orb was a warning bouy, there’s a Futuramaesque ominous alien voice warning them against…everything.
-Hahahaha alien voice is giving them “ten earth time segments, known as minutes” to pray to their deities.
-Kirk is warning that thought they’ve met many aliens, fear is the true enemy; I want him on my side in the zombie apocalypse. Unlike a lot of modern sci fi, there’s optimism about human nature,that frankly I miss. Kirk implies how human values are worth it.
-Holy shit, it’s one of the most famous Trek aliens, the classic grey headed swab guy!!!

20120211-121613.jpg

-Bailey is bitching about everything, he sounds like Space Jimmy Stewart.
-Annnnnnd there’s the space madness. You owe me a Coke, loyal reader.
-Kirk is negotiating with jerk alien. Most of our sci fi parodies are directly addressing this episode
-“We have seven earth minutes left.”
-“There was a commercial. Now you have four.”
-Kirk disagrees that chess is the way to beat jerk alien, he wants to play poker. He s bluffing like Odysseus over Corbomite, a McGuffan that will blow up jerk alien. This is now Galaxy Quest more respect to an already amazicrazy film.
-Kirk: Corbomite is a magical McGuffan that will blow up your damn ship if you hurt us.
-Spock is talking about his mom for some reason.
-Baliey is back on the bridge for the finale and/or for a noble exploding panel death.
-Looks like the Ontario Place cinesphere isn’t going to blow up The Enterprise after all.
-Poker analogies abounding.
-yep, there he is again, in all his low budget glory
-Yeoman Rand used a hand phaser to warm coffee. My kinda lady.
-He wants to intern the crew. He’s a dick.
-There’s a charm to this episode: it’s an old school, human versus alien battle of the brains. Kirk is in fine form as a tactician.
-Oh no, The Enterprise is being assaulted by Shakey Walls! Everybody stumble a bit!
-“Bailey, you’re with me.”
FAIL
And then I fell asleep check in tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion!!
…right now!
-They escape by draining the ships batteries and decide to beam down to deal to save the aliens who were just threatening them (for some reason this done bent forward.)
-AND THE EPISODE JUST TOOK A TURN FOR THE AWESOME!!!
-Stupid fake space alien IS ACTUALLY FAKE! Turns out he’s a SPACE BABY!!! WTF remains an understatement for the amount of awesome at work here. Also, Bailey beamed down. Bad move.
-Space Baby just doled out drinks, i don’t trust him, he has evil bushy eyebrows.
-The puppet is the Mr Hyde to Space Baby. He is terrifying when he laughs.
-Turns out he was testing them to find out if they’re evil…actually just wanted a conversation.
-Guess who’s staying behind to learn about alien cultures? Here’s a hint: it’s not Bones or Kirk. Goodbye Bailey.
-SPACE BABY WAS PLAYED BY CLINT HOWARD!!!!!!!

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Alright, so this episode clearly messed with my mind a lot. The twist was great (playing off my modern special effects prejudice) and in the end was about the series’ mandate: learning about alien cultures.
What a damn weird way to do it.

TREK-A-DAY: Dagger of the Mind

EPISODE NINE: Dagger of the Mind

Damn. This is an incredible episode; the tone is perfect and unsettling and it explores some genuinely dark stuff. Also, we get our first Vulcan Mind Meld.

When Kirk and Co beam aboard a crazed stowaway escaping from a penal colony, Bones follows his instinct that something is rotten in the state of Denmark and forces Kirk to conduct an investigation. From the very beginning I was getting an ill feeling about the proceedings, there’s just something set in the tone immediately with the establishing first shot of neurotoxin bound for a penal colony that something bad is happening. Kirk is assigned the lovely Helen Noel to accompany him, a psychiatrist with whom he shared a dance and kiss at a Christmas party. She digs him, but he is actively annoyed by her smirking insistence that there is something between them (it should be noted that she basically replaced Yeoman Rand, who was written out of the episode). I really enjoy this dynamic, she likes him but in a goading and teasing way, rather than a doe-eyed useless way. She’s got the power from the onset, which is great to see.

They quickly discover that the doctor running the penal colony has been using a neural neutralizer to wipe clean the inmates’ minds and replace them with his own programming, turning the population into mindless drones. Essentially, the device turns your brain into a sponge, that will accept any suggestion given to it (in a place called ‘The Emptying Room.” There’s a creepy Orwellian undertone that pervades the concept and execution quite nicely. The stowaway was the doctor who built the device and had his brain wiped to by the evil doctor (who wears a creepy cult leader version of the Star Fleet engineering toga.) His wiped mind leads to lots of bursts of screaming and hysteria as he tries to remember things and it’s unsettling despite being a bit overplayed. In order to access his mind, Spock tries his first Vulcan-to-human mind meld and presents it as a very intimate, secret thing in Vulcan culture that he is inclined to keep private. It’s a nice moment and proves yet again how good Nemoy is at sneaking a fantastic subtle performance in under the blank Vulcan persona.

Meanwhile, worry that the process is destroying the personality of the test subjects leads Kirk to test the machine with Noel at the controls, where she uses the device to implant a memory of a tryst following the dance. It’s a little creepy, but she’s a neat character (constantly challenging Kirk and winning to his annoyance) so we let it slide. The problem is Dr Evil shows up and decides to take it a step further, implanting a love for Noel into Kirk. This is a bit of a deus ex for dealing with Rand’s departure, but is also potentially a big continuity point: when Kirk eventually saves Noel, he passionately kisses her (giving Spock a great eyebrow acting moment when he discovers them) ands never gets reprogrammed. It’s a neat Midsummer Night’s Dreamesque problem where at the end of the play, the love quadrangle is quietly solved by one suitor remaining enchanted and thus in love. The feeling is real, but the root is false. Cool.

The episode culminates in Kirk being tortured by the machine, while the surprisingly capable Noel kicks ass and takes names, managing to shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level-sorry, wrong Star thing-ummm shut down the neural neutralizer and the force field preventing their rescue and thus allowing Kirk to escape. This in turn leads to an epic ground invasion led by Spock and Bones to reclaim the facility and the discovery of Dr Evil who Kirk judo chopped back in the neutralizer room having been stuck with the device on full blast. His mind has been entirely blank with no one to add new programming and thus he has essentially gone mad and died of lonliness.

It’s a really upsetting end, punctuated by Kirk’s comment, “Imagine being stuck alone with this machine…not even a tormenter for company.” Given the state of espionage during the Cold War, issues of torture were (and remain) very real, very scary things. The idea of a tormenter at least being company is one of the saddest and most profound things a TV show has given me; particularly in an age of sensory deprevation tanks and the generally obscured details of how ‘interogations’ in the War on Terror are conducted. Once everything is settled, a remarkably shell shocked Kirk takes the bridge to the concern of Bones and Spock.
Bones comments:
“It’s hard to believe someone could die of lonliness.”
Kirk responds: Not once you’ve sat in that room.
He then flashes them a disarming smile and they leave him be…only the audience gets to see the smile quickly fade back to shell shock just as the credits begin. It’s a somber, nuanced performance by all involved and left me a little shaken.

Great stuff and evokes many incredible works about domination and mind control, as well as real world concerns about mental abuse in war. Trek at its best.

TREK-A-DAY: Charlie X, Star Trek

EPISODE TWO: CHARLIE X (Feb 2, 2012)

A victim of the ‘interesting idea, poor execution’ syndrome, today’s episode is basically Will Farrel’s Elf in space, if the delightfully naive Buddy the Elf had the power to unmake reality.

This is what omnipotence looks like.  (“””17 year old””” Charlie using his powers)

The premise is that Charlie (The Enterprise’s latest passenger) is a 17 year old who survived a shuttle crash by himself for some time and thus doesn’t know social convention.  Shades of Tarzan here too as he struggles to understand why he shouldn’t slap the ass of the girl he likes (as Kirk puts it: “There’s no right way to hit a woman.”)  Charlie gives us shades of Aspergers’ syndrome as he struggles to relate to how other people feel in relation to his wants and needs, which is where the episode hits on something deeper.  Here we are also getting the blueprint for characters like Q, whose fundamental misunderstanding of human nature mixed with omnipotence leads to big problems (there’s also a Voyager arc I remember about Q’s son that plays out in much the same way).  Ultimately, Charlie’s magical, green, energy based family shows up to take him away and everyone is sad, despite the fact that he had just spend an hour WRECKING THEIR SHIT and making people disappear who displeased him.  Or turning them into iguanas.  Or REMOVING THEIR FACES.  I think my favorite part of the whole “he doesn’t understand women, but desires one!” thing is that for all the talk of raging hormones, he fails to use his power to disrobe them.

Like Patrick Stewart would have.

This episode also includes Spock jamming on a harp while Uhura improvises a sultry song about him, the introduction of 3D Chess, and Kirk doing his best Labyrinth impression in his Starfleet standard issue red spandex training pants:

Oh Captain, my Captain!

TREK-A-DAY: The Man Trap, Star Trek

EPISODE ONE: The Man Trap (Feb 1, 2012)

I always find it interesting watching the first few moments of a franchise that doesn’t know it’s iconic; take, for instance, the first few minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars: A New Hope, or the first few lines of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or The Hobbit.  Before anyone on any of these franchises knew what they’d become, you get a moment of awesome, unassuming storytelling which somehow grabs us hard enough for us to want to see more. In The Man Trap, the first episode of Star Trek, we get exactly this.  The episode begins mid-stream, with the Enterprise already well underway on its journey and all the characters’ relationships to each other established.  We are told most of these through Kirk’s voice over and in general interactions, but never in a “But so-and-so, don’t forget, she’s your sister…” way that first episodes occasionally resort to in order to catch the audience up.  Kirk tells us simply that Mr. Spock is in charge of the ship at the moment and that he and “Ship’s surgeon McCoy are beaming down on a routine medical examination…routine but for the fact that Nancy Crater is the one woman from Dr. McCoy’s past.” Reminiscent of Casablanca’s “Of all the gin joints in the world…” isn’t it? It immediately tells us this is going to be a story of lost romance and intrigue; and we’re sucked in.  This one turn of phrase sums up what this episode is about and the most enduring feature of Star Trek: it’s about people, their emotions, hopes, dreams, relationships and how they interact with and against each other.  Whether alien or human, this basic building-block of story is present and allows us deep connections to the fantastical settings and situations.  Neat. So, the plot: Kirk and McCoy arrive on a planet to deliver a routine medical check-up for Dr. Crater and his wife, Nancy (the woman that got away).  The problem is, everyone sees Nancy differently and at 8:15 into the episode… THE FIRST CREWMAN DIES! This is, of course, a watershed moment, given the fate of countless more extras in Trek…however it should be noted that he is NOT wearing a red shirt(!) but rather a blue one. 8:32 Brings our first: “He’s dead, Jim” (now co-opted by Google Chrome when it crashes) See it turns out that ‘Nancy’ is actually the last of a race of shape-shifting aliens who need salt to survive.  This is a neat monster, because its basic motivation is both simple and exotic; it feeds on salt (rather than just eating people or killing them arbitrarily) and thus drains people for sustenance.  It does, however, also need love (sure-why-not) and thus taps into people’s psyche and gives them what they want to see (hence the Nancy form).  Throughout the episode it takes on many other forms, including Bones (making Deforest Kelly the first Trek cast member to get to play another version of their own character) as Kirk and Spock run an investigation.  It’s part murder mystery, part vampire horror story, and part western.  Wacky moments abound, such as Spock double fist pounding the Nancy impersonator to prove she’s not Nancy (Bones isn’t so sure) and Uhura being seduced by a Swahili speaking form of the Salt Vampire (it should be noted, however, that Uhura is already a smart, capable character, having just blown off advances by half of Sterling Cooper Draper Price, who apparently have an office aboard the Enterprise). Ultimately, Bones has to shoot the monster (still posing as his love) and Kirk reflects aloud how they essentially caused a species to go extinct (referencing the American Buffalo as Dr. Crater did early in the episode). There’s no Prime Directive in sight yet, so I guess that’s kosher. What makes this such a great intro to the series is that it doesn’t hold our hand, or throw tonnes of info at us at once; instead it introduces us to the characters that are important to this specific story (we don’t meet Scotty or Chekov in this episode).  Kirk and Spock act as a well established team, Uhura tries to coax some emotion out of Spock, but mostly because she’s just bored at her console (she reminds me of a teenager working a mall food court; quite capable and intelligent, but tired of menial work and looking for intellectual stimulation).  Sulu is established as a bit lightheared and mischievous, and we get our first taste of Kirk’s swagger and charm as well as his deep care for his crew’s well being.  The conventions of how naval rules and regulations apply to space begin to show up and the characters are shown eating quite a bit, which seems a minor thing, but establishes that these are people who live and work aboard ship.  Eating on the job is a necessity and it’s a nice touch.  Throughout we get the taste of a greater universe, but they don’t walk us through the entire thing all at once.  We’ve given a lot to chew on, but not bombarded with every last cool thing they’ve thought of.  If we only got this one episode, we got a full, complete, and compelling story.  What a fantastic way to kick off a show. It’s a fun, charismatic crew in an interesting setting and scenario that evokes all sorts of established genres and archetypes while establishing its own.  The pacing is a bit slow by today’s standards, but it’s easy to see how this episode would capture the imaginations of its audience. And so it begins.

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:

Fail.

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!

Cinematic masterpiece.

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.)


“Shut up, my stories are on!”

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 arcand 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:


Yep, the guy getting his long, luscious blonde locks trimmed by Robin beats Bane. Sigh.

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.

Recommendation:

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.

Additional Reading

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!