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Trading Up: Batman Versus Bane

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The origin of Bane and his first encounter with Ra's Al Ghul are re-presented in this trade paperback collection.

While many would point to the Joker as being the flip side of the coin to Batman – the living embodiment of the maniacal, random chaos that opposes the hero’s structured, methodical order – the Batman family of books introduced a character who arguably represents the true mirror of the Dark Knight in 1993 and who would go on to have a pivotal role in that era of the character’s history.

Bane was designed to provide Bruce Wayne with a real Moriarty figure; sharing the Batman’s intelligence, skill, determination and tragic upbringing, yet focusing his abilities in more destructive and self-seeking directions. Batman Versus Bane collects his first appearance and origin from the Batman: Vengeance of Bane one-shot and a later miniseries, Batman: Bane of the Demon, that saw the character become involved with the archvillain Ra’s Al Ghul and his daughter Talia.

Kicking things off here we have the tale that introduced Bane, prior to his major role in “breaking the Batman” in the ‘90s Bat-family crossover Knightfall, and the psychotic Azrael briefly taking on the Dark Knight’s identity. Sentenced to life imprisonment (before he was even born!) for his revolutionary father’s crimes, and forced to grow up in the horrific Pena Dura penal institution on the Caribbean island country of Santa Prisca, Bane’s prison becomes his classroom and his fellow inmates his tutors.

In time, he is forced to undergo barbaric experiments there that utilise the infamous Venom drug of Batman mythology, leading him to become a substance-addicted powerhouse. Eventually engineering his escape with a ragtag band of allies, he makes his way to Gotham for a first confrontation with the potential adversary he has become obsessed with – the Batman…

Revisiting Vengeance of Bane after many years I was struck by what a powerful character piece Chuck Dixon, a writer perhaps far more renowned for his action stories, provides here. It’s an engaging story precisely because of the way it toys with the readership’s emotions by portraying Bane as both profoundly sympathetic, due to the horrendous injustices of his upbringing, and yet still totally irredeemable and unrepentant. It also underlines what a solid creation this atypical super-villain was.

At the time of his introduction the only new bad guys, for some years, that had shown a hint of having any longevity in the Batman books were those chillingly macabre ones that Grant and Wagner had repopulated Gotham with in the late ‘80s. Unfairly derided at the time, despite his popularity as an adversary, Bane and his entourage of criminal geniuses are an effective and deliberate evocation of Doc Savage and his associates; albeit an obviously polarised one.

The second story arc collected herein is the 1998 Batman: Bane of the Demon miniseries in which Bane’s quest for vengeance against his long-missing father leads him into the lair of global criminal mastermind Ra’s Al Ghul. Again, it’s a story strong on characterisation with Bane and Ra’s manipulating each other for their own ends and Talia an unwelcome object of affection for the Venom-enhanced protagonist. Full of tension and intrigue, it’s a tautly-plotted thriller but one that, unfortunately, does not feature Batman at all and, given it accounts for two thirds or so of the page count here, it makes the trade’s title questionable to say the least. 

On a more positive note, Graham Nolan’s art is one of the real standout elements of the material included here and a reminder of this hugely under-rated creator’s ability. Channelling both Jim Aparo and Joe Kubert, his visuals have a clarity and dynamism that is quite stunning in places.

               

As a trade paperback this has presumably been thrown together primarily to both promote Bane’s part in the The Dark Knight Rises movie and to provide an easy access point into a relevant compilation for filmgoers new to the world of comics. And therein lies Batman Versus Bane’s main problem as a coherent collection of stories. While Vengeance of Bane is a perfectly constructed introduction to the character the Batman: Bane of the Demon series, published five years later, really doesn’t work as a standalone storyline that is wholly accessible to the casual reader.

Unfortunately, it’s far too dependent on an understanding of events within the DC Universe that the miniseries followed, preceded and acted as an adjunct to, for it fulfil that function. The inclusion of Batman: Vengeance of Bane II may have helped in this regard but, in truth, Bane’s Nineties saga is far too wrapped up in major multi-part crossovers to truly be represented in one softcover offering.

Batman Versus Bane is something of a mixed bag then, in that its title is a misnomer (Bane’s interactions with the Dark Knight are, to be frank, of a very minimal page count in this collection), and the issues selected present a disjointed narrative for the target audience of newbie readers. Those tempted to look elsewhere for more on the mystery of Bane’s father will also find its (frankly underwhelming) resolution spoiled on the 52/Countdown origin pages included at the back of the book. However, for longer-term fans of the character it’s a reminder that the ‘90s, that much-maligned decade of comics history, was actually an eminently readable era for fans of the Dark Knight. Whether that's enough of a reason to overlook the misleading promise in the book's title is up to the individual reader to decide...

Batman Versus Bane is available in the U.K. via Titan Books priced £10.99 and in the U.S. published by DC Comics priced $12.99.

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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Apr 5, 2012 at 5:42am

    ah Graham Nolan, how I loved thee.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Apr 6, 2012 at 9:39pm

    There's one sequence in this trade where he almost out-Kuberts Joe Kubert. Lovely stuff!

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