Sunday, September 04, 2011

Knightfall Part 11: The Broken Bat (DC)
Batman #497 When: July 1993
Why: Dough Moench How: Jim Aparo

The Story So Far...
He is the dark knight detective that watches over a city of crime, sworn avenger of the innocent, scourge of the underworld. With a sharp mind and trained body, he is the ultimate product of human invention and spirit, but what would it take? What grand gesture, or inventive scheme would finally push the caped crusader beyond his limits? What would it take to break the bat?

Armed with an arsenal of stolen weaponry and a strategic intellect as sharp as The Batman's; Bane arrives in Gotham City as a tortured soul born into the harsh prison system of Caribbean nation of Santa Prisca. Obsessed by the demon of justice Batman represents, he is intent on testing his chemically enhanced strength and brilliant mind against Batman, enacting a plan to combat the dark knight's will in both the physical and mental realms by unleashing his darkest demons like an army of chaos.

The gambit forces Batman to push himself to breaking point, hunting down the escapees unleashed from Arkham Asylum by Bane's surgical srike. Mad Hatter, The Ventriloquist, Amygdala, Victor Zsasz, Firefly, The Cavalier, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, and Joker are all released to do as they please, forcing Batman to work to breaking point in an effort to bring them all in. Bruised, battered and exhausted, he retires to his inner sanctum as Bruce Wayne, but this respite will be short lived. There, Bane lies in wait to break the bat...

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Bane 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Draw 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Draw 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy: Batman 4 (Arsenal)

Real Name: [Unknown]
Group Affiliation: [Secret Six]
First Appearance: [Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1] Year One: [1993]
Win Percentage: [0%] Last Opponent: [Injustice League]
2006: [#147] 2007: [#254] 2008: [#206] 2009: [DNR]

Born into incarceration within the notorious Santa Priscan penitentiary known as Peña Duro -- Hard Rock; the man called Bane began life guilty for the crimes of his father, a revolutionary rallying against the corrupt governments of the small Carribean Republic. As a child, Bane learned from a school of violence and crime, beginning his path of brutality with blood on his hands at a shockingly young age. While his physical presence grew to meet the needs of prison life, Bane's mental accumen was also sharpened, taking full advantage of the collective wisdoms of various prisoners, and limitless time to study.

Rising through the criminal ranks thanks to his natural abilities and intellect, Bane conquers Peña Duro, raising the ire of it's appointed controllers. Under the watchful eye of Dr. Hugo Strange, Bane is entered into experiments using an enhancement drug called Venom, which claimed the life of many test subjects. Bane proved strong enough to survive the near-death side effects and is embued with a new strength almost instantly accessible with with the administration of the venom drug, every twelve hours.

With the aid of allies, Bane escaped his prison life, entering the world with a view to travel to Gotham City. Obsessed with Gotham's dark knight protector, who rules the city of crime through terror in a way similar to those in prison; Bane hopes to end his internal philosophical struggles by exercising his fantastic deductive skills, phenomenal strategic intellect, incredible strength, and access to the venom enhancement drug, to mentally and physicall break the Batman.

Bane is accompanied by an entourage of close personal allies; Trogg, Zombie, and Bird, former prisoners who escaped Peña Duro with Bane's help. Specialists in various fields, they are trusted assistants to Bane's ambitions to break the bat.

Real Name: [Bruce Wayne]
Group Affiliation: [Batman Inc, Justice League of America]
First Appearance: [Detective Comics #27] Year One: [1939]
Win Percentage: [72.7%] Last Opponent: [Superman]
2006: [#1] 2007: [#2] 2008: [#1] 2009: [#19]

After witnessing the street murder of his parents, the young Bruce Wayne's destiny was forever shaped to be one dedicated to an ideal. Having spent his formative years studying the various sciences, martial arts, and crime fighting techniques, Bruce is ultimately inspired to become the one-man war on the criminal element in Gotham City: Batman.

Perhaps Batman's greatest power is the millions inherited from his industrialist parents, and the various facilities that came with that. They prove crucial in the design and construction of his many weapons, which are typically non-lethal, and have a variety of uses.

Complimented by his keenly strategic mind is Batman's expertise in the martial arts. He is extensively trained in multiple fighting styles, and commonly regarded to be one of the greatest hand-to-hand fighters in the world. He is also extremely proficient in general urban warfare.

Statistics: Batman Ranking: Batman (#1)

What Went Down...
On the verge of exhaustion, the Batman becomes Bruce Wayne, a maskless debt to a faithful servant dedicated to maintaining the charade necessary of their grander goals. Alfred is nowhere to be seen, already the victim of a demon lying in wait. Bruce Wayne makes his way up the Batcave stairs to the manor above, the final trek on a path of misery that began with an assault on Arkham Asylum and his subsequent pursuit of its escapees.

A hulking mass of brawn and brain, Bane greets his opponent with a promise of mercy for the already defeated Alfred Pennyworth. It is not Batman's allies that this cunning hunter seeks, anymore than it is "Bruce Wayne" -- the mask that "no longer serves a purpose" in contrast to Bane's, a luchadore's facade with a direct line to feed "venom" into his brain and bloodstream.

With a flick of a switch Bane becomes more than mortal flesh, energized by the serum coursing through his veins. He is a super-human, a monster of chaos and order in one. As quickly as the venom transforms his opponent, Bruce Wayne becomes Batman again, triggered by the disdain he feels for an evil so callous and thorough it would condemn his city without cause.

He leaps into action, this dark knight. Exhausted and desperate, he is easily caught by a thriving Bane; tossed aside like the regard for his own safety. Treated like a human wrecking ball, Batman is noble to a fault, pleading for Alfred to flee while Bane prepares to choke him silent.

Recalling the trials of his life in the preceding week, Batman is rammed down the passage toward the Batcave, stomped, swatted, and staggered. He throws a punch to the gut, but it does nothing. "You are already broken," his tormentor declares. "It is over. You are nothing. A DISAPPOINTMENT!"

A dropkick sends the dark knight toppling to the lower levels of his Batcave. A clubbing blow to the back of the skull leaves him drained and vulnerable. A kick to the ribs sends him skidding along the ground. A bump against a stand drops a giant novelty penny across his spine. Pinned down, an uppercut adds torque to the wrenching position between the floor and a hard place.

Bane drags the Batman from beneath his massive momento and makes a static weapon of another of his trinkets, the famed Batmobile. Unrelenting, the villain growls, "WHY DON'T YOU FIGHT!?" The answer may be the physical fatigue of the last few days, perhaps the mental.

A stalagmite becomes a bat to club the Batman. He finally gives Bane what he wants, a moment of resistance that swats the stone formation from his hand. It is a rebellion quickly ended by a charging headbutt that sends Batman hurtling toward another trophy, and another mental blow. Draped in shattered glass and a yellow cape, the dark knight holds the symbol of his greatest failure in hand -- the domino mask of Jason Todd...

Rising like a living deadman, Batman throws a punch with nothing to it.
His arms clumsily absorb the impact of Bane's returning blows. Reflexes gone, he eats boot leather. The cave tears his costume. Bane compells him to submit, to beg for mercy. Batman tells him to go back to Hell.

"I am Bane -- and I could kill you... but death would only end your agony -- and silence your shame. Instead, I will simply -- BREAK YOU!"

A broken Batman. A nemesis triumphant.

The Hammer...
In a day not long passed, I would've begun this discussion by lamenting the longterm difficulties of a character like Bane. Best remembered for the fight featured above, he is -- or at least was -- the character who "broke the Bat"! An accolade so big and rare in a corporate environment, it rendered him effectively 'unemployable' in the eyes of those who felt the act could never be topped, and fans who grew to regard these early nineties stunts with bitter disdain.

As the feature villain of Christopher Nolan's upcoming trilogy cap, The Dark Knight Rises, the character is about to become something entirely new. First impressions of the Tom Hardy occupied vision, with distinctive open-muzzle head gear, suggests a liberal adaptation. One that reshapes the basic outline of a character who, in some respects, represents an 'Anti-Batman'. With DC Comics' 'New 52' relaunch shedding its history in favour of a DCU For Dummies, there's every chance this version of Bane will not only take hook with the mainstream masses, but also entrench itself in the comic books themselves, similar to some of the creations that went both ways, in and out, of the likewise streamlined Marvel Ultimate line.

The DC reboot is one of the reasons the opening statement doesn't seem so relevant anymore, but there're more factors at work.

I think it's fair to say that time has made for a relaxed indulgence in both the good and bad of Bane. Recent trends in comics have been flirting with nineties-esque gimmicks for quite a while now, making them seem more acceptable to a mass of internet-age readers who joined comics in the early 2000s. The passage of time has also allowed the Knightfall story to be retold several times over, in different mediums, making Bane's legend much less about a sales spike, and more about a chapter in the saga of Batman. There's also the all-important fact that, unlike his Superman-killing counterpart (Doomsday), Bane had an interesting concept behind the short-lived victory.

While it's clearly true that Bane was envisioned as an opponent capable of challenging Batman in the realms of the mental and physical, he wasn't strictly designed as a dark mirror to the hero himself. Accompanied in early appearances by an inner circle of trusted allies (Zombie, Trogg, and Bird), creator Chuck Dixon is well reported to have begun with the concept of an evil Doc Savage: famed "Man of Bronze" and pulp predecessor to Batman -- the ultimate reneissanceman and adventurer!

Therein lies the saving grace of a character who otherwise might've been relegated to sneering trivia: defined very early by a gimmick, and popularly degraded by a less-than-impressive follow-up appearance in the 1997 Joel Schumacher feature length farce, Batman and Robin.

Before Christopher Nolan and his team will have remade the character (with possible ties to Ra's al Ghul), there will have been many contributions that added depth to the original high concept and simplistic early exploits. Today, Bane is a much more altruistic figure, menacing, but generally treated with a sense of fighting honor that reflects an element of his iconic lucha libre design.

As a powerhouse villain Bane was the crowning obstacle for Jean-Paul Valley; DC's edgy replacement Batman who is better remembered in his own right as the armored, fanatical, violent, and very dead nineties hero, Azrael. Stories of typical villainy have persisted to sometimes undercut the credibility of the character, but time has allowed for other stories to balance the bad with the good.

Lesser characters, like Judomaster during Infinite Crisis, were offered up in sacrifice to recreate and readdress his penchant for backbreaking, reinforcing the mythology of it. There was also the journey of self-discovery, when Bane, with funding from Bruce Wayne no less, discovered his Kobra-fanatic father in a tale that humanized a Bane who literally lacked those qualities via a backstory of imprisonment. Purging the character of the Venom drug also went a ways to reforming the character, emphasising the human strength that was there from the beginning (and allowing for an analagous drug mythology to creep into Gotham's stories). [BTW: It's worth restating that, yes, the guy whose entire life has been one giant revenge-quest because of his parents' murder actually does have the ability to forgive, as was the case years after Batman was healed and back in the saddle.]

In 2007, I featured an issue of Checkmate [#12], wherein Greg Rucka and Nunzio Defilippis restored further credibility to the character in a story that saw Bane in his native Santa Prisca, politicized in a war against drug cartels and government corruption. It largely played background to other action, including a firey face-off against Son o' Judomaster, Tommy Jagger, but the idea was appreciated. From there, Gail Simone had her way with Bane, casting the back breaking brute in a cartoon role, clumsy and stoic as a member of Secret Six, with glimpses of brilliance leading to an eventual restoration of the villain, which presumably signals the design of any future Bane predicaments in the "DCnU".

The Dark Knight Rises and DCnU New 52 will in all likelihood canonize Bane as an unimpeachable feature member of the Batman rogues gallery. I think that's nice, but hope that the shift away from years of history doesn't simplify the character in unflattering ways. In the case of Nolan's films, that seems unlikely, even if the approach differs from The Dark Knight (for example), which embellished and showcased great elements inherent to The Joker character, without veering from a recognisable model. With a strong eye for story, it seems certain that the film version will not suffer the pitfalls of Knightfall, driven by an idea probably much stronger than merely breaking Batman's back.

I'm obviously looking forward to the film and am pleased to have finally been able to get back to this here Comic Book Fight Club. I won't pretend it will be a regular thing, like years gone by. I've had this particular entry sitting in my drafts from the day Bane was revealed, and in the time since, my faithful (and sometimes streaky) scanner has seemingly given up the ghost. I'm pleased that one of its last tasks was to capture the art of Jim Aparo, not at his all-star best in this particular issue, but still a Bat-favourite.

In keeping with the pro-Bane theme of this discussion, I should acknowledge the work of Doug Moench on the issue, as well. With Aparo, he plots a fine final battle, one that is among the most iconic fights in comic book history! The full page shot of Bane snapping Batman's back across his knee is inarguably one of the best recognised images in the game, right up there with Miller's impalement [from Daredevil #181, folks]! Bane's intrusion into the Batcave is also one of those things that people really seem to remember, perhaps because it plays out with such brutal significance throughout the battle. What I really want to mention, though, is one of my favourite quirks about the fight -- it starts with a conversation!

The fact that the hero and villain engage in reasonable dialogue before the iconic punch-up is something that stays with me, perhaps because I'm a ham for pro wrestling promos (and fights), or because it flies in the face of all of those versions that distilled the character into a hulkish brute who breaks backs. A depiction that is gleaned from the last page of an entire issue.

Winner: Bane
The Fight: 7 The Story: 4.5 The Pictures: 4.5

No comments: