If you’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises then chances are good that the way you read Bane has changed forever. I know there was an odd battle going on in my head as I read Bane’s lines. When his mask was off, I would hear the voice of Henry Silva, but when the mask was on I would find myself hearing Tom Hardy. I’m very interested to know what voice comes to mind when you read Bane in comics today.
Anyway, Batman Versus Bane is a great book for fans of The Dark Knight Rises to ease into comics as its two stories are loaded with examples that the filmmakers surely drew from. It’s also a very nice prologue to the epic Knightfall storyline and another saga called Legacy. However, don’t let the name of this book fool you! The title is pretty misleading to be honest. The two characters, Batman and Bane, barely share more than a page together and it is an exchange of words, nothing more. This isn’t action or adventure. There’s very little plot at all. Instead, the stories collected here (Vengeance of Bane and Bane of the Demon) serve as a character study of Bane. This is the book you use to disprove those who say “Bane is just a musclebound thug.”
Batman: Vengeance of Bane
First of all let me talk about the artwork. I just finished reading Preacher for the first time (Yeah, I know I’m late to the party) so I was immediately struck by the life-like cover by Glenn Fabry who did the Preacher covers. Very cool. Then I opened this thing up and it’s all Graham Nolan, who is great but I could be bias because his and Breyfogle’s stuff is what I grew up with. And since Nixon draws both Vengeance of Bane as well as Bane of the Demon, it’s really cool to see how much his style changes over the years and how different inkers and colorists can change the look of a pencilers original drawings. Speaking of colors, colorist Adrienne Roy, who passed in 2010, did a fantastic job on this story. Her use of flat primary colors throughout was very striking. You almost never see anything that isn’t blue, yellow, or red until Bane finally escapes the prison. When Bane does make it out; the water is green,the sky is purple, and the rest of the world bursts with color. However, the art does seem to get a bit less detailed as the story goes on. In fact, Vengeance of Bane as a whole gets less and less attractive to look at and less interesting to read when Bane finally makes it out of the prison no matter how bright the colors get.
The story, the first half of it anyway, is must-reading for any Batman fan but that can be said about any bat-character’s origin story. Seeing how these heroes and villains were originally conceived is always interesting because you can analyze what needed to be changed and what other things have been lost over the years. Killer Croc is probably the best example of this, but I’ll save that for another article some other day.
Bane’s origin is so tragic that it borders on the ridiculous. A child that has been in prison since birth, serving out a life sentence for his father’s crimes. It makes for a very compelling read. I was rooting for Bane. I wanted him to harden up. I wanted him to stare into the abyss and become the darkness–that, after all, was the only way he could survive. I wanted him to rise up as a hero, a god to all of the inmates and ultimately find his freedom. And throughout all of that I was hooked. It’s a good origin for a villain–up to a point. The venom storyline that’s introduced toward the end of Bane’s stay in prison adds nothing. The character you see throughout this origin is more than capable of beating anyone who crosses his path. He’s whip smart and frighteningly strong. The venom gimmick is just that, a gimmick. I would’ve bought Bane as being capable of breaking the bat without it.
My problem is with his whole plan to break the bat. The motivation just isn’t very believable. Wanting to see the protagonist escape from an undeserved life sentence is something I can instantly get on board with, but his desire to conquer Gotham isn’t as understandable. In Batman: The Animated Series, Bane was a renowned assassin hired to come to Gotham and kill Batman. Makes sense. In The Dark Knight Rises (don’t worry I’m not gonna spoil anything) he was the leader of The League of Shadows bent on fulfilling Ra’s Al Ghul’s destiny. Makes sense. But in the comics, Bane had dreams about fighting a giant bat creature and then a fellow inmate mentioned that the sprawling city he comes from is controlled by a Batman. Bane then decides that Gotham will be the first place he goes when he escapes and he will crush the Batman. It’s just not very compelling. I’m cheering for him to bust out of jail for half the comic and then he announces that the first thing he’ll do when he tastes freedom is go beat someone up a man he has never met. Worse, the actual prison-break that the whole story leads up to has very little payoff. It’s very rushed so that we can move the story to Gotham and set up the Knightfall story. Two of his fellow inmates and future henchman drag the story down as well because they are so overly campy. Trogg, is practically an ape-man and “Bird” is a falconer.
As I said, the whole thing goes downhill once the prison starts experimenting on him with venom and he ultimately reaches Gotham. Things just happen without any real context all so Bane and Batman can meet for 2 pages. Batman is supposed to survey the Manklin brothers and find out if they are responsible for a murder, but instead he just shuts down all the lights and starts beating everyone up (ya know, because he’s the world’s greatest detective). Then Bane shows up and basically says “Hey. I’m not going to tell you my name and I’m also not going to do anything to hurt you. BUT there will be a day when you will know my name and I will hurt you then. Bye!” and then he leaves Batman standing there with a WTF expression on his face.
No good reason is given for his mask except that it is referred to as a headpiece. We saw earlier, in the lab, that the tubes worked fine without additional headgear so it would’ve been nice to have had some explanation for why Bane chose that design of mask. Oh well, it looks cool. What doesn’t look cool, however, is the leotard with narrow straps that start at the belt and then stretch all the way up, barely covering his nipples. Cool mask, terrible suit. The tactical vest that was used in The Dark Knight Rises is a far superior look.
The first 1/3 of Vengeance of Bane was great and it gradually became less interesting as writer Chuck Dixon had to bring the story to Gotham and set-up Knightfall as quickly as possible. So it’s just an okay read that I’d give like a 6.5 or 7/10 to but since it’s an origin story to a major villain and a prequel to one of the biggest events in the Batman lore, Vengeance of Bane is definitely a comic that everyone should have in their collection.
Batman: Bane of the Demon
Right from the very first page I was amazed at what a difference coloring and inking can make. This Bane story is written by Chuck Dixon as well and it also showcases Graham Nolan’s pencils, but this time around the colors are handled by Noelle Giddings and the inker is Tom Palmer. It’s a much sharper, vivid, and modern looking comic (it’s fascinating to see the style of comics change so drastically in merely 5 years).
Note: You might not want to read this section of the review if you haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises. There will be spoilers.
Bane of the Demon definitely proves that this book was released for The Dark Knight Rises crowd. It’s a far weaker Bane story that exists in this collection to remind everyone that Bane had a history with The League of Assassins (League of Shadows in the movies. Why? Because Bruce wouldn’t have joined a group called The League of Assassins and then been surprised to find out that they kill. Also, League of Shadows sounds much cooler.) long before Christopher Nolan ever made a Batman movie. Other than establishing that Bane had a relationship with the league way back in print, Bane of the Demon doesn’t have many if any other similar characteristics to The Dark Knight Rises. After reading Vengeance of Bane, you now know that the filmmakers gave Talia Bane’s origin story and when you read this tale it’s clear that the filmmakers ignored Talia’s loathing of Bane in the comics.
The story here isn’t as interesting as Vengeance of Bane nor does it stand on its own as well. Bane is on a quest to find his father when he runs into the League of Assassins and joins them for the upcoming Legacy arc. He wants to find out who his father is, but he never says why he suddenly wants to know who his dad is or what he’ll do when he finds the man. Then that desire is dropped entirely when he meets the League of Assassins and Bane’s new goal is to become immortal like Ra’s Al Ghul only he never says why he wants to be immortal or what he would do if he was immortal. He even describes his life as a prison so I don’t know why he would want to keep on living. Of course, it doesn’t really matter because this desire for immortality is dropped later in the book as well. Every good story has to have a character with some sort of desire. It could be that they’re looking for love, power, money, some macguffin like in the Indiana Jones movies, whatever. In Vengeance of Bane it was to escape prison. Understandable. Captivating. Then he switched that to “Destroy the guy someone told me about yesterday!” Not so understandable. Not very captivating. Bane of the Demon gives us a Bane whose motivations are ephemeral and unexplained and that keeps the story from being that intriguing. The reason for the constant reining in of Bane is probably because he isn’t supposed to be the main villain of Legacy and this is definitely a prologue to Legacy and that’s Ra’s Al Ghul’s show. Overall I’d say Bane of the Demon is pretty unsatisfying as a stand-alone tale but it might be good if you actually plan to read Legacy.
The only bonus material included here are the origin stories from 52 #46 and Countdown #4 and #7. So you get a brief 2 page origin for Bane (again), Batman (written by Mark Waid), and Ra’s Al Ghul. It’s not that impressive, but at least it’s something. I would’ve rather forgone these mini-origins and had the book be a bit longer to include Vengeance of Bane II: The Redemption.
These five books (Bane of the Demon‘s 4 issues aren’t collected elsewhere) are pretty hard to find and when you do find them in an original printing, the price is over inflated due to the peaked interest resulting from The Dark Knight Rises. So unless you feel like overpaying or waiting a few months (or years) for the hype to die down, this is your best option. And it’s a fair price, especially for fans of Bane. I wish more villains had their origins so clearly spelled out in a single volume. Somebody asks you “How was Bane made?” you just have to pluck this off your shelf and toss it to them. Easy. Best of all, the book is only $9.35 at Amazon. If you don’t own these stories already then buy them bundled together here. I just checked the recently completed listings on eBay and Vengeance of Bane by itself has been selling for $51, $66, and even $86 bucks with upwards of 20 bids on each auction. $9.35 or even cover price of $12.99 isn’t just a good deal, but it’s the best deal you’re going to get.
It would’ve been nice to have had some sort of page between these two stories explaining “Hey kids, read Knightfall after Vengeance of Bane and then understand that a lot of time passes between Knightfall and Bane of the Demon. Thanks! Oh, and Bane of the Demon is a prequel to another story called Legacy which is a sequel to another story called Contagion” But instead this seems to just be a little 2-for-1 package of Bane’s stories intended for longtime fans who are already well aware of each story’s place in time. Those who pick it up expecting a complete story like more traditional trade paperbacks might be disappointed to find that this is simply 2 prequels back-to-back. I will say that it’s a great deal for anyone who has wanted to collect Bane’s origin but discovered that an original copy of Vengeance of Bane is awfully hard to find. The stories here might not be the greatest, but you’re buying it to see Bane’s origin and that’s exactly what you get.