Batman: Arkham Knight #6: “Bane of Existence”

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Illustrated by Ig Guara

Inked by Julio Ferreira

Colored by Andrew Dalhouse

Lettered by Travis Lanham

NOTE: This review was written before the game was released, so there is nothing that could be seen as a spoiler to those who haven’t played it yet.

One of the things I’ve always liked about Bane is he’s as smart as he is tough.  It’s not a clear cut, black and white separation, but Batman’s villains can be seen as mental threats (Riddler, Scarecrow, even the Joker) and physical threats (Clayface, Killer Croc, Man-Bat).  He uses brains to take down the physical threats and brawn to take down the mental, of course, but very few of his antagonists stretch him in both areas at the same time.  Back when Bane was introduced, that was what set him apart: he looked like a physical threat, which he was, but he was smart and used that to his advantage.  From his cell in Santa Prisca, he was able to deduce Batman’s secret identity through nothing more than newsreel footage and logical thinking, and then used his smarts to set in motion a plan to wear the Dark Knight down so it would be all the easier to break him.

When he’s presented as nothing more than a brutish thug, he isn’t interesting; he’s just another enemy for Batman to punch, when he already has plenty of those.  He’s had an interesting history in comics since debuting two decades ago, never quite having the same impact and level of prominence he initially had but never fading into obscurity either.  He was Ubu to Ra’s Al Ghul for a while, and even became an ally of sorts to Batman for some time, so while his depiction in Knightfall was by far his most memorable and having the longest lasting impact, he at least hasn’t been as one-note as Doomsday was to Superman (and yes, I am aware that Doomsday has featured in other stories since too).

Bane’s depiction in media other than comics, however, has been a bit shakier.  He appeared once on Batman: The Animated Series, notoriously against Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett’s wishes, and a few more times on The New Batman Adventures, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, and a particularly tragic episode of Batman Beyond.  His portrayal in Batman and Robin was… well, we all know how it was, and while Tom Hardy gave a solid performance in The Dark Knight Rises, the character has received some criticism for being nothing more than a muscled lackey in the end.  The Arkham games have used him as more muscle than anything, first providing the impetus for Titan production in Asylum and then using Batman to help him find the remaining supply in City, ultimately double-crossing our hero to hoard the drug for himself.  The games were stuffed with characters as it was, and while Bane wasn’t dumb, he wasn’t really much more than a physical obstacle for Batman to overcome.

With this latest chapter of Arkham Knight, Bane is certainly a physical threat, but he has a new driving motivation as well: Gotham, he’s told in flashback, was settled by Santa Priscans centuries ago and it’s up to him to reclaim the land for his people. It’s an… interesting development. Not one that I necessarily think fits the character, but this Bane is much more primal than his comics counterpart so being driven by heritage could provide for some interesting storytelling.

Unfortunately, that is given short shrift to the action that takes up the bulk of the book, which ranges from pretty solid to muddled and confusing. The first big set-piece picks up right where the last issue left off, with Bane about to break the Batman, when Poison Ivy pops up to provide some assistance for the Caped Crusader. Even she recognizes the absurdity of her giving Batman a hand, but her motives aren’t altruistic: she’s hoping to turn the Bat over to the Penguin as leverage for land.

The most notable thing about this, however, is the first meeting of Batman and the titular Knight.

IMG_0517

At least, I’m pretty sure it’s their first encounter. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, the fight is soon taken to the sewers, thanks to an explosive trap set by AK up there.

I did a spit take and laughed so hard when I realized the hole was a perfect bat shape.
I did a spit take and laughed so hard when I realized the hole was a perfect bat shape.

Save for a brief detour with the GCPD and a scene with Harley Quinn, the rest of the issue takes place down here, and it’s about as murky and dingy as you’d expect.

Sassy Gordon don't shiv, though.
Sassy Gordon don’t shiv, though.

The earlier fight certainly benefited from having Ivy involved, as the bright greens, oranges and reds she brings to the page offer a nice contrast to the grays, browns, blacks, and other muted colors of Batman, Bane, and the surroundings. Ig Guara, whose work on this title I’ve enjoyed in the past, at least tries to make things lively and energetic by adding in some interesting sequence breaks. The result, though, comes across as nothing but confusing.

And Bane gains and loses that gun something like six times in four pages.
And Bane gains and loses that gun something like six times in four pages.

His style is similar to series regular Viktor Bogdanovic, but this month things just fell flat.  That final fight took up the entire final third of the issue, utilizing splash pages or multi-paneled layouts like above, but it was just a boring fight.  Nothing felt like it was at risk, props and henchmen pop up out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly, and it ends pretty anti-climactically.  Guara’s models are pretty solid, though, so that’s a plus.

Flat, too, is the normally crackling script from Tomasi. There’s nothing inherently bad here, and save for the somewhat silly “Santa Priscan immigrants” story everything is entirely serviceable, but for a book that has been strong on the character front from day one there’s not a line or interaction that’s truly memorable.

All in all, this issue left me wanting more in a bad way: it felt like filler, and I want to read what’s next to see this series return to the heights it’s achieved pretty much monthly since its inception.

Recommended if:

  • You’ve been keeping up thus far.
  • You have played or want to play Arkham Knight.
  • Some decent action and a one-liner or two can hold your attention.

Overall: The weakest issue thus far, it’s a serviceable read but nothing more.  The usual snappy script from Tomasi and engaging artwork from whatever team is working is absent, making this feel like nothing more than filler.  It might read better sandwiched between last month’s excellent installment and whatever comes next, but as it stands it was a disappointment.

SCORE: 6/10