In the last issue, King spent a considerable amount of time illustrating the similarities and differences between Bruce and Bane. This time, there is an entirely different parallel at play, but it’s not at all overt like before. And quite frankly, much stronger in my opinion.
In the original “Knightfall” story, Bane invaded Gotham. He freed the Arkham inmates and used them to weaken Batman. At which point, Bane broke Batman. But now, the tables have turned. In the “I Am Suicide” storyline, Batman invaded Bane’s sanctum and broke him. Now we are seeing the inclusion of the Arkham inmates. And where before they were used against Batman, now they are being used against Bane, to weaken-him-up for the final confrontation. While out of order, the major beats are all there.
If this story included nothing more than this, I’d still be giving it two thumbs up, but King actually gives us more subtle references to previous stories that had me grinning from ear to ear.
At one point in time, Bane actually gave up his rivalry with Batman. He even apologized to the Caped Crusader for all the stuff he put him through, admitting that his actions were misguided. I feel that King is paying homage to that in the scenes where Bane explains that he had given up. He was done with being a villain, and decided to lead a more peaceful existence. In that sense, it’s very tragic. Because, in a way, Batman really is pulling Bane back into all of this. He doesn’t want to be here at all, but he has to be here.
If I had any doubt about this, it was put to rest when I saw this panel. If you look at which sections of dialogue apply to which character, Bane is clearly the just man and Batman is the lion…or the monster. Once again, it comes down to a boy trying to dispel his fear by battling the great Bat-demon from his nightmares.
If you never read any of the original material, all of this is completely undisclosed within the story itself. It’s not like the last issue where it was up front and in your face. What King did this time around was to include the material but make no attempt to call-it-out. It’s there for you to take in, but he isn’t holding your hand and guiding you through.
If you’re at all into villains, this issue features 17 such cameos. 8 of which have scenes with Bane that amount to slightly more, in some instances, than just getting punched in the face. The most noteworthy inclusions belong to Maximilian Zeus, Harvey Dent, Jonathan Crane, Julian Day, and Edward Nygma. Interactions range from poetic, to humorous, to thought provoking. I’m not going to take the time to map out each encounter. I’ll leave that to you to experience all the fun on your own. But I will share with you a theory of mine connected with one of them.
Did anyone else notice that Jonathan Crane got the largest amount of page time in this issue? It got me to thinking…what if everything that occurs after Bane’s encounter with Crane ends up being a nightmarish hallucination? Suppose, for instance, that the next issue has Batman defeating Bane. But then we turn the page and see Batman making his way down a hallway to Crane’s cell only to find Bane unconscious on the floor. That’s right. Maybe Crane actually defeated Bane. And then fighting Batman and getting beaten by him is Bane’s nightmare.
The fact that Crane knew specifics about Bane’s childhood experience was another tip-off to me that something wasn’t right. Crane starts guessing at what Bane is hallucinating, and it’s all very non-specific, general types of fears and such. But then, all of a sudden, it gets very specific. Now, perhaps Crane read what happened to Bane in a file somewhere. After all, Bane did have a psychiatrist at one point. Or is it possible that Crane knows about Bane’s experiences as a child because Bane knows them and Crane is just a figment of Bane’s mind at this point.
That’s not to say I expect or want that to happen. But if it did, I honestly wouldn’t be disappointed or surprised. We know King likes throwing us the unexpected. On top of that, we’ve already had some epic Batman versus Bane battles, and I’m not sure anything would live up to those in my mind. So instead of setting up something that will draw comparisons, maybe go an entirely different route. Give Crane the win. Depending on how it’s executed, I actually think that would really work.
Art for this issue is once again brought to us by David Finch, and it’s amazing. The cover is poster worthy (original cover that is), the full page spread of Two-Face is one of the best looking Two-Face depictions I’ve ever seen, and all the shots of Bane roiding-out are fantastically hyperbolic . It’s a shame that the official cover had to remove BlackSpider, Firefly, Dr.Phosphorous, Mr.Zsasz, and Man-Bat to make room for the title. Nonetheless, I never expected to see a cover in 2017 featuring the likes of Maxie Zeus and Amygdala. So yeah, I’m still happy.
Odds and Ends:
- No, Alfred. This…is…GOTHAM!
- Throughout the course of the story, Maximilian Zeus can be seen orating several lengthy compositions. Opening up the story, he delivers a reading from “The Divine Comedy”, an Italian piece composed by Dante Alighieri in the 14th century. He closes out the tale by reciting from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, a piece composed by the English writer and artist William Blake during the 18th century.
- On my first read, it felt very apropos to have Maxie delivering these speeches. It just felt right for the character. But then I did what I always do, and started thinking. While I still believe the inclusion of these pieces added a great deal of weight to the story, I’m not entirely certain it makes all that much sense to have Maximilian deliver them. After all, Maxie is a purveyor of all things relating to Greek Mythology. These texts were written over a thousand years after the era that Maxie stakes his claim on, not to mention the fact that they aren’t Greek. If King wanted to weave pieces about Hell into his tale, and us Maxie, there are plenty of Greek ones he could have chosen: Hades and Persephone, Orpheus and Eurydice, Tartarus, Sisyphus….and the list goes on and on and on. That’s not to say that these examples are adequate substitutes for the William/Dante stuff, but given some research, I’m sure there are some Greek passages that would have worked just as well.
- This issue has two 1966 Batman references. This and the Bat-phone. Be still my beating heart.
- You’re a huge Bane fan and are familiar with his past stories. I think you’ll get even more out of this tale if you’re familiar with his past.
- You like over-the-top action.
- You love villain cameos. Get ready for 17 of them.
- You’re a fan of David Finch’s robust art style.
As much as I have struggled in the past with enjoying some of King’s run on Batman, there was nothing standing in my way from fully enjoying this issue. From every little subtly crafted nuance to all the bombastic over-the-top fanfare, this was hairs away from being a perfect issue. A lot of what made it so wonderful for me were all the indirect connotations that so perfectly mimicked the beats of past stories. Even though they were presented in a new way, they were simultaneously complementary to that which had come before. It’s also full of villains, references, amazing art, humor, action, and quotes from other thought provoking works of fiction that quite perfectly married with the subtext of the story at hand. Bravo, Mister King. Bravo.
SCORE: 9.5 / 10