Batman #20 is the climax to the “I am Bane” story arc, but it’s also the climax to King’s entire sprawling Batman trilogy.  It started with “I am Gotham”, transitioned into “I am Suicide”, and finally brought us to “I am Bane”.  As such, this story has a lot of shoes to fill.  Not only am I expecting it to be good unto itself, I expect it to be a satisfactory bookend for everything that’s come before.  Does it succeed?  Let’s examine, shall we.

The Fight

As fights go, this is pretty unremarkable.  It’s another issue long beat-down showing Bane, once again, stomping all over Batman.  Compared to all the previous fights, it does finally show Batman landing some counter-strikes along with dodging an incoming attack or two.  And honestly, it’s about time for that.  I always stared in disbelief at the previous fights as Batman just “allowed” Bane to toss him about like a rag-doll without putting up any kind of offense or defense.  I say “allowed” because his plan usually involved getting beaten, but it’s now implied that was because Batman knew he couldn’t beat Bane in a straight up fight anyway.  Really?  In any case, it’s a shame we had to wait this long to get even a hint that Batman is one of the world’s greatest fighters.  And really, a hint is being generous as this devolves into nothing more than two sweaty grunts trading blows.  It’s the kind of exchange I would expect to see from two drunken muscle-heads with more machismo than sense.

It also doesn’t help that we have seen Bane and Batman square-off throughout King’s run 3 times before now, and in a very similar fashion: Bane beats Batman, but surprise, he wanted him to so he could let the team into Santa Prisca.  Bane beats Batman, but surprise, he did it so Catwoman could get the drop on Bane.  Bane beats Batman, but surprise, he was buying Catwoman time to free Gordon and the others.  Now it’s: Bane beats Batman, but surprise, Batman pulls an ace out of his sleeve at the last possible second when you thought that all hope was lost.  It’s recycling pretty much the same thing over and over.  I guess if you’ve been enjoying this, then it’s simply more for you to eat up.  But for those of us who haven’t, it’s yet another “fight” we have to suffer through.

And what’s going on here?  Has Batman had his brain rattled around in his skull so much from Bane pulverizing him that he thought it was a good idea to try and match Bane strength for strength?  Or is this like when boxers hug each other in the ring to stop their opponent from hitting them?  Either way, it seems ill advised.

I’d also like to point out how odd it is that King had Batman effortlessly defeat Solomon Grundy in the “I am Gotham” story arc, but Batman doesn’t seem able to mount any kind of reasonable assault against Bane.  Pretty inconsistent if you ask me.

Now I’m going to get super spoilery.  So if you don’t want things ruined, stop reading.

Like I said above, in the final moments of their fight when you think that all hope is lost, Batman pulls an ace out of his sleeve.  What is this mind-blowing trickery that Batman employs to win the day?  How have years and years of learning secret martial arts moves from all over the planet prepared him for this moment?  How has his keen tactical sense allowed him to orchestrate everything in such a way that it all lead to this one moment, this one perfect move that would help him triumph over evil.

It hasn’t.

He frickin head butts him!

That’s it.  That’s all.  And that K.O.s Bane.  Game over, man.  Game over.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with Batman being able to take out people with a single move.  He should be able to do that.  But this is sooooo mundane.  Not to mention it’s a total cheap shot.

It’s said that Bane left himself defenseless because he thought Batman was defeated.  I’m ok with that.  But don’t even try and tell me that this was Batman’s master plan.  Batman couldn’t have know that Bane wasn’t going to just grind his face into the floor.  Batman couldn’t have known that this one move would have been enough to incapacitate Bane and end the fight.  This was total luck on Batman’s part.  Not a result of expert planning or expert skill.  Just dumb luck.  And that’s just dumb.

The scene also takes care to remind us that Batman won the fight…”because he’s Batman”.  “Because I’m Batman” has become a pop culture phrase connected with the hero that came out of the popular YouTube channel “How It Should Have Ended”.  The reason the phrase is a go to answer for why Batman can do anything is because our past experiences with the character have shown us that he can do anything.  We’ve witnessed his skills, his planning, and his sharp intellect.  We’ve seen it unfold.  But other than during “I am Gotham” (and a few other select moments throughout King’s run) we never really see Batman being the awesome Batman we know that he is.  It’s why I look at this final fight and see Batman winning because it was written that way, not because he actually earned it through skill and execution.  It’s a hollow victory achieved by in-world luck and real-world necessity rather than the culmination of decades worth of dedication and hard work.

For my money, If you want to see a real Batman vs Bane fight I highly highly highly recommend that you check out Detective Comics #701 (1996).  It’s brought to us by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan.  Those are the gentlemen mentioned in the credits of this comic that actually created Bane.  In the fight you’ll see Batman dodging and tumbling to evade.  Blocking and redirecting blows.  Kicking, punching, and using Batarangs.  It’s a full on fight with him using everything at his disposal, including the environment.  It shows him thinking on his feet and executing strategies on the fly.  It’s Batman being Batman…not a doormat.

The Ideas

Other than being completely and utterly let down by the fight, I really enjoyed the rest of the issue.  It brought up a lot of ideas connected with the character that I really take to heart.  Like this one for instance:

This highlights Batman’s mind and essential falls in line with the whole thing about Batman always having contingency plans for his contingency plans.  Batman’s always thinking things out, and whatever Batman ends up doing is the most correct solution to whatever problem he faces because he’s already weighed all the other options.  While I love this side of the character, I just noticed something about it that’s a convenient loophole for a writer to use.  If you contest the logic of something Batman does, your argument is made invalid because we ultimately aren’t as smart as Batman.  But indirectly, it’s a way for the writer not to be contested.  But the problem in that is that no writer is as smart as Batman either.  That’s probably why it’s so difficult to come up with viable plans that are infallible.  When a writer takes on the character, they are being asked to become that character.  But that’s ultimately not something a normal person is capable of doing because if a normal person could have Batman level intellect, well then, Batman wouldn’t really be all that special.  Would he?

Hmm.  I was hoping to get to my positives once I got the fight scene breakdown out of the way, but it seems I have some more scruples with the story at hand.

King spends some time highlighting Gotham and Gotham Girl.  Essentially, they were going to be Batman’s way of winning his war on crime.  But, there is a logic in this that doesn’t quite make sense.  Gotham and Gotham Girl are essentially Superman analogs.  Superman’s presence in Metropolis hasn’t abolished all crime.  So I’m not sure how someone like Batman who takes everything into consideration could overlook a fact like this and still think G&GG were going to turn Gotham into some perfect utopia.  Oh well.

Ok.  I’m pretty sure that’s the last of the negativity.  Moving right along.

The idea of Batman “falling” is brought up, or as I will equate it, failing.  Over the years I have seen Batman defeated numerous times.  But the one I will focus on here is the “unknown threat”.  This happens because Batman has essentially presented himself as a target.  This way villains will attack him and not necessarily his city.  One of my favorite analogies that describes this phenomenon is likening Batman to a lightning rode.  In any case, because Batman is often blindsided by these unknown foes who have had a chance to plot against him and study him, he usually fails in the first act.  He retreats to lick his wounds, grows stronger, learns of his enemy, and ultimately return to triumph against them.  This is quintessential Batman.  He isn’t perfect, but he never gives up.  He never surrenders.  The way in which the narrative highlighted Batman’s failures, yet his unwillingness to ever be finished is a clear nod to this.  And I greatly appreciated its inclusion.

…damn…that’s gruesome…

While I thought the fight itself was super crappy, I absolutely loved all of Bane’s lines throughout.  Every step of the way he taunts the Caped Crusader.  And ever subsequent line is more demoralizing and unsettling than the last.

Martha Wayne is the narrator of the story.  Loved it!  You know the whole idea of how life flashes before your eyes when you die.  Well something like that happens here.  Bruce takes such a near-death beating that he starts to hallucinate and envisions his mother.  It’s funny because Bruce ends up disagreeing with her, but in actuality what she is saying are ultimately Bruce’s thoughts since it’s all in his head anyway.  It’s an interesting way of seeing one person debate both sides of an argument.  It’s something I think that we as people do all the time.  Debate things within our own minds.  But here it’s played out as two separate entities.  I thought it really worked well.  I also really liked the word choices and arrangement of words that came together in describing what it was like for Batman to slowly slip out of consciousness and into a near-death state.  If you’re following along at home, I’m essentially referring to the narration on pages 15, 16, and 17.   It’s ghastly, but in a weird way also hauntingly beautiful.  Really great stuff.

Spoiler

Under the spoiler tag is my favorite page in the entire book.  I almost always shy away from sharing entire pages because I think you should have to buy the book to get them.  But this was just soooo good I had to share it.  Sorry Tom.  Sorry David. But yeah, that’s just awesome on so many levels.  I read Batman’s words and all kinds of images and stories start racing through my mind.  It’s not just the trip down memory lane that has me loving this page though.  It’s the sentiment behind it.  Think about it.  Batman has been challenged by and fought thousands upon thousand of people.  And ultimately never truly lost.  This page is intimidating as hell.  I mean, who in their right mind would challenge Batman.  You’d think all the villains and criminals would have given up by now and just abandoned Gotham City to the Masked Manhunter.  If you’re going to pull off a crime, why not do it in location without a protector.  Seriously though, shouldn’t Gotham be a utopia by now with Batman being uncontested for as long as he’s been?

This is the last idea I wanted to broach for the review:

Right on!  When people talk about Batman you often see words like “vengeance” and “justice” come up.  And while those things are definitely there in the Batman mythos, I’ve always gravitated towards the notion that Bruce became Batman so that nobody else would ever have to suffer the same fate that he did.  In essence and simply put, he became Batman to help others.  When I flipped to the last page and saw Bruce say this, my heart grew three sizes.  King and I haven’t always seen eye to eye when it comes to ever detail surrounding the Dark Knight, but when it came to this moment, he couldn’t have done it better.

Odds and Ends:

  • I’m fairly certain this is the first time I’ve ever seen Bruce’s middle name.  I dig it.

Recommended if…

  • You want to read something that pays respect to the ideas behind Batman, even if the execution is masked behind uninspired and questionable action.

Overall:

While I thought the fight scene and Batman’s martial ineptitude were immensely frustrating and lackluster to behold, almost every other element of this story was a shining example of how to do Batman justice.  I think it’s easy to get lost in the action of this comic and see it for nothing more than that.  On my initial read, I did just that, and was very disappointed.  All I could see was the fight, and found it lacking.  But as I read it over and over, I found that there was actually plenty to enjoy beyond the obvious content.  With this issue, it’s not so much about what happens, but the ideas that are interposed and their ultimate ramifications.  If you can look past the uninspiring fight choreography, at the heart of this story is actually a celebration of the character that is Batman.

SCORE: 7.5 / 10