Issue #6 of Bane: Conquest marks the beginning of the series’ third arc. ‘The Sword’ started strong but faltered due to poor characterisation and ‘The Challenge’ was just nonsense, albeit with the fun addition of Catwoman; can ‘The Serpent’ fare any better?
The book opens with an introduction to Bane’s next nemesis, Naja Naja (the scientific name for the Indian Cobra), the ruler of Kobra. He’s smug, wealthy, treats women as expendable and shouts at his followers so I definitely get the feeling Dixon wants us to hate him (his chief servant has a beard shaped like a trident, dresses in the outfit Jeffery Burr used to wear and flies around in Thunderbird 2 so at least eccentricity is a nurtured quality in Kobra). Six pages across the book are spent on showing us Naja Naja’s lifestyle, which I felt to be excessive given that he’s a paint-by-numbers villain. Because he’s such a spoilt idiot who underestimates Bane, I don’t really feel like he will be much of a threat. Therefore, by the time we’re told his origin story, I already didn’t care; why would I need to know more about such a disposable, temporary villain?
Well, it turns out that Naja Naja’s origin provides Bane with the exact inspiration he needs to formulate a plan of attack on Kobra. It’s a typical ‘cut off the head and the body will die’ plan which didn’t really require any thinking at all, let alone all the brooding Bane does this issue. But that’s not all he’s up to; we’re also reintroduced to Bane at the start of the issue with the brutal murder of a triad. He looks fearsome doing it (ridiculous chest cut-out excepted) but we’re halfway through the series and I still don’t know why he’s doing any of this. We’re told again this issue that Bane ‘operates out of Gotham’ (which generally isn’t true) and that now he’s making moves on the world stage but apart from a speech from Dionysius a few issues ago and the fact Bane is sick of outsiders invading ‘his city’, Bane has been given no motivation for his conquest. What’s the end goal and why does he want it? If he wants to destroy the competition, he’s effectively helping the good guys (though they wouldn’t approve of his methods) and if he wants to climb to the top of the criminal underworld or even tackle world domination, he’s bound to find himself in the sights of the Justice League and will lose. The flashbacks in issue #1 promised some insight into Bane’s psyche but all we’ve seen since then is him murdering people, with no reason to root for him other than our familiarity with the character.
The other character inexplicably intent on conquest is Dionysius. We still don’t know his real name but it’s a shame neither Bane nor Dionysius seem to have spent any time considering the lesson of his adopted namesake; that ruling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and even if their conquest is successful, they will always know peril. I’ve enjoyed Dionysius throughout the series even if I’m not really sure why Bane needs him; he’s demented, grotesque, playful, slippery and ambitious (also, the fact that he’s just a head reminds me of Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). He’s not as interesting as usual in this issue as his function is just to provide exposition and concern the gang with his deceitful nature. Despite discussing their mistrust of Dionysius, I couldn’t help but notice they put him back in front of a computer with as much freedom as the last time he betrayed them. I also found it confusing that on one page, Dionysius is sitting in a blue pram and on the next he’s back in his usual hovercraft chair. Anyway, at least he promises more of a challenge than Naja Naja; I’m looking forward to him eventually revealing that he’s been using Bane to take down his enemies, and to the moment when he takes the upper hand with some unforeseen tactic.
Most of the series to date has taken place in dark rooms- namely, a prison, a bunker and an ex-Soviet apartment block fortress. As the action moves to Cannes and Dubai, Gregory Wright gets to use a brighter palette than usual this issue. Nolan’s art continues in the vein it’s been in throughout the series; wonderfully 90’s but not as polished as anything he produced during that decade. The panels remain large and, despite the occasionally cartoonish lack of detail (as in the frames above), it’s always clear what’s going on. The contrast of light and shadow is particularly effective in the action scenes (see below).
• You’ve read every Bane story and your hunger for more is as insatiable as his newfound love of conquest.
• You’ll settle for a less-than-stellar read for the sake of nostalgia.
• The plot isn’t too important to you; you just want to see Bane kick some ass.
Overall: If you’ve been reading Bane: Conquest, you know what to expect by now. The plot is often illogical and there’s no substance to it but there’s still some retro pleasure to be gained from this Michael Bay-esque cavalcade of explosions and brutality.