If you’ve been on board the Bane train for Conquest so far then you know by now that it’s a slow-moving, action-heavy series with little consideration for logic or characterisation. Issue #8 doesn’t cover much distance in terms of plot but if you’ve been enjoying this ride for the insanity and nostalgia, this could be for you.
To begin with, those colourful boasts on the cover are very retro! Comics these days continue to feature some kind of tagline but they’re usually pretty generic and understated compared to the kind we used to get.
The last promise on the cover of Bane: Conquest #8 rings a little hollow. Batman’s cameo lasts just one page and contains a grammatical error, a problem which the series has thus far avoided. However, as a Batman fan first and foremost, it’s exhilarating to see Bruce coming back into the story. Issue #2 of Bane: Conquest featured Batman and it was the best of the series so far (let’s not mention issue #3 in which Batman inexplicably flew away). Now he’s back and, though I’m not sure that global gang wars fall within his jurisdiction, I’m excited to find out what his stance will be on Bane vs. Kobra.
It’s a war that isn’t going well for Bane. An exorbitant five pages are given over to Kobra’s attacks on Bane’s previous conquests (of which we readers were confusingly unaware) this issue. This is frustrating as Kobra is not an interesting villain (though the sadistic and ambitious Valentina shows promise). I’d rather spend less time with Kobra and read in a caption what they’ve been up to. This issue reminds me of the beginning of an epic movie; the pieces are moving but it’s all set-up. It’s a very odd interruption to the series’ momentum this late in the game.
In fact, the whole ‘Serpent’ arc so far has been kind of redundant as no ground has been gained by Bane and his gang. I guess this is all a way of making their eventual victory more triumphant (as in countless movies; the first example that comes to mind is Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed in Rocky II). Bane’s determination is also highlighted by showing his comrades dejected (including Zombie, who is described as ‘broken’ but looks normal to me. Well, as normal as he gets). Though Bane may not be as cunning as previous incarnations (The version in ‘Vengeance of Bane’ describes himself as a ‘mental paragon’ yet he now defers to Dionysius for all things cerebral), he still exhibits the iron will we associate with his character. Check out his calm, steady gaze. He’s not frightened of Kobra in the least.
Dionysius’ computer screens show chess boards and a leader board of chess masters (Wesley So, Levon Aronian, etc.). Chess is a recurring image in the series and though it’s universally overused as a metaphor, it’s a good choice for Conquest. Though he hasn’t been mentally firing on all cylinders in the series so far, it’s clear that as he reaches the ‘middlegame,’ Bane will need to start thinking more strategically about his resources if he’s going to win his war against Kobra (I noticed this issue that he picks up the queen from his chessboard. Valentina is the principal thorn in his side; maybe he has plans for her?).
Whatever form Bane’s revenge takes, you can be sure that it will involve automatic gunfire and explosions; the retro feel is also evident in how analogue the action is. Thanks to the fact that this book isn’t preoccupied with technobabble or byzantine magic, it’s always clear what’s going on (the read is made even easier due to Nolan’s large panels and sharply defined figures).
The retro ride doesn’t stop there: Bane’s plans begin with the recruitment of KGBeast! The Beast is very much a throwback to the cold war and hasn’t been used with much frequency since the Berlin Wall fell. It’s fun for writers to root around in the DC toybox for an underused character (though he did appear recently in All-Star Batman) and he does fit the tone of the story well; he’s all about military and physical strength. I guess in some ways he was supplanted when Bane was invented. If you’re not already aware, Anatoli Knyazev lost his hand in an early encounter with the caped crusader in Batman #419; he cut it off himself to escape custody and ever since then, he’s replaced it with a big gun. In Bane’s second stint in prison in ‘Vengeance of Bane’, he fought with the Beast twice (Bane lost the first time and won the second time) so this is likely to be a fragile alliance. Then again, Catwoman didn’t even recognise Bane in this series so continuity may be out the window here as well.
There are several lovely panels in this issue, courtesy of Graham Nolan. The underside of a van is shown in impressive detail and there’s a good close-up of Valentina in which her deviousness shines through. I’d never noticed before how cinematic Nolan’s work is; the scene that takes place in the Batcave makes it abundantly clear who’s speaking before we see either Bruce or Alfred and similarly, we are given establishing shots in Burma and Mexico before the ‘camera’ zooms in. I would have liked Blüdhaven to be less of a bland overpass and more like it’s flashy, current manifestation in the pages of Nightwing though.
• You’d like to see more of Valentina and her sweet hover bike.
• You want to see Bane beaten but determined.
• You want to pretend it’s still 1994.
Overall: It’s interesting to see Bane ground down and finally making his own plans; this could be the turning point of the series. However, this issue’s function is just to set up Bane’s resurgence later on so if you’re reading Bane: Conquest but skipping some issues, this is one you can afford to skip. The story hasn’t progressed much in the last couple of issues, which is a shame when Dixon only has twelve at his disposal.