Bane: Conquest #9 is not all action, unlike several earlier issues of the series. Instead, it’s funny, gruesome and always extraordinary but readers should be warned that, despite its proximity to the series’ end, the plot doesn’t progress much. This is because issue #9 is (like issue #8 before it) a set-up issue designed to aid our understanding of the final chapters.
To clear up any potential confusion, ‘The Reaper: Part One’ is not a new story arc at all; it’s just a continuation of ‘The Serpent.’ Kobra has Bane on the ropes and now it’s time for him to fight back, but he’s not running in all guns blazing (yet). This issue at last acknowledges, in the words of Valentina, that ‘Bane is not a mindless brute’ –he’s finally making his own plans and that necessitates a period of preparation.
Consequently, issue #9 is like the first act of a heist movie. This stage doesn’t move the story forward much and could be summarised in a caption box, but that would rob the reader of the entertainment of seeing Bane recruit new characters to his cause. In issue #8, we were introduced to a series of plain criminals we’d never heard of before and they were abruptly murdered by a faceless cult; pages were wasted on events we had no connection to. Issue #9 has a similarly repetitive structure but this time we’re meeting a more memorable collection of characters in varied situations who will make a lasting impression on the plot; it’s actually essential for Dixon to spend pages on world-building, especially as the characters introduced aren’t the most famous in the DC Universe.
The motley crew Bane assembles includes King Faraday, DC Comics’ answer to James Bond. He first appeared in Danger Trail #1 in 1950, a series he headlined until it ended only 4 issues later. Since then, he’s appeared in the background of a fair few DC stories, most notably Darwyn Cooke’s ‘The New Frontier’ (a beautiful series which I highly recommend if you haven’t read it already). Also on the team are Gunhawk and Gunbunny who were invented by Dixon and Nolan themselves in 1994. In their first outing, they fought with Jean-Paul Valley’s Batman and exhibited a ridiculous love for their firearms. They turned up a few more times in the mid-90’s before fading into obscurity. Why did Bane choose Gunhawk instead of Deadshot? Both are mercenaries who specialise in sniping but Deadshot is universally acknowledged as the best. Well, my in-world solution would be that Bane’s funds were attacked recently so he needs to select the cheaper option. In terms of Dixon’s decision-making, I’d say it’s the same reason he reintroduced KGBeast last month; this is a series that celebrates comic nostalgia.
The above is a typical example of Nolan’s work during the planning scenes. Bane’s heavy brows and razor sharp cheekbones always successfully convey a sense of menace but I’m not sure why there are so many close-ups at odd angles like this (there’s even one that focuses almost entirely on his nose). Also, that lazy shading behind Bane is so scruffy, I would rather the background were just blank. I’ve also noticed something strange about the colours; if you contrast Bane: Conquest with the 90’s works it echoes like ‘Vengeance of Bane,’ it’s clear that a much more subtle palette is being used by Gregory Wright than that used by the likes of Adrienne Roy. The absence of these bright colours suggests realism but that’s not really appropriate in such an excessive series. This month, Nolan’s triumphs include a rooftop chase that flows organically from panel to panel and several mischievous comedic touches; the zoom out between the cover and page one is reminiscent of Watchmen and Doomsday Clock, Valentina appears to have stolen Jafar’s staff, there’s a scene in which a character casually sips his drink while a fight takes place around him, and is that a baby cult leader dressed as a snake?!
- You like the sound of a cheerful, brutal, jet-setting, team assembly montage in comic book form.
- You appreciate it when writers favour deep cuts from yesteryear over more popular characters.
- You’ve been waiting for Bane to take charge.
Overall: Bane: Conquest is always a shock to the system; it’s not the kind of complex work we’ve become accustomed to in comics from the likes of Scott Snyder and Tom King. Instead, it reminds me of a Jean-Claude Van Damme film (or even, given that it trades on readers’ nostalgia, DKIII: The Master Race). It’s an overblown joyride and doesn’t care what anyone thinks a story is supposed to be; if you enjoy it, you might call it a ‘guilty pleasure’ (though I personally don’t subscribe to the concept because I don’t think people should be embarrassed about the movies/books/music/shows they enjoy). DC is a large company that rightly appeals to a lot of different audiences and I suppose that, in the same way The Artist (2011) tried to cater to those who miss silent movies, Bane: Conquest represents an attempt to recreate a simpler time in comics for a niche readership. The only problem is that it doesn’t always live up to the older series it follows in the traditions of, which makes me wonder why I shouldn’t just go back and read those old comics instead.
Issue #9 is jarringly positioned as it feels like these events should have taken place at the beginning of the series and it ends so abruptly you’ll think there’s a page missing. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and lacks depth and progression so it breezes by; it’s entertaining but far from essential reading even if you’re enjoying this rather odd series.