It’s the finale of Bane: Conquest and, true to form, it’s an explosive ride with plenty of action and an unsatisfying ‘story’ tacked on.

It’s over a year since the series began and I’m still not sure what it’s all about. At a dramatic moment in issue #12, Bane screams that he will ‘stand as a colossus over an empire of crime!’ but we still don’t know why. What is Bane’s motivation for conquest and why did Dixon want to tell this particular tale? Bane’s original attacks on Gotham were driven by a need to face Batman, not a desire for world domination. The only evidence we’ve been given in Conquest is Bane’s decision in issue #1 to keep shipments of weapons out of ‘his’ Gotham (which is also confusing because in most continuities, he lives in Peña Duro). It feels like that’s been forgotten and the story has become a lot more muddled since then.

Briefly at the beginning of issue #12, I felt like the return of Gotham’s favourite son might steer the book towards an ending that made sense. The dark knight swoops in theatrically on the third page and almost every scene he appears in from there on is improved by the presence of a character that actually knows what he’s doing there. It’s a shame this is only the third issue of the series to feature Batman prominently because Dixon writes him well.

After almost twenty pages of conflict, the actual ending arrives very abruptly, with several loose ends left hanging, which shouldn’t be a surprise given that this was a series focussed more on style than substance. I’ll go into more detail in the spoiler tag.

Spoiler

In the midst of the battle, Steppenwolf, the ultimate non-sequitur, arrives and saves Bane’s gang! Meanwhile, Bane and Batman deliver the Naja Naja to an orphanage…and that’s it! We get no insight into how Bane feels about this or his failed overthrow of the criminal underworld (I never expected Bane to succeed in his conquest but I didn’t expect the whole point of the series to be neglected at the very end either). None of the characters changed over the course of the story and nobody important died. Even Valentina, the villain of the series, survived! The principle upshot of issue #12 was the successful rescue of the Naja Naja, which would be satisfying if this were a Batman story because that was his goal – but it’s not.

Valentina’s survival, the team’s escape (presumably to Apokolips?) and the nuns discovering a scar on the Naja Naja’s back indicate to me that the story isn’t over. This disappoints me for two reasons: 1. Dixon may be planning a sequel, a crime which no reader deserves, and 2. As a general rule, a writer should not tease a future project at the expense of the story they’re currently telling.

A few more things that drew my attention this issue:

  • Bird calls Knyazev ‘KFCBeast’! Body-shaming isn’t cool, even among villains, but this totally cracked me up!
  • There’s still no explanation for the Beast’s left hand reappearing for a few issues then disappearing again.
  • Valentina’s mech interface is a template from a prominent stock imagery website!
  • The orphanage is named for Saint Dismas, the biblical Penitent Thief; appropriate for a story featuring Bane committing a noble act.

This is probably my least favourite page in this issue, despite the fact it features Batman climbing into a tank. Bane’s twisted pose in the third frame is bizarre and the picture that opens the page doesn’t really look like anything; I only know it’s a Batarang damaging Valentina’s exoskeleton from paying close attention to the panels preceding and following it.

I much prefer the image below. Nolan has given himself adequate space so it’s a clear picture. It may suffer from the usual sparse background problem, but Bane himself is detailed and the source of light is both apparent and well-chosen for emphasizing his fearsome pose (speaking of which, I absolutely love the brute strength showcase that is the cover to issue #12; it’s perhaps Nolan’s best work this year).

The artwork’s theme of nostalgia continues in this issue; Wright’s colours are brighter than usual, Batman’s submarine looks like a 1960’s design and the caped crusader’s face is shadowed black-on-blue as it was from the 1940’s to the 1970’s.

Recommended if:

  • You hate complete resolutions in comics; after all, life goes on.
  • You’ve been waiting for Batman to show up again.
  • You like surprising, action-packed endings.

Overall: A frenetic, unfulfilling finale to a daft series. There’s a niche market for mindless action that might lap this series up but I’d advise anyone else to steer clear.

SCORE: 5/10