Wednesday, February 13, 2013

BATMAN: VENGEANCE OF BANE - January 1993


Vengeance of Bane
Credits:  Chuck Dixon (writer), Graham Nolan (penciler), Eduardo Barreto (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  In the Caribbean republic of Santa Prisca, a young boy is imprisoned for the crimes of his father.  After his mother dies, the six-year-old is sent to live with the general population.  He’s knocked off a railing by two fighting inmates and has a near-death experience.  He sees a vision of himself as an adult, and of a giant bat that he’s told represents fear.  After the boy kills his first man, the guards name him “Bane.”  Over the years, Bane is hardened by prison life, and eventually subjected to an experiment with the drug Venom.  After Bane fakes his death, he returns to prison and demands the warden release his three allies, Trogg, Bird, and Zombie.  American native Bird leads them to Gotham City, where Bane declares that he will destroy Batman and rule the city.  Bane arranges a confrontation with Batman, but refuses to battle him until he fully understands his opponent.

Irrelevant Continuity:  The nation of Santa Prisca and the steroid-like drug Venom were previously created by Batman editor Denny O’Neil.  The original Venom storyline ran in Legends of the Dark Knight #16-20, and Santa Prisca goes back to his run on The Question.  Bane is able to continue to feed himself Venom thanks to Zombie’s skills as a chemist and Trogg’s training as an electrician.  They create a device that pumps Venom directly into his brain.

Dramatic Exits:  Batman abruptly leaves the alleys outside of the home of Bane’s first target in Gotham, Jimmy “No-Nose” Novak, while Commissioner Gordon is trying to explain the case to him.

Creative Differences:  DC officially credits Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, and Doug Moench as the creators of Bane.  Dixon has always been adamant that Moench had nothing to do with Bane’s creation, however, and was simply in the room when the concept was being discussed.

I Love the ‘90s:  Bird has a mullet that will grow to more ridiculous lengths as the storyline progresses.

Review:  As the Superman creative teams were developing Doomsday as the monstrous plot device required to kill the hero, the Batman office was looking for another new, undefeatable menace to play a pivotal role in the Batman titles during the early ‘90s.  Doomsday was obviously a mindless simpleton created solely to kill Superman, and while the “Death of Superman” comics sold extremely well, many fans were loudly complaining that Doomsday was an outright lame character to be given such a high-profile event.  Bane could be viewed as an inverse to the sheer phoniness of Doomsday; a character intended to be compelling in his own right outside of the massive crossover event.  (Some people have speculated that the entire “Knightfall” event was a response to “Death of Superman,” but the creators swear that the two storylines were planned simultaneously, with both offices ignorant of what the other was doing.)

Yes, Bane’s outrageously strong and twice Batman’s size, but he’s also a brilliant strategist, one that’s going to break Batman down mentally and emotionally before he even lays a finger on him.  Like Batman, he’s a self-made man with his own set of daddy issues, but with no moral guidance to turn him away from the darkness.  And all of this works very well as the basis of the character.  However, he’s still a juicehead in a tank top and luchadore mask.  All of the scenes of Bane reading stacks of books or meticulously plotting his overthrow of the Gotham gangs are meaningless as soon as a Hollywood producer or hungry freelancer too lazy to do research looks at him and says, “Okay, big guy.  He’ll be the villain’s henchman.”  (Batman: The Animated Series at least made him a hitman rather than a mindless flunky, but still chose to downplay his intelligence.)  Bane doesn’t get a proper appearance in any of the media adaptations until The Dark Knight Rises, and even then his visual is simplified to “Guy in Weird Mask,” a look that makes him almost unrecognizable.  As for the comics, it seems as if no one has known what to do with him since the massive “Knightfall” event ended.

As a first appearance already commercially conceived to be “Important” this reads remarkably well.  Bane’s origin is about as brutal as a mainstream DC comic could get at the time, without coming across as needlessly sadistic.  Bane as the apex of physical and mental conditioning (before he even receives the Venom) has been compared by many to various pulp origins, but it reminds me of the characters Larry Hama often created in G. I. Joe.  The prison setting works perfectly to make Bane’s lifelong obsession with masculinity and dominance believable, and it creates a nice contrast to Batman’s expensive, global training as a youth.  

This comic was published in 1992, so naturally there are elements that probably wouldn’t make it out of DC today.  Most notably, Bane’s three allies:  Bird (presumably inspired by The Birdman of Alcatraz, he’s a crook from Gotham with an unexplained influence over birds), Zombie (a former pharmaceutical employee who witnessed Bane’s birth in prison; his name has no obvious relevance), and Trogg (he looks like a caveman…get it?)  I personally don’t have a problem with the characters; this is a franchise with recurring villains like the Mad Hatter and Calendar Man, after all, but it’s hard to imagine DC allowing villains that aren’t 100% deadly serious to be featured in such an important issue today.  While DC tries to recreate events like “Knightfall” every month now, they seem to have forgotten that it was acceptable to feature villains that weren’t cold-blooded serial killers during the original big event storylines.  And the slow-burn was okay, too, as this is merely the beginning of a storyline that takes years to reach a natural conclusion.  I can’t imagine an event this massive making it to its end without at least one line-wide reality reboot disrupting it today. 

12 comments:

thinkingcog said...

Dixon has said that the Henchman were named after 3 60s bands as well, The Zombies, the Byrds and the Troggs but I'm assuming you may already know that but on the off chance you don't I thought, I'd mention it.

Also just want to say how happy I am, that you're going to cover this. Aside from Emerald Twilight, would you actually consider doing the Death of Superman, World without, Reign etc.?

Chris Buehrer said...

i always thought bane had a kind of Doc Savage vibe to him. He's got his band of super-smart henchmen/followers and he's trained to peak condition.

Chris Buehrer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G. Kendall said...

"Dixon has said that the Henchman were named after 3 60s bands as well, The Zombies, the Byrds and the Troggs but I'm assuming you may already know that but on the off chance you don't I thought, I'd mention it."

I read this for the first time a few months ago. Since I had never heard of the Troggs, I wouldn't have made that connection on my own.

"Also just want to say how happy I am, that you're going to cover this. Aside from Emerald Twilight, would you actually consider doing the Death of Superman, World without, Reign etc.?"

It's possible.

Tim O'Neil said...

But I think you alluded to something a bit more tantalizing - GI Joe. I just read the whole run last year for the first time and was pretty floored by how good it was in places, and how strange in others.

Anonymous said...

Not that I think it will have any bearing on your decision, but I also second Emerald Twilight and Death of Superman :)

Matt said...

Hmm, I had no idea Santa Prisca and Venom existed before Bane. But I was never a DC reader in my youth. I knew the broad strokes, but very few of the specifics, preferring to get my DC fix from cartoons.

So I've never read "Knightfall", "Death of Superman", or "Emerald Twilight". I'd love to see you review either or both of those after "Knightfall" has run its course!

Teebore said...

I have always appreciated how much effort went into making Bane a logical foe for Batman, one who really functioned as his dark mirror. The motivation to target Batman so intensely and specifically is a bit flimsy, but once you get past that, he works really well as a villain.

I also like the slow build the creators gave Bane, even before Knightfall started. They aren't included in the recent trade paperback, but I'm pretty sure there were at least a few issues between Vengeance of Bane and the kickoff of "Knightfall" that had Bane hanging around in the background, interacting with some of the regular villains, etc.

Dixon has always been adamant that Moench had nothing to do with Bane’s creation, however, and was simply in the room when the concept was being discussed.

I did not know that. How odd to hear, for a change, of a comic company possibly giving TOO MUCH credit to a creator. I assume that means Moench got a cut of TDKR? From what I understand, the royalty arrangements for Bane accounted for stuff like that.

As for the comics, it seems as if no one has known what to do with him since the massive “Knightfall” event ended.

I really enjoyed what Gail Simone did with him in Secret Six. Much better than the short-lived "Bane is Batman's half brother" story from Gotham Knights (which, granted, was written from the beginning with the intention of ultimately revealing Bane and Batman aren't related, but still).

For what it's worth, I fourth (?) the desire to see you cover the other big DC shake 'em up events from the 90s after this. Or GI Joe, though I have grandiose hopes of maybe writing about that series myself someday, so hold off on that one for a bit. :)

Scott Church said...

This Vengeance of Bane issue is sort of like the Thanos Quest issues that came out before the Infinity Gauntlet.

No one at the time knew that this issue or the Azrael 1-4 would be the intro to characters that would define Batman for a few years. This because really hard to find and highly valuable according to Wizard at the time.

I always enjoyed this Batman story line so much for than Death of Superman. Superman to me is a such a boring character and the way he came back still doesn't make total sense to me. The same sort of way a guy with a broken spine can walk again doesn't make sense but Batman as a Character is just so much cooler to me.

I loved this story line and still do to this day. Looking back at Death of Superman, it doesn't hold up.

I think in general any Batman book is going to hold up against almost any other character because of how great the mythos is of Batman.

Anonymous said...

@ Scott

Really? I'd say death of Superman actually holds up better. I love the idea of it not really being a story about Superman dying and returning, but it's more a story of Superman's limits, what the world would do without him, and why the world needs him. Plus the art's a bit more consistent, and I'd say it's paced much better/faster.

The main, and perhaps only, problem with Knightfall is that it drags too long in the middle. I have a friend who doesn't read a lot of comics, but he's a big Batman fan and wanted some Batman comics to read. I gave him volume 1 and he said he read the whole thing in like two days. I gave him volume 2 and even after two months he hadn't even made it halfway through, that's how much it slowed down. DaRoS doesn't have the space w/i the story to slow down - you get a long fight with DD that us pretty epic whether or not you like either character (perhaps one of the best fights in American comics, the only one I've seen that comes close to matching the intensity of a manga like DBZ), plus a lot of work was put into the actual craft of the final four issues of the fight (every page of the last issue is a splash page, every page of the second to last has two panels, third to last has three panels on every page, etc.) to make the reader feel the escalation of the fight on a subconscious level.

The whole thing really is brilliant, but people seem to get too caught up in the fact that it came from the 90s and/or the sadly common hate a lot of people have for Supes hate (I had a friend of mine who said this is the only Superman story he would read because he hates the character so much).

Adam Farrar said...

I'll add my support to the Death/Return of Superman as that leads into Emerald Twilight.

And The Troggs may not be as famous as the others but everyone's heard their biggest hit, which has been covered endlessly, "Wild Thing."

Anonymous said...

I just re-read this issue following the reading of this review. (I also read the whole Knightfall story while I was at it.) On page 48, Batman is beating up some henchmen who look surprisingly like Larry, Curly and Moe. Never noticed that before. (This is obviously not the only Stooges reference that shows up in this storyline.)

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