A Fearsome Foe
The man who broke the bat.
In the 1990s, DC Comics debuted one of Batman’s most fearsome foes, a villain who would go down in fandom legend as the man who snapped Batman over his knee like one would crack a toothpick between their fingers. And fortunately for fans, Bane wasn’t just another thug in a mask who hated the Dark Knight Detective. As evidenced by this 64-page one-shot, Bane had layers to him--emotions that bled into his intentions.
How does a man reach the point where he wants to go after the Bat so decidedly and viciously as Bane? How does someone decide to best, break, and humiliate the Dark Knight Detective? Writer Chuck Dixon answers those questions, giving readers insight into the villain’s origins and his journey from boy to Bat-breaker.
"Batman: Vengeance of Bane" Details
"Batman: Vengeance of Bane" #1
Given my limited knowledge of Batman’s history and creators, I find myself with little evidence to back up my acknowledgment of Chuck Dixon as a writer. Having recently read through several Batman storylines he wrote or helped produce in the 90s, I feel like I can attest to his work from about a five-to-six-year period in time. Compared to other writers whose 90s work I’ve read, be they working for Marvel or DC, Dixon stands out in my mind as an incredibly competent writer.
Here, Dixon crafts Bane’s story with care, starting out with the tale of an infant born in Pena Duro prison on the fictional island of Santa Prisca, cursed to serve his insurgent father’s lifetime sentence. Dixon painstakingly outlines Bane’s life, first from birth to childhood, thrusting the unfortunate boy into a world of violence and depravity no child should have to face.
Even as I read with the knowledge of the villain Bane would become, I could not help but empathize with the character and his predicament. Dixon never raises the question of whether Bane becomes a superpowered criminal due to either his temperament or environment, but the evidence points to the prison lifestyle winning in the “nature vs. nurture” debate.
Exposed to violence at such a young age, the boy quickly adopts methods of his own, murdering an inmate who hurts him in a brawl. Coming out of a coma, Bane is encouraged by a vision he sees of a much older, much stronger version of himself to take vengeance on his torturer, earning himself ten years in solitary. Even with one murder under his belt, Bane still resonates with the reader emotionally, his cruel actions and leanings at war with his age and brutal circumstances.
Dixon creates an engagingly troubling and conflicting reading experience, challenging the reader to view Bane through several lenses--the boy, the young man, the murderer, and the man who fights and strives to survive his solitary confinement. Left to eat rats and fish and struggle against waves that fill his cell nightly, Bane survives his experience against all odds, continuing to condition his mind and body to become stronger and more brutal.
Empowered by his vision, Bane constantly strives towards physical and mental perfection, backed by a single goal: through his mental wanderings and dreams, Bane is haunted by a single image, a massive, monstrous bat that symbolizes his fear, a symbol he’s determined to kill.
Dixon implants this fear in Bane early on and refers to it enough that you believe it’s a viable goal for the man to seek out and destroy. Dixon never really answers what Bane’s “fear” is exactly, nor does he explain why Bane’s fear is personified in the form of a bat, meaning it ends up being quite coincidental with an American associate of his, a man named Bird who, not so surprisingly, works well with birds, tells Bane about Gotham City and its Caped Crusader: Batman.
Bane becomes fixated on this “Batman,” seeing him as the personification of his fear and obsessing over how to beat him. By doing so, Dixon plants the idea of Bane facing Batman deep into the villain’s mind and turns the character into someone deeper than your average costumed crook with plans of thievery, world domination, or mayhem.
Bane’s goal becomes deeply personal, etched into the core of his being, and from this moment on, Bane’s mission of physical and mental perfection takes a turn.
Pena Duro, as it happens, is running experiments on prisoners, pumping them full of an experimental drug known as “Venom,” similar to a super soldier serum like the one given to Steve Rogers over in Marvel Comics. Partially because of Bane’s physical prowess, but mostly because the once “model prisoner” has become a savage warrior capable of killing the prisoners, the warden submits Bane to the medical trials. Dixon hints that, much like with placing Bane in isolation, the warden believes Bane will not survive the procedure, cementing just how much the cruel man underestimates Bane’s determination.
Faking his own death, Bane returns to liberate his friends, murdering the warden before heading off to Gotham City. Empowered by the Venom, Bane seeks out Batman and, though he does not fight the Dark Knight Detective in their first face-to-face encounter, makes his intentions clear. In the final pages, Dixon works in some additional motivation, that by defeating Batman, Bane will not only overcome his darkest fears but rid Gotham of Batman’s “control” and take the city for himself.
This motivation is, sadly, introduced a bit too late to anchor itself into the character. Up until this point, Bane has been driven by personal vengeance or fear--killing the prisoner who threatened him, murdering the warden who mistreated him, desiring to kill Batman out of the fear rooted in his psyche. These motivations have turned Bane into a brutal warrior and tactician, someone who fights not to see injustices righted or crime rates soar but to see his worries eliminated and enemies crushed. “You don’t mess with Bane” is the message he’s putting forth. “Conquering Gotham” doesn’t seem to fit into that mindset, but the deeper I get into “Knightfall,” I hope to see that additional motivation bubble more frequently to the surface.
Other than some minor hiccups, Chuck Dixon crafts an incredibly well-written backstory for such a fierce opponent. Highly personal and deep, this one-shot is a near-perfect introduction to the man who will, one day, snap Batman’s back.
Vengeance of Bane showcases a child who becomes a man, whose environment takes a young boy born into misery and molds him thusly, whose enemies learn very quickly to fear him, and whose own fears drive a young man to confront one of DC’s greatest heroes in a conflict that will alter both of their lives forever.
© 2020 Nathan Kiehn