You may remember him from such storyarcs as Knightfall, AKA the time in the 90s when Batman had his back broken. Or perhaps you’ve seen his ominous muzzle wreaking havoc on a football field in the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises. However you’ve run across him, you know that Bane is one terrifying character. He also happens to be the villain Jeremiah Lawson puts under the microscope in this installment of his fascinating six-part series The Wounds of Discovery, which explores the psycho-spiritual foundations of Gotham City (and its illustrious super-community, particularly their animated iteration). To begin at the beginning, go here. The very beginning, go here:
PART FOUR: THE WOUNDS OF DISCOVERY
4. Ultimate Fighter, Ultimate Humiliation
I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. – Ecclesiastes 9:11
Where some villains, like the Riddler, attempt to match wits with the Dark Knight, others seek to overcome him with brute strength. Indeed, Batman has faced (and outwitted) more than his share of physically superior opponents, such as Killer Croc or Solomon Grundy. He has proven himself to be more than Gotham City’s greatest detective; he is its greatest fighter as well.
In the early 90s, with the Cold War firmly behind us, DC pulled a fast one by marketing the “death” of Superman at the hands of the monstrous (and heretofore unknown) Doomsday. Sales skyrocketed, so naturally, it wasn’t long before editors decided that Batman could benefit from a similar “event.” The character they came up with to “break the Bat” was the monosyllabic Bane. Given his somewhat contrived introduction, it’s a little surprising that, over the last twenty years, Bane become one of the Dark Knight’s most formidable foils, so much so that Christopher Nolan confirmed his significance by including him in 2012’s upcoming The Dark Knight Rises.
When Bane makes his first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series, however, he is not the criminal mastermind we know from the comics, who is both Batman’s mental equal and physical superior. Instead, Bane is working as a free-lance assassin for mob boss Rupert Thorne, hired to kill Batman. As Bane alternately charms Thorne’s assistant Candice and plots to destroy Batman, the Dark Knight works out that Bane was a man subjected to a super-soldier serum called Venom developed in something called Project Gilgamesh — and only Rupert Thorne would have the the kind of money to hire such a world-class villain.
Bane is, to be sure, a clever adversary. He takes Robin hostage and goads Batman into facing him in arena combat, proudly boasting over the phone to Batman, “Were I a common sniper you would never have answered the phone.” Bane considers himself an honorable warrior and as such, he must defeat Batman in single combat. As Candice confidently declares, “He was obsessed with you in prison. He knows you better than you know yourself.” Bruce is unimpressed.
During the inevitable battle, Batman discovers that his punches and kicks have no discernible effect on the drug-empowered assassin. He begins to throw objects at Bane and use weapons he normally avoids. After being attacked with wooden boxes and batarangs Bane sneers:
“Toys. You try to fight me with pathetic little toys. You’ve got nothing. Beg for mercy. Scream my name!”
Batman replies contemptuously, “Never.” Batman may be beaten but he will not beg for mercy from some self-impressed assassin. At this point Bane prepares to break the back of Batman per the iconic splash page from the comic book years earlier.
But that’s where the show takes a left turn from the comics. This is not simply because Batman: The Animated Series, being a children’s’ program, would not “go there.” This is because Bane does not realize the truth–Batman does not have “nothing”–he has the knowledge that Bane is only a threat because of the power he derives from a drug. And where there are drugs, there can be an overdose. After mocking Batman’s “pathetic little toys,” a pathetic little toy is exactly what Batman uses to force Bane to overdose on the source of his power. Once again the Batman mythology displays an uncanny understanding of idolatry (and addiction), of a person worshiping, out of pain or delusion (or both), the very thing that ends up killing you.
Bane begins to scream in madness and agony. Stunned by the “impossible,” he begs for help as his body mutates and contorts, before impotently shouting, “I am invincible! I am Bane!” Batman literally pulls the plug on this self-impressed thug dying of the source of his power, bringing the defeated assassin to Rupert Thorne and unmasking him. Now it is Batman’s turn to taunt. He asks Thorne with a sneer, “Is this really the best you can throw at me, Rupert?” Bane arrived in Gotham believing that by crushing Batman he would prove himself to be the ultimate fighter. Yet what he found was ultimate humiliation.
It would be impossible to discuss Bane in Batman: The Animated Series without noting that he only really appears once (the second time is in a nightmare). The next time Bane truly does battle with the Dynamic Duo is in the episode “Knight Time” from Superman: The Animated Series. Rather than concede that he was defeated by Batman previously because of his dependence on a drug, Bane believes that improving the drug will bring him victory.
Bane, happy to see Batman again, says, “…I feared you were gone forever, Batman. That would have meant I’d never feel your spine crumble in my hands.” He pumps himself up with the new and improved Venom and begins raining blows on the Dark Knight, finally burying Batman under a massive stone statue as he says with a smile, “I almost regret you are defenseless, Batman. After waiting so long for this day it was, sadly, too easy.”
Bane, of course, is unaware of what viewers of the episode have known from the start, that the man under the cape and cowl is not Bruce Wayne but Clark Kent, who has taken up Batman’s cowl temporarily to keep Gotham safe while he tries to figure out what has happened to the real Caped Crusader. Bane has not slain the Dark Knight – he has angered the Man of Steel! No human can defeat Superman, supernarcotic or not. Once again, Bane falls in battle, humiliated; once again he comes to Gotham, sure of gaining ultimate victory; and once again he suffers ultimate humiliation. The race is not to the swift nor victory to the strong but time and chance happen to them all.
Next up: Feet of Clay, Heart of Stone!