Sunday, August 18, 2013

What Happened to the Smartest, Biggest and Scariest?

This latest installment of Batman Villains is going to be all about nostalgia.

Most of the time, I complain about squandered opportunities back in the day to make villains more than two dimensional crooks with a theme, and celebrate the recent adaptations, and reimaginings that have revived characters like the Joker, Mr. Freeze, and the Mad Hatter. But, there is at least one character that has gone the other direction.

What happened to Bane?
In 1993, Bane makes his debut in the Knightfall story arc. Created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan, Bane was supposed to be both a physically imposing villain, and an intelligent criminal mastermind, influenced heavily by the famous Doc Savage character of 1930's pulp. Bane's character is made famous in Knightfall for physically crippling Batman, breaking his back after besting him in hand to hand combat. This is definitely one of the most iconic images in Batman history, right up there with the death of Jason Todd, young Bruce Wayne left with his dead parents, and the cover to Batman #9.

 Technically, the character was created specifically for Knightfall. He was created for one purpose, to be an unstoppable force bent on destoying the Batman. Knightfall touched off a seemingly continuous list of Batman stories featuring villains whose only prupose and goal is to destroy Batman. One storyline where the villain has this obsession is great and iconic. But after Bane, and Hush, and the Black Glove, and the Court of Owls, and even older villains like the Joker and Ra's al Ghul following similar plots, the idea gets stale and boring. What happened to criminals doing criminal things for their own ends, and the Batman needing to stop them? At a certain point after Knightfall, Batman stopped needing to go out and fight crime, he just had to wait around (and not very long) for villains to find him.

Bane doesn't die and disappear after his initial storyarc. After his initial appearance, and the Knightfall arc, Bane makes one more appearance as a villain, manipulated by Ra's Al Ghul and his daughter Talia. This time Batman defeats him and sends him out of Gotham. After this, Bane's publication history takes a nose dive, and he begins to turn into an anti-hero, waging personal wars on other villains for getting in his way, like Ra's Al Ghul's League of Assassins, and recently, the Court of Owls. He teams up with Batman constantly.

His continued appearances sparked an interest in his back story, naturally. Which lead to a revelation and story arc concerning his father.  I've said this before, characters with murky mysterious back stories should be left alone. Part of the awesomeness of characters like the Wolverine and the Joker is not knowing where they come from. Once you lift that curtain, they become less mythic and more commonplace. Bane's father was revealed as King Snake, a primary antagonist of Robin, the boy wonder, not exactly an A-lister.

Furthermore, Bane has been cast in other media as more of a drug induced bruiser, and less of the intelligent master criminal. This happened most famously in the Joel Shumacher craptastic film Batman and Robin. The reputation of the character hasn't fully recovered.

unfortunately, this actually happened
Bane appears in the Batman Arkham games from Rocksteady, and comes off as just another muscle-bound brute with an addiction, manipulated by smarter evil geniuses. Christopher Nolan tried to ressurrect the character in Dark Knight Rises. At first it appears that Nolan has used the original Knightfall premise for this Bane character. But later, it is revealed that Bane is primarily a puppet for Talia Al Ghul and her new league of assassins, basically no more than a scary visage and brutal muscle, like the Bane that appears in the Legacy story arc.

Bane could be, and probably should be, one of Batman's main villains, continuously making trouble in Gotham, sometimes succeeding. Like the Joker and Ra's Al Ghul, Bane ought to be a challenge each time he shows up. Instead, he's been relegated to the B-list bench, along with the Riddler, Two Face, and the Penguin. Bane was created to be a main adversary, and hasn't received the respect he deserves.
so very very close

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