Throughout the history of entertainment, mankind has seen their favorite characters told again and again through different voices, different media, and different times. Such stories as Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, and Wizard of Oz are great examples of how these characters have been interpreted for more than a century. In particular, Batman, and his gallery of foes, have probably seen the most iterations out of any character in human history.
The irony of it all is that while Batman remains (relatively) unchanged, his foes can vary wildly. In some universes, Poison Ivy is an ordinary person and in others she has supernatural powers. Oswald Cobblepot is a rich underworld boss or a poor thief and Killer Croc’s disease ranges from mild to severe. These changes neatly reflect each incarnation’s universe whether they be realistic (Christopher Nolan), goofy (Adam West), or ridiculous (Gotham).
As such, I wanted to explore these different facets of the same character and understand their transformation throughout the years. What has stayed the same and what has changed. What makes that character who they are and ultimately which is the best incarnation? With so many versions, I decided to just stick to the ones that I could readily access and were featured prominently in their respective media.
For my first character, let’s explore the man that broke the Bat.
Despite being a relatively new foe (~25 years), Bane quickly found himself in Batman’s top rogues gallery since his debut in the infamous comic, Knightfall. In this comic, Bane had systematically broke both Batman’s spirit and spine in a long series of issues that led to a climatic battle in the Batcave. If there was a Top 20 moments in Batman’s history, this would surely be in there.
The thing is, Bane has something that few of Batman’s enemies can bolster, mainly, a high intelligence matched with brute strength and an uncomfortable calmness. And I would be reprimanded if I didn’t talk about Venom. Bane’s Venom probably attracts a lot of fans to this character as it makes him all the more menacing to the point of ridiculous. Even without Venom, Bane is an incredible foe and can (almost) match Batman in hand-to-hand combat.
Unfortunately, after Knightfall, Bane had reached his apogee. From there, Batman recovered, triumphed over Bane and Bane went into hiding, never achieving his former glory again.
Unlike Batman’s other foes, I honestly think the best Bane incarnation is his first one in Knightfall. Everything that makes Bane great was spelled out magnificently in those comic pages. From there, other creators have only tweaked, and sometimes downgraded, Bane into a shadow of his former self. There has yet to be, to my knowledge, a major character upheaval similar to Two-Face or Mr. Freeze. As such, any new interpretation of Bane harkens back to this Knightfall which leaves Bane’s character evolution almost stagnant.
The Tried and True Dance
One overarching theme between the many incarnations of Bane and Batman is the formulaic dance of Bane beating Batman then Batman making a triumphant return and defeating Bane. During these bouts, Bane would comment on breaking Batman’s spirit or back but never succeeding in either of those. These can be seen in the Animated Series (tAS) and The Batman (TB). In the Dark Knight Rises (DKR), Bane actually does succeed in both of his boasts making the DKR version one of the most effective Banes to date.
Some interpretations acknowledge that Bane had once broken the Batman’s back and that he will do it again. This can seen in the Arkham video game series and Justice League: Doom. I like both of these incarnations as they retain Bane’s competence and his fighting skill perfectly. Doom was particularly brutal as he threw Bruce Wayne into his parents’ coffin and buried him beneath it. That’s savage but man that pissed the hell out of Bruce.
Bane, unlike many Batman villains, can successfully pull off a threatening . Although some interpretations drop the ball on this (Batman and Robin mainly), there are a few that outright nail it. The two best ones, not counting Knightfall, would be DKR and tAS. Dark Knight Rises Bane is menacing from the getgo as he hijacks a plane in one of the most awesome heists in film history. He breaks Batman, isolates Gotham from the rest of the U.S., and has his own army. This makes Batman’s victory over him that more triumphant.
The second incarnation of the Animated Series also brought a more menacing Bane, replacing his luchador mask with a gimp mask that strangely works. Truth be told, I don’t know what to think about this Bane as his major appearance in the second Animated Series was in Barbara Gordon’s dream. Nonetheless, this Bane is sooo great as he basically kills Batman and James Gordon even when he’s Venom-deprived. This was one of the best episodes in the series and it doesn’t hurt that his voice is so kickass too.
With such a ferocious juggernaut, Batman would have to defeat his opponent through cleverness instead of brute strength. Most of the time, this involves messing with Bane’s Venom system by either overdose or cold turkey. Batman usually solves this with his batarangs (though in Batman and Robin they just simply kick the tubes out). This can be seen in Arkham, tAS, and Doom. The Batman, however, finds a different solution via the Batbot, a giant Batman robot which Bruce pilots. Though Bane has the upperhand for most of the fight, Batman wins by electrocuting Bane’s Venom supply which malfunctions him back to his original state. Since Bane in the DKR doesn’t have Venom tubes, Batman defeats him on sheer dominance rather than strategy.
The Worst Interpretations
I think most of everyone would agree that the worst Bane interpretation is in Batman and Robin. Before I divulge my reasons why, let’s count off the five things that define Knightfall Bane. First off, Bane is a strong, highly skilled fighter which Venom (second) enhances. Third, Bane is intelligent and even cunningly smart. Fourth, he’s from the Caribbean. Fifth, his tranquility focuses his strength and mind to be an effective strategist and fighter.
Batman and Robin’s Bane fits just two of those (Venom and Caribbean) while everything else is thrown aside. There’s no intelligence or acumen and he’s just a lackey to Poison Ivy. Hardly a criminal mastermind. All he does is just grunts and moans. Never really contributing the plot and never instilling the same sense of fear that Knightfall Bane imposed.
I would say the second worst interpretation I’ve seen is TB version as although this Bane is from the Caribbean and is a decent fighter without Venom, he lacks the intelligence (again) to take down Gotham once he defeats Batman. All he does after his first fight is smash cars and cause havoc. Bane in this version is also a one-man-show as he basically shows up for one episode (and that’s the second episode of the first season) and that’s pretty much it besides a few cameos.
The Best Interpretations
Obviously besides the Knightfall version, there are two Banes I appreciate. The DKR version is great as it retains all the characteristics of Knightfall with the slight exception to the modified Venom (although it works rather well). I love this Bane, he has a kick ass voice, great style, and actually broke Batman’s back and spirit and that was awesome. He brought Gotham to its knees and ruled the city with an iron fist. This is a fantastic Bane and truth be told, this would be my favorite Bane had it not been for one conversation I had with a friend several years ago. After I praised Bane in DKR, my friend commented how she thought Bane was a rather weak character after it was revealed that he was just serving Taliah Al Ghul. Bane wasn’t the mastermind, she was. After the reveal, and after Batman gets his shit together, Bane becomes a stepping stone to the grand finale and loses all his composure and intimidation. Ooooh, I dislike this. Bane should be an intelligent crime lord yet he’s just a façade in the movie! Regardless, Bane is still a memorable antagonist and one of the best in comic book film history.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Secret Six Bane. Secret Six is canon with Knightfall so we see a Bane that’s both similar, and not, to that version. One thing that I respect about this Bane is him swearing off Venom despite losing his superhuman strength. Unfortunately, this makes Bane a prime punching bag which makes him somewhat of a joke but he does have some badass moments in the comic. This Bane is probably the most chill out of all the Banes as he’s stoic, kind, and can be a source of humor at times. Probably the best thing about this Bane is his fatherly love and affection for Scandal Savage which at first was played for laughs but then developed into an actual effect on the storyline.
This Bane also shows his obsession for Batman which harkens back to Knightfall. In Knightfall, child Bane develops a fear of bats which soon transforms into a lust to defeat Batman. After Batman defeats Bane, this lust morphs into an addiction to conquer Batman. In Secret Six, after Bane breaks his vow and temporarily uses Venom to save Scandal, we see from Bane’s Venom view that everyone looks like Batman and that his rage drives him to kill the Dark Knight.
As such, what Secret Six does, which no other interpretation even come close to, is respecting Bane not in the form of strength but in mind. His dual addictions to Venom and Batman are what both fuels and hamper him while his tranquil, intelligent mind is at odds with both. Perhaps future Banes should take note from Secret Six and transform Bane further into a man fighting addiction. To further complex a man that people simplify to his Venom gimmick. This was actually touched on in, of all things, Batman Beyond, where an elderly Bane is confined to a hospital bed where he’s given a steady dose of Venom to keep him alive. His addiction has become an outright necessity that without it he’d be dead. This is what I’m talking about! Someone needs to take this concept and run with it. Bane is on the verge of a rebirth, we just need a push from a Bruce Tim or a Christopher Nolan creator to make that happen.
What about you folks? Which is your favorite Bane interpretation? Any Banes I missed that you think I should check out? Let me know in the comments!