Well here we are: a week away from The Dark Knight Rises. It still seems vaguely unreal that Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga is coming to an end, try as we might to remind ourselves that all good things must. No doubt we’ll be discussing the influence of this trilogy for years to come, but one effect of its conclusion’s release is readily apparent: we all started caring about Bane again.
More so than any other comic book villain, Bane is defined by a single event. That’s not an entirely bad thing, the breaking of Batman’s back ranks with the murder of Jason Todd as one of the Dark Knight’s greatest defeats, but since then the character sort of fell off of the rogues gallery A-List. At least, until Mr. Nolan came along. Now seems as good time as any to revisit the series that introduced us to Bane, Knightfall: Volume One.
Quick recap. In the first issue we meet Bane, who was born and raised in a brutal prison on the small island nation of Santa Prisca. During his years in detention he trains his mind and body to their peak, driven by an obsession with defeating The Batman. After escaping Santa Prisca with a group of devoted followers Bane travels to Gotham City, frees all the inmates of Arkham Asylum, waits for Batman to wear himself down to his breaking point capturing the escaped supervillains, and finally confronts him at Wayne Manor and breaks his spine. Wayne, now paralyzed, bequeaths the mantle of the bat to his apprentice Jean-Paul Valley but tension soon forms between Robin and the new Batman.
It’s pretty good. Not great, but prett-ay darn good. The volume is divided into two parts with the first focusing on Bane’s plot against Batman and the second on the rise of Jean-Paul Valley; the first part is far better than the second. Jean-Paul Valley is not a particularly interesting character, and his conflicts with Tim Drake over the brutality of his tactics get a bit repetitive. Needless repetition plagues the first part as well; Batman’s physical and mental abilities may waver as the battles take their toll, but his ability to remind the audience of this fact never seems to. It’s obnoxious, but easily forgivable given the quality of part one.
Much of Knightfall showcases Batman’s grapples against the different escaped supervillains, and these are fun, but the series really comes alive when it focuses on the conflict between Bane and Batman. Batman is genuinely frightened by Bane, and feels resigned to defeat far before he even realizes how frightened he should be. Each page builds upon this sense of creeping despair; that’s not to say the book isn’t fun—it is! Within its pages are more than a fair share of japes and jaunts. But this is Batman comics at their most fatalistic.
Which brings us back to Nolan. After reading Knightfall it’s easy to see why he chose Bane as the final foe for his Dark Knight. The theme of ascendance into legend that dominates Batman Begins is key to the character of Bane. We’re excited to see what Nolan keeps and what he drops from the Knightfall’s characterization of Bane (that luchador mask has thankfully been left by the wayside). Really, with The Dark Knight Rises less than a week away, its hard not to just be excited about everything.
What Batman comics are you reading to prepare for The Dark Knight Rises?