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The Adventures of Batman & Robin – Bane (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

I figured that, with The Dark Knight Rises being released this week, it was worth taking a look at another portrayal of the film’s villain, Bane. While the character appeared in the dire Batman & Robin, he also featured in an episode of The Adventures of Batman & Robin, the rebranded Batman: The Animated Series. While the portrayal of the villain is undoubtedly much better here than in that awful Joel Schumacher film, there’s still a lot of room for improvement, and a sense that the writers and producers weren’t entirely sure what to do with the character.

No Bane, no gain!

Bane first appeared in comics in 1993, in the lead-up to the massive Batman event Knightfall. This episode, Bane, aired in 1994. That’s a pretty rapid turn around for a new character, even one who was playing a fairly significant role in the comics. I’ve heard that Bruce Timm and Paul Dini were initially reluctant to use the character, describing him as “gimmicky.” In fact, the character would go on to have a few small appearances scattered throughout the rest of the DC animated shows, appearing in an episode of The New Batman Adventures, Superman: The Animated Series and even Batman Beyond in relatively small roles.

He was never a key player, and he never had the type of character arc the show reserved for second stringers like the Ventriloquist or Clayface or Mr. Freeze. He was just sort of there when they needed a big and muscular villain. I can’t help but wonder if his appearance here was forced on the show, as an attempt to popularise on a villain who had made huge waves in the comics. I can imagine a studio executive (or several) keen to transition that success to the animated show, even if the producers weren’t especially mad about the character.

“Chicks dig the mask…”

To be fair to Timm and Dini, if what I heard was true, Bane is a gimmick. He’s a plot device even within the context of Knightfall, his first and most important appearance. Writers like Gail Simone have developed him from there, but he was originally invented to serve one plot function and one plot function only: he was created to break Batman. That’s pretty much the character’s point in Knightfall, and once he’s done that he sort of drifts out of the story arc. The climactic confrontation of Knightfall doesn’t even involve Bane, as Bane is fairly easily handled by Bruce Wayne’s successor in the cowl.

I’d agree with Chris Sims that Bane serves as an effective mirror to Bruce Wayne and Batman in his own right, and is perhaps the most effective direct “mirror” character in the Batman mythos, but this episode was written in 1994, when the character was definitively associated with one moment, and one moment only. (Indeed, he’s still associated with that moment, but to a relatively lesser degree than he was back when he was created.)

“Bane, do you like movies about gladiators?”

There’s a sense that The Adventures of Batman & Robin knows this about the character. They keep making fairly overt references to Bane’s defining moment. “I will break him,” Bane boasts about Batman. Later on, he repeats the boast to Batman himself, taking lumps out of the scenery as he does so. “I will break you!” At one point, he dangles Batman over his head in that iconic pose, ready to bring the Caped Crusader crashing down. Even Killer Croc gets in on the act, threatening that Bane will “snap [Batman] in two.”

The problem is, of course, that Bane doesn’t. Because he can’t. Batman: The Animated Series was an astonishingly mature show, notorious for sneaking subversive and dark messages past the network guardians, but the show lost its way for a bit when rebranded The Adventures of Batman & Robin. I hate that theme song, and the stories seemed a bit watered down. Even had the show been at its height, it’s fun to imagine Timm and Dini trying to sneak Bane breaking the hero’s back into an animated television show. It’s not the producers’ fault, but it does limit what they can and can’t do with Bane.

Bane’s on top of the situation…

And, even outside of that, there’s a sense that they have a bit of a hard time getting a read on the character outside of that moment. We do get a few nods to his comic book back story, but the focus and emphasis feel all wrong. He was a prison experiment who escaped, but the show doesn’t mention if he spent his life in prison. More than that, though the show kinda sorta hints on Bane’s fixation with Batman, but tries to have it both ways by making him a soldier of fortune.

Part of what made Bane so scary in the comics was that devotion to opposing the idea of Batman – growing up in darkness and travelling around the world specifically to destroyBatman. Not doing it for money or power, but those things might come with it by chance. Doing it because he objected to Batman as a symbol. He wanted to prove that Batman, as a symbol, could be crushed and broken.

Those weren’t the ‘roids he’s looking for!

There are a few hints that Bane has a Batman fixation here. “This particular assignment is one from which I would derive exquisite pleasure,” he confesses. When Bruce confronts her about Bane, Candice warns him, “He was obsessed about you in prison.” Bane doesn’t want a quick and efficient death for Batman, but he instead wants “something more personal between foes.” The show even suggests that there’s a creepy, kinky sexual element to this for Bane, as he desperately yells at a defeated Batman, “You’ve got nothing! Beg for mercy! Scream my name!” Well, with a mask like that, how could he not be kinky?

(In fairness though, as an aside, there’s a lot of creepy sexy stuff here, especially for a show that shied away from the finer points of Bane’s story probably because they were too dark. When Bane defeats Robin, he ties him up, as is standard for a supervillain. He removes Robin’s utility belt, which just seems like common sense. Oh, and he removed his shirt. And Candice, the boss’ girl who is having an affair with Bane? She’s standing there staring at Robin’s defined muscles, practically groping him. Look at her reaction when Dick asks her to jump in the water with him. I’m telling you, a lot of creepy subtext, there. Bane and Candice were one freaky couple.)

He he would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for that meddling Bat…

However, Bane seems to be primarily motivated by money, rather than any grander or more profound motivation. We’re told he’s just a really expensive hit man. That said, though, I suppose it’s good that the show keeps his intelligence. While he’s effectively a hired goon, he shows some measure of ambition, plotting to take control of Gotham’s mobs after killing Batman. (Although there’s nothing as clever as the psychological warfare that the first version of Bane unleashed on Batman.)

And, to be fair, Henry Silva is having a great time as Bane, chewing the scenery. bane is written – really weirdly – as a stereotypical latin lethario. It would run the risk of being politically incorrect if the sight of a massive guy in a luchadore mask hitting on beautiful women a quarter of his size wasn’t hilarious. Even when Bane’s plans make little sense, Silve makes the character fun enough to go along with, like the Zapp Brannigan of Batman villains. “Now, where do I find this Killer Croc?” just sounds hilarious in his accent, as does his declaration to “Keeler Krock”, “He’s mine to destroy, monster!”

The Bane of Batman’s existence…

I also love his gloating on capturing Robin. “It is over before it begins!” In fairness, Robin doesn’t exactly make a good showing here. He’s easily subdued by Bane. While Bane and Batman duke it out, Bane deals with Robin by kicking him into a pool of water, where Thorne’s “secretary” (who doesn’t appear to have any combat experience) leaps in to wrestle him. Her creepy costume fetish aside, it doesn’t really speak well to Robin’s abilities.

Despite a dodgy script, Kevin Conroy does an epic job as Batman. I love that Conroy was always great in the role, even when asked to deliver the most trite dialogue ever. He makes the like “this was done with bare hands”sound much more impressive than it really should, and he delivers the exposition about Bane and Project: Gilgamesh wonderfully efficiently.

A little birdie told him…

“Gilgamesh?” Alfred asks. “Named after the warrior?” Conroy actually replies, with utter seriousness, “The ultimate warrior.” Later on, he tells Alfred, “It was abandoned when they got more than they bargained for.” Alfred walks right into that set up. “And what was that, sir?” I can’t tell if he’s humouring Bruce or genuinely curious. Batman responds, “They got Bane.”

(All that said, Batman is a bit of a dick here. The episode ends with him gleefully revealing to Thorne that Bane and Candice were going to betray him, taking a great deal of pleasure in doing so, and leaving Thorne in the room with both Candice and a defeated Bane. Ignoring the fact that Bane should have been taken to prison, how can Batman not care that Thorne is probably going to try to assassinate them for that? That said, Bane does show up again, I suppose.)

C’mon Batman, snap out of it…

It’s not a terrible episode. It’s well directed. I especially like Bruce’s use of wrestling moves to take Bane down. The action sequences are efficient, and the sight of Bane OD-ing on his Venom is pretty intense. (Even if his eyes do bulge like a Looney Tune.) The voice cast is great, and they do the best they can with a weak script. It seems like the producers never quite got Bane, even if they’d do a significantly better job than Joel Schumacher would.

The result is a disappointing episode, albeit one that is probably much better than it should be on paper. Henry Silva makes a great Bane, and Conroy is fun as always. Still, it’s a bit of a shame that the show couldn’t find a way to explore Bane as compellingly as it did for some of Bruce’s other second-tier villains. even though it wasn’t focused around him, I think Over the Edge made much better use of the character.

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