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The Dark Knight Rises 101: Or, Tell Me About Bane…

Read our in-depth review of the film here.

To help get everybody in the mood for The Dark Knight Rises later this month, I thought it might be worth taking a look at the third film in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, the sequel to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Q: Okay, so I’m pretty familiar with Batman, but who is this Bane fellow I keep hearing about…?

A: Yep, Bane was certainly an interesting choice for the movie’s villain. He’s a relatively new character, only created in 1993. Although, to be fair, the character has become quite popular since then, appearing in animated shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, as well as the direct-to-video Justice League: Doom and the theatrical Batman & Robin.

Q: Yeah, I seem to remember that. Wasn’t he…

A: Yep, this is what Bane looked like back then…

Played by Jeep Swenson, the wrestler, Bane was basically a glorified henchman to Poison Ivy – the brawn to her brain. Although the movie did give us the (vaguely) amusing sight of a guy in a luchador mask disguising himself with a fedora, it was hardly the character’s finest hour.

Q: So this interpretation will be a bit different, then?

A: Naturally. For one thing, Bane now look like this…

That’s far more in line with the “pseudo-realistic” approach that Nolan has taken in adapting his Batman villains – the Joker without the bleached skin, the Scarecrow in a suit, Ra’s Al Ghul without the Fu Manchu overtones.

Q: What’s with the mask?

A: In the comics, Bane is hooked on a steroid called Venom. It gives him enhanced strength, reflexes and intelligence. The drug was actually introduced before Bane, as the kind of thing a young and foolish Batman tried once or twice before swearing off the stuff. Bane himself has given up the steroid in the comic, to make his own way as his own man, with varying degrees of success. The mask typically includes a tube to feed Venom directly into his brain.

In the movie, the mask serves a similar technical function. It appears to administer a painkiller to keep Bane functional. I also like the way that it inverts Batman’s iconic cowl.

Q: Inverts?

A: Yep, Batman’s cowl leaves his mouth exposed to emphasise his humanity. Here, Bane’s mask explicitly covers his mouth while leaving a lot of the rest of his head exposed – and yet Bane appears a lot more threatening and less human than Batman. Then again, that sort of fits the idea of Bane.

Q: The “idea of Bane”? What, so this guy isn’t just dumb muscle?

A: Actually, he’s quite the opposite. Bane was introduced as a master planner who deduced Bruce Wayne’s secret identity, and engaged in a campaign of psychological warfare in order to break Batman mentally. Rather than riding into Gotham and playing “king of the hill”, Bane played things a bit smarter. He toyed with the Dark Knight, staging a mass breakout from Arkham Asylum that left the Caped Crusader mentally and physically drained. Then, when Bruce was exhausted, Bane made his play and broke Batman’s back.

Q: He broke Batman’s back…?

A: Yep. Complete with dramatic sound effect.

Don’t worry. Bruce got better. These are comic books after all.

Q: Wow. The guy literally broke Batman. So I guess he’s like king of the Batman villains now, eh? Take that Joker!

A: Not quite. The problem with Bane is that he existed solely to fill an editorial mandate. During the nineties, the writers on DC’s Batman books had a plan for a massive, game-changing story. The idea was that Bruce Wayne would be forced to give up the cowl, and that he would be replaced by Azrael, a darker and edgier counterpart. The story, known as Knightfall, is something of a thematic counterpoint to The Death and Return of Superman.

Both stories see the iconic hero falling against a new foe, only to be replaced by more modern anti-heroic substitutes. The classic versions then reclaim their title, triumphing against their replacements and reaffirming their importance to the new generation of comic book readers.

Q: Is Nolan going to do something like that here?

A: I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. There are hints that Bruce is disabled in the trailers, and that Bane humiliates and defeats him, but the exact plot details are scarce. That said, I want there to be a bit of surprise.

Q: Okay, so how does Bane fit into that Knightfall, Batman-breaking plot you described?

A: Well, the writers needed a new villain to do the deed, to match Bruce. They came up with Bane.

The problem is that once Bane did that, there was really no need for him. In that story or any other. He’d done what he’d set out to do, completed his narrative arc. Indeed, Bane is defeated in Knightfall not by Bruce, but by Bruce’s replacement. The climactic fight of Knightfall is between Bruce and his replacement, not Bruce and Bane. You know you might be in trouble when you’re discarded in the middle of that gigantic status quo change you initiated.

Q: And what’s he done since?

A: He’s appeared a few times. He’s teamed up with and fought Batman, allied with various villains and was even a part of the Secret Six team of anti-villains, written by Gail Simone. That version is probably the most interesting take on the character, and is available as trade paperbacks. (Even though it doesn’t focus on his relationship with Batman.) DC should really consider collecting a deluxe set of hardcovers of the series. I know I’d buy them. Plus, he gets to ride a dinosaur!

Q: Wow, dude. But I’m still a bit sceptical. Sounds like he’s a one-hit wonder.

A: That’s a bit harsh. I’m actually quite fond of Bane.

I think he’s one of the last truly iconic Batman villains. The only villain createdafter him who can make such a claim is Thomas Elliot as Hush, and even that is highly debatable. I like that Nolan’s using him – Nolan’s Batman films seem to blend older and newer characters from the mythos to create a cocktail that gives us a broad sampling of Batman’s rich history.

Bane first appeared in 1993. Catwoman, appearing in the same film, first appeared in Batman #1. The main villain of Batman Begins, Nolan’s first film, was created in the 1970s, thirty years after Bruce first appeared. (Although the Scarecrow, the Joker and Two-Face are all Golden Age baddies.)

Q: Okay, so convince me that Bane is worth my time.

A: I like Bane as an anti-Batman. It’s an argument that Batman expert extraordinaire Chris Sims makes quite well over at Comics Alliance. Sims is really a comic book guru, and he knows his Batman. He argues that Bane offers a counterpoint to Batman, and he suggests that Bane does it rather well an anti-Batman.

It’s a convincing and a clever argument. Batman is a man born to a life of wealth and luxury, while Bane grows up in a prison. Both men grow up in the shadows of their parents: Bruce haunted by their death, Bane serving out a life sentence for a crime his father committed. There was even, briefly, a suggestion that Bane’s father could have been Thomas Wayne’s son, literally making Bruce and Bane brothers.

Batman exists as a larger-than-life symbol for justice and order – while Bane exists purely to smash that larger-than-life symbol. Batman dedicated himself so purely to the idea that he travelled half the world to find a way to defeat injustice. Bane never met Bruce before he escaped from prison, and yet he travels half the world to Gotham to defeat justice. It’s almost poetic, in a sort of a cheesy superhero sort of way.

While Bane matches Bruce physically, he really defeats Batman in the most humiliating manner possible for Bruce: he out-thinks him. Batman is a character as well known for his mental prowess (“the world’s greatest detective”) as for his physical abilities. Bane out-plans, out-reasons, and out-manoeuvres Bruce, making him a shrewder and stronger dark mirror to Bruce.

Q: Interesting. Is he the only real counterpart to Batman in the gallery?

A: Not really. Each of the rogues mirrors Batman in a particular way. Harvey Dent reflects Batman’s duality, the Joker represents chaos to Batman’s order (or his insanity), the Riddler challenges his intellect, the Penguin is a bird, Catwoman is a vigilante with an animal theme who breaks the law to do good.

Yes, that’s a “moth signal”…

However, even beyond that, there are quite a few “anti-Batman” characters out there. The most obvious include Mike W. Barr’s Wraith, one of the iterations of the Killer Moth and even Prometheus from Grant Morrison’s Justice League of America run. Although that last one isn’t really a Batman foe, more of a general DC baddie. However, Bane is perhaps the most successful of the “evil Batman” sorts of characters, perhaps because the similarities are just a tiny bit more subtle than most of those exampled.

Q: So why did Chris Nolan pick him?

A: Nolan has gone on record as liking his “physicality” against Batman. However, I think that Nolan has a great eye for a thematic foil, and that Bane will prove as effective a counterpart to Batman as Ra’s did to Bruce in the first film and the Joker did in the second film. (And as Scarecrow and Two-Face did in those films as well.)

You can see from the promo materials how Bane is established as a foil to Batman. He appears to have his own fleet of Tumblers, for example. He introduces himself to the people of Gotham in a way clearly meant to echo Batman’s introduction to Carmine Falcone. (“What are you?” “I’m Gotham’s reckoning.”) His mask is designed to be the inverse of Batman’s – Batman’s cowl covers his face and leaves his mouth visible, while Bane’s leaves a lot of his face visible, but covers his mouth.

Q: So he’s not going to be dumb muscle?

A: Not from the looks of it. They’ve also cast Tom Hardy, who has been one of the best emerging actors of the past few years. So I’m quite excited.

Q: What about Catwoman? I hear she’s in this one too.

A: Yep, she’s played by Anne Hathaway who, coincidentally, was almost the Black Cat in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man IV. While Bane is a very new villain, Catwoman dates back to Batman #1 all those years ago. (Coincidentally, the same issue that introduced the Joker.) Based on the trailers, Catwoman seems to be something of an anti-hero here, rather than a full-on villain. And, it appears, a possible romantic interest for Batman.

Q: What about the other new cast members? I heard something about a Talia… What’s a Talia?

A: There’s a popular internet rumour (yeah – love those) that Marion Cotillard will have her own secret identity. She’s playing Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises employee who seems to fall in love with  Bruce Wayne. Fans seem to be speculating (they do this a lot) that she might be revealed to be Talia Al Ghul.

Q: Like “Al Ghul”, as in Liam Neeson’s character in the first film?

A: Yep. She’s his daughter. In the comics, she’s always had a bit of a crush on Bruce Wayne, desiring to marry him. She’s the mother of his son in the comics, and is establishing herself as an especially brutal Bat villain as written by writer Grant Morrison in the on-going comic Batman Incorporated.

Look, it’s another “anti-Batman” mask…

Q: And why do fans believe that Cotillard is Talia?

A: Lots of reasons. Miranda Tate doesn’t seem to exist in the Batman canon, although Nolan has invented characters like Rachel Dawes before. Plus Cotillard is a brunette – fan theories do tend to be based on these sorts of things.

However, the most concrete speculation comes from the revelation that Ra’s Al Ghul will apparently play a part in the film. Liam Neeson has been included on the official cast list for the film, and Josh Pence is reportedly playing a young Ra’s Al Ghul.

Q: Ah, so those are flashbacks?

A: Probably a way to thematically connect this last film back to the first film. I don’t know.

However, in the comics, Ra’s Al Ghul has a method of keeping himself alive indefinitely, and even returning from death – the Lazarus Pits. They’re probably just a tiny bit too fantastical for Nolan’s Batman universe, but it would make a fantastic third act twist. I think.

After all, each of Nolan’s Batman films has dealt with the theme of escalation – and the revelation that there’s a world beyond the purely rational would be one hell of a twist. Then again, it might be a bit too close to Nolan’s own The Prestige, which is probably my favourite of the director’s films.

Q: What about this Joseph Gordon Levitt kid? I like him.

A: Officially, he’s playing a Gotham police officer named John Blake. Unlike Miranda Tate, Blake has some small precedent in the comics.

Q: Let me guess, though, fans don’t think he’s really John Blake either?

A: Of course not. That would be too obvious. Fan speculation seems to centre around Blake as either a covert member of the League of Shadows (Al Ghul’s sinister organisation) or as… wait for this… Robin.

Q: Robin? Like with the tights and stuff.

A: Maybe not the tights. But it’s possible, if they are loosely adapting Knightfall, that Blake could be the “successor” to Batman. But, at this point, we know next to nothing. And I really like that.

Q: Okay. I also heard that Batman might die. Could Nolan like do that?

A: Possibly. Again, we don’t know, and that makes it exciting.

However, the word is that Warner Brothers is going to “reboot” the franchise after Nolan leaves anyway, so it leaves the director free to do whatever he wants. Bruce could be dead, defeated, dancing the cha-cha, anything Nolan wants – because he doesn’t have to worry about the commercial viability of the next film.

I think it’s great that he has that freedom, and I’d actually be a lot happier if more comic book adaptations had a similar mindset when it came to adapting their properties – rather than ending to set up sequels, just wrapping the story up in a way that works on film.

Q: Okay. I keep hearing phrases like No Man’s Land. What’s all that about, then?

A: There are rumours (again) that Nolan’s final Batman film will be very heavily influenced by nineties Batman stories. Knightfall was undoubtedly the biggest of these stories, with the most dramatic changes. However, there was another gigantic crossover called No Man’s Land. In it, Gotham was hit by a massive earthquake, and the United States Government sealed it off – declaring it a lost cause. Batman, naturally, didn’t agree, and remained behind to try to save the city.

Meanwhile, the city descended into anarchy, with the villains taking control of their gangs and waging open warfare for control of the city and meagre supplies of goods and services flowing into it. It lacked the same focus as Knightfall, but No Man’s Land did have greater storytelling potential – working best as a series of vignettes exploring how Gotham might look if the Bat villains could take over after a natural catastrophe.

Q: Hm. So how does this tie into the film?

A: We’re not sure yet. The trailer features Bane generating what looks like an earthquake, and the teaser trailer featured imagery of Gotham collapsing – although that was possibly symbolic.

It seems like the most direct connection might be the “sealing off” of Gotham, with Bane destroying the city’s bridges, and the idea that criminals are taking over, as seen in quite a few of the trailers. But, once again, we don’t really know yet. But that’s the fun.

Q: You can “seal off” Gotham?

A: Perhaps. In the comics, Gotham is based on New York, and so it could be seen as an island equivalent to Manhattan. Certain materials support that.

As to the geography of Nolan’s Gotham, the first two films were shot in Chicago, obviously a different environment. However, there is a suggestion that Gotham is at least on a major river with the “narrows”, for example, only accessible by bridges. The Joker seems able to cut off Gotham in The Dark Knight by suggesting “the bridge and tunnel crowd” might be in for a surprise, so the freighters seem to be the only safe way out of the city.

Q: Cool. Thanks.

A: No, thank you.

12 Responses

  1. No thank YOU! As a guy that’s literally only read one graphic novel in his life, That was incredibly fascinating! Cannot wait to see where Nolan is going with all this! Bane, broken backs, Blake and the return of Neeson all have me very excited! I hope Nolan does the unthinkable.

    • Thansk Pete. I am psyched for this. I don’t know or hope one way or the other. In Nolan I trust and all that.

  2. Excellent article! The Q&A format was pure genius. Also, I love how you put “reboot” in quotation marks. I am really looking forward to this film.

    • Thanks Jamie! Yep, with Django moved to 2013 here, it’s easily my most anticipated film of 2012.

  3. Fantastic! You tapped into some interesting theories there… I’m curious to see which of them play out.

    *Kerry Barron (TheBareTraveller Online Team)

  4. Reblogged this on That Is My Viewpoint and commented:
    CAN’T WAIT !

  5. Reblogged this on Fabulous Realms and commented:
    A ‘Knight’ of a different kind…

  6. Obviously I need to start at the beginning. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  7. Great post. Hadn’t even thought about the link between this and No Man’s Land, which would be a great story to “adapt.”

  8. Thanks for the explanations.

    Otherwise, wasn’t Gotham sealed off in Batman Begins? When Scarecrow “infects” the city with his hallucinogenic poison, there are scenes of the police cutting off bridges and all..

  9. Great piece, Darren. Bravo.

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