“I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but blinding.” — Bane, The Dark Knight Rises
A character in a comic book can be as shallow or as deep as the writer wants it to be. But it’s all in the readers’ hands to interpret the details, to see the depth. Here, I’m going to focus on a single character that in my opinion often gets overlooked, overshadowed even, by more popular villains like The Joker. I’m going to take a closer look at Bane, a personal favorite character of mine, in any medium.
Simply put, Bane is a man who was born in a prison, bearing a life sentence for his father’s crimes, and his mother died when he was still just a little boy. Left alone, his only role models and parental figures were literal criminals. To survive, he (still a little boy) had to kill someone with a shiv that he hid inside his teddy bear. And this led to him being trapped in the famous pit (an extreme version of real-world solitary confinement), that got reinvented in The Dark Knight Rises and made an appearance in The Harley Quinn show.
Through sheer will and perseverance, he escaped, studied, grew stronger and stronger, until he was finally able to rule the prison that was his home. He got addicted to a super-drug called Venom that gave him superhuman strength and endurance; later he conquered that addiction, escaping once more from a prison, from chemically induced chains.
Unlike Joker, who changes every couple of years, reinvented with his polar opposite (Batman himself), Bane stays constant in almost all mediums, whether it be Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises film, Tom King’s Batman run, or the Batman Arkham Origins game. What most misinterpret though about Bane, is that he’s only a brute and an addict; most forget about his origin and inherent childhood tragedy, the origin that made him a dark shadow for Batman.
Tom King’s divisive Batman run amended this issue, merging the two aspects of Bane into one, bringing him back to his original Knightfall roots: taking the brute, the addict, and the mastermind, the tragic child, back into one singular character — the Bane of Batman’s existence. Bane is a reflection of what Batman could’ve been: without Alfred, without Robin, if Bruce Wayne were truly alone.
The intent of creating Bane himself was simply to break Batman’s back, a stunt to sell comics; a similar move was done with Doomsday to kill off Superman for a bit. These attempts proved successful, as the two superhero icons had replacements that ironically only showed to drive home the point of how they could never be replaced, only lasting long enough for the readers to wish for the originals to have their inevitable huge comeback.
It is his origin that bears the tragic root of all. Bane is inherently innocent. He didn’t get half his face burned and chose to take vengeance against justice. He didn’t lose his wife to an illness and chose to do anything for a cure. He didn’t have a bad day and chose to be mad. No. His father was sentenced for life, but he was the one that bore it, from birth. How could anyone, born surrounded by criminals, become anything but… a criminal. And this is what makes Bane interesting for me.
It’s not nature vs nurture. It’s both, pushing him towards evil. And yet Bane is one of the most honorable and sane villains the Batman has ever faced. Ruthless yes, but not crazy, not psychotic nor psychopathic. He even cares about his lieutenants; his soldiers aren’t just goons that he recklessly throws around. Bane cares about loyalty because that’s what he learned in prison, loyalty in loneliness.
He’s also a literal 2-dimensional villain, evil because… he knew nothing but evil; he wants to rule Gotham because… all he knew is the strong survives and the strongest rules. Yet despite that simplicity, a hidden depth hide beneath his mask: the tragedy of it all, the innocence that never left yet was never there in the first place, that makes it all work. And it contrasts with Batman’s tragedy, how with allies Batman grew out of the pit of pain, while Bane is forever inside, drowning, clinging to drugs and power to keep him afloat. Everything is a challenge to him, because to Bane, the world is just another prison, another pit to escape and conquer.
He only ever knew darkness, evil, cruelty. When he eventually saw light, it was nothing but blinding. And like the Joker, he doesn’t even have a public real name, only Bane. Because that’s what he’s always known, in the prison of his past, in Batman: Bane.