Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Batman 18, originally released March 1st, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: Two weeks ago, Drew made a pretty convincing argument that Tom King’s Batman is attempting to synthesize all canonic and non-canonic versions of Batman. References to both Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on A Serious Earth and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy seemed to suggest that all of the Batman franchise’s greatest hits were implicitly in play, even during the main-continuity run in DC’s flagship series. With all of those connections freshly in-place, Batman 18 starts to negate some of the commonly held beliefs about the character, hinging almost all of the real-time drama of the piece around Batman’s simple utterance of the word “No.”
A few issues back, we were criticizing Batman’s plan to storm Santa Prisca. At the time, it looked like Batman was just marching in there, repeatedly demanding the Psycho Pirate be returned to Gotham. It was so un-Batman-like, and his repeated chorus of “…refuse to turn him over and I will break your damn back” played out like some maniacal prayer. Batman is similarly forthcoming in issue 18, responding to Bane’s lengthy threats and taunts with the monosyllabic “no.” Unlike last time, Batman’s chorus isn’t a complicated credo, but merely a denial. That puts the emphasis less on Batman’s ability to plan and more on his ability to fuck up someone else’s plan.
But I also believe that the “no” is a larger key to understanding the territory that King is taking this character in. True to the series’ DNA, much of this issue is taken up by an action sequence that King and artist David Finch refuse to stay focused on. From literally the first panel, we’re seeing the Batman origin story: pearls, mother, blood. The action skips back to the present for a pair of hero / villain establishing shots and then it’s back to the past to experience the immediate fall-out experienced by both Bruce Wayne and Young Bane in the wake of their mothers’ murders. The flashback starts with Bane’s on the left side of the page and Bruce’s on the right, but by the second page, the layout is strictly established: Batman on the left, Bane on the right.
The red line represents Batman and the green line represents Bane, and for the purposes of the first page, their paths are clearly intertwined. The rest of the issue says otherwise.
As Batman and Bane’s parallel origin stories play out on discrete sides of the page, one thing becomes immediately obvious: whatever suffering Bruce Wayne endured in his transformation to Batman was trivial compared to what Bane experienced. This is the first of the Batman myths under the microscope — the idea that Batman suffered emotional and physical anguish to become Batman. Sure, he did, just not at all on the scale that someone like Bane did. Simply, it’s a question of privilege: Batman has a lot of it, and it affords him the option to fight against crime instead of for it. Bane even calls Batman on out this, saying: “I am not some rich boy playing dress-up.” It’s one of those standard low-blows for heroes like Batman or Iron Man, but in concert with the origin stories we just read, it’s hard to imagine that the manifestation of Batman’s strength took more supernatural willpower than the manifestation of Bane’s strength.
Which is maybe just a shortcut to the idea that Batman’s greatest strength is not his sheer will to be stronger. Bane’s got him beat in that regard. King’s script puts another of Batman’s strengths under the microscope in this set of panels.
Where Bane has a nameless thug to punch and a nameless doctor (whose orders he ignores), Batman has relationships. Bats even goes so far as to say “you are my true strength.” That’s true, but it also softens the unhealthy singularity of Batman’s unending quest for justice.
Finch is even giving us visual cues for everything we’re saying “no” to here. During the flashbacks, we get a callback to a panel from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One.
It’s not just Batman’s fictional past being examined, it’s his published past. A couple of these other panels look familiar to me too, but I didn’t have as much luck matching them up with points of inspiration from Batman comics. But I also wanted to note that all of the flashback sequences are rendered with significantly less inky detail than the real-time action. The clean-ness of those designs recall Greg Capullo’s masterful work on Batman in the New 52.
King and Finch have collected all of this Batman stuff, and they’re presenting it, all while quietly whispering “no.” I find it fascinating, because deconstruction of the Batman character is one of those things that’s so common in Batman comics — it’s almost a pre-req at this point — but this is the first time I’ve seen that deconstruction based around a denial.
Michael, there’s still so much here that I haven’t examined the significance of. Like, why does Batman’s plan — which relies on the strength of his relationships — work while Bane’s fails? What’s the rhetorical difference between “Mother” and “Mommy?” Can you name each villain Bane is alluding to in his speech? Is there possibly another denial in there based around the idea that Batman is his villains? Does Bane represent some aspect of Batman’s personality or is he the exact opposite?
Michael: Patrick you didn’t mess around with that lead my friend, I’ll do my best to respond in kind. I’m going to answer your questions in no particular order, so we’ll start with the simplest: who are the villains Bane is refuting to be in his speech? In order I’d wager that they are Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin, Scarecrow, Scarface, Two-Face, Ra’s al Ghul, The Court of Owls and…Killer Croc? The only one I have no clue about is who “Bird” could be – an individual Talon? Magpie? The Flamingo??
And try as I might, I don’t know if I’m following your denial deconstruction 100%. Are you saying that Batman/Tom King is denying the truths/strengths that we have known Batman to rely upon? That Batman is not always what we expect him to be — as in the case of the “I Am Suicide” arc? I think at the very least I can recognize that King is trying to get us to examine Bruce’s emotional trauma compared to Bane’s far more nightmarish upbringing.
I love Bane. I don’t really have a good reason for loving Bane, I definitely haven’t read the entirety of “Knightfall” and I’d be hard-pressed to name a favorite Bane story outside of Secret Six or The Dark Knight Rises. Likewise, I get frustrated when stories inevitably do the disservice of making Bane nothing but a drug-addicted, dumb behemoth. That being said, I think Batman 18 is one of the greatest Bane-focused issues that I have ever read.
Bane is a product of the ‘90s, and for the reasons listed above has never really evolved much beyond “The Man who broke The Bat.” It’s become such an identifier for the character that Bane himself wears it like a badge and talks about it nearly every time he’s shown up in a comic book. Is Bane Batman’s true archenemy? Hell no. Is Batman Bane’s archenemy? Absolutely.
In “Knightfall” Bane had nightmares of a demonic bat as a boy and when he learned of Batman’s existence as a man, he believed that fate was guiding him towards Batman. I totally buy into that notion that Bane irrationally sees Batman as this force that mocks him and stands in his way; I think King does too.
Here’s the basic breakdown of the flashback pages of Batman 18: single pages with 6 panels split between Bruce and Bane’s parallel origins — Bruce on the left, Bane on the right. David Finch doesn’t draw these panels congruently however, they’re offset a bit with Bruce’s panels raised above Bane’s just a bit. On every single page Bruce’s panels overlap and spill over onto Bane’s.
I wouldn’t say that Batman and Bane are equals or opposites, but due to their obvious parallels they share a sort of cosmic brotherhood. Between the two of them, Batman is the favored son, and Bane knows this. Bane has this inherent jealousy of Batman, a man who has made himself into a legend that Bane could not or has not. Bane has built him up as his greatest foe and he wants Batman to recognize and respect his power.
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Death of the Family” was The Joker’s “love letter” to Batman, asking for Batman’s affection/acknowledgment in return. In a lot of ways “I Am Bane” feels like Bane’s version of “Death of the Family”: Bane is an unseen horror figure for the opening chapter, he kidnaps Batman’s allies and he wants Batman to see him as legitimate a threat as the rest of Batman’s villains. In fact, the end of Batman 18 gave me some déjà vu for the end of (New 52) Batman 15.
In Batman 15, Batman approaches the eerie Arkham Asylum, unsure of what Joker has waiting for him. In Batman 18 it’s Bane who slowly approaches the doors of Arkham Asylum over several panels, unsure of what Batman has waiting for him. Batman even appears and vanishes in a flash of lightning, like a foreboding bogeyman.
We typically categorize goliath brawlers like Bane as a “force of nature,” which is exactly how I believe Bane wishes himself to be seen as. His “I Am Bane” speech is one that reaffirms this idea, questioning how Batman can refuse his offer — “do you know who I am?!” Bane wants to embody this “force of nature” idea but deep down I don’t think that he believes it himself. You could argue that both he and Batman have thrown on layers of armor to hide the fact that they are still those little boys crying for mommy.
I suppose that’s a long segue to the “Mother” vs “Mommy” debate. One argument that could be made for the distinction between Bruce and Bane’s preferred nomenclature is their level of education and emotional maturity. Bruce is a rich kid which means that he’s getting the best education money can buy and his hoity toity parents most definitely made him call them “mother” and “father.” Bane, on the other hand, was born in a prison, and I’m betting Peña Duro doesn’t have a lauded public school system. To grow up in such a hell hole you can bet that I’d be calling my mother “mommy” well into adulthood just to cope.
This brings me, finally, to what Grant Morrison deemed The First Rule of Batman: “I was never alone. I had help.” In addition to that scene where Batman blatantly says to the Bat-family “you are my true strength,” we are reminded of how that makes him different from Bane throughout Batman 18: Bruce had comfort and help offered at every turn while Bane had none.
Why does Batman’s plan work while Bane’s fails? I suppose because he actually trusts the people he pulls it off with. Bruce aimed to war with criminals while Bane wanted to conquer them. Bane wants to be king of the hill and doesn’t really believe in or trust anyone other than himself. Bane wants us to know that he is Bane. But Batman — whether he likes to admit it or not — is the people he surrounds himself with, from Alfred to Zsasz.
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