Gene Luen Yang’s New Super-Man has been one of the most refreshing examples of how new life can be breathed into legacy characters by remixing traditional elements of their origins into wild new formulations. In last week’s New Super-Man #13, he introduces the Chinese analogue to Gotham City’s Bane in a single panel with a clever bit of wordplay.
While rescuing a woman in downtown Shanghai, Wang Baixi—the Bat-Man of China—crosses paths with an enormous, masked man with multiple tubes attached to the back of his body. Baixi’s shocked to discover that the masked villain is actually Feng Rongpei, a former classmate from the Academy of the Bat where students compete for the right to wear China’s official Bat Cowl.
Baixi, obviously, went on to become Bat-Man. But Rongpei? Rongpei got himself arrested and sent to an underwater prison for metahumans where they pump him full of venom, the drug that gives Bane his super-strength.
While “The Bane of China” actually would have made a fantastic supervillan codename as it was, Yang instead gives Rongpei a nerdy, joking reference to his predecessor’s name: Anathema. Merriam-Webster defines anathema as a person who’s “cursed by ecclesiastical authority” or “someone or something intensely disliked or loathed.” Anathema, a word most people don’t particularly hear or say all that often, is a synonym for the word “bane,” which is far more commonly used.
Immediately after announcing his villain name, Anathema promptly attempts to break Bat-Man’s back. Because, you know, tradition.