Bane! Even the name sounds ominous. He’s been confirmed as the villain of Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film, but now people are wondering just who this wrestler-masked guy is. We’ve got you covered with our complete guide to Bane.
Spoilers for some old comic books and stuff ahead...
As various people pointed out in comments yesterday, Bane is more than just muscle. He’s a sort of Nietzschean ubermensch, who strengthened his mind and body through pure will — even before he became a test subject for a kind of experimental steroid called Venom. That steroid, which even Batman got hooked on once, makes you super-powerful and tends to exacerbate some anger issues.
Bane was first introduced in a one-shot called Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1, which is now hard to find. But in a nutshell, Bane is born in prison on the hellish Caribbean island of Santa Prisca, and sentenced to life imprisonment for the crimes of his father. Bane manages to become king of the prison, partly thanks to a knife concealed in his teddy bear. His general badassery is what leads to him being “volunteered” as the test subject for that experimental steroid.
As veteran Batman writer/editor Dennis O’Neil writes in his novelization of Batman: Knightfall:
Bane would grow to manhood there, in that place of misery and despair, would learn what he knew of life, and would be given his name by a fat, cruel warden. His first memories were of cold stone floors and the rats that peered curiously at him from beneath his mother’s cot... When Bane was six, he watched his mother die. There was nothing particularly memorable about it.
Once Bane’s mom is dead, the fat warden makes Bane watch her being eaten by sharks.
And while Bane is still in prison, he hears legends of Gotham City and its King, Batman, who’s the one guy who could beat Bane. So Bane vows to go to Gotham and prove he can beat even Batman, and rule over the city of fear.
Bane was pretty much created so he could be the villain of the massive Batman storyline, Knightfall. It was the era where Superman died, Green Lantern went crazy, Aquaman got a harpoon for a hand, and Batman got his back broken. (And afterwards, Bruce Wayne was replaced with a crazy new Batman, who was sort of a parody of the “grim and gritty” heroes coming out of Image Comics at the time.)
In Knightfall, Bane travels to Gotham City after escaping from the prison where he’s lived his whole life. He’s accompanied by three prison buddies: Zombie, Trogg and Bird, who are basically henchmen with ridiculous names. Bane wants to take over Gotham City, but first he wants to get the Batman out of the way. So instead of charging in and getting his ass kicked by Batman, he releases Batman’s entire rogues gallery from Arkham Asylum and make Batman fight them all one after another, while Bane studies his prey.
And Bane does something almost no other Batman villain has done: he figures out Bruce Wayne is Batman, just by paying attention. (In O’Neil’s novelization, he deduces Batman’s identity by tracking the Batmobile from a crime scene, secretly, and then eliminating all the rich men who live in that area until he sees Bruce Wayne.)
Finally, when Bruce Wayne is totally exhausted, Bane comes to him in Wayne Manor and confronts him — Bruce is wearing his Batman costume under a bathrobe, and looks kind of sad. Bruce finally realizes what this has all been about, but it’s too late. So Batman rallies himself to face the greatest evil he’s ever confronted.
In Dennis O’Neil’s novelization, Bruce has this conversation with Bane:
After a full minute he said, “You may be the most insane creature I’ve ever faced. Don’t you know what you are? Don’t you see the ugliness, the inhumanity?”
“Words,” said Bane.
Bruce reached over his shoulder and pulled his mask into place.
And then Bane kicks Batman’s ass, finally shattering his spine. Afterwards, Bane is torn between killing Batman and letting him live, but he decides to let Batman live so he can humiliate him further. As O’Neil writes:
“I will keep you in a cellar,” Bane said aloud. “Once a week, I will have them drag you across the floor by one foot -”
Bane could see it. Batman, pale, blinded by light, smeared with filth, dressed in tatters, so thin his ribs almost burst from his skin, his arms and legs flopping, drool leaking down his chin. “Give him a cockroach to eat,” Bane says. “Give him a live mouse. Then put fire to his feet. I want to hear him scream.”
The brief vision had the power of a prophecy.
But Batman’s allies rescue him, although he’s stuck in a wheelchair. Bane sets about controlling Gotham City’s criminal underworld, by terrorizing all of the mobsters and kidnapping their children. Until finally, the new “grim and gritty” version of Batman confronts Bane — and does to Bane what he did to the original Batman, breaking him utterly.
Bane kicks Venom while he’s locked inside Blackgate prison.
And then after he escapes, he becomes a sort of anti-Venom crusader, trying to stamp out the drug that made him such a menace to society. In Vengeance of Bane II: Redemption, he kinda-sorta teams up with Batman to take out a gang that is distributing a version of Venom to some street thugs. Batman wants to take Bane back to his cell, but Bane keeps insisting that it wasn’t really him that broke Batman’s spine and wreaked all of that mayhem — it was the drug. And now Bane is free of the drug, and he’s a new man. Bane gets away from Batman during all the chaos.
But then Bane discovers that the man behind the Venom ring is the same doctor who turned Bane into a freak in the first place — and this doctor tells Bane that his father is still alive. This makes Bane determined to find out who his real dad was. He’s so obsessed, he stands on top of a bridge in Gotham and yells “Father!”.
So Bane goes on a giant quest to find out who his real dad was. (Yes, it’s sort of like what Heroes wound up doing with Sylar during its middle seasons.) And during this whole long “search for Bane’s dad” storyline, we keep getting teased with the idea that Bane will be redeemed and become part of the Bat-family, although it never quite happens. On the trail of his dad, Bane goes back to the evil island of Santa Prisca and follows up a bunch of leads, without actually getting any reliable intel.
But while he’s searching for his real daddy, he finds a surrogate daddy: the arch-villain Ra’s Al Ghul (who’s the villain of the first Nolan movie, Batman Begins.) Ra’s Al-Ghul is so impressed with Bane, he decides to make Bane his heir, a position he once offered to Batman himself.
Bane helps Ra’s to unleash a deadly plague on Gotham City in the massive Legacy storyline. This leads to the long-awaited rematch between Batman and Bane, in which the original Batman finally kicks Bane’s ass this time around. (Of course.)
But the happy father-son relationship between Bane and Ra’s doesn’t last all that long, and they wind up having a huge falling-out — which leads to Bane going on a mission to track down and destroy all of the Lazarus Pits that Ra’s uses to keep coming back from the dead. Because Bane takes his daddy issues really seriously.
Finally, after a whole bunch more shaggy-doggery, Bane thinks he’s tracked down who his real father was: Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s dad. Which would make Bane and Bruce half-brothers. Awesome! This seems plausible enough, he manages to convince Bruce of it, and Bruce lets Bane stay at Wayne Manor and become Batman’s new sidekick for a while. They fight crime together, as the new Dynamic Duo.
Until it turns out that Thomas Wayne wasn’t really Bane’s daddy — Bruce Wayne helps Bane to find out his real dad was actually a third-string Batman villain named King Snake, who’s not really in Bane’s class. King Snake has some kind of doomsday plan, which Bane helps Batman to foil, even saving Batman’s life.
At some point, Bane just becomes another generic villain, turning up in lots of crossovers and serving whatever purpose the story needs him to serve. He has a few shining moments — including one storyline where he tries to organize free elections in his home country of Santa Prisca, only to discover that the evil Col. Computron has rigged the vote.
But Bane starts to serve as muscle more and more — even when he’s Ra’s Al Ghul’s heir, he’s just sort of a glorified henchman — and he winds up appearing in a few too many villain crowd scenes during random DC crossovers.
And meanwhile, Bane is turning up in other media, in various different versions. Every animated version of Batman has to face a (much weaker) version of Bane at some point. According to Wikipedia, Bane will even appear in the new animated series Young Justice — voiced by Danny “Machete” Trejo! Which does sound awesome. But still, the cavalcade of Bane appearances in other media, combined with his lack of focus in the comics, diluted the character’s original concept little by little, until he reached the ultimate humiliation.
The best thing to happen to Bane in a long, long time, is his inclusion in the current Secret Six series, written by Gail Simone. Bane is a perfect character to be included in Secret Six, which has evolved into a title about a group of supervillains who aren’t actually evil, just bastards. They have a certain amount of honor, and a certain level of loyalty to each other — but only up to a point — and they’re more like anti-heroes than villains.
All of the dozen or so times that the Bat-comics hinted that Bane was going to find redemption and become a worthy member of the Bat-gang never quite seemed convincing — but Secret Six has made a good case that Bane can be more of an admirable rogue, rather than just a member of Batman’s rogues gallery. Bane is showing more of the wit and complexity that we glimpsed in many of his earlier appearances.
And Bane is in the middle of an unlikely love story — he’s become tenderly obsessed with Scandal Savage, the lesbian daughter of the immortal evil caveman, Vandal Savage.
It starts when Bane is craving Venom once again, and screaming in the night, so Scandal shares his bed just once, to help him through the withdrawal.
After that scene, Bane becomes more and more attached to Scandal, and will fuck you up if you even look at her sideways. He’s not interested in her sexually (which is a good thing, all told) but he’s shown over and over that he loves her like a father. He lets her sleep with her head in his lap. He’s willing to do anything to keep her safe — maybe even use Venom, if he has to — and when she tries to kill him at one point, he’s willing to let her. They’ve formed one of the most memorable, and weird, love stories in comics.
Meanwhile, Bane’s become more of an asskicking thunder-god in Secret Six than ever before, basically an unstoppable pain generator, who’s also capable of being kind of a deep thinker at times. In the hands of Gail Simone, Bane’s finally been achieving the potential he’s always had for true greatness.
So who is Bane? Like most comic-book characters, he’s gone through a million different versions depending on who was writing him. But a few things stand out. He’s a badass fighter who’s also capable of incredible cunning and deviousness. He’s a deeply fucked up individual who never forgets that he grew up in the world’s nastiest prison. He’s obsessed with being the baddest there is — and sometimes that means cracking Batman’s spine, but sometimes it means overpowering his own worse nature. He’s totally without mercy, but he’s totally loyal. He’s the ultimate self-made man, who pulls himself out of the gutter again and again. He’s freakin’ Bane, man.
Update, 11:16 a.m., May 6, 2020: This post has been updated to remove videos that are no longer available.