Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The kind of logic that governs Santa Prisca: “Jimmy, your mother borrowed my dress before she died and never gave it back, so you are now my slave laborer forever. As are your unborn children.”

Tempted as I feel to ramble even more about the incomprehensible awesomeness of Neil Gaiman, I decided that today we’d discuss something that I could get even nerdier about.


Oh, superheroes. I’ve been pretty into them for a while now. My elementary school library was vastly superior to all other school libraries because mine had COMIC BOOKS.

I was actually more of a math nerd as a young kid and not so into reading, if you can believe that now. So when my class spent our mandatory time in the library, I gravitated toward the thin, shiny books with lots of pictures.  

Spider-Man was my first love, but I kind of got over him as I got older. I still think being able to climb and swing between buildings would be so awesome, but I kind of wanted to read some comics where girls got to be the heroes, too.

And then came the age of X-Men. This covered late elementary school to sometime in high school. I contemplated getting a white streak in my hair but was luckily able to restrain myself. 

It wasn’t until I got to college that I found my truest superhero love: Batman. That’s right, Marvel, a DC character is my favorite. DC also publishes Alan Moore, so they will pretty much always win in my heart.

I just love how, in spite of Batman’s sometimes inhuman strength (depending on who’s writing it) and whacky gadgets, Batman is one of the most realistic depictions of a superhero out there. This rich kid watches both his parents die and just kind of snaps. He loses his goddamn mind. Wouldn’t anyone?

But instead of skulking off to the intensive counseling he so desperately needs, Bruce Wayne decides to save the world. It’s amazing. He spends his adolescence traveling the world and learning every kind of fighting that anyone could ever fight. He uses his tons of money to buy crazy weapons.

And then he just starts beating up drug dealers, and guys with guns, and a dude with half a face, and a sadistic clown man. He breaks the law all the time, but he and Commissioner Gordon are bros, so that’s okay. No matter what, Gordon and Bruce Wayne still manage to be the sanest, least corrupt people in Gotham.

Except for Alfred, of course. Alfred is best.

A story arc very near and dear to my heart is Knightfall. It introduces my favorite comic book villain of all time: Bane. Let me tell you a little something about Bane. He was born and raised in a prison called Pena Duro in Santa Prisca, a fictional Caribbean Republic.

That already tells you a lot—this dude is PTSDsville, just like Bruce Wayne. Though Bane actually spends his entire childhood and adolescence in the neighboring town of DTSDsville: During Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Bane’s father, Edmund Dorrance, was a revolutionary fighting against a corrupt government. Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas, similarly tried to fight the mobsters and corruption in Gotham.

But Bane’s government is even more corrupt than Gotham’s, so he’s sent to serve his father’s life sentence in prison.

Bane is not only incredibly strong, but deeply intelligent and reads all the books in the prison library. Strong and smart, just like Bruce Wayne. He’s haunted by a demonic bat in his dreams, is afraid of it, and becomes determined to use that which he is afraid of to gain power, just like Bruce Wayne.

Bruce Wayne uses his fear of bats to become Batman—he becomes what he fears and instills that same fear in his foes. Bane allows his fear of the bat to drive his determination to beat Batman and gain control of Gotham. Gotham, unsurprisingly, reminds him of Santa Prisca.

Except Gotham is slightly less rapey and traumatic than Santa Prisca. Especially if you’re Bruce Wayne.

With all these similarities between Bruce and Bane, I can’t help but wonder—would Bruce have turned out any differently from Bane, had he been forced to live through Bane’s same circumstances? 

After Bane does “Break the Bat” by breaking Bruce Wayne’s spine, Bruce comes to the terrifying realization that he’s started to enjoy the violence he uses to hold control over Gotham’s criminals. Even without Bane’s life in The Most Corrupt Prison on Earth, Batman almost falls prey to the lust for violence that possesses so many of his enemies.

Oh, Bane. I could talk about you all day. 

So I was (naively) excited when I discovered a Batman movie had included Bane in its roster of villains: Batman and Robin. I will not discuss George Clooney and his rubber nipples here, out of respect for good old George. (It’s okay, Georgey. Just remember you did The Descendents later.)

Even though I could see that the movie failed on just about every count (see “rubber nipples” above. Sorry, Georgey, but it’s true), I was still most disappointed by the knuckleheaded depiction of Bane. He served as nothing more than a muscle-bound bodyguard type, and was really, really stupid. 

I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Why make the decision to dumb down such a fascinating character?

But then I thought a little more about it. A lot of people do assume that particularly muscly individuals are not terribly intelligent. There’s no real reason for it, I don’t think. Maybe people assume that the muscles must take up too much of said individuals’ schedules to leave time for catching up on their Dostoyevsky.

The idea guys on that film most likely chose to make Bane stupid because it was easy—it shifted him from a true villain to a stereotype who could just hang out in the wings and punch when called upon to do so.

Years later, when I had just the beginnings of an idea for a book set in a dystopian future, I reflected again on how those idea guys knew people would assume Bane was stupid because he was strong.

In a completely unrelated writing session (cough, cough), I decided Baine would a fun name for a girl. 

I love Christopher Nolan and think The Dark Knight basically eliminates the need for anyone but Christopher Nolan to make superhero movies ever again. So I have high hopes for Tom Hardy’s depiction of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

Just give our Bane a chance, okay, Hollywood? Let him be a genius like Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne’s trauma was like a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard compared to what Bane’s been through.

And Bane’s already dealing with a pretty crippling drug addiction, which isn’t easy for anyone. So let’s let him keep all the tools in his villain toolbox, shall we?


  1. I stopped following DC after the conclusion of Infinite Crisis, where Bane had some third-tier role breaking somebody's back in the background.


    I heard great things about what they did with the character before The New 52, however. I'm not sure how it was pulled off, but I suppose in paper they looked promising.

    In the case of Nolan and The Dark Knight Rises, I'm having faith in it all. A lot of my friends think Bane looks stupid just because he's not a big, hulking, roid-raging mass like in the comics and video games. Honestly?

    By the way, what did you think of Bane in the new Batman video games?

    1. Aw, poor Bane. He can do so much more than break backs. He figured out Batman's identity all on his own!

      I'm way more interested to see what Christopher Nolan does with the character--I don't care that much if he looks like a mountain.

      And I'll confess I haven't played video games since blowing into the cartridge was still considered the Cure of All Ills. The Batman games look pretty great though.

  2. I'm beginning understand Baine a little more, what makes her tick. So she's partially based off of Bane the villain. I do find that very interesting.

    And can't wait for the new movie. I never read comics, but I love superhero movies, go figure.

    1. She's a LITTLE based on Bane, yes. Mainly Baine was partially born out of the realization that many assume musclebound people must be also stupid--a realization brought on by ol' Rubber Nipples and Robin.

      I'm trying to keep my expectations of the movie down to achievable-by-any-human levels, but it's tough. The Dark Knight was just wonderful.

  3. My favorite Batman universe was "Batman: The Animated Series" on ... Cartoon Network, I think? In the '90's. I'd already given up on comic books by then because the whole "let's re-write this and call it another timeline/dimension" thing made me want to stick a hook up my nose and scramble my own brains. But B:AS seemed to stay fairly true to the comics I'd read as a kid. Dark, but not enough to make me cry in a corner for days on end. Gritty, but not so much that I couldn't watch it with the kids I was babysitting at the time. And still colorful.
    I've always been partial to Harvey Dent; I find his story and relationship to Bruce Wayne and the relationship of their alter-egos to be so bittersweet.