Bane has only been in Gotham for one issue but already he’s broken into the Bat-Cave and sent Batman the most ominous, grotesque message he’s ever received.
Can Batman stop him before the body count rises?
Batman #17 (DC Comics)
Bronze Tiger. Bruh. You’re holed up in a hotel room after escaping Bane’s Santa Priscan stronghold with his most prized possession, sweating your ass off in bed with super-steroid Venom withdrawals, falling asleep to the DCU equivalent of master troll/sports analyst Skip Bayless bemoaning the latest Gotham Knights quarterback trade on the TV — and now someone’s knocking on your door. At 1:43 in the morning. And you decide it’s a good idea to answer it, no questions asked? I’d almost feel bad, but you kinda got what you deserved there.
Such has been the familiar trend thus far in writer Tom King’s “I Am Bane” arc: the titular villain and his accomplices doing pretty much doing whatever the hell they want to our protagonists in Gotham, who are acting far more irresponsibly than they should; a trend that might only change if/when Batman finally decides to take the offensive.
“If Batman finally decides to take the offensive,” a statement that is commensurately baffling and frustrating, considering Batman has known Bane’s retaliation was inevitable the moment he and his cohorts ganked Psycho Pirate from Santa Prisca; considering the ending to Batman #16 depicted Batman’s three Bat-kin (Nightwing, Red Hood and his own son, Damian Wayne) lynched from the ceiling of the Bat-Cave with the words “I. Am. Bane” scrawled in blood-red across their chests; considering in the first act of Batman #17, Batman has somehow sneaked his way into Superman’s nigh-impenetrable Fortress of Solitude, an undeniably impressive feat soured by the fact that he’s there to cache aforementioned Bat-kin, in an act many (myself included) would consider egregious precaution, in cryostasis chambers against their will — a morally debatable safeguard even by Batman’s standards.
“If I wake them, they’ll go after Bane again. I need you to keep them safe for four days,” Batman tells Superman. Superman’s response is even more telling — he’s barely surprised that Batman has found a way to breach his Arctic sanctuary. And even less surprised that Batman has taken such extreme measures with his family.
“Bruce…” he starts to say, only to receive an answer he likely knew was coming.
“It’s him or me,” Batman says, referring to Bane. “No one else.”
Sure, Bats. After what you think just happened to Tim, we’ll give you some leeway. But rationale this contrived? With the time and effort it took you to sneak three cryogenic chambers into Superman’s man-cave you could have devised at least four plans, one apiece for Dick, Jason, Damian and Duke, and used your godly stealth and prep abilities to have either taken Bane by complete surprise or set up myriad traps for him and had one more rooftop romp with Catwoman in between.
Hell, you probably could have frozen Bane right there alongside your Bat-progeny and told Superman, “Make them play nice for four days while Gotham Girl and Psycho Pirate wage mental war.” But no, you seem to want to make this throwdown with Bane on your hometurf as insanely difficult as possible.
Come issue’s end, we’ll see just how difficult that task will be for Batman after he attitudinizes on the roof of Arkham Asylum’s McKean Clocktower for over three hours, waiting for Bane to enact his plan completely unhindered, eventually allowing Bane to set up shop directly across from him, a skein of very familiar and important hostages in tow.
From a writing standpoint, King’s rationale is of course, easier to understand. He’s clearing the board so we get the Batman vs. Bane one-on-one slugfest we’ve been waiting for. And what fun would a serialized comic book be if prep-god Batman took out his opponents before they could even get within fifty miles of him?
Still, like I said: Bane’s been in Gotham for two issues now and we have yet to see Batman be the aggressor, even after the stunt Bane pulled last issue. Maybe this story aspect will read better in collected form and the patience Batman has exhibited and/or the ace up his sleeve that is Gotham Girl will all make sense in the end, but his hesitance to mount an offensive is frustrating.
Also frustrating is the sense of disconnect we have with Bane and his posse, who seem to teleport about Gotham and track down Batman’s cohorts at random, particularly in a scene with Catwoman, who loiters for reasons unknown outside of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Home for the Boys and Girls of Gotham when she’s attacked by Bird.
And holy shit, that’s Bird. And his pet falcon just mangled a stray cat — a thinly-veiled, but highly enjoyable metaphor for what’s just taken place in the narrative. And there’s Zombie and Trogg, too, the other two members of Bane’s gang you might remember from Knightfall. Admittedly, if you haven’t read Knightfall, you’ll have less reason to care about these assailants, and King doesn’t really do much in terms of introducing them.
But that’s alright. Semi-story-beat-stumbles and minor nitpicks aside, Batman #17 is undeniably fun. The scene between Batman and Superman, as nonsensical as it might seem, is charming and in only a few short pages juxtaposes well the two’s clashing personalities. (Who else can tell Superman what to do and get away with it?)
Alfred too, as we’ve seen numerous times now in King’s run, remains crucial to the overarching plot in a gripping sequence that sees him flexing his skills for subterfuge and the same can be said for Commissioner Gordon, who alongside Pennyworth makes his usual claim for most quotable/funniest lines of the issue.
King’s characterization and pacing impress more and more with each issue and now that the setup seems to finally be out of the way, my anticipation levels for the next installment in “I Am Bane” are through the damn roof.
David Finch’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s colors are pretty good overall. In the opening sequence with Bronze Tiger, it’s a little difficult to discern what exactly is going on when Tiger is surprised at the door (is he getting shot through the stomach or getting a bloody heap of chitterlings thrown really hard at him?) and Finch’s choice of perspective is sometimes more mundane than it should be, but when Batman and Bane finally face each other down atop the Arkham Clocktower come Batman #17’s climax, all is made right again. Finch draws one bad-ass Batman and Bane is somehow even more imposing — a masked behemoth bathed in the red glow of a road flare that he waves about to signify his arrival.
Is It Good?
Although the Dark Knight continues to make decisions that vex and the story has been somewhat haphazard and disjointed, now that King has moved the pieces around on the board to his liking and brought us to the inevitable Batman vs. Bane showdown, Batman has become too thrilling to put down for even a moment. Batman #18 can’t come soon enough.