It’s the third and final round of Batman vs. Bane in Batman #20. After getting his ass handed to him in their last two fights can The Dark Knight finally find a way to overcome the Venom-infused Pain Train?
Batman #20 (DC Comics)
Disappointed by those dumbed-down depictions of Bane in The New 52 and Batman: Arkham Asylum? Don’t worry, because Bane is that dude again. Writer Tom King has reestablished the character as one of, if not the most formidable foe in Batman’s rogues gallery — a foil for the Dark Knight not only physically, but mentally too — just like when he first came on the scene and “broke the Bat” during the Knightfall saga.
This notion was further evinced last issue when Bane beat the bag out of roughly half of Arkham Asylum’s “Most Wanted” during a 24-hour inverse Knightfall gauntlet, taking down such notable Bat-nemeses as Two-Face, Man-Bat, Solomon Grundy and Mr. Freeze. Bane also hung the three Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Damian Wayne) from the ceiling of the Bat-Cave and kidnapped Bronze Tiger, Catwoman, Commissioner Gordon, Duke as bargaining chips in the “I Am Bane” installments leading to this one, proving that when it comes to getting Psycho Pirate back from Batman — Bane ain’t playing.
All of King’s skillful build-up did what he intended; coming into this issue, I was actually nervous for Batman, which is a sentiment I haven’t attached to the character since The Dark Knight Rises, where film Bane exhibited a similar air of indominitableness. And as bad-ass as Bane was in TDKR, King has managed to make him even more imposing here.
Batman #20 is in essence one long scrape between Batman and Bane, but it works. There’s no Bruce Lee or Ong Bak balletic technicality going on (which will disappoint fans like myself who enjoy stories where Batman knows every fighting style known to man), but the fight is so grueling, so grisly, so violent — that you can’t look away. Think Rocky IV’s Ivan Drago plus your favorite pro wrestling match on steroids to the nth degree — which the art team of David Finch (pencils), Jordie Bellaire (colors) and Trevor Scott (inks) brings to life with awesome form; every punch and kick lands with bone-shattering oomph and Finch, as always, renders Bane and Batman as larger than life demi-deities. He also brings exciting composition and some truly striking imagery to the table. Like the following page for instance:
Batman is sick of your shit.
Bellaire’s colors amaze as well. The above scene where the battle-worn Batman picks himself up off the floor, clenches his fists and proclaims, “I’m still here,” is a visual made all the more indelible by the crimson bloodstreaks gushing from his gritted teeth (and if you think the blood looks gruesomely realistic in the above panel, you’re in for a treat — there’s plenty more blood-spattered savagery where that came from) and grey-black Bat-gloves looking so life-like you’ll swear you can hear the rumpling leather. Other simple touches that make lasting impressions are the neon green glow of Bane’s Venom-tubes winding about his musculature thick as garden hoses and the varying color permeations and muted glows of the flashback sequences.
Speaking of flashbacks, King deftly punctuates the entire fight with ones that grant a penetrating look into Batman’s psyche. The writer’s entire run thus far is epitomized amid the brutal bout and culminates in a truly heartfelt way (especially when you learn who the narrator is) that shows King’s deep understanding and appreciation for the Batman character. Just like we all thought he might, after all the story development is said and done, King closes out the triptych of “I Am” arcs in a very satisfying way.
Of course, there are a couple things that irked me: Bane breaking the necks of the three Robins was done completely off-page and we never get to see the fallout of Batman tossing them in cryostasis safekeeping in the Fortress of Solitude. Because of this the whole act seems like a quick, shock value gimmick intended to sweep those characters under the rug and attach more immediate malevolence to Bane.
There are other instances like this where plot points that would have benefited the narrative by being shown are mysteriously left out/ambiguous (much like Batman mysteriously fixing his own broken back in the “I Am Suicide” arc), like Batman freeing all the prisoners that face down Bane in Arkham (which would have been interesting to see, even if briefly).
Also, the last two times Batman squared off against Bane in King’s run (Batman #13 and Batman #18) he got his ass handed to him. And Batman’s only plan is “Let Bane punch me until I’m battered and bleeding and hope he tires himself out and gets struck by lightning or Catwoman swings out of the Arkham rafters and sucker-kicks his spinal column”? The plan was working about as well as it did for Homer Simpson in his boxing match with Drederick Tatum, until he got a little lucky in this issue, and it’s disappointing to see that King is making Batman a punching bag foremost and a detective/ninja/master tactician nearly negligibly.
Is It Good?
Batman #20 is a strong conclusion to King’s overarching Batman narrative, one that shows he has a deep understanding of/appreciation for what the character represents and more proof that he is an adept story architect whose plots close out even better than they began. Though there are some odd story bits left strangely ambiguous, King’s Batman has been entertaining and emotional the whole way through and coupled with Finch and Bellaire’s eye-catching art, this issue is no different.