Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about Bane, the man who broke Batman’s back.
Bane’s story began two years before he made his debut. In the pages of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, a series in which tales of Batman’s past could be explored, an addictive steroid was introduced. There, Batman found himself involved in a case in which brute strength would have been the difference between whether or not he could save a young girl’s life. His muscles failed him and the girl died. When the girl’s father offered Batman a regiment of pills which would rapidly develop muscle mass, Batman took him up on his offer.
Soon, Batman found himself a slave to the drug. He needed it to balance out his mood and began to use his fists instead of his mind to solve crimes. Realizing the damage the pills were doing, Batman quit the drug cold turkey and asked Alfred to lock him away in the Batcave for a month. He emerged from his solitude a restored man. He would never touch the pills, now known as Venom, again.
Two years later, readers were introduced to Bane. On the Caribbean island of Santa Prisca, in the prison known as Pena Duro, a young child was born. His father had been a rebel against the government and had escaped their justice. For that, his son was charged with carrying out his father’s sentence, which was life in prison. However, the man’s son wasn’t even born yet, so his pregnant wife was put in prison. The young boy’s first few years were spent in confinement with his mother in the less harsh infirmary. However, after his mother died, the young boy was put into the general population. There, he quickly learned that if he was to survive, he had to be as ruthless and aggressive as his fellow prisoners.
Quickly, the boy became known as Bane. His original name was lost to time.
Bane’s captors saw the hate in the young man’s eyes and feared it. To punish him for what he did to his cell mate and to keep him from hurting anyone else, he was locked away in solitary confinement. There, he learned how to meditate and did as many exorcises as his small cell allowed. When he was released years later, his rage was now in control. Some of the other prisoners saw Bane’s potential and began to help him train his mind along with his body. He learned how to read six languages, he devoured every book in the prison library, and even got other books brought in through back channels.
Eventually, a doctor came into Pena Duro to do human experiments. He had remnants of the old Venom formula and was improving it. Now, instead of being a pill, Venom was an injectable liquid. It also enhanced the brain as well as the muscles. Bane was volunteered for the program and was the only prisoner who survived the openings which were implanted directly into his neck and skull.
Soon after, Bane escaped from prison. He had learned of Gotham during his incarceration and how it was home to the most dangerous man in the world, Batman. In order to temper his nightmares and to prove himself, he choose to take out Batman.
Towards that end, Bane destroyed a whole section of Arkham Asylum with a rocket blast. Nearly all of Batman’s foes made their escape and Batman ran himself into exhaustion tracking them all down. After days with barely any sleep, Batman’s physical and emotional limits had been reached. That is when a Venom powered Bane stepped out of the shadows, entered Wayne Manor, and broke Batman’s back over his knee. He had figured out that Bruce Wayne was Batman early on so even the Manor itself wasn’t a safe place.
Bane had accomplished his goal. Gotham City was his. However, he hadn’t counted on the Batman Family. Batman’s loner status was highly overrated. Bruce Wayne turned the Batman role over to a young religious zealot who he’d recently met named Jean-Paul Valley. Much to the surprise of Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, Jean-Paul became Batman. Finding the Batman costume to not be right for him, Jean-Paul modified the suit to fit his needs. During his and Bane’s second match-up, Jean-Paul overcame the masked villain by overworking him and by cutting his Venom lines.
Jean-Paul beat Bane into a coma. When he awoke, Bane was a broken man. His addiction to Venom was still intense and his depression caused his once developed muscles to atrophy. In Blackgate Penitentiary, Bane found himself at a crossroads. After an attack on a fellow prisoner, he was put into solitary confinement, just as when he had been young. Alone for six months, Bane recentered himself, and weened his body from its dependency on Venom. His intense force of will also allowed him to get back into fighting shape.
Back in top shape, Bane escaped from prison with the mission to destroy every last bit of Venom production in the world. However, first he got embroiled in one of Ras Al Ghul’s schemes. Ras was attempting to release a deadly virus known as The Clench into Gotham, which would have destroyed the city. Bane was brought in as muscle, though he also had a thing for Talia. A subsequent battle between Bane and Batman revealed that Bruce could take out Bane if he was in top form.
The following year, Bane set about some unfinished business. Still angry at Jean-Paul for defeating him after he’d beaten Bruce Wayne, Bane had a rematch with the replacement Batman. Now calling himself Azrael, Jean-Paul was captured by Bane and injected with massive amounts of Venom. After barely surviving the aftereffects of the drug, Jean-Paul got inside Bane’s head and defeated him in another toe-to-toe battle.
Shortly thereafter, Bane began a years-long hunt for the father that had let his pregnant wife pay for his crimes. He learned that his father was probably one of four men, one of whom was an American medical doctor.
There was one big detour in Bane’s plans to look into his past. That detour was No Man’s Land. After Gotham City fell thanks to a massive earthquake, several parties knew they could take advantage of that situation. Figuring that Gotham would eventual rebuild, Lex Luthor wanted to own as much commercial real estate as possible before that happened. He just had to make sure no one knew who owned what. Towards that end, he hired Bane to destroy the Hall of Records with a small dirty bomb so that Luthor could buy land for pennies on the dollar from a desperate city.
Bane was back on his father’s trail soon after his participation in No Man’s Land. Further research revealed that Dr. Thomas Wayne had spent time in Santa Prisca around the time that Bane’s mother became pregnant. It also became clear that Thomas Wayne actually met Bane’s mother at some point. Bane returned to Gotham in order to speak with Batman about the possibility of their being half-brothers. During this time, Bane became more docile and less aggressive than in earlier meetings. He actually helped Batman out on a case as the DNA between the two was compared.
The DNA test came back negative. Thomas Wayne was not Bane’s father. However, that didn’t deter Bane was seeking out his parent. With the help of the Bat Family, Bane learned that his true father was King Snake, an old enemy of Robin’s and one of the world’s leading martial artists. After finding his father living in a mountain range, Bane finally met his father. A fight between Bane, King Snake, and Batman broke out and it ended when King Snake fell to his death. Bane was mortally wounded in the melee though Batman saved his life thanks to a nearby Lazarus Pit. Bane was restored to life and appeared to have turned over a new leaf.
It wouldn’t last long. Bane appeared two years later during a run-in with the JSA‘s Hourman, Rick Tyler. Bane approached Hourman, claiming that he had been addicted to Venom again thanks to a group living in Santa Prisca. He claimed to have been in that country to wipe out the Venom trade there when he’d been jumped and put back on the steroid. All of this was a lie, intended to distract Rick while Bane went after Rex Tyler, Rick’s father and the original Hourman.
It seems that Miraclo, the chemical that the various Hourmen used to gain strength for an hour, was related to Venom. Bane now sought to destroy all traces of Venom from the Earth and to do that, he needed to destroy Miraclo. Rex and Rick were able to work together to defeat Bane before his plan was fully complete, but it was close.
After his Hourman battle, Bane stuck to the side of villainy. He had a few battles with the Judomaster family after he killed Judomaster during Infinite Crisis. Eventually, his activities brought him to the attention of Amanda Waller, leader of the Suicide Squad. She was able to arrange it for Bane to be incarcerated at Belle Reve, the prison where the Suicide Squad was based. There, he was forced to join the Squad.
One of Bane’s first missions was to help transport a variety of supervillains to a faraway prison planet. At the last moment, Waller betrayed her Squad and included them in the planet’s population. After everyone made it back to Earth thanks to the cunning of Lex Luthor, Bane managed to stay out of Waller’s grasp. Soon afterwards, he joined another group of villains named the Secret Six.
While with the Six, Bane’s temperament appeared calmer and his actions seemed more willful than at some of the previous times he appeared. Perhaps this was due to his being around Scandal Savage, the daughter of Vandal Savage. Though there was in no way a physical relationship between the two, thanks in part because Scandal was a lesbian, Bane still watched over her as a father figure. In his own way, Bane loved her.
Over time, Bane became tired of the Secret Six’s win/loss record. They were a disorganized bunch whose plans always seemed to go haywire almost as soon as they were implemented. Though he loved Scandal, he decided that she was a poor leader in that moment. After one particularly bad mission, Bane declared himself group leader. Few disagreed with his coup.
Just before the Flashpoint wiped everything away, Bane had a revelation. He realized that he become soft. The continuous beatings at Batman’s hands had made him mentally weak. He actually cared for others and that meant that his caring could be exploited against him. To harden himself, and the Secret Six, he decided to take out the Batman Family. However, before his plans could be fully complete, the DCU’s heroes found the Six. In a Butch and Sundance-style last stand, the Six took some Venom pills and began an offensive push. It was one of the few times that Bane had chosen to use Venom since his first battle with Batman. Of course, as the Six were battling the likes of Batman, Superman, and several Green Lanterns, they were defeated rather quickly. Still, Bane left the pre-New 52 continuity fighting.
In the New 52, Bane looks like a caricature of his former self. Once again addicted to Venom, Bane is back to being huge. He’s also back to having that tantalizing weakness of the tubes running into his skull. You’d think he’d be smart enough to reinforce those things or something. I’m not sure that a dog collar is enough protection.
As before, the New 52 Bane mentioned that he’d broken Batman’s back. I’m curious of how much else of Bane’s past still remains. Is he still from Santa Prisca? Is his father King Snake? Did he do a stint with the Suicide Squad? Perhaps in time, we’ll be given the answers to these questions.
Jeff Reid remembers that the Knightfall storyline blew his mind when he was 11. Those were some of the first trades he ever owned. He also reminisces about his childhood on Twitter.