The Dark Knight Rises: the history of Bane

James looks back at the history of Bane, the villain Batman is currently limbering up to face in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises

With his upcoming appearance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the character of Bane completes his graduation onto the A-list of Batman villains. But who is Bane? Where did he come from? And what elements of his storied past have Team Nolan keyed into for his second big-screen bow?  

Obviously, if you want to go into The Dark Knight Rises knowing nothing, then this is an article best avoided.

Unlike the other ‘classic’ members of Batman rogues gallery, Bane was created in the early 90s to fulfill a specific story function: he was to be the man who would ‘Break the Bat’.

In the same way that Doomsday was introduced into the pages of the early 90s Superman books with the express purpose of ‘killing’ the Man of Steel, Bane would serve the equivalent purpose in the Bat-titles Knightfall storyline. 

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Debuting in January 1993 in the pages of Vengeance of Bane, the extra-sized special, written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Graham Nolan, served as both introduction and origin story to this mysterious character.

Born inside the prison known as Pena Dura (‘Hard Rock’) on the fictional Caribbean island of Santa Prisca, Bane was sentenced from birth to serve time for his absent father’s revolutionary crimes. Training both his mind and body inside the prison, Bane would soon rise to become the unchallenged king of Pena Dura.

However, Bane’s rise to the top of the prison food chain had gained him a reputation with the prison authorities and it was they who forced him to become a test-subject for a mysterious new, super-steroid known as Venom.

Pumped directly into his brain, Venom vastly increased Bane’s physical strength, but left him addicted to regular infusions of the drug. Enhanced by his treatment, Bane – along with his three prison flunkies; Trogg, Zombie and Bird – escaped from Pena Dura and set his sights on Gotham City.

Inside the prison, Bane had heard rumours of Gotham and its protector Batman. As a child, Bane had suffered from nightmares of a bat-demon that would terrify him. Seeing Batman as a representation of that fear, Bane vowed to go to Gotham and literally conquer the embodiment of his childhood terror.

Coming to Gotham with his team in tow, Bane began a military style campaign against the Dark Knight. Releasing the inmates from within both Blackgate Prison and Arkham Asylum out into the city, Bane forced an increasingly pressured Batman to recapture all of his major foes in a campaign lasting several months.

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With that mission completed, Bane then faced his exhausted nemesis in one-on-one combat within the confines of the Batcave, resulting in both Bane’s victory and Batman’s back being broken.

With the original Dark Knight now out of the way, Bane began his mission to take over Gotham’s criminal underworld and soon rose to the top of the food chain, much as he did inside Pena Dura.

Unfortunately for Bane, the rumours of Batman’s demise were somewhat exaggerated as Wayne’s chosen replacement, the assassin-turned-hero, Azrael, sought out Bane and took on Gotham’s new criminal mastermind to prove his own worth as Gotham’s new protector.

Beaten to within an inch of his life by the increasingly brutal new Batman, Bane was defeated and once again incarcerated, except this time it was inside the walls of Blackgate Prison rather than Pena Dura.  

Kicking his Venom addiction while inside Blackgate, Bane eventually escaped from prison (as seen in Vengeance of Bane II: The Redemption) and ended up taking down a ring of Venom suppliers before seemingly leaving Gotham for good.  

With that story concluded, Bane next appeared in the mini-series, Bane of the Demon, which found him searching for his long-lost father and crossing paths with the Demon’s Head himself, Ra’s Al Ghul. 

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Impressed with Bane’s qualities, Ra’s bestowed the title of heir upon him – an honour that Batman himself had rejected in the past – and together this new partnership would face the Dark Knight once more during 1996’s Legacy storyline.

It was during this arc that Bane and Bruce Wayne – now back in the Bat-suit – would finally have their rematch. However, this time around Batman would emerge victorious and this would ultimately lead to Bane becoming estranged from both Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins.

With the Legacy storyline tying off strands first begun in Vengeance of Bane and Knightfall, the character of Bane now found himself at something of a crossroads.

Appearances in No Man’s Land (1999) and Gotham Knights (2002), the latter of which toyed with establishing Bane as Bruce Wayne’s long-lost half-brother, smacked of various creative teams struggling to find a role for Batman’s one- time arch enemy.

After several less than memorable appearances during the Infinite Crisis and One Year Later DC events, from 2008 Bane seemed to finally find a home in the pages of writer Gail Simone’s Secret Six series.

Casting Bane as the de-facto leader of this group of B-list villains, Simone’s book gave Bane a platform and visibility that he’d not enjoyed in years. Sadly, in 2011 that book – along with every other DC title – was cancelled to make way for the companies ‘New 52’ line wide reboot. However, despite this seeming setback, there was something far more exciting looming on the horizon…

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With rumours of the Riddler, the Penguin and even Hugo Strange circulating in the press, it was something of a surprise when it was announced that Bane would be the villain of Christopher Nolan’s final Batman picture, The Dark Knight Rises.

Bane’s previous big screen outing had been in 1997’s Batman & Robin. A lot has been written about that film, but suffice to say that Joel Schumacher’s recasting of Bane as a mindless monster with a penchant for dressing up in pink Gorilla suits was definitely one of the film’s low points.

The casting of actor Tom Hardy in the part was certainly one way of erasing the memory of wrestler Jeep Swanson’s previous ‘performance’ in the role, but the question remained: how was Bane going to work on screen?

Judging by what we’ve seen so far, the answer appears to be: incredibly well.

As with every Bat-villain so far Nolan and co-plotter David Goyer have gone back to the root of the character and isolated what worked in their most successful incarnations.

From the prologue and trailer material released so far it seems that the creative team have decided to give Bane a plan and military mindset that evokes his first appearances back in Vengeance of Bane and Knightfall

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While dispensing with the whole Venom angle, the filmmakers have cleverly maintained Bane’s dependence on some form of narcotic, except this time it’s a form of pain relief, which potentially gives Bane both an Achilles heel and – more interestingly – an element of sympathy. 

However, most impressive has been the redesign of Bane’s mask. By making it a muzzle-like breathing apparatus, they’ve taken the weakest aspect of the comic book design (his Luchador-style face mask) and turned it into his defining feature.

The teeth-like mandibles on the mask are reminiscent of a gorilla’s mouth, yet also evoke the fangs of the Mutant Leader from Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns.

That character was clearly – along with 30s pulp hero Doc Savage – an influence on the Bat-office when they were creating Bane, so it’s interesting to see that getting a nod in this big-screen incarnation. 

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