As I mentioned when I reviewed the first Knightfall omnibus volume followed by the last two, that was a seminal comic crossover that brought me into the world of Batman full force. But, much like when I started reading Superman comics, there were all kinds of elements in play that I was learning about as I went.
When I started reading comics, I loved the fact that these stories had been going on for years before I came onboard. That meant I got to play detective while reading along, picking up clues and figuring things out as best I could. Sometimes I was wrong, sometimes I was right and sometimes retcons rendered my investigation moot, but it was fun trying to piece the puzzle together. At the time I figured there was a Platonic version of continuity out there that I could eventually understand. Oh, how naive I once was.
One of the many elements at play in KnightFall — the story that saw Bane breaking Batman and Jean-Paul Valley taking over — was a steroid type drug called Venom that Bane injected into himself. At some point, it was either hinted at or outright stated that Batman had a history with the stuff itself. That story was recently collected in a trade simply titled Batman: Venom that acts as a companion piece to the KnightFall books.
The story kicks off with Batman failing to save a girl trapped in a room with rising water. He’s not strong enough to save her and she dies. He then goes to her dad’s house where he’s working on Venom and doesn’t seem concerned about his kid whatsoever. After a series of failures and further injuries, Batman winds up taking the drug and gets hooked. After going a little crazy, getting strung along by the scientist and introduced to an evil general with his own schemes, Batman finally kicks Venom and goes after the bad guys who are building supersoldiers on the island of Santa Prisca (which O’Neill created in The Question and also designated as Bane’s home).
I think this is a really interesting story because, at the heart of it, it’s about Batman wanting to be the best he is at what he does and failing. He’s so torn up by this girl’s death that he does something you’d never expect him to: turn to drugs. It’s a dark time in his life, but being the kind of person he is, he stops taking them and has Alfred lock him in the Batcave for a month (the coolest idea in the whole book). He then goes on to stop the bad guys who have an army of nearly unbeatable soldiers at their beck and call.
But, the actual story doesn’t feel very dramatic and I think that’s because you know how it’s going to end. Even if you had no familiarity with the Bane story or were reading it when these issues came out, you know that Batman isn’t going to stay addicted to Venom. It doesn’t take too long for Batman to kick the habit and it’s sad to see him do the things he does while under the influence, but there’s still this surrounding idea that he’s obviously going to get better. Obviously, this is something that all Corporate Comics have to deal with. The key is to dress the story up with enough elements and characters that distract you from the fact that nothing is REALLY going to change, especially with a character as huge as Batman. Unfortunately, aside from Batman and Alfred, this book doesn’t have much of that distracting window dress. The scientist is emotionless from doing his own drugs. The general is the same basic evil military guy you’ve seen in everything. There’s an attempt to bring more emotion into it with the scientist’s son who gets tragically transformed into one of these mindless soldiers, but even that felt pretty been-there-done-that.
Still, this book has a nice little adventure that includes Batman fighting a shark on the cover that also fills in a big part of the KnightFall/Bane mythology that you might have missed. Plus, the artwork by Trevor Von Eeden and Russell Braun is very classic Batman, so it’s got that going on.
Batman Versus Bane is another trade that ties in to the KnightFall trades which in turn were most likely produced to grab some interest based on the villain’s appearance in The Dark Knight Rises. This one reprints Bane’s origin as seen in the Vengeance Of Bane one-shot as well as the post-KnightFall miniseries Bane Of The Demon.
I mentioned the one-shot in my review of the first KnightFall book, which it is also collected in. It would have been nice if they threw in the three or four issues that Bane and his crew appeared in between the one-shot and the KQ story proper, but oh well.
This time around I noticed that Bane’s origin is gilded with some really silly elements. When he’s a kid, living in the prison, he sees a vision of himself warning against a kind of bat demon. Later he decides he wants to go to Gotham because it connects to his dream. If you’ve already got a survivor who built up his body and mind while trapped in prison, do you really need to add on this silly element of the dream? Just make him a competitive guy who wants to test himself against another high quality physical specimen and skip all that other nonsense.
On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Bane Of The Demon miniseries which I’d never read before. I didn’t realize it going in, but this leads directly into a moment that blew my mind in Detective Comics #700 when it’s revealed that Bane is Ra’s al Ghul’s new Ubu. I’m glad I didn’t read this series at the time because that moment would not have had as much impact, but going back and checking it out now is a nice look at what was going on behind the scenes.
The gist here is that Bane wants to know about his past so he returns to the island of Santa Prsica. There he discovers that one of four men could have been his father. His search for one of the candidates not only involves the Order Of St. Dumas, but also Ra’s and Talia al Ghul who he winds up palling around with for a while, but never completely letting his guard down around.
This story not only leads into the Legacy crossover that plagued the Bat-books (that’s a semi-clever pun if you’re familiar with the story), but also leads into a later Gotham Knights arc that posits that Bane and Bruce Wayne might be half brothers! That’s not explored or mentioned in this book at all, but there is a nice little set up for it.
I’ll be keeping both of these books in my collection, not necessarily because they’re mind-blowingly awesome comic book stories, but because they’re important pieces of a story that I love going back to my early days as a comic reader.