Chapter By Chapter features me reading one chapter of the selected book at a time and reviewing it as if I were reviewing an episode of a TV show or an issue of a comic. There will be spoilers if you haven’t read to the point I have, and if you’ve read further I ask that you don’t spoil anything further into the book. Think of it as read-along book club.
The last chapter was an introduction to Batman, a look inside his head as well as that of Commissioner Gordon’s and how he views their partnership. If I had known chapter two was only a couple pages I would have reviewed it with chapter one. It appears to be a look at Bruce Wayne’s life, with chapter 3 introducing us to Bane, a character created for this storyline. I’m going to have to pay better attention to this in the future. It makes more sense reviewing chapter 2 with chapter 1 than chapter 3 as the first two go together better thematically. If chapter 2 wasn’t literally 3½ pages I’d probably still review it on its own but this is a long book and I don’t want to take forever reviewing it. We’ve only covered a small portion of my book library in the Chapter By Chapter series and over at The Clutter Reports. I want to finish this before either the site or I pass on.
Bane is an interesting villain. He’s not the only villain to stand as a physical challenge to Batman. Clayfaces can alter form and there have been different interpretations, but for brute force Batman has faced the zombie gangster Solomon Grundy and the muscular Blockbuster just in Gotham City. Throw in guys he’s dealt with as part of the Justice League or the Outsiders and there’s probably a much longer list. Bane is not just some musclehead in a Mexican wrestler mask, as we’ll see. He’s also clever and comes up with plans to disrupt Batman personally, to weaken him mentally and emotionally to give himself an edge. Maybe he’s a coward for not confronting Batman directly or maybe he’s not so ego-driven that he thinks taking on Batman directly is the only honorable way to fight him. Bane exists for one reason: to break the Batman. That’s his role in the story and what sets Bruce on his character arc throughout the Knightfall storyline. So let’s meet the big boy after we learn a bit about the other side of Bruce Wayne’s life.
So we don’t learn a lot about Bruce, just more about his Batman life. We do learn about his ancestor. Apparently the doorway from Wayne Manor to the Batcave was the result of an ancestor giving escaped slaves a place to hide until the Underground Railroad came for him. Admittedly I haven’t studied this period of life. I know the time was terrible and what happened but I didn’t study the geography. Gotham City is supposed to be in the New York/New Jersey area and I don’t know when those states ended slavery (though the immediate answer is “not soon enough”), so maybe it checks. It’s really just an excuse to explain a passage from the Manor to the cave without calling in people to work on it. Solomon Wayne was either adept at doing the work himself or it was a team effort with other members of the Underground.
We also are told something comic fans know, that the entryway is hidden behind a clock that appears broken but unlocks the door when set to the time when his father’s watch broke after being shot, thus being the time he was killed, the night Batman was born. While I still don’t buy the “Bruce is the mask” theory, though obviously the novel appears to think otherwise given that he actually lives in the cave in this story, this is when Bruce’s life as the Batman began so I accept that. From there he and Alfred discuss the masked man. Apparently he didn’t jump up there but Batman found hand holds that still indicate he climbed up so quickly it appeared to be jumping up there, and while Gotham doesn’t have the super powered villain count as Metropolis or Central City a few do pop up so it wouldn’t be a total shock. This is the DC universe after all.
We also saw how Batman was ready with a cover story for the cabbie about what Bruce Wayne was doing out there at that time of night and a clever one. Give “Bruce” a black eye with being ditched and nobody thinks about “Batman” being in the area at the same time. Whether you buy the mask theory or not, Bruce does need that identity. Between Wayne Enterprises and his personal account and clout, Bruce Wayne also does good things for Gotham as well as funding the Batman’s career. That’s the thing about DC heroes: they choose civilian identities and jobs more often than not that benefit the city they’re protecting even out of costume. Wonder Woman started out as a nurse but later became a secretary, ask anyone in high legal, business, or military levels how beneficial secretaries are. Post-Crisis Wonder Woman took many jobs that allowed her to learn more about “Man’s World” but were also service jobs, even the supposedly lowly fast food worker. Clark Kent and Billy Batson are reporters. Oliver Queen also uses his money to help others. Barry Allen became a forensics expert while Wally West fixes your car. While Marvel is seen as being the down-to-earth heroes home and DC the gods, DC’s heroes do take on parts of our infrastructure if not being one of those who runs/funds it.
The next chapter is all Bane remembering how he came to Gotham City and why. Bane literally grew up in prison. After his father’s escape the crap nation he lived in decided someone should pay. With Bane not yet born his mother was tossed in and when he was a baby his mother was to raise him. I’m not going to go over the entire thing here. You can read the comics or the novel or maybe a wiki and find out. One reason is I don’t have article space to go through it all and the other is how dark and violent his story is. This is a comic from the 1990s, and while I complain about DiDio’s Darker DC it’s mostly in the treatment of the heroes. The 90s is when the world and villains started getting darker, but the heroes were still light and goodness until stories like Identity Crisis where the darkness began to affect them as well, even the supporting cast. It’s one thing to have Perry White’s marriage on the rocks. It’s another when Elongated Man’s wife is murdered, we find out later she was raped, and certain members of the Justice League punished him by rewriting his brain and making Batman forget he saw it when he catches them.
His situation means he grew up without a proper moral center, but thanks to working in the prison library and his physical training he managed to become clever, but cruel. When someone challenge his place among the prisons, he frames the man for wrecking the warden’s office, pretends to befriend him during his punishment, and then broke him. He wanted the man alive as an example but he died from his injuries. Whether or not that was the reason Bane was chosen for the experiments that put him on the boosting juice Venom (not to be confused with the symbiote from the Marvel universe) we don’t know. What I didn’t know is that he was also given certain physical enhancements that are surprisingly low-tech for a dynamic superhero universe. Some were meant to help him survive the Venom while others were part of turning him into a super warrior…though still pretty ground level compared to, and I’ll stick to villains here, General Zod, Bizarro, the Parasite, Black Adam, and that’s just for starters. Bane versus Metallo, Gorilla Grodd, or the aforementioned Solomon Grundy might be interesting. How do you fight a hero like Swamp Thing or Martian Manhunter when they don’t have a spine to break?
We also learn Bane’s obsession with Batman: he had nightmares of a bat creature that he sees as the embodiment of fear. Ooohh…Bane versus Man-Bat! Has that happened? If not it should given this revelation! It’s also were Bird, a regular criminal from Gotham (remember when Gotham City had those?) who ended up in this prison. Bane actually does make friends with him along with a guy named Trogg that actually protected boy Bane and later some guy named Zombie is released with them. Again, Bane uses his smarts to get out of prison, only now with the enhancements that make him so strong. So now we have a good idea of why Bane is after Batman and Gotham City. This is info I was missing because my collection is incomplete…because 1990s DC made me sad, which may be why I have more Marvel comics from that period because I didn’t expect as much from Marvel and I don’t mean that quite how it sounds.
So this is a great introduction to Bane not only for non-comic readers but for those of us who didn’t have Bane’s full story. Granted I don’t know how much of this was actually in the comics as we’ve seen other novelizations fill in gaps the writer saw, but this is also the editor for the Batman comics at the time so I would hope he doesn’t change much. From what a skim shows me, next time we’ll get to see more of Bane’s handiwork and a bit more about Bane himself. This is well before any movie appearances, and maybe appearances in the Batman cartoons. I’d have to double check that but so far the novel is off to a good start.
[…] added “usually” to the article intro because in the previous installment I looked at two chapters and this time we’re going with four chapters of varying length. This […]