The third installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga, The Dark Knight Rises, hits movie screens this July—and it’s one of the movies I’m most and least looking forward to.
Batman is second only to Star Wars in my ranking of fandoms that are important to me, so I have a deep, personal stake in how the films come out. If they’re terrible— like the Joel Schumacher films that I’ve convinced myself don’t exist—then it hurts me. If they’re great, like Tim Burton’s or Nolan’s versions have been, then all will be well. Batman is my favorite comic hero, and seeing his mythology play out on the big screen is something I love, as long as it doesn’t suck.
On the other hand, the source material being mined for this story is a minefield that Nolan will have to negotiate.
As many of you might know, Tom Hardy is playing the villain in this picture. And while it might seem that following up Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight would be an impossible task, Hardy may well be up to the challenge. One of the things he has going for him is that he’s playing Bane, who is a character drastically different in style and tone from the Joker. Where the Joker is maniacal and insane, Bane is cold and calculating. Where the Joker isn’t physically imposing in any meaningful sense, Bane is a powerhouse, further enhanced by a super-steroid-like substance known as Venom that makes him virtually unstoppable. Bane is also Batman’s intellectual equal, giving him all the makings of a perfect arch-villain.
Perhaps, though, he’s most famous for being the man who broke the Bat.
If you’re interested in learning more about the foe that Christian Bale’s Batman is going to be facing off against this summer, here’s a short list of books you need to pick up—preferably from your favorite local comic-book store.
One of my favorite graphic novels, Batman: Venom tells the origin of the substance Bane uses to double his size and strength. You wouldn’t imagine a story about a drug could be that compelling, but you’d be surprised. The book opens with Batman letting a little girl drown because he wasn’t physically strong enough to save her. In the hopes of never letting that happen again, Batman turns to Venom, which he thinks is a harmless designer drug. The book takes you through his savage addiction and his journey to take down the men responsible for manipulating him into it.
Next on the list for Bane is Knightfall. Originally published from 1993 to 1994, Bane’s introduction in Knightfall made headlines around the world. He was a brand-new villain, coming out of the woodwork to take down the Bat, once and for all. In the wake of The Death of Superman in 1992, DC Comics was thirsty to destroy its biggest heroes, and Bane was the man to do it. In Knightfall: Part One—Broken Bat, Bane runs Batman through the ringer, engineering a mass escape at Arkham Asylum, setting every one of Batman’s foes loose in Gotham. After exhaustion sets in and Batman can’t handle any more, Bane finally reveals himself, snapping Bruce Wayne’s spine in two.
Parts two and three, Who Rules the Night and KnightsEnd, document Bruce’s struggle to walk while his loose cannon of a replacement takes vengeance against Bane. It’s an elegant soap opera of a story, and I find myself re-reading it time and time again. It’s full of so much Batman lore that any adaptation of it to the big screen will be problematic.
More recently, Bane has been in writer Gail Simone’s incredible Secret Six series. I don’t want to ruin the surprises that book holds, but it’s more than worth the cost of the first volume. It’s about a mercenary group of super-villains, including Bane, and it might be one of the funniest and best-written comics ever.
Between those books and Nolan’s version coming up, hopefully we’ll all be able to forget the painfully stupid version of the character Schumacher forced on us.
Bryan Young is editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.