Batman: The Animated Series, “Bane”

05Jan12

This wasn’t one of the episodes that I missed when I was a kid. But it was in the vague category of “later” episodes for the Animated series, when it had been rebranded as the Batman and Robin Adventures on Fox. Combined with the specific moment when the Bane character was introduced in the comics, it felt like a weird hybrid even as a kid, and it stuck out for that reason.

Before we get to the episode and Bane, I have to take a minute to talk about how the series rebranding was not important, yet felt like a wrong move, then and now. For one thing, Robin did not become a more important character after the name was changed, so the title was something of a lie. But the bigger issue was that they changed the opening sequence, from the masterful 30 seconds of silent crime fighting to a weird hybrid, containing snippets of episodes where Robin had appeared beforehand, and the original opening. It angered me as a kid, and even now it’s an irritation, even though the new opening is perfectly fine on its own. It only suffers in comparison.

Back to Bane himself, the episode aired near when Bane appeared in the comics. I have to admit, I never read the storyline that introduced him, only hearing about it on the margins. Partly this was because I was exclusively a Marvel reader at the time…and partly because I was too young to spend my own money on comics, so there was no way I could guarantee being able to collect the whole thing when it was current. Still, I was young enough to think that when Bane broke Batman’s back, it might actually be a permanent thing, and Bruce Wayne would never be Batman again. Obviously I was wrong, but that idea informed my viewing of the episode, and made it a tension nothing else had. Would this do the same thing to Batman? Would they actually end the series with this? If so, what would come next? All terribly naive questions, but I was of the right age to seriously consider it, instead of assuming it would all revert to normal at the end. Now that I’ve watched it again, that tension is gone, so that’s one obvious difference between seeing it as a child and an adult. So the question is, how well does it hold up without that metatextual fear?

The answer is decently. This is not an outstanding episode of the series, but it has a strong start and middle, and it manages to be true to the character of Bane while paring down the unnecessary details. The one thing that set Bane apart was the idea that he wasn’t just hopped up on super steroids, but was also very intelligent and strong willed. That hasn’t come through in all of his comic appearances since his introduction, but it does appear here, such as when he uses an unknowing Killer Croc to both scout out Batman and send a message that he’s hunting the Dark Knight. But the episode doesn’t hit us over the head with this fact, either. Bane is certainly stronger than Batman, but he’s not shown as being smarter, nor does the episode try to cram the whole Knightfall storyline into 22 minutes. He’s smart enough to use his strength intelligently and make good plans, and that’s enough to make him a real threat.

The reason why the episode is decent comes from the final third of the episode. The basic story starts with Rupert Thorne hiring Bane to kill Batman. Not as evocative as Bane wanting to break Batman just to prove himself, but again, we’ve got 22 minutes for the story instead of 12+ comic issues. The simpler motivation is best here. As part of this, Thorne gives Bane his female assistant, Candace, to help him out. She hints at Bane eliminating Thorne once Batman is dead, and even goes with Bane for the final confrontation with Batman, who shows up because Bane was able to kidnap Robin. So far, nothing here is a problem, and the fight between Batman and Bane is nice, at least the first half.

The problem comes up in the second. Batman knocks Bane off their chosen battleground, a boat, and rescues Robin from drowning. Then Bane returns and he and Batman fight some more…while at the same time, Candace is taunted by Robin, and dives into the water after him to fight Robin. I can accept that they wanted to keep Batman from getting Robin’s help while he’s fighting Bane, but it drains a lot of the tension of Bane slowly grinding Batman down when it’s being cut with Candace and Robin flailing around in the pool. And keep in mind, Robin doesn’t pull her in to start with. She willingly jumps in to wrestle him. I don’t know what she was thinking, but I can’t wrap my head around her behavior there. Batman wins, of course, but in a highly disturbing manner-he damages Bane’s Venom unit, and it ends up overloading the poor bastard, making it look like he’s about to explode before they pull the plug.

Is this an episode you should watch? Yes…with reservations. As I said, Bane is handled well here, adapted to fit the series without losing the essential point to the character. And I’ll admit, I liked how the character is essentially an upgrade on Killer Croc, and takes out his predecessor as part of his plan. But that third act remains rough, even if it’s not an utter train wreck. Seeing Bane get unmasked and looking like some jobber schlub was not really a triumphant Batman moment, but a cringe-inducing cut down of an otherwise impressive villain. This is a statement that comes from a great deal of hindsight because of how well he’s been used recently, but Bane deserves better, even an animated version.

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