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When Batman: The Animated Series Refused to ‘Break’ the Dark Knight

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
When Batman: The Animated Series Refused to ‘Break’ the Dark Knight

Welcome to the twelfth installment of Adventure(s) Time, where we examine an episode of a beloved animated series and an issue of its tie-in comic. Sometimes the comic outshines its predecessor. Other times, not. This week, we’re examining the animated debut of perhaps the youngest Batman villain who might now be labeled “iconic.” In fact, the character was initially dismissed in some circles as purely a gimmick, which is reportedly how the producers of the series once viewed the villain.

Many of you have guessed that I’m speaking, of course, of Bane.

Created in 1992 during a Batman’s creators summit by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan specifically as the villain to “break” Batman, the character had a vocal segment of fandom calling foul. He certainly seemed to be a gimmick early on, having been created specifically to debut in a collectible first appearance and drive the latest event storyline. What those fans didn’t realize is that the creators had all of those thoughts in mind when conceiving Bane.

King & Finch Make The Case For Bane As Batman’s Ultimate Arch-Foe

The entire “Knightfall” event was actually inspired by Batman editor Denny O’Neil’s disdain for event storylines, and served in a way as a rebuke of the concept (and the belief amongst many fans that Batman should be a more ruthless and violent vigilante.) Additionally, writer Chuck Dixon made his annoyance with the idea of manufacturing a “major” villain during a conference known from the beginning, which he says motivated O’Neil to single him out as the man responsible for defining Bane. Dixon arguably created the anti-Doomsday; a character invented for a specific plot purpose, but also thoughtfully conceived as a legitimate foe for the hero he’d be going up against. Bane became a villain who managed to endure the gimmicky ’90s and eventually become viewed as a legitimate member of Batman rogue’s gallery. (Chuck Dixon recently did a podcast interview on The Batman Universe that covered much of this territory.)

Bane made his first appearance outside of the comics on the seventy-fifth episode of “Batman: The Animated Series,” during the time the show was being broadcast on Saturday mornings as “The Adventures of Batman &Robin.” Why the producers changed their minds on Bane isn’t clear (perhaps the “Knightfall” event exceeded their expectations?), but it’s interesting that they eventually relented and later allowed the other big “gimmick” villain of ’90s DC to appear in the DCAU, when Doomsday became a threat on “Justice League.”

“Bane” is written by Mitch Brian and directed by Kevin Altieri, with animation services provided by Dong Yang Animation. The story is fairly faithful to Bane’s comic book origin, but the idea of Bane as an ambitious crimelord is largely ignored. Instead, he’s a hitman from Cuba, who’s been hired by Rupert Thorne after Batman foils yet another one of his operations. Bane is picked up from the airport (getting off the plane in his luchador mask, amazingly) by Thorne’s assistant, Candice. This is Candice’s final showing in the animated series, and the idea that she’s a little off, perhaps even more than a bit sadistic, is carried over from her previous appearance. Candice is not only attracted to Bane’s overbearing masculinity, but she’s absolutely enamored with the thought of watching him kill Batman.

Within a few minutes, we learn Bane’s story. Even if Bane doesn’t dream of running his own criminal empire in this continuity, the idea that he became an enhanced metahuman in prison, is dependent on the drug Venom, and is obsessed with the idea of proving his worth against Batman, are all from his early appearances in the comics. Bane’s first step in his plan is to observe Batman in action, which involves manipulating a Batman/Killer Croc fight. This is another idea inspired from the initial Bane storyline — unfortunately a story that DC didn’t see fit to include during its massive three-volume “Knightfall” reprint series.

Killer Croc isn’t portrayed as a dimwit in this appearance (he’s bossing his own gang around), but he doesn’t put up his best showing. Having an established strongman lose to the hot new menace is perhaps a bit of a cheap move, as is allowing Bane to smash up the Batmobile off-screen, but the story gets away with it. Bane’s first appearance should feel significant, and following the path of the original storyline is smart.

I think kids during this time, even if they weren’t closely following the comics, had some understanding of the “Knightfall” story and knew that Bane was supposed to be a major player. (“Knightfall” was, after all, a cultural event that managed to reach a mainstream audience, nearly rivaling the heights of “Death of Superman.”) When Bane appeared on “Batman: The Animated Series,” kids were ready to see the last of the major Batman villains make his debut. Meanwhile, older fans “in the know” were likely drawn in by the intrigue of the producers introducing a character they previously stated they wouldn’t use.

From here, Batman investigates the man known as Bane. In the process, Killer Croc has a censor-approved torture session, Robin is kidnapped and used as bait, and Candice continues to fall for super-hunk Bane. She’s so smitten, that she suggests Bane murder her pudgy, aging boss Rupert Thorne and take over.

During the climax of the story, Batman and Bane have a showdown on Rupert Thorne’s yacht, which challenges Bane to the point that he calls upon the Venom drug for additional strength. While Batman duels with the behemoth, Candice eagerly accepts Robin’s invitation to have their own fight in the water. This remains off-screen, likely due to censor regulations that frowned on male-female fights, but it is another example of the producers taking Candice further than we’ve seen similar characters portrayed in the past.

The story evokes the comics one last time, as Bane utters his now famous catchphrase “Scream my name!” while lifting Batman over his head. This is clearly an homage to the famous splash page found in “Batman” #497 — Bane’s “…Break You!” moment. The producers have their own twist, however. Batman destroys the Venom control on Bane’s wrist with a Batarang, giving Bane an overdose of the drug. The villain is soon defeated, and returned (now smaller and emasculated) to Thorne’s office. Batman throws one last dagger at Thorne when he plays a tape that reveals Candice’s affair with Bane.

Some fans have speculated that having Batman outwit Bane in that final moment, creating an alternate ending to the “…Break You!” setup, was a wry commentary against the original storyline — the idea being that the Batman of “The Animated Series” wouldn’t go down like the defeated, broken man seen in the comics. He’d find a way to win, even against the latest “major villain” the publisher is heavily promoting. I’ll confess that I interpreted the scene this way when I first viewed the episode, and could still see it as true today, but I don’t think the producers have ever confirmed this.

Bane would go on to make a few more appearances in the animated series, as it transitioned to “The New Batman Adventures,” but he wouldn’t star as the villain in his own episode ever again. As for Candice, she was simply forgotten, right?

Not by the creators of the tie-in comic, actually. And those guys were more than willing to use Bane as the main villain, as it turns out…

“Batman &Robin Adventures” #12 (November 1996) is a direct sequel to “Bane,” picking up a few weeks after the closing of the episode.  In the opening pages of “To Live and Die in Gotham City!”, writer Ty Templeton and penciler Brandon Kruse introduce us to Giovanni, a recovering drug addict who’s been nursing Bane back to health since Thorne left him for dead.  Giovanni recognizes Bane’s struggle, and works to keep him alive while detoxing from the Venom left in his system.  Bane’s young friend also seems to be quite the therapist, escorting Bane through a trip of his memories, and recalling the night he oversaw the attack from Thorne’s men.  Notice that Candice is just as demented here as we witnessed in her previous cartoon appearances.

Oddly, artist Brandon Kruse seems to struggle to keep Candice on-model, even though he does a great job producing recognizable versions of the rest of the “Animated Series” cast.  Within a few pages, Kruse renders a pretty convincing fight scene between Bane and Thorne’s men, outside of a Gotham opera house. (The opera wasn’t violent enough for Candice, by the way.)

The disappearance of Rupert Thorne places Gotham’s underworld on edge, and creates fears of a gangland battle that could harm innocent bystanders.  While Robin’s out on patrol, Bane sneaks up on him and offers him a message — he has Rupert Thorne, and he’s offering the mobster to Batman.  When Batman and Robin arrive at Bane’s hotel, they learn that Bane isn’t going to make this easy.

Bane’s odd sense of honor was glossed over in his animated appearance, but Ty Templeton finds a way to incorporate the concept into the closing scenes of the comic.  Batman and Robin must now find a way inside the hotel before Bane kills both Thorne and his former lover, Candice (who Bane says will die second, because “I know how you like to watch.”)  Before the heroes arrive, Giovanni attempts to stop his friend from committing murder, but finds that Bane’s past the point of reason.  When a desperate Giovanni attacks Bane with a pipe, he becomes Bane’s next target.  Luckily, the heroes arrive just in time to subdue Bane, allowing Giovanni to make his escape.  Bane declares that he has no friends, only enemies, as the final panel focuses on a terrified Giovanni’s exit from the scene.

Bane’s clearly still a villain at the end of the story, but the stage has been set for a more human portrayal of the villain.  The “Adventures” books will continue down this path up until the end of Scott Peterson’s run on “Gotham Adventures,” while the animated series tends to treat Bane as muscle during his rare appearances in the later years of the show.  He’s never the mindless goon that Hollywood depicted in “Batman and Robin,” and he’s certainly intimidating in episodes like “Over the Edge,” but he’s never a criminal mastermind, and not a particularly complex antagonist in the cartoon.

The Wrap-Up

Design-y

“Bane” features some of the series’ best examples of Batman in silhouette.

The red background attached to Bane’s drugged out Venom trips is also a cool design element that helps to illustrate his fevered state of mind.

Production Note

“The Adventures of Batman & Robin” featured a new opening credit sequence, a collection of clips of both Batman and Robin from previous episodes. The distinctive Danny Elfman score was replaced by a new piece by Shirley Walker, who composed much of the music for the series.

Continuity Notes

  • Rupert Thorne is back on the street and apparently “untouchable” by authorities again, even though the “Shadow of the Bat” two-parter seemed to end this status quo.
  • Killer Croc’s design seems to have been beefed up this episode, giving him broader shoulders and larger arms.
  • The fictional nation of Bane’s birth, Santa Prisca, was changed to Cuba in “Bane.” This is odd, given that network censors tended to prefer fictional locales to real world ones. The name of the prison where he was subjected to the drug testing, Peña Duro, is kept consistent with the comics, however.

Battle of the Banes

Bane’s appearance in the “Adventures” tie-in does bring him closer to his comics persona, as it explores the nature of his Venom addiction and offers some insight into his twisted sense of honor. This is also Bane at his weakest, however, and it’s hard to view him as the physical threat to Batman in this story. Conversely, the animated episode does present Bane as a real challenge for the heroes, and even if the show doesn’t go for a full “Knightfall,” the audience is left with the impression that Bane has a secure place in the rogues’ gallery. The “Adventures” issue is an enjoyable follow-up to the original story, but Bane makes his real impression in his animated debut. I’ll acknowledge that the moment when Batman escapes the fate that befell him in “Knightfall” was one of my favorite scenes of the series during its run, so I’ll always have a soft spot for this episode.

That’s all for now.  If you’d like to suggest your own animated episode and an “Adventures” cousin to be highlighted, contact me on Twitter or leave a comment.

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