SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Batman #59 by Tom King, Mikel Janin, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles, on sale now!
When it comes to the perception of Bane among broader audiences (those beyond the realm of comic book fandom, anyhow), most would be hard-pressed to tell you anything about the character outside of the fact he was the guy who broke Batman’s back, and Tom Hardy played him in that one movie. Now, this might be a rather broad stroke, but beyond the Bane moments that have permeated the cultural zeitgeist (much like that other hulking monster who killed Superman back in the ‘90s), what makes the character so compelling has never really broken free of the graphic medium...at least not fully. The fact he hasn't truly been represented to the degree he deserves in live action adaptations doesn't help (remember when he was in Batman and Robin? Yeah, we wish we didn't either). Even in comics, he's used rather sparingly, which is a shame, because Bane should mean much more than he does in pop culture.
Thankfully, in Batman #59, Tom King and Mikel Janin give readers a massive reminder of why Bane is arguably the most dangerous villain the Dark Knight has ever faced. Beyond his advanced fighting skill, enhanced strength, and panache for tactical assaults, Bane is absolutely brilliant and displays a level of patience when executing a sinister plan that no Rogues Gallery villain possesses. Bane is all about the long game. During the "Knightfall" story line, he just didn't waltz up to Batman and snap him in half in the first issue. No, Bane wore the Bat down by releasing the inmates of Arkham Asylum, causing Bruce Wayne and his Batfamily to spend months cleaning up the city. Only after exhausting Batman's crime-fighting prowess (and sanity) did Bane make his final strike.
Now, Bane is back at biding his time and letting the pieces fall where they should. As Bruce slowly starts to unravel the more he connects the dots between the dead women attributed to Mister Freeze, the assassination attempt on Dick Grayson, and the endangerment of Alfred, Bane sits in Arkham, feigning incapacitation (or so it would seem). Batman lashes out not once, but twice in Batman #59. He roughs up the diminutive Oswald Cobblepot during an interrogation (which leads to a confession Batman doesn't want to believe) and he even strikes out against one of his closest allies, Jim Gordon, when the commissioner tries to stop the Caped Crusader from beating the truth out of Bane.
Batman putting his trust in a villain and betraying a much-needed ally are exactly the sort of things a man like Bane wants to see play out before making a his final move. It's psychological warfare. And not since Ra's al Ghul absconded with Thomas and Martha Wayne's coffins in the JLA story line "Tower of Babel" have we see seen such brilliant emotional turmoil levied against Bruce.
Other than the aforementioned Ra's, no other Batman villain can match Bruce Wayne's intellect and physical ability, simultaneously. Sure, costumed enemies like the Joker and the Riddler can push Batman to the precipice of madness by attacking those he loves or the city he is so beholden to, but more often than not, once the gags and traps have been swept a way, the Dark Knight foils their plans with a well-landed punch to the solar plexus. Heavy hitters like Killer Croc and Solomon Grundy can certainly put a hurting on ol' Bats, but neither are really able to see beyond physical altercations.
To be fair, Bane secretly controlling Arkham Asylum does seem rather repetitive, seeing as how he has dabbled in such affairs before. But a mind like Bane's has certainly conjured up another layer to this scheme. Something much deeper and darker than simply siccing a legion of madmen on Gotham is boiling to the surface. The manner in which Tom King has slowly been moving the pieces together has been brilliant, and it strangely reflects Bane's own plan (or at least what we can see of it).
All the stories that have felt almost isolated from one another are starting to mesh together to illustrate a larger picture. But what the canvas of Gotham City will look like once Bane slashes down the finishing strokes is anybody's guess. It's the unpredictability lurking behind every corner that makes Bane's unknown endgame truly terrifying. Whatever dark shadow destined to envelope Batman is chomping at the bit and its breadth wide enough to be a linebacker (and it's probably gonna wear a sweet luchador mask).