NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Batman #17
Every superhero has one, or possibly two top villains inextricably linked to them, no matter how decades may pass. Wonder Woman has Ares or Cheetah, Superman has Lex Luthor (and perhaps Doomsday), and The Flash has the Reverse-Flash and... the Reverse-Flash. But Batman has always challenged that notion, given his Rogues Gallery of famous nemeses guaranteed to inspire devoted fandoms based on their monikers alone (and the effectiveness of the villains relies on the writer telling the story). The Joker takes the top prize, sure. But when it comes to truly menacing forces of nature, Bane stands apart.
The villain most famous for succeeding in literally breaking the Bat even got not one, but two film adaptations highlighting his Venom-based strength in one case, and his discipline and conviction in the other. The DC Rebirth brought a Bane along with it, but under the leadership of writer Tom King, this new version has become something else entirely. After being re-introduced as a Venom-free, serene, but nevertheless deadly despot (who apparently hates clothes), his resolve was severely shaken when Batman bested him yet again. Lying broken, betrayed, and bereft of his soothing superpowered prisoner, Bane had only one request: "Venom."
What followed was immediate damage control by Bruce Wayne, returning to Gotham City and gathering his former sidekicks in one place to warn them off. Leave town. Take off your masks. And above all, do not try to take on this enraged and desperate villain when he arrives. Naturally, they ignored their mentor. And to confirm that this Bane is a new breed entirely, Issue #16 ended on the discovery of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Damian Wayne strung up in the Batcave, unconscious, and spraypainted with the message "I AM BANE." Now THAT's a cliffhanger.
Batman Puts His Allies on Ice
Issue #17 begins with a bit of a disappointment. Not only due to the fact that Dick, Damian and Jason are still alive (that one was easy to predict), but that their rescue and transportation to Superman's Fortress of Solitude was skipped entirely. Doing some detective work of our own, it appears that the trio were simply displayed as a message to terrify Batman of just how easily and silently Bane could move when he wanted to. The added touch of Superman unlocking the Fortress with his impossibly-heavy key only to find Batman finished his work is yet another treat for fans, on top of a cameo from the Man of Steel himself.
Superman is typically one to give a moral pep talk or a lecture, at the very least, but his silence conveys everything King needs to about the stakes and threat Batman now faces. He only plans on keeping his allies unconscious for a span of four days - the time required for Alfred to effectively 'fix' their new ally, Gotham Girl, using the Psycho-Pirate's emotional manipulation (having previously been used by Bane to keep his need for Venom at bay). Stating without any hint of flexibility that either he or Bane are walking away from this one - and no one else will fall at his request - Batman departs for Gotham.
Bane's Men Return
The issue is mainly comprised of short scenes in which Batman's own Suicide Squad (assembled to infiltrate Bane's stronghold and extract Psycho-Pirate) are tracked down and attacked. The book actually begins with Bronze Tiger being shot in the stomach after a mysterious figure tracks him down to a seedy motel. Having recently used Venom to help the team escape from Bane's fortress, it's unclear just how much damage was done, but he's left in a bleeding mess all the same. And he's not alone in paying the price for his alliance with Batman: Catwoman, too, is tracked down in disguise by an unknown man who immediately taunts her with small talk of stray cats... before launching his signature bird, and shooting Selina Kyle down.
When the men convene to attack Police Commissioner Jim Gordon as he picks his way down a Gotham alley (on the phone with his daughter, Barbara), things finally go against them. A lifelong cop, Jim senses the shadowy figure trailing behind him, and surprises him with a gunshot. The victory is short-lived, as Bane's former henchmen - Bird, Trogg, and Zombie - are finally revealed. The trio will be familiar to fans of the many "Knight"-branded arcs focused on Bane's time spent in Pena Duro prison, and taking on Batman in Gotham City.
Fortunately for Jim, Duke Thomas - having previously taken Bruce's orders, and committed to leaving town as the other Robins shrugged off his warning - didn't actually stray that far, diving in to help put the three goons down in seconds. It would be another victory for the men clearly unable to walk away from a fight, if the concrete wall beside them didn't shatter into pieces, revealing a single pair of massive, gloved, and unmistakable hands.
Bane Makes His Move
It doesn't matter how hard Bruce Wayne tries to stay ahead of Bane, or what lengths he goes to to keep those closest to him from safety. In the end, it's the ones who seem least willing to accept protection who pay the price, but credit where it's due: Bane defeating and making sacrifices of Bronze Tiger, Duke Thomas, Jim Gordon and Selina Kyle is no small feat. Having operated in the shadows up to this point, Bane is making his first movie. As Batman perches atop a tower of Arkham Asylum - keeping watch over Alfred and Gotham Girl's first therapy session inside - the line of four bound silhouettes and one massive man on a nearby roof are impossible to miss.
With the strike of a single flare, Bane reveals himself: back in mask and uniform, back in Gotham City, and back to his even more insane physical size with the help of Venom. He doesn't even need to speak to send the message he intends: either Batman leaves Alfred, Gotham Girl, and the Psycho-Pirate vulnerable to come to his friends' defense, or Bane will do... well, we don't even want to think about it. In fact, the notion that Bane is even presenting Batman with an offer, and not simply gaining his attention for four executions about to take place is wishful thinking on our part.
Where the Bane first introduced by King was intelligent, focused, and seeing the world with a sense of clarity, it's impossible to know what this new version will be. Our money is on an enraged beast Batman knows might kill him before the night is over. What that means for his hostages... only time will tell.
Batman #17 is available now.