NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Batman" #10
It's a good thing that comic book superheroes aren't actually aware of the many reboots, relaunches, or retconnings that are now commonplace in the industry. Even so, there's a good chance that Batman is getting a serious dose of déjà vu already, thanks to the storylines cooked up for "Batman: Rebirth". He's got a brand new sidekick in his solo book, the loss of another Robin to deal with in "Detective Comics", and even the return of his very first supervillain in DC's first crossover event. But the worst is yet to come.
This week's release of "Batman" #10 brings yet another classic character back into the world of the DC Rebirth - and almost certainly spells disaster for the Dark Knight. The last time the hulking villain known as 'Bane' came face-to-face with Batman, he put the Dark Knight's spine out of commission for months. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence for this "Rebirth" rematch, and unsurprisingly, history repeats itself fairly quickly. But one thing is for sure: this time, the breaking of a back means the fight is just getting started - and Bane doesn't know what he's in for.
The Brand New Bane
Most comic fans will be familiar with Bane as the massive, musclebound brawler using a toxin called Venom to amplify his strength (at the cost of his intellect, it seems), and drawing soldiers to his cause. That's how he's been presented in DC's New 52, too, and continues to be in writer Tom King's current "Batman" series. Bane still resides with his army in Peña Duro prison on the island of Santa Prisca, and has drawn Batman's attention with yet another kidnapping. But there's one key difference: this Bane has put Venom behind him.
It's a frightening proposition, since Bane's origin story is basically a harsher, more brutal and tragic version of Bruce Wayne's. Put into prison at the age of 4 (as readers are shown in Issue #9), Bane was confined to a single sewer cell, feeding on rats and fish and spending his nights treading water, fighting to keep his face above the surface until the morning tide drew back out... for seventeen years. The result is a man hardened beyond measure - calculating, ruthless, and devout in his pursuit of power.
Power... and the Psycho-Pirate, the newly established catalyst of Batman's entire "Rebirth" story so far.
We'll spare new readers every detail, but by this point in "Batman: Rebirth", Bruce Wayne has discovered that most of his current troubles are a result of Bane's pursuit of the Psycho-Pirate, a villain capable of altering the moods or emotions of almost anyone. Batman needs the Pirate to return and undo the damage he caused to an innocent young woman. But to get him, he'll need to assemble his very own Suicide Squad (check out the full roster of classic Bat-villains here) to invade Santa Prisca and the prison he's being kept within. Oh, and remove him from Bane's grasp (preferably alive).
The first glimpses of the new Bane were offered in Issue #9, sitting on a throne in a room filled with human skulls, completely free of Venom's effects on his mind... and completely nude. He's still a physical juggernaut, but no longer requires the drug to fuel his rage and silence the screams, fear, and tragedy of his past. He has the Psycho-Pirate to tell him he's brave, and safe, and able to finally rest. That's a powerful tool, which means Batman's attempts to steal the villain out of Bane's clutches is going to be met with some serious resistance.
Bane vs The Bat - Round 1
History buffs with a fondness for Batman will tell you that Bane's rise to prominence began in the story dubbed "Knightfall", in which the super-strong survivor of the world's worst prison succeeding in bringing down the Bat. It wasn't through the all-out assault that casual fans would expect, either. Instead of attacking, Bane let loose the monsters of Arkham Asylum, leaving Batman to run himself ragged, weak, and exhausted bringing each of them back into custody. It was then that Bane struck, ambushing Batman inside his own home.
The fight culminates in the famous image by artist Jim Aparo (above), in which Bane uses his Venom-amplified strength to lift Batman over his head, and slam him down onto a knee, breaking his back. Moviegoers got to see a similar scene play out in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, but the comics really did leave Bruce Wayne a paraplegic for some time. It wasn't the only battle between the two sons of darkness and discipline, and the latest one comes with Bruce Wayne willingly asking for a fight - because he knows that taking Bane head on is the first step in a larger plan to save a young woman's sanity.
The Rebirth Rematch
It isn't quite a fair fight, as Batman discovers just how reinforced Santa Prisca has become (the hard way). Shot out of the sky and swarmed by dozens, if not hundreds of Bane's men, Bruce Wayne is brought before the famous villain bruised and beaten. Since he's in no shape to actually fight, Bruce gets a speech instead, as Bane laments the fact that his swearing off of Venom means that he is unable to raise Batman over his head before his patented knee-drop destroys him. Fortunately, he's still just regular strong and savage. Disregarding Batman's repeated claims - that he's here to collect Psycho-Pirate, and won't leave until he does - Bane places a knee in his victim's back, and breaks it all over again.
That's the kind of injury that readers are probably unprepared for a second time - but this is all, apparently, a part of Bruce Wayne's plan. After being dragged into the same watery cell that held Bane for his life, Bruce succeeds in hammering handholds in the cell's walls. Grabbing on, he shows that Bane doesn't have a monopoly on discipline and sacrifice - snapping his spine back into place.
He may not be blessed with superstrength or have the Justice League at his (battered) back, but the confrontation alone shows that Bruce Wayne is as determined as he can be. We can only hope that this closing claim - that now it's time to break Bane's back - is more than words. For his sake, and that of the reader, we just hope there are any spines left intact when Batman leaves the island.
Batman #10 is available now.