Batman’s rogues gallery is full of villains who exemplify the “opposite” of Bruce Wayne—it’s kind of a running theme in Gotham, if we’re being completely honest. There’s the Joker’s chaos to Batman’s order, Scarecrow’s fear to Batman’s courage, Riddler’s mania to Batman’s intellect...You know how it goes. Gotham is a city full of funhouse mirrors. But there’s one particular rogue in the lineup who doesn’t just have the monstrous version of one or two of the Dark Knight’s best qualities—he’s got all of them.
We’re talking about Bane, and he may very well be the most devastating foe Batman has ever, or will ever, face for one simple reason: At their core, Bane and Batman are the same character.
Now, hang on. I know that sounds a little crazy, but let me break it down. Let’s start by going all the way back to the beginning.
Bane was a relatively late addition to Gotham. He was created in the early 1990s by the combined efforts of Denny O’Neil, Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench in a mini with the rather on-the-nose title BATMAN: VENGEANCE OF BANE specifically to lay the groundwork for the massive crossover event KNIGHTFALL, in which Bane would star (and famously break Batman’s back).
Now, showing up this late in the game could have been a detriment—it’s not easy to add characters to stories that have been running for decades—but for Bane, it was actually an asset. Batman had just recently been given his DARK KNIGHT RETURNS rework, and his major character traits were just starting to solidify all over again in a way that resonated with fans and writers alike. The late ’80s and early ’90s saw a breath of new life for Bruce, after years spent watered down by the pop culture explosion of things like Tim Burton’s original Batman film, and the technicolor camp of Batman ’66. Fans and creators were entering a new decade with a brand new understanding of who the Dark Knight was, which meant it was easier than ever before to define what he wasn’t.
This, you can probably guess, is where Bane comes in.
From day one, Bane was constructed to be Batman’s polar opposite—a character who, essentially, was put through a corrupted version of Bruce’s own origin story, buried under just enough change that it would be hard to pick out if you weren’t really looking. Instead of losing both parents and being left with a life of luxury and a legacy of heroism, he was orphaned and thrown into a prison for the crimes of his father. His discipline didn’t stem from a drive to protect, but from being endlessly and relentlessly crushed under the heel of a world that would rather he just give up. Instead of being given the luxury of training under the greatest masters in the world, Bane had to adapt or die by any means necessary, including becoming addicted to drugs like Venom to enhance his strength.
If both Batman and Bane were born at the same metaphorical fork in the road, Batman’s life took him down one path while Bane charged full speed down the other. Their circumstances and choices forged them both into the people they ended up becoming, but those people couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed.
So, naturally, a collision between the two was as inevitable as it was explosive.
Even Bane’s obsession with Batman started as a corruption on Batman’s own obsession with justice and fear. Bane could tell, from the stories he had heard within the prison as he grew and trained, that Batman saw Gotham the same way he himself saw Santa Prisca: a place that needed to be dominated by both power and terror. He even starts to believe that fate brought Batman to his attention after he admits to having been haunted by nightmares of a giant bat-like demon since he was a child.
And the thing is? Bane isn’t technically incorrect. If you strip away the artifice and the semantics, Bane’s dominion over Santa Prisca’s prison really isn’t all that different from Batman’s rule over Gotham. Sure, Batman isn’t murdering people, something that Bane is more than happy to do, but the ideological similarities are definitely there—it’s the means that are different. Both of them were thrust into circumstances that all but shattered them, and were forced to rebuild from the ground up to become something new—something stronger and more terrifying than the world around them. They both value order over chaos, control over even the most horrifying circumstances and absolute discipline to their causes. Both Batman and Bane have spent years doing whatever it takes to become the very best at what they do, carving their bodies and minds into the peak of human performance.
Really, at the end of the day, the biggest difference between Batman and Bane is that one of them dresses like a luchador and the other like a flying mammal.
If you’re familiar with Knightfall, you know how that initial confrontation ends, and if you’re not, you can probably take a guess based on the name alone. Bane is able to cap off his first major Bat-encounter by literally “breaking the Bat”—i.e. snapping Batman’s spine over his knee like a toothpick. It’s an event which knocks Bruce completely out of commission for over a year in real-time. (It also opens the door for some truly iconic Bat-replacements, like Azrael, but that’s a story for another time.)
It was the birth of a grudge match that would seep into the scaffolding of Gotham City in a way that even Batman’s most famous rogues could only dare to hope for. But strangely enough, it did so almost quietly. Bane’s strange relationship to the Bat-mythos prevented him from ever becoming a villain as iconic as, say, the Joker or Two Face. Instead, it invited him to step in and out of a more antihero niche—something that invited both future clashes and future team ups between Batman and Bane down the line.
Now, if you’ve been keeping up with Batman during Rebirth, you’ve probably noticed that there is no shortage of clashing happening currently. Bane’s got a starring role in two of the most recent arcs, finishing with a flourish in—surprise!—BATMAN VOL 3: I AM BANE, where he returns to Gotham City to win back something Batman has stolen from him.
Suffice it to say, the results are anything but pretty. But they are befitting of one of Batman’s most brutal and most relentless rogues. After all, it’s never particularly fun or easy to fight your own reflection.