The beginning of the end is here. “I Am Bane” has been a rush of build-up to the showdown between Bane and Batman, and this issue does not disappoint. We pick up immediately after the close of the previous issue, with the duo coming face to face for the first time since the closure of “I Am Suicide.” The fireworks fly immediately as Batman refuses Bane’s “trade” of the captured members of the Bat-family for Psycho Pirate. The fight is as violent and one-sided as one would imagine it would be with Bane back fully under the influence of the venom coursing through his veins, turning him into a monster of a man. Batman is, of course, manhandled.
Throughout the frantic battle, scenes from the youth of both characters play out for the reader. We are taken on a journey through Bruce’s youth as he deals with his parents’ deaths, but mainly the absence of his mother from his life. As he grows, we see him using that pain as a driving force to become the man he is today. He draws strength from loss. Strength to overcome. On the other side of the equator, Bane is dealing with the loss of a mother as well. He too uses the pain of loss, but he draws power from it. Power to conquer. The two stories are juxtaposed smoothly and show how similar the characters can be, but how their paths dramatically diverged, leading to their eventual showdown during the 90’s “Knightfall” storyline.
The issue closes with more misdirection. Catwoman didn’t go down quite as easily as it seemed. Her capture was part of the team’s larger plan to keep the Bat-family safe. She was taken, dealt with Bane’s henchmen, and freed everyone, allowing Batman to focus solely on the matter at hand – Bane. Batman knows he is physically outmatched, and has the bloodied, bruised body to prove it. Victory won’t come through power, it will come through strength. It will come through strategy and out thinking. Batman keeping Bane on edge and sloppy will be key to surviving this story. We end with Bane following him deeper into Arkham.
Finch brought his A-game for this installment. I’ve been critical of his work for being overly wooden in the past, but he has obviously been working on that. There is a lot of gravitas that comes when dealing with these two characters on the same page. Finch draws heavily on the older iterations of Bane, forgoing the overly complicated recent versions from the comics and Arkham video game line and, thankfully, the respirator-sporting Tom Hardy version from “The Dark Knight Rises.” A simplified, classic Bane is here. Just the basics. Venom. Muscles. The mask. Finch goes all-in with the detail, drawing muscles I didn’t know existed. Bane is the centerpiece of this issue and Finch does him justice with a beautiful rendering, even referencing the classic Bane about-to-break-someone’s-back pose. As always, Jordie Bellaire shows why she is the best in the business. Changing color palettes between the present and separate flashbacks keep everything divided nicely, and despite the murky nature of dealing with dark-clad characters fighting in a gothic setting at night things are clear throughout the present of the story.
I do have some problems with this issue. Direction continues to be an issue in the Finch arcs. The close of the previous issue made it seem like everyone was present at Arkham, only for Catwoman to string up Bane’s henchmen back at a safehouse here. I assume everything is happening on the grounds of Arkham, but the clarity isn’t there. While the art was great, some of the transitions during the fight didn’t flow as well as they could have. For the most part, King has done solid work. However, I’m beginning to have problems with his reliance on repetition. It was mildly amusing with the “I will break your damn back” line in “I Am Suicide” and the Bat/Cat interplay throughout “Rooftops” but the Mother/Mommy lines in this issue began to get grating. It’s a narrative device, I know, but I’m allowed to have an opinion, right?
“I Am Bane” has been a roller coaster and it’s only been three issues. The highs have been high and the lows have been troubling. This is the story we’ve been waiting for, though. This issue was pure adrenaline on the page. The story is far from over, but things are looking really good at this point.