By: Peter J. Tomasi (story), Graham Nolan (art), John Kalisz (colors)

The Story: It’s leaders like Bane that make you think twice before criticizing our president.

The Review: With DC producing scads of new characters each year, it’s not surprising that only a few manage to rise to the top.  One of the best floaters of recent years (by which I mean since I was born, some—gah!—twenty-seven years ago) is Bane, one of the only Bat-villain to have truly felled the Dark Knight.  His combination of steroid brawn and razor-sharp mind is what sets him apart, as does his status as a political icon within the DCU.

I’m sure others have done great things with Bane, but the one I always think of is the strangely Byronic man who graced the pages of Gail Simone’s Secret Six.  I’d even say that Simone’s Bane is the gold standard by which all others should be measured.  She not only delivered the perfect balance of Bane’s aforementioned qualities, she gave him a compelling voice and perspective that made him more than the sum of abilities.  You’d think a master character writer like Tomasi would get you similar results, but surprisingly, he falls quite short of the mark.

While it’s clear from Bane’s choice of language that there’s a mind at work underneath all those muscles, Tomasi overemphasizes the villain’s physicality in this issue.  This Bane is no more or less violent than others you’ve seen, but the damage he doles out here seems more pointless, thus excessive.  You have no problem with Bane bashing people’s heads in per se; once you’ve seen him in Secret Six stripping people’s arms off like legs from a shrimp, head injuries seem merciful by comparison.  But the way he preys upon his own people for training purposes just seems wasteful and stupid.  A “taste” of his Venom isn’t going to level the playing field between him and them; he’s too smart, presumably, not to know this.  Honestly, it doesn’t seem like he cares much if they can play at his level or not, as he uses one poor, Venomless soul as a punching bag.

The thing that made Simone’s Bane great was he retained a deep capacity for tenderness that was irresistibly at odds with his bulky frame (and graphic fighting style).  Tomasi’s Bane doesn’t care to waste any time with sentiment, as made clear by his interaction with one Pequita, a young girl from his home nation of Santa Prisca who mistakes his beating of her abusive father as paternalism.  It’s not enough for Tomasi to have Bane crush the girl’s faith with a smart bitch-slap with his massive hand; Tomasi really wants to drive home Bane’s ruthlessness, so he has the villain pitch her humble memento into the sea not long after he receives it.  Lovable guy.

Besides these disappointing character choices, Tomasi makes missteps at several other points.  His summary of Bane’s history is fine—I kind of like how a Santa Priscan recites it like a creed while getting his face inversed by his dear leader’s fist—but it’s only a Cliff’s Notes version of events.  Not once do you see how Bane rose to power and earned the reverence of a nation, which is crucial to believing that all these trodden folks would actually back him in a war against Gotham.  Tomasi also slips up by introducing two completely unnecessary characters, the interim wardens of Blackgate, who barely establish some thin backgrounds before running into a fatal wall of ex-prisoners.  Of course, Tomasi has more on his mind than simply exploring Bane’s life and soul; there’s the upcoming Arkham War tie-in to set up, and much of the issue’s problems come from his obligation to an upcoming storyline at the expense of the story at hand.

Nolan’s art is bland, somewhat old-fashioned, and just plain unimpressive.  Once upon a time, like, in the eighties, Nolan’s art might have been considered sophisticated, but even by the uninspiring standards of DC’s modern house art style, Nolan’s work is mediocre indeed.  Just look at the Blackgate scenes, with wardens Agatha and Donald’s awkward, unmeaningful postures, and you can easily conclude that Nolan wasn’t all that interested in drawing more than the bare minimum the script called for.  Kalisz tries to help, but even his usually striking colors seem listlessly applied to these unfashionable figures.

Conclusion: A rather pointless kind of read, largely devoid of the complexities that make Bane such a great character and Tomasi such an admired writer.

Grade: C-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – “The fools do not respect what they have won, and that is why I will take it.”  Eerily enough, I might have said something similar when a friend of mine won an iPod Touch and filled it with exactly two albums of music—all Justin Bieber.  Kind of made me want to go on a murderous rampage, too.