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David Finch, Tom King, Mitch Gerads and Danny Miki, Batman vol. 3, I Am Bane (via Hoopla).
I like Finch’s character work on this page. The three young men in the second panel are Batman’s progeny – two surrogate sons (his oldest and the prodigal one) and his only biological son (the youngest). Finch conveys who they are and their relationship with each other through facial expressions and body language.
  • Dick (Nightwing) is the one sitting alone in the booth, the one who is relaxed and comfortable in his own skin. The one who comes closest to being a well adjusted person.
  • Jason (Red Hood) is the angry one, the rebel without a cause. He communicates through sarcasm and provocations.
  • Damian (Robin) is the young one, one who pretends to be an entitled jerk but doesn’t want you to know that he’s just an adolescent boy.
  • Bruce (you know who…) is the father figure and a man who is not comfortable in a fast food restaurant.

The dialogue sharpens the distinctions between the men (and boy), but you’d get it without reading a thing.

The four are meeting in a “Batman” themed fast food restaurant, which gives Finch the opportunity to add humorous elements in the background that lighten the tone of the story. There’s something extremely ironic about the panel in which the three proteges banter in front of a Joker themed wall decoration.

This was a fun read. I find that I appreciate superhero comics more when I read them the same way I did when I was a kid/adolescent – with enthusiasm and a sense of generosity.

I had a mixed response to the parts of the story focused on the conflict between Bane and Batman. I was intrigued by the broad strokes of the story, in which Batman is trying to defeat a foe who was not only stronger than him, but had successfully broken the body and mystique of Batman in the past. In the first two volumes, King and Finch explored the nature of the character through stories exploring his role as a mentor to other heroes (who were not sidekick/surrogate child figures), a tactician and leader of a group of amoral adventurers and as a failed/tragic romantic figure in his relationship with Catwoman. In this volume, Finch and King use a physical conflict between Batman and a superior foe to help the reader understand a man who would dress up as a bat to fight crime. There’s a long buildup to the battle in this volume. We see Batman prepare for war and Bane dispatch all of the other members of the cast (hero and villain alike) with ease.

The conflict between the two takes up most of an issue and feels pretty anti climatic on the first read. Finch and King mix sequences of Bane beating Batman senseless (while the two verbally spar) with an imagined monologue delivered by a figure from Batman’s past that helpfully summarizes the plot and transforms the subtext into text. Finch alternates between panels illustrating the combat and ones which complement the monologue (e.g., a panel featuring Catwoman accompanying a passage about doomed love). The fight ends as one might expect (hint: we’re not reading the continued adventures of ‘Bane‘). It was a bit anti-climactic – I wanted a perfectly choreographed martial arts inspired battle between two skilled combatants, but I got a brawl with a pretty implausible conclusion.

On a second read (with more sleep), I had a better sense of things. The story inverts Knightfall, the classic Batman story by an army of creators including Denny O’Neil, Chuck Dixon, Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle that introduced Bane a quarter century ago. In Knightfall, Bane defeats Batman by pitting him against a gauntlet of his most dangerous foes (he stages a breakout at Arkham Asylum, the residential facility/hostel for Batman villains) and viciously attacking him when he is at his weakest. Finch and King have Batman borrow Bane’s old technique by using the tools at his disposal (including his enemies) to drive Bane to mental exhaustion and use a ‘rope a dope’ strategy (which involves letting Bane pummel him into oblivion) to further exhaust and distract him.

Although the experience of reading the scene is still a tad unsatisfying – I would have preferred more visual cues hinting at the strategic planning behind the physical conflict – the final moment of the battle does feel more powerful.

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