Understanding Bane: Gotham's Reckoning
Updated: Oct 18, 2020
"You are...pure evil!"
"I am necessary evil."
The Clown Prince of Crime will always be Batman's classic foil...but since 1993, the title of Batman's most dangerous foe has belonged to another villain.
What happened in 1993, you ask? In 1993, DC Comics released "Knightfall," the series containing the now-famous scene where Bane breaks Batman's spine, literally. While a frightening foe in the comics, however, depictions of Bane on-screen usually failed to impress. Audiences found it tough to reconcile Bane's status as a hulking, roid-rage fueled combat monster with his status as a super-intellect.
Beware: Here there be spoilers...
That all changed in 2012, when Tom Hardy brought Bane to life in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. A domestic terrorist, Bane concocts a plan to use a nuclear bomb to hold Gotham City hostage, then defeats Batman in a brutal brawl in the sewers of Gotham. Fortunately for Gotham, the Dark Knight does indeed rise to confront his foe, but it's a close thing. Batman almost loses.
Early in the film, Bane defines himself as "Gotham's Reckoning." That's an ominous title, but an interesting one as well. A reckoning, in the oldest sense of the word, is a type of accounting, like one might find in the realm of finances. While it sounds far less ominous, the same statement could be rendered, "I am Gotham's unpaid bill." One can only assume that version was scrapped early on - it doesn't do to have your supervillain sounding like a cocktail waiter.
Bane isn't content to define himself in financial terms, though, he also uses spiritual ones. When the corrupt businessman John Daggett rails against Bane in the privacy of his own home, Bane seems to suddenly materialize, quoting the English Christian proverb: "Speak of the devil and he shall appear." Bane, quite willingly, associates himself with the Prime Evil of Christian thought. And while modern audiences probably think of devils as mere incarnations of random malevolence, the traditional Christian view held that even devils played a certain role in Creation. In particular, it was the job of the chief of the devils, Satan, to accuse. According to The Book of Revelation 12:10, in fact, Satan ceaselessly brings allegations against those faithful to God, pointing out every small act of wickedness to which they might succumb. Bane plays into this role of the "useful devil" when he refers to himself as "necessary evil" in the moment before killing John Daggett.
Ultimately, Bane's evil is brought to an end when he is defeated by Batman and later killed by Catwoman. Still, Bane dies only after exposing the corruption and lies upon which Gotham City's shiny new exterior is built. Bane truly is an incarnation of Gotham's unpaid debts, just as he is truly the accuser who points out the failures of the good. This element of Bane's character is why he first battles (and defeats) Batman in the sewers on Gotham, breaking his back and his spirit. Bane is an embodiment of the toxic waste of a society, the product of injustices upon which a foundation for peace can never really be built. The same element that makes Bane victorious initially is what allows him to be defeated in the end, however, when the battle takes place not in the sewers but on the steps of Gotham's courthouse. While injustice wields power when hidden in the dark, it can be confronted and defeated when brought into broad daylight. Bane, unlike Ra's Al Ghul or The Joker, is the only villain of Nolan's trilogy Batman confronts in the light of day.
And ultimately, Bane's plot is not foiled by an act of great willpower (as in Batman Begins) or by a cover-up (as in The Dark Knight), but by an act of sacrifice inspired by a small kindness: When Batman decides that to save Gotham he must carry a nuclear bomb far, far away, sacrificing his life in the process, James Gordon demands to know the name of Gotham's savior. Batman's response ties the trilogy of films together and points to the real source of saving power - not vigilantism, not gadgetry, not deception - but compassion.
"A hero can be anyone, even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy's shoulders to let him know the world hadn't ended."
The line recalls the moment in Batman Begins where Gordon performs this act of kindness for a young Bruce Wayne after the death of his parents. In the end, then, a small, everyday moment of human kindness is what pays the debts imposed by "Gotham's Reckoning." Bane is not out-smarted...but he is out-loved.