The degree to which Batman: The Animated Series changed and grew over the course of its initial 70 episodes was astonishing.
The series went from semi-sloppy animation (depending on which house animated it) and stark and simple stories to being routinely the most complex and deep animated programs on television. When the show returned from its hiatus after the ten-episode second season, the show seemed different yet again. The bulk of its output was behind it and Season 3, premiering on September 10, 1994, began the final 15 episodes to be produced under the initial banner. However, now with more focus required on Robin than ever before (the studio note was he had to show up, and play a significant role, in every episode from here on), the onscreen title sequence changed for the first time. It was now a string of action scenes from episodes featuring the Boy Wonder and the title became The Adventures of Batman & Robin. For its first outing, the production team also brought in a villain who had only just debuted in the comics in January 1993.
“Bane,” written by Mitch Brian and directed by Kevin Altieri, changed the comics incarnation to a degree, making the character the producers worried would be “too gimmicky” into an articulate and dangerous assassin who just HAPPENS to wear a luchadore mask and have a hose sticking out of his head. The character premiered in 1993 in issue #1 of “The Vengeance of Bane,” created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan. Bane was famous for having been the only character to have “Broken the Batman” when, after toying with the Dark Knight for months, he breaks his back over his knee, as depicted in every version of the character ever portrayed. (It’s no different here, by the way, the outcome is just changed, because TV show.)
“Bane” begins on an airfield as an utterly massive man in a suit and hat exits an airplane and gets into the back of a car along with Candice, the lead henchlady for notorious Gotham mob boss Rupert Thorne. They’ve hired this man, the assassin known as Bane, to come to Gotham and kill Batman once and for all, so that Thorne can finally have a free hand in ruling Gotham City’s underworld. Bane is more than happy to do this, alluding to the comics’ origin where he was obsessed with Batman all the while he was in prison in South America. During their initial meeting, Bane tells Thorne he has a plan to dispatch the Batman, and that’s by following him around as he does things. He knows that the Bat will surely be after the recently-escaped Killer Croc, so that’s likely the best way to find him.
Bane’s theory proves to be correct and the Dynamic Duo ends up at a warehouse in which Croc and his goons are attempting to steal from a safe. When the boys pounce, Croc decides it’s easier just to steal the whole safe and am-scray. A rapid foot chase ensues and Croc attempts to make his getaway in the sewers. He hides behind a wall with a lead pipe, waiting for Batman to come down so’s he can get a good walloping. However, before this can happen, Bane breaks through the wall of the sewer and tells Croc “I will destroy him, monster!” Croc thinks this guy’s out of his mind and challenges him to a fight. Bad move for Croc; Bane pumps his body full of venom and Batman and Robin merely hear the fight. They come around the corner to see Croc unconscious and his body badly beaten.
Robin wonders if this tough mutha who beat up Croc might be a new crime fighter trying to help them out. This hypothesis fizzles when they return to the Batmobile and see it beaten up. Batman thinks Robin was right about him being tough; whoever it was broke the Batmobile with his bare hands. Later, Batman visits Croc in prison, who is in traction, and taunts him a bit before finally getting out of him that his assailant had a South American accent and used some kind of tube to bulk up in front of Croc’s very eyes. Back in the Batcave, Batman offhandedly says to Alfred that whoever this is messed with his car, and between men, that’s personal.
This is the weirdest aspect of this episode: Batman quips. Throughout The Animated Series, Batman may have had the odd joke or two, but the way he’s written here feels totally out of character for the show. Robin’s the one who usually makes with the sarcasm, and he barely does at all here. It’s very strange.
Batman pieces together that the person in question must be the only one ever to escape the maximum security South American prison wherein super soldier tests were being held. Seems kind of silly to do super soldier tests on inmates in a maximum security prison, but hey, I’m not a warden. Batman recognizes this must be the notorious Bane, an assassin who charges a whopping $5 million per hit. The question then becomes not who would want to kill Batman (because that list would be pretty endless), but who would want to kill Batman AND has $5 million lying around to do it. The answer is easy: Rupert Thorne.
Robin goes to scope out Thorne’s headquarters and listens (and tapes) Candice’s attempt to get Bane to overthrow Thorne and become the ruler of Gotham once Batman is dead. She leaves when Thorne shows up and Bane reveals to the mob boss that he knows they’re being watched. He manages to get the drop on Robin and chases him across rooftops before finally squeezing him into unconsciousness. He’s impressed by the young hero’s spirit and decides, rather than kill him outright, he’ll use him as bait to trap Batman on a ship in the Gotham dockyards. Meanwhile, Batman has gone to Candice’s apartment to try to lure Bane out that way, but the assassin merely calls him and tells him he’s wasting his time.
When Batman arrives at the boat, he sees Robin chained to weights and in a compartment that’s quickly filling up with water from the bilge. Bane then appears and engages Batman. Bane tosses the Caped Crusader around like a rag doll and shrugs off the crates and boxes Batman chucks. Finally, Batman gets the upper hand by shooting Bane at point blank range with a grappling gun on the ship, sending him overboard. Batman then frees Robin, but not before Bane reappears and engages Batman while Candice tussles with Robin. It looks as though Batman is going to get his back broken, just like in the comics, when he stabs a batarang into Bane’s venom controls which causes a lethal amount to course through his veins.
Batman saves Bane before he dies, but the assassin is left drained, in multiple ways. He drags the body to Thorne’s office, then plays the tape of Candice conspiring to unseat Thorne just as an added “screw you.” Batman’s a bit vindictive in this episode, which is sort of disconcerting, and again very out of character.
“Bane” is a weird episode, and one that definitely feels different than the episodes that came before. I’ve already talked about the out-of-character nature of both Batman and Robin (perhaps owing to the writer who’d never written for the series before), but we also have a main villain whose soul purpose is to kill Batman — just up and destroy him. He’s smart and sinister, but he’s got no other machinations besides simply annihilating the Dark Knight, which makes him sort of one-note. Bane didn’t return in this series (and with only 14 episodes left, there wasn’t much time), but he did come back in the 1997 Gotham Knights reboot. Hey, it’s not like he’s good enough to be the villain of a major Hollywood movie, right? Oh…
Next week, Season 3 continues with “Second Chance,” another in the string of villain rehabilitation episodes, and not the last of them by far. This one features Two-Face about to get long-overdue facial reconstructive surgery, but someone prevents the procedure from happening. Is it the Penguin? Or Rupert Thorne? Or perhaps someone else with a vendetta against the former district attorney? We’ll find out together next week!