January 25th, 2011
Running this oldie again in the wake the Morrison making reference to it at SDC
Right, offline in the real world, I occasionally enjoy a pint with Bulk Meat. The Meat, incidentally, hates his name and to be honest we never call him it to his face anymore – the man’s a father, a successful careerist (tho’ no-one understands exactly what it is that he does, except for Zac Goldsmith), fiercely intelligent and handsome, etc., etc., blah – and to continue to do so would be churlish at best. But in my heart of hearts, I still understand him as one of those massive slabs of pig bashed around by sound effects artists in the 70′s and Scott Walker in the recording studio. For he is, amongst my scrawnier-than-a-Face-model-in-the-nineties but slightly pot-bellied friends, absurdly stacked.
Confession: during my bendy, black-holed late teens, I once had a dream involving Bulk dressed in army fatigues leaning over my prostrate back and hitting me repeatedly with a salt shaker. I told him and my girlfriend (at the time) about it the next day and, sweet innocent that I was, was quite surprised and shocked when the two of them exchanged knowing glances and burst into fits of laughter. I have since fathomed from whence the merriment erupted and may have to cop to the fact that I like big, hard men.
Or do I?
The thing is, hulking, jacked Flex Mentallos produce a strange reaction in all of us. I’m not saying for one minute that Bulk is comparable with Mr. Banner at his stressiest but I think the latent homo-eroticism embedded in the dream does illuminate something that should be patently obvious if only we didn’t spend so much time gate-keeping our naughty selves: the muscle-man is the most blatantly sexualised symbol of masculinity there is. Look, right there, at the guy in the tiny trunks with his oiled torso, straining under the 1000 pound weight of his own desire to transform himself from Mac to the master of muscle mystery! Have you ever seen anything so rude in your life? Men don’t get their kits off much – Laura Mulvey, the male gaze and all that – but as soon as they do it in the name of body building, then, fuck you loofter!, it’s the most macho thing in the world.
Or at least you feel it used to be. I think the straight majority are, perhaps, a little more suspicious of this kind of thing than they were. We all know a bit of Freud these days, even if we aren’t aware that we do, and the extreme, masturbatory narcissism of the weight-lifter raises eyebrows everywhere.
So where do these herculean strongmen make their home? Where have they found the acceptance that the truly beefed crave?
I’ll allow Rob Liefeld to answer that one:
Thank you, Rob.
Anatomy is one of the cardinal reasons why the unititiated snigger at your funnybook collection. No, they don’t understand that your Flex Mentallo book is a self-aware commentary on the muscle-bound conventions of superheroics, that Flex’s six pack represents, in it’s exulted form, consciousness unconstrained by the chains of ego and death, No indeed. All they see is a nerdy power fantasy, something obviously slightly sexually deviant and, of course, the sheer patheticness of the nerd drinking this shit up – i.e. YOU.
But we’re not here to castigate ourselves. We know better than those fuckers. We’re here to talk about Bane, the most ripped supervillain of them all. So let’s tear that spandex off and take a good look at what lies beneath….
There’s a lot of talk amongst the bat-haters that Bruce Wayne’s had everything handed to him on a plate, but these gals miss one important thing: Bruce actually did it. Sure, his money greased the way on his path to self improvement, it paid for all the batarangs and gyrocopters and all that shit, but the fact is, regardless of his fortune, he succeeded in terraforming himself into the most brilliant martial artist, detective, meditator, motorbike builder on Earth. Suck that one up, Donald Trump. And in all likelihood he would have done it anyway, even without the cash. He’s the latent superhero in all of us, as the M People (don’t click the link!) song ran, and by golly, if it wasn’t for all the grim obsession, he’s the supreme role model.
And Bane’s a direct, but deeply fucked up, answer to this.
It’s probably no coincidence that Bane first reared his head in the early, Image dominated nineties. He’s the purest articulation of the sinewy, tumescent, bloodmusclesweat tendency that presided over that era. And it makes sense that the ultimate self-perfected (bat)man would, eventually, have to confront a bad guy who embodied the most obvious earthly expression of that ideal. It’s Batman versus his fallen, real world, shadow: Bulk Meat. I mean, afterall, it’s not an easy thing for those of us over here in the infant universe of Qwerq to transform ourselves into a superhero. Most of us struggle to get to grips with one area of self improvement, let alone twelve. We become artists, businessmen, incredibly brilliant bloggers, musicians or, for those of us that need the whole world to know right from the get go how dedicated to narcissistic parthenogenesis we really are, musclemen. In Bane we see the triumph of the literal over the metaphysical, the body over the mind, ego over illumination, the flesh over the self. He makes us acutely aware of all of our limitations in that he symbolises the grotesque, cumbersome boundaries of the physical. In Bane all of Batman’s aspirations are scaled down to one, bloated point. We’ll never be more than a bag of sinews, bones and skin, he seems to argue and, in the final analysis, that’s what will break us.
It’s telling that Bane wears a mask that renders him faceless, in that he’s dissolved his humanity, his personality, in a sea of gristle. The guy’s one big bicep, hard, mechanical and cruel. This is not to say that he’s not intelligent – he’s quite brilliant and calculating, in fact – but his intelligence is in the service of his physicality and its implicit desire to dominate. Everything is geared towards the moment of conquest, the moment of breakage, and in that, like the Flash’s no 1 rogue, Gorilla Grodd, he’s a symbol of genius chained to the animal. There’s something fundamentally Darwinian about Bane. He takes the soul out of the evolutionary process (not that, scientifically speaking, it was ever there anyway) and underlines, with the help of a little back breaking, the idea that self-realisation can only be achieved in the material sphere. The mind is just another tool of domination and control, and enlightenment essentially reduces to transforming the body and it into a fist. In this he represents one of our worst fears as a species – that there is no real spiritual progress, only a refinement of symbol systems and cybernetic enhancements employed by a gaggle of grunting domesticated apes. That in the end, we are, and only ever will be, just the most aggressive, dominant animals on the planet. In my summation, Bane wouldn’t understand the source of his power, the venom drug, as a cheat, he’d view it as just plain good sense. What’s the point mucking about with the weights if you can obtain the kind of strength you need to take down Batman by simpler, more elegant, but necessarily more brutish, means? It’s a straight line from A to B in his head.
Bane’s obsession with destroying the Dark Knight has something of a fetishistic, erotic, quality. The process of slowly chipping away at our hero until virtually nothing of him is left before steaming in and giving him a spinal has a ritualistic, masturbatory element to it. Bane needs to soften Batman up, make him weak and compliant, and only then, like some demented lover, can he establish true ‘intimacy’, true ownership over his body. And by the time Bane invades his cave, Batman’s as soft as a baby. It’s almost a perverted process of wooing – a love letter from the ultimate sadist, no longer able to distinguish via his lumbering, confused anatomy the difference between extremes of pleasure and pain. The sexual dimension really suits the character in that, as I mention above, there is something deeply rude and homo-erotic about the unrestricted, pure physicality of the body-builder and, also, that Bane’s is a body unfit for human sex. He must sublimate those urges, transforming them into juggernaut desires of smashing, destruction and violation. In short, he’s one big willy and Batman’s whatever he wants to punch it through. For Bane demolishing Superman and the rest could never be as exciting as demolishing Batman because he represents the pinnacle of human achievement and will, and in that he is to Bane a lie. They are, in Bane’s twisted, sinewy mind, soul mates of a kind.
And this is one of the wonderful things about the character – he’s the only villain since Joe Chill who has effectively succeeded in infantalising Bruce Wayne. I loved the Batbane ghost simply because Morrison had the imagination to stress that Batman has more seething away at the back of his mind than his parent’s death. He has other nightmares also and they’re just as grisly, and one of those nightmares involves Bane. It was a good conceit to start with, no matter how many of you resent Bane now, to introduce a villain who could break Batman physically and mentally. We’ve seen nothing like it before or since, perhaps with the exception of the RIP storyline, but that involves a group – the Club of Villains – as opposed to an individual. No, the backbreaker was inevitable, a tale that had to be told, and nineteen ninety two was exactly the right time for it because the backbreakers were out in force. So many of Batman’s enemies really operate and do their damage in the metaphysical sphere – it’s important and appropriate that Batman should have the odd foe who’s simply turned their body into a lethal weapon, and Bane’s the king of that crowd.
So Bane, like Batman, is a product of the Me Generation, and this even extends to the fact that, when serving time, he not only honed his intellect till it glistened like a blade covered in hot oil, but he also took some time out, it seems, to develop his own martial arts and meditation techniques. We could have great fun with this. I can just imagine Bane in his cell, crouched in the lotus position, his hands forming obscene mudras in front of a black, upside down Tree of Life, with Malkuth at the top and Kether at the bottom, chanting the terrible reverse mantras of the damned. Or rehearsing the dreadful scarlet killing katas taught to him by his unholy guardian demon, the dreadful bat-creature that has plagued him from childhood and inspired his terrible mission to destroy Bruce Wayne. If Batmite is the friendly, Invisible College style gatekeeper to the transcendent, then the thing lurking behind him, skulking on the peripheries of awareness, is his Outer Church equivalent. Perhaps Bane contacted this being years ago and he began to learn the ‘secrets of death’ from as early on as Bruce Wayne. Bane is Sir Miles to Batman’s Jack Frost, and his path to the transcendental (because, my cuddlies, that is exactly the path Batman is on in RIP) passes through the hell zones of pain and obliterating, machine-like consciousnesses before it can come out the other side. Whatever. It’s just fun to try and rationalise and contextualise Bane’s demonic bat-stalker in the light of recent bat-developments. Basically, I love the idea that Bane has mastered the infernal mysticism of anti-spirit, that, again, even though he’s ploughed a similar furrow to Batman in his efforts towards self-transformation, his approach to the teleological – his attitude to the fundamental source, schema and the inevitable historical conclusion of all human potential – is slaved to the mechanistic, the godless and the bestial, and that’s expressed in the esoteric and martial arts he practices.
To continue this theme, have you ever wondered exactly what venom is? All these miracle potions and super-drugs that litter the needle-tracked arms of the DCU… It’s all so weird isn’t it? What are these spooky fluids? Where do they come from? To quote Niles Caulder from the Doom Patrol, if anyone ever found out, I’m sure we’d all be shocked and appalled. Perhaps venom isn’t really from *here*, afterall. Is it some ghastly devil’s discharge? Is it alive? I like the idea that the tubes that pierce Bane’s body are more like veins carrying the black blood of a revised anti-person into him, where it mixes and mingles with his own, transforming him into the new-model negative man intuiting a savage new millennium. It’s his fast-track connection to a higher (or should that be lower) power that, until he has achieved it through his own efforts, will have to suffice as conduit between the human and superhuman. I get the feeling that Bane, who I believe no longer relies on venom, may well achieve a permanent hulked out condition without the drugs sooner than we think. In fact, I like the idea that he already has – that all that darque self help shit’s already paid off. Afterall, he looks the same as he ever did. That body’s not normal, guys. Fan spunk: it would be so, so cool to see him surprise Batman during a punch up by actually bleeding the venomy stuff:
‘My God! What have you done to yourself?!?’
the Dark Knight cries, aghast, as Bane lunges at him, bellowing like that scary dog in We3.
I’m getting carried away, I know, but I feel very strongly that Bane’s future story potential depends on writer’s taking full advantage of the inverted Batman stuff and what it is, aside from beating the Caped Crusader senseless, Bane’s setting out to do – what his goals are. If Bruce is headed for buddhahood, then Bane is a speeding arrow shooting towards the inferno. His strengths lie in two areas – that he is Batman’s shadow, and that he has effectively rendered Bruce Wayne as powerless as he was in crime alley – taken him so far back along his process, actually, that it was almost as though he had to relive his pre-year one/Batman days again, that he had to retrain and recreate himself. Bane reminds us that Batman can be destroyed, but he also reinforces what an incredibly fucking amazing superhero he is. The guy’s forged himself into the ultimate human not once, but twice, and Bane was responsible for it. And it makes poetic sense that the qliphothic (that word again!) self made man should force his healthy mirror image to renegotiate and remake himself anew, without the flaw that initially allowed his enemy a way in.
Now that really is hideous.
I’ve mentioned before that Batman’s Rogues fall into discrete categories, and Bane is no exception. He’s one of Batman’s monsters – the primal, physical, idic forces gone wild. Clayface, Killer Croc, Man-bat, Bane… they seem to emerge from some prehistoric swamp of the mind, pre-self awareness, reptilian, mud-cloaked and titanic. Bane is particularly interesting to me however because he is dressed, as it were, in flesh-armour – a mockery of our humanity and our deeply embedded dream notions of the huge, protective father figure. I think this makes him the most monstrous of all – especially because he is in no way tragic. Unlike Croc and the rest he brought his condition upon himself. As I keep arguing, he sees himself as the perfected man, and what is truly horrifying is that he has gone full circle. Instead of denying the dinosaur within, he’s embraced it – let it out. He’s accepted it as historical inevitability. In the end, Batman’s war with him is mankind’s answer to this – the noble, civilised, cultured man versus the howling ape.
Let’s hope he keeps on kicking Bane’s arse, eh?
Right, that’s enough now….