Let’s get this out of the way upfront.
Okay. Now we’re going to talk about what it takes to be Batman.
A while ago in DC Comics-land, Batman was dead (not actually, but we pretended for a bit). In his absence, the Robins all fought over who should be the new Batman, as if there wasn’t a clear choice (hint: you saw his butt already). The mini-series where that all went down was not very good.
But this tie-in issue of Secret Six, where two men who had fought Batman wondered if they could replace him, was very good. Because it had scenes like this one:
Catman and Bane are two very different Bat-villains with one striking similarity: they were both the Anti-Batman of their day. Anti-Batmen pop up now and again, mirroring the Dark Knight either very closely (e.g. Catman) or very loosely (e.g. Bane). After their initial time in the sun, Anti-Batmen typically fade into the background of the DC Universe until a skilled writer finds an interesting way to bring them back.
Enter Gail Simone. Enter Secret Six. Enter Catman and Bane, sizing each other up and trying to play at being good men, both knowing the other could revert to form at any moment.
Secret Six is about determining what makes a hero, what makes a villain, and parsing out whether someone can’t be both at once. Often, the answer is “it’s complicated,” which is what makes this series full of overgrown luchadores, kinky contortionists, and sexy men dressed like a cat into one of the more complex looks at superheroism and supervillainy that DC has ever published.
Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. And even good people, trying to do good things, still do bad things. In their efforts to shut down a series of kidnappings, Catman, Bane, and Ragdoll (resplendently attired in the old underoos-style Robin costume) murder a whole mess of bad guys and scare the beejezus out of a couple families.
But despite that, they’re still recognizable as the heroes of the piece, even if they can’t see that themselves.
Up above, I said both Catman and Bane were wondering if they had what it takes to replace Batman. That was slightly inaccurate. Maybe Catman’s wondering, at the beginning of the story. But Bane’s not.
Bane’s already resigned himself to believing he is something less than Batman. Or if not less than, at least different than. He hasn’t come to Gotham to replace the Bat. Bane knows he never could. But he can pay his respects to a man he admired and root out this lesser class of criminal and villain that’s preying on Gotham in Batman’s absence. Bane can at least do that.
How do I know this? Let’s take another look at that page with Nightwing’s butt, this time with less butt and more words.
Bane knows there’s only one choice for a new Batman, and it’s not him, and it’s not Catman. They can both do their part and aspire towards being heroes. But they’re no Batman, and they never will be. The most they can do right now is continue iterating towards being good people.
Of course, all of this assumes Bane and Catman even want to be “heroes”. In some ways, they most definitely do. In other ways, they’ve already resigned themselves to their fate. But that’s an article for another day; Secret Six goes on for quite a bit after this story and there are a number of twists and turns left on both men’s path towards redemption(?). For now, we’ll leave our “heroes” here, driving away from Gotham, wondering if they’d ever even want to be Batman.