You might recognize the name Ra’s Al Ghul from the hit CW show Arrow. You might recognize it from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Hell, you may even recognize it the from the Batman Animated series that turned this issue into the two part episode: The Demon’s Quest. As one of Batman’s biggest threats, Ra’s Al Ghul has been a mainstay in the comic books since his inception. No, not Inception, that Nolan film is unrelated.
Ra’s’ inception came with Batman #232. He comes to Batman for help after his daughter Talia, whom Batman had met a month earlier over in Detective, and Robin are kidnapped and ransomed. (Side note: The daughter Nyssa whom you may be familiar with from Arrow isn’t Talia under a guise, nor is she an original character. She is another daughter of Ra’s and is introduced years later in Greg Rucka’s Death of the Demon miniseries. So don’t get them confused.) Ra’s enters the Batcave on his own and confronts Batman with the knowledge of his identity as Bruce Wayne. Batman is surprisingly okay with this and joins Ra’s and his bodyguard Ubu on an international adventure to find their missing loved ones.
This story takes place during my favourite era of Batman. When he really was the worlds greatest detective. Yeah, he uses his skills now and again in Gotham, and he is incredibly intelligent, but rarely do you see him follow clue after clue until he finds what he is after. This was also a time when he would help people find killers and solve problems it wasn’t all gangs of gotham and super-villains. Not that I don’t love super-villains, because I do. I just feel that in the 70’s things became a lot more realistic and had not yet super dense with continuity that the writers could do these kind of detective stories more often, and you could do it in one issue. For example, in this issue, Batman takes the two ransom notes, compares them, analyses them under the microscope and finds traces of a herb found in only certain parts of the world, and that are known for being used by a group of killers in the middle east: The Brotherhood of the Demon. That is almost something straight out of a Sherlock Holmes story. Sherlock had written essay after essay on the differences in herbs, or how different boots left foot prints, or the remnants of tobacco from 100+ different cigars. Only someone worthy of the “Worlds Greatest Detective” moniker would be able to do this. (Don’t get me wrong though, Sherlock would own Batman if the opportunity ever presented itself)
So they get to the east, and Batman has to find out where the Brotherhood is located, which he does. He goes into where they are supposed to be but no one is there. No man that is. There is, however, a very large tiger. So he uses his Bat-Tiger Repellent and keeps going. Oh wait, this is the 70’s and things are real now. The tiger attacks him and he is forced to fight the tiger off with his bare hands. It’s pretty bad ass. He defeats the tiger and finds a map of the Himalayas . This map leads them up through the frigid cold of the mountains until they finally get close to the top. As Batman, Ra’s and Ubu get close to their destination the come under gunfire. Batman is, again, forced to, single handedly, take down the threat. Which he does. When threatened by more men with guns at the entrance of a cave, he simple walks past them, knowing they won’t shoot. Inside, he finds Robin.
There is a man in a goat mask and even more members of the Brotherhood of the Demon with guns who threaten him. Again, Batman says they will not shoot him. He then reveals that he has been aware of Ra’s’ charade the entire time. He knew Robin was safe, even though he, himself, was put through test after test: The Tiger, the cold, the mountain ascent, the shooter. Batman signals Robin who escapes and the two of them beat the entire posse and remove the goat mask of the leader, who is revealed to be Ubu. He then takes Ubu down. Afterwords, both Ra’s and Talia come out of hiding and Batman asks why he has been put through this charade. Ra’s’ answer “I want to retire and hand down the keys of the kingdom. I need to know you will be a worthy Son-In-Law.”
This tale, brought to you by the legendary team of writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, is an excellent Batman tale. You get the flashback of his origin and intentions when they are travelling. You see Batman’s many skills, including deduction, analysis, endurance, and beating the crap out of Tigers and Ubus. You get some robin without losing the focus of Batman. And, you get the creation of a great character in Ra’s. I feel that O’Neil’s story is well told and has many great moments. This is not a good story that batman is fit into, which i feel sometimes happens, this is a story written specifically for Batman. It is definitely one of my favourites. Neal Adam’s art is also of top quality. As I have said before, his art is what I think of when I think of the 70’s, particularly of Batman. I will say though, that on one page when they are in the mountains, they are standing against just a picture of a mountain. Come on Adam’s, come on. But for real, the whole issue is great.
I think what makes Ra’s such a powerful and threatening villain, and it was established in this initial appearance, is that he commands a battalion of people with such a grip that if he asked them to die, they would. If he asked them to kill their families, they would. If he asked them to wear a dress and sing MIKA to the world, they would. This type of power is hard to come by, and when you do come by it, you’d better hope your on the same side, because it is almost unstoppable. The one advantage I feel Batman has over this is the respect that Ra’s has for him. The problem is, the characteristics in Batman that have earned that respect are also the characteristics that disagree with Ra’s mission.
I read this out of Batman: Tales of the Demon, which carries the beginning stories as written by Dennis O’Neil with various artists. He also wrote 2 great graphic novels which appear in: Batman Birth of the Demon. Alongside those two is the Mike Barr GN Son of the Demon, which introduces Damian Wayne, who will one day become Robin and is destined to become Batman. Many writers have done great things with the character, but I most highly suggest Rucka’s Death of the Demon and his return in Grant Morrison and Paul Dini’s Batman: The Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul.
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