WARNING: This article contains spoilers. Read at your own risk!
When it comes superhero villains, Batman is regarded for containing a gallery of quality villains: The Joker, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Bane, Scarecrow, the list goes on. Then we have Ra’s Al Ghul, a villain who is quite unique in his own way compared to the others.
His perception of battling crime and corruption often clashes with Batman’s and many find Ra’s Al Ghul to be a darker version of Batman. He is also able to match Batman both physically and tactically, which has provided the Dark Knight a difficult challenge to beat. There’s also the Lazarus Pit which allows Ra’s to come back to life if he is killed, emphasizing his persistence. Finally, we have his daughter Talia Al Ghul, who has often been a love interest for Batman. They even fostered a child together, Damian Wayne.
The great qualities of Ra’s Al Ghul are exemplified in “Birth of the Demon,” a graphic novel that contains three loosely-connected stories that show the connection between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul.
The first story, “Son of the Demon” was published in 1987 by Mike W. Barr and Jerry Bingham. This follows the brief alliance between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul as they hunt down the terrorist Qayin. This was also when Batman and Talia were married.
I love the dynamic between Batman and Ra’s. Ra’s could have been a father figure towards Batman. One scene in particular adds to my point. While the two are playing chess, their respect for each other is shown and both desire for their alliance to remain. You can see a change inside of Batman since it provided him happiness, something that he lost when his parents were killed. However, the tragic ending reminds us how Batman may never have a “happily ever after” story.
The artwork is outdated and the fact it was made in the late 1980s means it features coloring that is a bit of an antique. Sometimes it’s odd looking at the coloring that doesn’t fit with certain scenes very well. However, it stands out during the action sequences, which adds to the drama of those moments.
1990’s “Bride of the Demon” is another story by Barr but with Tom Grindberg doing the artwork. This one follows Ra’s attempting to marry an aging actress in order to conceive a child who will soon take over his place. This could be the weakest of the three stories here. This one doesn’t contain the emotional weight of the other ones. This story doesn’t give me a sense of tragedy like “Son of the Demon,” it’s more or less a generic story featuring Ra’s Al Ghul.
The alternative plan of finding an heir for Ra’s is logical since he knows that Batman will be very hard to convince. I really like how Ra’s tries to connect with his wife Evelyn over the fact that they fear death. However, the plan of having a “self-generating” Ozone that will cause catastrophic damage sounds a bit like a Captain Planet scenario.
The action sequences are great and the artwork by Grindberg is very detailed. Sometimes, it feels like I’m watching “Batman: The Animated Series” but with a style that is reminiscent towards the comic book art style of the 70s.
Lastly, we have “Birth of the Demon,” one of the most compelling origin stories of a supervillain ever. You get to understand where Ra’s comes from with his motivations and actions. It’s spine-chilling to watch him start as a man who was a respected physician and slowly become a ruthless and obsessive maniac on a conquest for immortality.
I love a good origin story because they lay down the foundations of what the character will become. This story allows us to sympathize for Ra’s and shows how villains don’t have to be one-dimensional bad guys. Whether you agree with his ideas or not, Ra’s Al Ghul is a man who can have characteristics that people can relate to in many ways.
The artwork by Norm Breyfogle is magnificent and the painting adds a level of grotesque that makes it feel like a horror story. It adds on to the insanity of Ra’s and the climatic finale between Batman and Ra’s definitely showcases the artwork’s brilliance.
This is a wonderful collection of stories featuring one of Batman’s greatest villains. Batman fans should have already read this. But if you’re new to comics and you are fascinated with Ra’s due to “Batman Begins” or “Arkham City,” this is definitely a recommended read for those who want to know more about him.