Ra’s Al Ghul Begins
Batman Son Of The Demon and Bride Of The Demon have in my opinion both been great, espionage-esque books that drop Batman into the world of James Bond. Another of my favourite fictional characters. This aesthetic has been brilliant thus far and I’ve recommended both stories highly.
Glancing at the Birth Of The Demon I can clearly tell from art style alone that this will be a slight differentiation on the previous too. One that could be for better or worse. There is a change of writer and whilst Dennis O’Neil is incredible, he invented Ra’s Al Ghul alongside Neal Addams but still…Mike W. Barr set the standard and has had a brilliant run with the character thus far.
I am excited to see what the book could deliver on and whether this will be a success or failure. If it’s successful then this could be one of the best comic book trilogies ever, if it’s a failure then it will ensure the series goes out on a bum note.
Which one could it be!?
Let’s jump in to find out!
Ra’s Al Cool
The book opens with Batman disturbing the league of assassins digging for a Lazarus pit. We are instantly hit with the gold tone to the art. This entire book is very…gold…to me it invokes feelings of Ancient Egypt and the Pharaohs of old.
So it’s great that the majority of the plot takes place in Africa. It really sets the tone of the landscape and adds an atmosphere that few books include. Batman has worked out where the fraying Ra’s will attack next and travels there to counter him. The colour choice feels decisive and it subtly adds a glow and heat that resonates from the book. Because of the palette it immerses you more into the pages and is a creative decision that feels like an educated one.
Upon encountering Talia Al Ghul at a pit we are treated to the Year One story of Ra’s Al Ghul. The majority of the book centres around the telling of his early years, crafted wonderfully by the very writer who created him.
Ra’s has always been a fascinating character to me and it’s brilliant that we finally have set in stone exactly what came to make him the myth that he is.
We travel back centuries, view his birth and then follow as he builds his career from kind and helpful physician to The Head Of The Demon.
The thirst for death
It’s almost alien to see how kind Ra’s is in this opening arc. When racing with the Salimbs son they trample an old woman in the street. Ra’s later visits her and her son. Desperately trying to use his knowledge of medicine to heal the woman. Upon failing he offers the son his life, stating that death is the greatest villain to humanity…but he is still curious to meet him.
I find it fascinating to see just how much this juxtaposes Ra’s in later life. The complete polar opposite to the super villain that he becomes. He is so curious to meet his end in those early days whereas now he clings to life like a virus. It makes me wonder whether it was the pit that corrupted his soul, as from the onset he seems like a good man. O’Neil knocks it out the park from the off and handles the character in a more human focused way than Barr had this far.
Ofcourse the son doesn’t take his life and Ra’s is called to the Salimb who’s son has fallen ill. It’s here that the expedition to build the pit and save the Salimb’s only child begins.
The Lazarus Pit
Ra’s saves the Salimbs son but in doing so releases a monster. His wife is killed in a beautifully coloured scene full of reds and greens that has a slightly laughable ‘I choke’ muttered from her lips at the end. I think this was done in post as for some reason during her death you can’t really make it out and obviously they had to point out she was dead. It doesn’t detract too much from the work though as, with every page in this book, the art sucks you in and delivers upon the realism that the book is portraying.
This of course breaks Ra’s completely. He saved the man from death who would murder his wife and from this moment forward the good man is gone.
The Salimb completely overlooks his sons misdeeds and Ra’s is blamed for his wife’s death. He is caged beside her corpse and left to rot, only escaping after being saved by the one who he owed a life debt too earlier in the book.
Eventually through the desert Ra’s tracks down his uncle and joins his tribe. Deciding that the best way to attack the Salimb is through the original illness that made his son perish.
It’s a brilliant, cunning idea that showcases the depths of Ra’s ingenuity. This is why he became the head of The Demon. Whilst others were barbaric and cruel he was cold and calculating.
It’s hard not to admire the villain in a tale that feels almost biblical. I love the way that this really feels like a demonstration of other culture’s strengths instead of condemning them.
Often I feel within books that when characters travel to middle eastern landscapes that there is a slight disparity towards the natives (see Indiana Jones and The Temple Of Doom). However, this book really shows strength towards its characters.
Rise Of The Demon
The trap is a slaughter and we see the cruel Ra’s, that we know (and love), finally come to the forefront.
Through the many battles and destruction of the Salimb, Ra’s grows ill and in a last desperate attempt is taken to the pit. The final mourning that we see him envoke is upon realising that his wife will not be brought back to him no matter how many he kills.
He ventures into the pit shredding that last bit of humanity that he has.
There is such great subtext throughout this book. I’ve always believed that rather than restoring life, the Lazarus pit kills it.
Whatever good is left in the man is destroyed upon entering it’s ooze and it seems like O’Neil believes this too and the Ra’s we have followed throughout the book is no more upon having his body renewed.
Ra’s finally rips off the head of The Demon statue for Bisu and stands atop of it, becoming the true Head Of The Demon…Ra’s Al Ghul.
The tale is over and from this point onwards we rejoin Batman with Talia at the pit in what is a brilliant climax. Ra’s and the Dark Knight have an exciting face off in what feels like an epic conclusion.
The two are both on Deaths Door, with Ra’s being the clear victor before both fall into the pit. Batman emerges anew, filled with savage joy upon discovering the demon’s head within his cowl.
It’s difficult to interpret exactly what O’Neil meant by this ending but I believe that it cements Bruce as the true heir to Al Ghul. Whether he accepts it or not he has become one with the pit and becomes one step closer to transforming into his nemesis.
It’s a really great ending that may even go so far as to offend certain sensibilities of hardcore fans.
I myself know that a few years ago I would’ve have viewed Batman as someone who would never use the pit. However, after traversing stories like Venom, The Dark Knight Returns 3 etc I view no reason why he wouldn’t see his advantages.
Batman accepts that his war on crime could be never ending, one that will take his life unless he accepts something which will add to his longevity. In doing so though will be sacrifice his soul as many others have?
But this ending tops off a great book.
Batman Birth Of The Demon is in my eyes Ra’a Al Ghuls Killing Joke. It features the character’s origin and shows how similar he and Batman truly are.
Whilst I don’t feel like the book lives up to the brilliant Bride Of The Demon there is still a lot here to love.
It is a great entry point into The Head Of The Demon that requires little pre-knowledge of the countless battles Ra’s and Batman have had.
Overall this is an epic story that tops off what has been a brilliant trilogy. You owe it to yourself to pick up the Birth Of The Demon Collection. It really is one of the best value bundles that you can get on the caped crusaders rich history.
Leave a comment whether you agree with my ranking or not.