COMIC BOOK REVIEW

DETECTIVE #838


Author: John Bierly
Monday, December 17, 2007

From DC COMICS: "'The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul,' Part 3 of 7! Batman and I-Ching track down Ra's and Talia to their hideout while Nightwing pursues Robin! And why is the Invisible Map so important? All this, plus guest appearances by Talia al Ghul and Damian."

As much as I've loved Paul Dini's run on DETECTIVE, with an especially soft spot in my heart for his Zatanna story in #s 833 and 834, it was inevitable that he'd get sucked into the quagmire of a major crossover with BATMAN and satellite Bat Family books like ROBIN and NIGHTWING. "The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul" has arrived, and Dini does his best in #838 to elevate this crossover's game.

Good luck with that, Paul.

When I stopped by my local comic shop to pick this issue up, my buddy Aaron pointed at the cover and said, "Hey, look, Wolverine's in this month's DETECTIVE." There's certainly a Wolverine feel to Italian artist Simone Bianchi's cover image of Ra's, but I like how the right half of his face is strong and whole and the left half is rotting away. (Sound familiar?) And as a cool trivia note, Bianchi actually drew five issues of WOLVERINE for Marvel, that were written by longtime Batman buddy Jeph Loeb. It's a small world, and all that.

Moving on.

So we begin with my favorite Robin -- Tim Drake -- and Damian, the genetically whatever-ed offspring of Batman and Demon's Daughter Talia Al-Ghul, held captive on hovering gurneys surrounded by ninjas in Ra's Al Ghul's chamber. (I know the gurneys aren't really floating, but Ryan Benjamin's art kind of makes it look that way.) Ra's wants to make sure Damian is unharmed, even though he previously gave his warriors permission to harm the boy however they liked because they could just genetically ... whatever ... him back to health again.

Robin and Damian strike back with fists and banter on page 2, with Benjamin drawing little Damian like he's a 34-year-old man who's even taller than Tim, who looks a zombie vampire. I've never liked the way Damian's been written since Grant Morrison introduced him in the pages of BATMAN, and Dini's interpretation is no different. In Dini's defense he's just being consistent, but consistent with garbage is still garbage.

Building on the only good thing that came out of Damian's mouth before he escaped and abandoned Tim at the bottom of page 3, page 4 reveals what we've always known about Ra's: He'd much rather have Bruce's crew join him than have to kill them. It's already obvious that Ra's is going to make some kind of offer to Tim, thanks to some sharp Dini dialogue that's already better than anything anybody's said in this entire crossover so far.

Speaking of offers, beautiful handmaidens bearing fruit and wine enter the chamber on page 5. They pull off Tim's tunic and cape and tend his wounds while Ra's starts building up his offer. The exchange at the bottom of the page ends up being one of my favorite Ra's Al Ghul moments of all time. Ra's tells Tim he'll appreciate the sweetness of the girls' gifts. But our boy Tim is a better man than that, and sees through the double entendre. "If I didn't know that you meant dessert, I'd think you were being lewd, Ra's." And the instantly classic reply from Ra's? "You'll find no moral judgments here, Tim." Awesome! With dialogue like that, I almost found myself liking this crossover for a moment. Almost.

Tim kicks the plate of food away on page 6 and lets Ra's know he can't be bought with women or wine. And so Ra's raises the stakes, promising that he can bring back Tim's parents just as brought back himself. He also indirectly slams Bruce Wayne by telling Tim he needs a strong benefactor and mentor.

It's leading up to yet another instantly classic Ra's Al Ghul moment that we get on page 7. Tim tells Ra's that he's already got the only mentor he'll ever need in Batman. Ra's doesn't hesitate with the double-talk. "He already thinks more of Damian than he does of you. It won't be long before Damian surpasses you both in skill and the Detective's affections. History has shown that he will leave you in the cold." (This is particularly effect since, just moments ago, Damian left Tim in the cold.) And then the whammy: "I'm sure you've heard as much from Jason Todd."

That almost gets under Tim's skin, and Ra's continues with the full-court press: "Bruce Wayne is a man trying to save one city. His resources, though vast to the eyes of a common man, are limited. Ultimately he will go to his grave a pauper, his fortune squandered, Batman's great deeds forgotten, and his precious Gotham still in an ever-decaying spiral."

Awesome! Now that's the kind of Ra's Al Ghul dialogue I need in my life. (Close your eyes and imagine Liam Neeson saying that. It's pure, spooky poetry.)

"You have a mind for logic," Ra's tells Tim. "Can you refute this?"

That's the brilliance of Ra's's argument: Tim can't refute it. And because Tim's a sharp guy, he doesn't even try. "Maybe not. But given your current condition -- which is to say, dead -- I wouldn't expect you to be an optimist."

Ra's lays out some more mumbo-jumbo on page 8, and when Tim starts stalling, Ra's chastises him for trying to buy time waiting for a rescue by Batman that will never come. Proving that even a decaying old mummy's got moves, he knocks Tim out and tells the handmaidens to take him away. (I think it would have been a lot funnier if Ra's's hand had exploded into a cloud of dust upon striking Tim's face, but oh well.)

On page 9 we're back to Batman and Talia, who've apparently crashed their airplane into a mountain outside of Lhasa, Tibet, and are calmly walking away from the flaming crash. Um, okay. Talia's in a white jumpsuit with some kind of green Fredericks of Hollywood halter thing over the top of it, and Batman's got chain mail and old-timey armor all over his costume that frankly looks ridiculous. Can't his regular suit provide that kind of protection? And wouldn't all that junk impede his movements while fighting nimble ninjas? We find out by the bottom of the page, when three ninjas -- from the League of Assassins, and not from the 1992 children's movie -- attack.

Bad dialogue and poorly drawn action bring down page 10. (Is Batman tossing a ninja in the third panel, or doing dance aerobics?)

By the time we get to page 11, I-Ching has arrived to offer his assistance to Batman and Talia. (There sure are a lot of people showing up at this place at the exact same moment, aren't there? Sloppy writing, planning and plotting is yet another problem I've got with this crossover.) The ninjas have apparently multiplied, so I-Ching gives 'em the old ring-a-ding-ding.

Batman thanks I-Ching for his assistance on Page 12, but asks I-Ching to excuse him so he can go flirt with the injured Talia. I wish I was making that up. Batman offers her a bandage. "This will help."

Will it help her look less like a skinny vampire elf? Because that's how Ryan Benjamin draws her here. I shouldn't knock the guy's work, because I can't draw anything, but that's really unacceptable.

Anyway, Talia's all, "It's just a little scratch, but thank you ... Bruce." How sweet, right? Come on, Dini! You can write better than this! A few pages ago you were knocking the Ra's Al Ghul dialogue out of the park, and now we've got Bruce and Talia fawning over each other like awkward teens. Awkward teens whose genetically ... whatever-ed ... child is about to become the new host for her mummified daddy.

Whatever.

I can't take this anymore.

And why does Batman suddenly look like Sasquatch in a cowl?

As the story goes on, Alfred and Dick "Nightwing" Grayson arrive at the airport in what I'm going pretend is a stealth Learjet, where they are immediately ambushed by Ubu and some ninjas.

Dick makes short work of them, but by page 16, Ubu is somehow holding his GIANT HAND around Alfred' entire neck, which has somehow extended to giraffe length to accommodate Benjamin's poor artwork, even though those bottom fingers seem to be going through Alfred's shoulder. Oh, well. At least John Kalisz's color palette is pleasing.

Alfred distracts Ubu with some quick talk about the butler code before somehow breaking free from Ubu's giant iron grasp and whacking the big man where it counts. What a poorly executed scene, but we're used to that by now.

A hidden mountain entrance on Batman and Talia into Ra's's hideout, where Batman uses some kind of radar trick -- that both impresses and amuses I-Ching -- to navigate them through the darkness.

By page 19, they're surrounded by ninjas again, and Ra's says, "Detective. Here we are again, face to face."

Batman: "But this will be the last time."

Seriously, Batman? Are you seriously saying that to the guy who keeps coming back?

Come on!

Anyway, yet another Batman/Ra's swordfight erupts at the top of page 20. The dialogue hurts.

Ra's: "You've become faster since we sparred last." (He cuts Batman's cheek.) "As have I."

What? Faster? He's a ROTTING CORPSE, for crying out loud, who's rotting so quickly that he can't get into a new body fast enough! And he's FASTER?

Oh, Dini.

And the rest of the page, despite a cryptic warning from Ra's to Batman about the treachery of the Sensei, is just as bad.

Ra's impales himself on Batman's sword, and on page 21 he talks about how his "state of decay is increasing exponentially." This, of course, coming from the guy who, just one page ago, was talking about how he's faster than ever. Once again, it's dialogue that's below Dini's usual standard. And where are the editors?

Apparently the handmaidens had been dragging Tim's body around the cave for hours, because they bring Tim and Damian back into the chamber and then kick the ass of I-Ching, who can handle a horde of ninjas but not a couple of handmaidens.

Oh, well.

Ra's says he's getting ready to make the jump to another body. Will he choose Tim's, or Damian's?

Batman makes the clichéd but noble offer. "Let them go, Ra's! You need a host body. Take mine."

But sneaky old Ra's has a better idea. He'll force Batman to choose which of the boys becomes the new body of Ra's Al Ghul.

And ... to be continued! This one started well with some really good dialogue between Ra's and Tim, but fell apart in a hurry. The art didn't help. Thankfully, the next issue of DETECTIVE is the crossover's finale and we can hopefully get back to business as usual. More commentary then.

Indiana native John Bierly started writing for publications as a teenager and never stopped.
His interests include family and friends, burgers, concerts, Mountain Dew and, of course, Batman.
His favorite movies are
BATMAN BEGINS and Rushmore, and he's very happy that Maggie Gyllenhaal is going to be in THE DARK KNIGHT.
You can read his blog at JOHNBIERLY.COM.

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