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So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.
I must be a creature of the night.
Black. Terrible.
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--
Bruce Wayne, DETECTIVE COMICS #33 (November 1939)

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RA'S Al Ghul
Author: Cary Ashby

(EDITOR’S NOTE: While we aspire to be historically as accurate as possible, rumor is used at times when it is of historical significance. There also may be an element of the author’s opinion found at times in these articles. All pictures and images of said characters are © DC COMICS.)

Ra's al Ghul is a relative newcomer to the Batman's “Rogue Gallery of Villains.”

However, after making his first appearance in "Batman" No. 232 (June 1971), he quickly asserted himself as one of the Dark Knight's biggest, most formidable foes. Comics legends artist Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams created the mysterious villain who respectfully calls the Batman "Detective."

Ra's al Ghul, whose name translates in his native tongue to "Demon's Head," used logic to establish only billionaire Bruce Wayne would have the financial assets to accumulate the arsenal in Batman's war against crime. He also correctly assumed Gotham's playboy philanthropist was the perfect cover for the Batman's secret identity, thus being the only villain (besides Bane) to learn the Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same person.

Since his premiere 35 years ago, the storylines pitting Ra's al Ghul against the Caped Crusader have largely stayed true to the same formula. The Demon's Head usually comes up with a scheme that he envisions will improve the world, but its implementation typically involves mass destruction in order to start the world afresh in Ra's al Ghul's vision. Similar to a James Bond adventure, the Batman quickly determines where his enemy's hideout is and stops him.

Their confrontations often end in a swordfight, sometimes in a draw, and many times with Ihe Batman only somewhat victorious. Ra's al Ghul's defeats happen in circumstances which put his death in doubt or The Dark Knight saves Gotham City, only to have the Demon's Head escape.

Not only has Ra's al Ghul been able to escape the Batman time and time again, Ra's also manages to escape death itself, thanks to the Lazarus Pit. Ra's, who was born between 600 and 700 years ago in Arabia, has used the Pit to resurrect himself. People who use the Lazurus Pit emerge in a fit of insanity and with increased strength, which has made for various intriguing conflicts over the years.

O'Neil revealed Ra's al Ghul's early life (as well as the origins of the Lazarus Pit) in the 1992 graphic novel "Birth of the Demon," which was drawn by artist Norm Breyfogle. An aging actress was impregnated by Ra's after being treated to a younger body via the Pit, as told in an earlier graphic novel "Bride of the Demon." The Mike W. Barr story features Tom Grindberg art that eerily mirrors Adams'. Subsequent comics have made no mention of the child or the villain's lover.

Arguably the most intriguing part of the relationship between Ra's and the Batman is the tension created by the Demon Head's second, but most well known daughter, Talia. Ironically, she appeared in the comics one month before her father in "Detective Comics" No. 411 (May 1971).

Talia is pulled between her dedication to her father who wants to have the Batman become his heir and/or killed and her passionate love for her father's enemy. Again, many comic adventures have ended with Talia bemoaning the fact that she and her "Beloved" can't be together because The Batman is at odds with her father.\

The couple, in the 1987 graphic novel "Son of the Demon," slept together which resulted in Talia having a boy, unknown to Bruce Wayne. The leggy, gorgeous woman claimed she had miscarried, but had instead put the child up for adoption. The story started with Ra's enlisting The Batman to defeat the rogue assassin/warlord Qayin, who murdered Talia's mother.

Again, no comics in the current continuity have addressed the boy's existence. However, the "Kingdom Come" limited series and "Brotherhood of the Bat" (an "Elseworlds" one-shot) feature alternate realities featuring Bruce's and Talia's son as an adult.

Recent rumors have indicated the storyline by Grant Morrison starting in "Batman" No. 655 will address Barr's "Son of the Demon." It has been unclear if "Son" is part of comic book continuity, which would make it part of the Batman's mythology and ongoing storylines. Morrison's storyline, titled some variation of "Batman and Son," instead may address Bruce's recent offer to adopt the third Robin, Tim Drake, as his son. Drake's father was murdered in the "Identity Crisis" limited series.

Four storylines in the last decade have added intriguing possibilities to Talia's place in the Batman universe. Most recently, "Batman Annual" No. 25 reveals how Jason Todd (Robin II) was resurrected and later trained and financially supported by Talia. Her intentions are unclear. Todd later became The Red Hood, the first alter ego of Todd's murderer, The Joker, and has terrorized Gotham mobs, Batman, and his partners as a true vigilante.

In the "Contagion" and "Legacy "storylines, Ra's al Ghul attempted what would have been his most "successful" genocide using the widespread virus called the Clench. The Batman and his counterparts learned Ra's was behind the deaths of thousands of Gotham citizens. Ra's also had named Bane as his heir and paired him with a less than thrilled Talia.

Ra's al Ghul died during the "Batman: Death of the Maidens" limited series in 2004. His first daughter stabbed Ra's in the heart while Talia disavowed her love for Bruce Wayne/the Batman. Both sisters declared The Dark Knight as their enemy and they both became the heads of their father's organization, the League of Assassins. Greg Rucka wrote the story with art by the legendary Klaus Janson.

Fans had to wait nearly 25 years before Ra's and Talia al Ghul appeared onscreen.

Like the comics, Talia made her appearance first in a "Batman: The Animated Series" episode called "Off Balance." Ra's (voiced by David Warner) had a brief cameo. The Demon's Head was the featured villain in the two-part story "The Demon's Quest" It was written by Ra's co-creator O'Neil and was based on the character's first comic book appearance.

Fans were treated to a different, and somewhat confusing, version of Ra's al Ghul in Christopher Nolan's live-action origin film "Batman Begins." Talia and the Lazarus Pit are not mentioned in the 2005 movie.

Henri Ducard (actor Liam Neeson) encourages Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) to seek Ra's (Ken Watanabe) for training and focus once he is released from an overseas prison. Bruce trains as a ninja mostly under Ducard, and in the process, learns to overcome his fear of bats. Bruce has to slaughter a criminal before Ra's and Ducard initiate the young man as part of the League of Shadows who plan to bring a reign of terror to Gotham City. The hero refuses to kill, sets the headquarters ablaze and battles Ra's in a swordfight. The Demon's Head dies when debris falls on him. Bruce risks his own life to save Ducard's.

(Ducard, in "Detective Comics" #s 598-600 and the story "The Man Who Falls," is a detective who trains Bruce in Paris before he becomes The Batman. Bruce is astonished to learn Ducard has no qualms about murdering and leaves Paris.)

Later in "Begins," Bruce as The Batman learns the League of Shadows has overseen many years of the mob's criminal activities in Gotham City, including the murders of Bruce's parents. A woman introduces Bruce to a younger Ra's at Bruce's birthday party at Wayne Manor. Ducard is also there and reveals he is Ra's, but gives no further explanation. After Bruce is knocked out, Ducard/Ra's and his ninjas set Wayne Manor on fire and Batman faces the League in a showdown to save Gotham from the Scarecrow's (Cillian Murphy) poisonous gas.

Have fans seen the last of Ra's al Ghul in the comics?

Only the Lazarus Pit would know for sure.

BOF contributor Cary Ashby writes a twice-monthly comic book column for the "Norwalk Reflector." He is the newspaper’s crime reporter. Cary has an extensive collection of Batman comics and has been an avid fan for nearly 30 years. He can be reached via e-mail at ashby@goreflector.com.

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