Forget figuring out how to pronounce his name.* Figure out how to draw him.
I’m gonna put my Angry Old Man voice on right now and tell you young kids today: Ra’s al Ghul does not have eyebrows!
I know this is a weird, almost pedantic thing to harp on but hear me out:
About 45 years ago, when DC introduced Ra’s in Batman #232, artist Neal Adams made a conscious decision to give his appearance a distinctive look: high cheek bones, odd facial hair, deep-set eyes, receding hairline and pronounced, hairless brow.
He looked great.
The thing is, as decades passed, too many careless artists mistook the shadows around Ra’s’ sinister eyes for bushy eyebrows. Now, most artists make the Demon’s Head look like a supervillain in desperate need of some manscaping.
Need proof? Check out this exchange between Grant Morrison and Adams from Wizard magazine 10 years ago:
Morrison: By the way, why does no-one ever do Ra’s al Ghul with no eyebrows? Because that’s the way you designed it.
Adams: Yeah, it’s funny. I want to take their fingers and break them when they come to the eyebrows. No eyebrows! Hello?
Morrison: I always fancied how you drew that character. It drives me nuts because I always remember that being a feature on him.
Adams: Sure. How many things can you identify Ra’s al Ghul by? A receding hairline and no eyebrows and a thick brow, high cheekbones, and that’s pretty much it. There’s no big “S” on his chest. Maybe an “R-A-G” on his chest. That’s kind of a cool idea. (Laughs)
ATTENTION ARTISTS: NEAL ADAMS WANTS TO BREAK YOUR FINGERS. STOP IT WITH THE EYEBROWS.
I won’t call them out by name. That’d be a dick move. But I will say that Ra’s is active in a few titles right now (which is too bad because he’s far more ominous when used sparingly) and that he’s routinely shown with bushy eyebrows.
And it’s something that bugs me because A) it makes him look less unique and more of a cliche and B) it goes against the original artist’s intent. Adams made a choice — and a good one at that.
I get that comics are a collaborative effort and ideas evolve over time. I mean, how many times has Batman’s outfit changed since 1939? But this doesn’t feel like artistic license. It feels like laziness, a lack of attention to detail.
So I was really pleased when I saw Clay Mann’s cover for this week’s Trinity #7.
There, in all its glory, is Ra’s al Ghul’s hairless brow:
Thank you, Clay.