The Demon rises…
In celebration of Detective Comics #1000 and Batman’s 80th anniversary this week, we’re counting down the 13 GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER — from all media — as selected by a panel of 16 experts, including such luminaries as former DC publisher Paul Levitz, legendary Batman artist Neal Adams and comics writers Ron Marz, Tom Peyer and Fred Van Lente. For a complete rundown of how the vote was conducted and the full list of panelists, click here. The countdown is running daily across 13 days and will culminate in THE ULTIMATE BATMAN READING AND VIEWING GUIDE, which will feature every single Batman story cited by our panel.
PICK #5 was the Batman #251: The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge! (Click here.)
Next up on the countdown:
4. THE RA’S AL GHUL SAGA
Written by Denny O’Neil. Pencilled by Neal Adams and Irv Novick. Inked by Dick Giordano.
It might not be immediately obvious but you could compare the saga that introduced Ra’s al Ghul in the early ’70s to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
Not thematically, mind you – though both involve men making a journey to face off against a megalomaniacal madman – but in terms of packaging and presentation.
See, just about every time Coppola releases his treatise on the Vietnam War, it’s different – longer, shorter, added scenes, etc. – to the point where the definitive version is different for every viewer.
With the Ra’s saga – which has no official, overarching title — it seems to depend on your age, how you first read it and how DC has chosen to present to the public: Originally, the story involved seven distinct entries with an eighth that acts as sort of a coda. Writer Denny O’Neil, penciller Neal Adams and inker Dick Giordano were the driving forces but there were contributions from pencillers Irv Novick and Bob Brown, as well.
The storyline has been reprinted repeatedly for decades in various formats but to me, the absolute best version is the one published in 1977’s Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-51, which included 1971’s Batman #232 and 1972’s #242, #243 and #244 – Ra’s al Ghul’s first story and the trilogy that chronicles Batman’s climactic quest to bring him down.
This glorious treasury edition reads like a scripted storyboard for a blockbuster Batman movie. The scope is cinematic with high stakes – both global and personal. To borrow another metaphor from filmland, it’s James Bond in a cape and cowl, in the absolute best possible sense.
But even in standard format, the issues burn with a bright intensity — emblematic of a creative team at the apex of their extremely considerable talents.
Some additional notes:
— For Neal Adams’ perspective, click here. (And yes, it was on his ballot.)
— For Denny O’Neil’s take, click here.
— In the entire TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN, only two creative partnerhips appear twice – Bill Finger and Bob Kane and Denny O’Neal and Neal Adams. (With respective inking contributions from Jerry Robinson and Dick Giordano.) That says an awful lot.
— Props to Irv Novick, who never seems to get the credit he deserves. Sure, diehards would have loved it if Adams had pencilled every issue, but it wasn’t in the cards. Novick, a workhorse, acquits himself very nicely.
— For a really fun, in-depth look at the story, check out Rob Kelly’s TreasuryCast. Click here.
— In keeping with the whole “everyone sees it differently” theme, voters generally chose different combinations of issues. Those votes were counted together because the larger saga supersedes any individual chapters.
Some of the panelists specifically called out Batman #232’s Daughter of the Demon! for praise:
— Fred Van Lente, writer and co-creator of The Comic Book History of Comics, chose the story as his #1 pick: “Best story of the O’Neil/Adams Batman, which is pretty much the Batman we have today. You can’t really call their run a “run” because it was individual issues scattered over multiple titles, but this is two of our great creators at the height of their powers. First, Ra’s al Ghul and Talia (without them, no Morrison run, etc.) and rare good use of Robin the Boy Hostage.
— Chris Franklin, co-host of Batman Knightcast: “Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams collaborations to the character are legend, but perhaps their most important contribution was Ra’s al Ghul. Ra’s provided both a tactical and physical threat for the Caped Crusader, and enlarged the scale of his stories to global proportions.
— Mark Reinhart, writer of The Batman Filmography: “This one has it all — story by Denny O’Neill, art by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, a retelling of the origins of Batman and Robin, the introduction of the classic Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul, and the start of the star-crossed love affair between Batman and Ra’s’ daughter, Talia.”
NEXT: The #3 PICK is…
— The Complete TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN. Click here.
— How NEAL ADAMS Pronounces Ra’s al Ghul. Click here.
— How DENNY O’NEIL Pronounces Ra’s al Ghul. Click here.