Why RA’S AL GHUL Has Endured for 50 Years, by NEAL ADAMS

EXCLUSIVE: A special 50th anniversary tribute to one of Batman’s greatest villains – by the man who co-created him…

 

Ra’s al Ghul – one of Batman’s greatest, most dangerous villains – first appeared 50 years ago in Batman #232 on April 22, 1971.

Also known as “The Demon’s Head,” Ra’s was introduced mere weeks after his daughter Talia (in Detective Comics #411) and the two would add rich layers of intrigue and peril to the Batman myth for the next five decades.

Batman #232, released April 22, 1971. Art by Neal Adams.

Most would agree that the Joker’s is Batman’s greatest adversary. But Ra’s al Ghul – co-created by writer Denny O’Neil, artist Neal Adams and editor Julius Schwartz — holds a special place in Batlore: Aside from being a megalomaniacal supervillain, his connection to Batman – and Bruce Wayne – is personal. He is, after all, grandfather to Bruce’s only son, thanks to Batman’s complicated relationship with Talia.

I’ve long thought of Ra’s as a James Bond villain dropped into Batman’s world. The over-the-top plots for world domination. The shadowy, worldwide network of operatives and assassins. The exotic locales across the continents.

Batman #232. Adams pencils, Giordano inks.

But Adams, perhaps the greatest comics artist to put pencil to board, has a somewhat different view – and he’s here with an EXCLUSIVE guest column on WHY RA’S AL GHUL HAS ENDURED FOR 50 YEARS.

Dig it.

Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-51, which collected the best chapters of the first Ra’s al Ghul saga.

By NEAL ADAMS

One of the three most popular literary characters in the history of fiction is, of course, Sherlock Holmes. Hot and heated discussions have been had about whether Sherlock Holmes would be as great a character as he is without being opposed by his nemesis Moriarty.

I am for the nemesis idea. A good boxing match takes two boxers otherwise it’s a beating. When I joined with Denny O’Neil and Julius Schwartz to do what turned out to be some pretty classic Batman stories, I decided that if all that Batman fought were clowns like the Joker, Two-Face, the Riddler, the Mad Hatter, etc., we could hardly add to the legend of Batman up to that point by adding more clowns.

Professor Moriarty, illustration by Sidney Paget. From 1893’s The Final Problem.

Many of you may not know that “the Batman” was a kind of a take-off of Dick Tracy, the comic strip detective. In Dick Tracy, the master detective was faced by many strange, clownish characters like Prune Face, Little Face Finny, Flat Top, Wormy, and so on. These characters added that extra fantasy aspect to Dick Tracy, and Bill Finger and Bob Kane borrowed liberally from Chester Gould and his clowns for their own creations. They borrowed also from the Shadow and other pulp features; Batman was a child of the pulps and the pulps were replete with clowns.

On a wrangle with my editor Julius Schwartz, I argued that Batman needs a Moriarty, lurking in the background or in his face. Someone who is equal to Batman or possibly even his better. Then, no matter how many clowns you threw at Batman, there would always be that malevolent, evil and even smart Moriarty.

The next Monday Julius yelled across the production room at me, “Ra’s al Ghul!”

I said, “OK, what was that?”

Julie said, “The Head of the Demon. He’s your Moriarty.”

I said, “Fine, what does he look like?”

Julie said to me, “That’s up to you. You’re the artist.”

Did it matter what he looked like?

Ra’s emerges from the Batcave shadows in Batman #232. (Note: NO EYEBROWS. It matters, folks. It substantially adds to his mystique. –DG)

As it turned out, yes it did. Everything about Ra’s al Ghul mattered. He was, after all, the equal of Batman and characters like Ras al Ghul just do not go away.

As long as there is a Moriarty, there will be a Ra’s al Ghul.

But of course we still have to bring in the clowns now and then.

MORE

— NEAL ADAMS Reveals What Inspired Him When He First Drew TALIA. Click here.

— DENNY O’NEIL Talks the Origin of Ra’s al Ghul. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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2 Comments

  1. Years ago I asked Denny O’Neil on his web page (the O’Neil Observer if I recall correctly) if he saw any parallels between Ras al Ghul and Osama bin Laden, who of course only showed up on the world stage 20 years after Ras al Ghul’s creation. At the time, Denny said he had never thought about the connection. But consider: Ras isn’t really interested in ruling the world, but instead in cleansing it from what he sees as the blight of an over-abundance of humanity and the environmental destruction that goes along with that. Both RAG and OBL wanted to turn the clock back to what they perceived to be a more pristine time in world history, and didn’t care how many people they needed to kill in order to do it.

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