Batman and Ra’s al Ghul 32

batman ras al ghul 32

Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Batman and Ra’s al Ghul 32, originally released June 18th, 2014.

Patrick: No one’s got a deeper bench than Batman. A lot has been made of the integrity of his relationships lately — it’s almost the most important piece of Batman’s mythology in the New 52. Check it out: Batman Eternal is all about Batman struggling with his relationship with the city, and even pulls Gordon out of rotation. This comes on the heels of The Death of the Family and the Leviathan killing Damian, which all just compounds the stress put upon those relationships. Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Robin, Red Hood, they all have reason to distrust the man who’s a superhero first, and a human being second. But Batman’s not just the biggest superhero in Gotham, he’s the biggest superhero in the DC Universe, so there’s no end to the relationships we can explore to learn something just a little bit more about Bruce Wayne.

Batman and Frankenstein have finally come face-to-face with Ra’s al Ghul, who’s about to submerge Talia and Damian in a Lazarus Pit. After a handful of brief history lessons, Bruce and Frank unleash their army of yetis, giving Batman the opportunity to escape with Damian’s sarcophagus in tow. Ra’s, it would seem, is not done with Batman yet. He vows that no ally of the Bat will ever find peace again until he is able to restore Damian. Then Bruce and Ra’s talk it over like grown-ups and eventually work out a civil agreement.

Batman punches Ra's in the neck

Whoops, I meant they punch each other into oblivion. Pushed to the edge by Ra’s’ threats, Batman puts himself in prime position to collapse the Demon Star’s skull like he’s [Game of Thrones references deleted]. All of a sudden, we’re treated to an all too familiar BOOOM, and denizens of Apokolips arrive on the scene.

For as much as Gotham is Batman’s world, there’s just as much that the rest of the DC Universe has to offer him. Those “stages of grief” issues that followed Damian’s death all stuck pretty closely to the regular Bat cast, and then we were got that multi-issue Two-Face team-up. The series found its footing again, pairing Batman with unlikely allies, like Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and mostly recently, Frankenstein. Those issues have been exercises in watching Batman practice humility, asking for help when he is out of his depth. Batman’s the consummate expert, and it was remarkable to watch him cede that expertise to other heroes. Geoff Johns may delight in subverting the “Batman is always right” trope, but never with the level of insight Batman and… writer Peter Tomasi has. In short, those earlier issues, which featured characters from Gotham’s stable, illuminated the weakness stemming from Batman’s arrogance, while the later issues, which featured strangers to Gotham, illuminated the strength stemming from Batman’s ability to ask for help.

Sorry, that’s an awful lot of context to pose the following question: what role does Ra’s al Ghul play in this issue which bears his name? Kind of neither, right? He’s not really part of that “of Gotham” camp, but he’s also not so far outside Batman’s usual MO that he qualifies as a stranger to Gotham. Ra’s is one of those bizarre characters that’s half-rogue and half-wizard, simultaneously street level, and, y’know, some kind of immortal demon. Tomasi, who has been injecting these recent issues with all kinds of history lessons, makes a special point of exploring the magical cities of Nishapur and Nanda Parabat. We don’t really need that information to understand what Ra’s is attempting in this scene – the bubbling green pit tells the story in a heartbeat. And yet it’s important that Frankenstein’s explanation is there, because it emphasizes the otherworldliness of what Batman’s up against.

I mean, come on: Batman and Frankenstein lead an army of yeits? You read that, right? It’s some next-level crazy stuff, so far away from the gangsters and corrupt politicians of Gotham City. The cherry on top of all of this is the 11th hour arrival of Glorious Godfrey. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t get much more outside Batman’s wheelhouse than Apokolips.

Artist Patrick Gleason is in rare form in this issue, and he squanders no opportunity to make Batman look fucking awesome. The culmination of all of the emotional slingshotting comes right as Ra’s makes his final play at taunting Bruce into submission. I love this page: the camera pulls in tighter as the characters move closer together, and the implied lines pull your eyes down to the bottom of the page faster that  you’d like. The visual momentum is such that I actually had to make myself go back to read what Ra’s is saying.

Batman and Ra's al Ghul are going to finish this like men

Bruce’s resultant rage persistently asks the question of how much he’s learned from this whole experience. Is he humbled by forces he can’t possibly comprehend, or emboldened to try and stop them anyway? Spencer, I’ll leave you with that question and a few others. Were you a little bummed that we didn’t get a little bit more sympathetic view of Ra’s in this issue? He just comes off as a scenery-chewing baddie here. Also, does Apokolips feel like too hard of a left turn for this series to take? Maybe we’re just getting started and we don’t know half of how weird Tomasi’s willing to go before this thing ends.

Spencer: Ra’s has been a scenery chewer (I hope he has a good dentist) for a while now, so it’s not a surprise, but considering that he was once one of Batman’s more, if not exactly sympathetic, than at least more rational opponents, it is a little disappointing that he’s been so deliberately evil lately. Still, I’m pretty enamored with the concept Tomasi’s cooked up for him.

in-laws, right?

Grant Morrison once called the conflict of Batman Incorporated a “custody battle” between Bruce and Talia for Damian; this issue continues with this family metaphor and turns Ra’s al Ghul into the meddling in-law, the kind of relative who refuses to acknowledge his child’s partner or takes over a funeral and imposes his own feelings onto the deceased. We’ve all met that douchebag, right? Ra’s is so egotistical and so possessive of Talia and Damian that he’ll turn them into mind-slaves just to spite Batman, and that’s unforgivably evil, but it’s still essentially an exaggerated version of behaviors we’re all familiar with, grounding Ra’s’s particular form of egocentricism in at least some sort of reality.

Man, family, they really can be our worst enemy sometimes, can’t they? Batman really should have heeded that ancient wisdom, “when you marry someone, you marry their entire family.” Or in his case, I suppose it’s more like “When you’re drugged by a woman, you’re drugged by her entire family as well.”  Hm, I don’t think that works as well.

As for Apokolips, I have no doubt that Tomasi can make the concept work, but it certainly comes out of left field, and depending on the reader, could even be viewed as a bit of a cop-out. After all, leading up to that moment, the conflict was Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul. Batman vows to kill Ra’s, and much like Ra’s, I believe him; trying to break Batman’s code against killing is an old note to hit by now, but there’s something about Batman’s grief and fury in this issue that just makes me believe him.

(Note that it’s actually a little upsetting that Batman’s vow is broken by the death of his biological son — and Ra’s isn’t even the actual murderer! — while Batman never reached that depth of grief over Jason.)

Even if just the sheer intensity of Batman’s statement and the last year or so worth of stories leading up to it doesn’t convince of he was capable of killing Ra’s, the four page fight scene that followed certainly would, especially those final two pages.

what is it with you and eyes tonight, Bats?

Tomasi is wise to cut out all dialogue from this spread, giving Gleason a chance to go all-out and show just how brutal this battle really is. Look at that last row of panels right before the Boom Tube opens; there’s no denying it, that’s a killing move if there ever was one.

And then Glorious Godfrey shows his glorious face, putting the Batman vs. Ra’s conflict on the backburner, if not diffusing it entirely. I understand why it had to happen — DC would never let Batman actually kill somebody, but this way Tomasi can at least show that Batman made the conscious decision to kill someone even if he was stopped from carrying it through. Just the fact that Batman made that decision is probably going to be enough to justify this plot for many people, but I imagine there will be just as many who feel that it’s a cop out, that it’s pointless if Batman was stopped before he could actually do anything he regrets.

What camp do I fall into? I think it depends on how this is handled from here on out. If Batman’s near-death decision here is never mentioned again, then yeah, it’s kind of a cop out. I don’t think Tomasi will go that route, though. No doubt whatever happens with Apokolips will be totally off the wall, and it will no doubt look beautiful under the pen of Patrick Gleason.

Gleason and colorist John Kalisz keep the opening sequence of this issue looking as creepy as possible, illuminating the room only in the eerie green glow of the lazarus pit, and hiding Batman in the shadows completely, leaving only this figure of pure darkness barking out demands. It’s a breathtaking sequence, and one that only serves to highlight how downright scary Batman can be when he’s pushed to his limits (like he will be by the end of the issue). Patrick already pointed out Gleason’s superb storytelling skills with that page of Ra’s approaching Batman, but there was another page that stood out to me as well.

face

What a way to start out an issue! Here’s five separate images that, when combined together, basically combine to form a whole; it effortlessly and stylishly introduces the issue’s primary players and conflict without wasting space and words. Man Gleason makes it look easy.

So what can I say? There’s a lot to like in this issue; it’s off-kilter, but purposely so, and next month’s looks to be even stranger, but as the last few issues have shown, strange may just be a strength for this title.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

7 comments on “Batman and Ra’s al Ghul 32

  1. I also wanted to point out that first page, because it’s so conceptually cool AND Gleason’s execution is phenomenal, but I think he makes the wrong choice for the 5th panel. The first and third panels are images of Talia’s sarcophagus going into the pit and that progression is interrupted by Batman and Ra’s, the key players in this event. That final panel should be Talia lowered even further into the pit, and not Frankenstein. Not only does it break up the pattern, but it grants a little too much weight to Frank in this moment. Sure, he’s a valuable asset here, but this moment is not at all about him. It creates a nice symmetry on the page (and continues some nice lines, like the clasp on Ra’s’ cape), but I just wish Gleason could have achieved that with one more shot of Talia.

    This is extremely nit-picky, I know. But I do think it keeps the page from being absolutely genius, instead of, y’know, just very very good.

  2. I’m just finished with Morrison’s Bat-epic, and man was it something. In no way the best thing I’v ever read, but it did alot of cool things.

    But with that said. Has the recent Batman and “…” been a good follow up to Batman Inc? Not that it’s needed, since I think it ended quite well, but could be cool to pick up. If not thanks to the inclusion of New Gods (love the recent Kirby-stuff in DC with Omacs in Future’s end, Forever people and Orion in WW.)

    • I’d say that “Batman and… ” has largely been a mixed bag, and probably not the most satisfying if you’re looking for something of a coda to Morrison’s epic. But this sounds like a fun thing to explore, so let’s get in detail here.

      I like the early issues of Tomasi and Gleason’s “Batman and Robin” (the first 8) but they mostly tell one solid story that’s very much of it’s own identity, only really borrowing the relationship from Inc, and inventing the rest of the stuff wholesale. The New 52’s first issue of Batman, Incorporated does make reference to the events of this story, so that ties them together pretty well. Also a good read. That’s a “yes, if you’re curious” on 1-8.

      Then B&R starts to get overwhelmed with cross-over stuff. Issue 9 is Night of Owls – and a pretty good story from that event – but it has very little to do with Incorporated stuff. 10-13 are another self-contained story – mostly boring, but there is a really cute emotional through-line that carries from 9-13 about Damian doing something thoughtful for Bruce. (Which I’ll happily spoil if it means you can skip those 5 issues).

      There’s also the 0 issue in there, which is a retread of the Damian origin featuring a lot of the events (and even dialogue!) from Morrison’s work. You already know this shit, you can skip it.

      Next up is the Death of the Family run. Again – it’s just event-service, but in this case it’s not even particularly good event service. Unless you’re interest in DotF, you can skip 14-16.

      This is where the series gets really, really good for a hot minute. Batman and Robin 17 and the Batman and Robin Annual 1 are both great one-off stories that take place right before Damian dies. Batman and Robin 18 is the excellent silent issue. If you’re into Morrison’s work on Batman, these three issues will make you FEEL.

      The next five issues (19-23) are the beginning of the “Batman and…” run where Bruce is working through his feelings with the help of his allies (and one NEW ally). These issues aren’t uniformly great, but they do have their moments, and set up a number of things that pay off in later (and better) issues.

      Then there’s Villain month: 23.1 (Two-Face) only makes sense in the context of Forever Evil (and isn’t great to boot). 23.2 (Court of Owls) is pretty fun, but only if you wanted more information about the Owls. 23.3 (Ra’s al Ghul) makes a lot of neat observations about how Ra’s fits into the importance of Batman creating his own mythos (I recommend it). 23.4 (Killer Croc) Don’t bother.

      Batman and Two-Face 24-28 couldn’t be further removed from the Damian story. It was a nice diversion at the time — we were getting a little burned out on Bruce mourning his son by this point — but unless you’re interested in learning the New 52 origin of Two-Face, I’d say skip.

      There’s another Annual in here somewhere that you can skip.

      And then the series picks up steam again with Batman and Aquaman 29. I obviously can’t predict where it’s going now, but 29 -32 are all on this same trajectory which leads to expanding this drama to a point where New Gods can show up.

      TL;DR:
      1-8 optional
      9-13 (and 0) skip
      14-16 skip (unless you want Death of the Family)
      Annual 1, 17 and 18 read
      19-23 read but understand there are some rough patches
      23.1-23.4 skip, but 23.3 “Ra’s al Ghul” is worth it
      24-28 skip
      29-32 read

        • Will look it up.

          But I’m thinking of waiting with buying any Morrison Batman. I’m hoping they’ll release the Batman & Robin Reborn and Batman inc books in a smaller format than absolute. Would love Batman & Son, Black Glove and RIP collected as one also. Perhaps Time and Batman together with Return of Bruce Wayne.

          I want the books to look as lovely as possible on the shelf 😉

    • I think it depends what you want. I largely agree with Patrick’s assessment of which issues are worth reading, but does that make it a good follow up to Batman Inc? If you’re looking to get more development of Bruce and Damian’s relationship, than by all means. If, however, you’re looking for more development of Damian’s relationship with Dick (which was one of the highlights of Morrison’s run for me), I’m afraid Dick only appears in a small handfull of issues. Additionally, if you’re looking for more intricately thought-out villains like Professor Pyg or Leviathan, I’m afraid Tomasi doesn’t quite have the skills there that Morrison does. It’s not bad (indeed, many issues are very good), but it’s by no means a replacement of Morrison’s epic.

      • Okay, thanks guys!

        As said, I’ll wait a while before buying any Morrison Batman. Want to read them in more reasonable sized books.

        And first, foremost I’m getting all the 4th world omnibuses. Perhaps reading those together with Grant’s 7 soldiers and Final Crisis. And then there’s the Doom patrol omnibus of his comming up 🙂

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