Thursday, March 5, 2015

Are you the Demon's Head? Then you Must be the Demon's ASS!

Ra's Al Ghul [pronounced Raysh, Rash, Raz,or Rays al Gool depending on who you ask] is a character developed and debuted in Dennis ONeal and Neal Adams' run on Batman in 1971. His name means The Gallu's Head in Arabic. A Gallu is one of seven demons from Babylonian mythology. He appears to be based on Hassan-i Sabbah, the Isma'ili Arab who founded an order of Nizari Ismailis in 1080 known today as the Hashishin, the first assassins. Most of the history of the order has been lost, or never existed in the first place, and what we do know about them was written and shared by their enemies.
not your typical comics villain
The Ra's Al Ghul character is very intriguing, as it allowed for Batman comics to expand from noir crime dramas into mysticism, and gothic horror. Batman moved from fighting crazy costumed criminals with gimmicks in one city, to confronting a worldwide centuries-old demonic order capable of mass genocide. And this may be the first time a comics villain from outside the USA was not just a lump of ethnic stereotypes. Ra's Al Ghul is arabic, but not portrayed as a goofy racial cartoon.

Like Hassan-i Sabbah, Ra's Al Ghul is the head of an ancient secret order of assassins, the League of Assassins (such a unique, clever name), with the goal of maintaining a balance in the world. Ra's Al Ghul has always been the leader of this order, maintaining his immortality through mystical chemical pools called Lazarus Pits. This presence throughout history, like Vandal Savage, gives him a depth unlike other villains with contemporary origins. The League of Assassins helps to carry out his vision of order and balance in the world. They have been responsible for creating pandemics, world wars, and genocide all justified by the "greater good".

Until recently, Ra's Al Ghul, and his order of assassins were not the most recognizable Batman villains. They did not appear in Batman toylines, or movies. It wasn't until 1992's Batman the Animated Series that he appeared outside of the comics. Now, after being the fundamental villain in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, and the video game Arkham City, and the main antagonist in a season of The Arrow, Ra's Al Ghul and his League of Assassins are recognized as one of the greatest foes of the Dark Knight.

This character hasn't changed much since his creation in 1971. His modis operandi has stayed relatively the same, unlike many of the other more well known villains. Batman's relationship with Ra's Al Ghul has been interesting to follow. The League of Assassins has been noted in many Batman origins as training Bruce Wayne as part of their secret order, most famously in Batman Begins. This means Ra's Al Ghul knows Batman's identity. They have teamed up occasionally when it is convenient, and Ra's Al Ghul continuously seeks Bruce Wayne as his successor and heir. However, the League's methods and philosophy clash with Batman's, making any sort of reconciliation and longterm partnership impossible.

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