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Batman: Tales of the Demon

The 1991 trade paperback Batman: Tales of the Demon collects eleven of writer Dennis O'Neil's Rā's Al Ghūl stories from the pages of Batman and Detective Comics. Rā's Al Ghūl is Arabic for "the demon's head," and the character is Batman's most mysterious foe, wealthy mastermind of a criminal organization bent on world domination. Like many power-hungry men, Rā's Al Ghūl believes wholeheartedly that his plans are for the ultimate betterment of humanity. His methods, though, are decidedly nefarious, slippery, and deceptive; he's nearly always a step ahead of Batman, and frequently plays the Darknight Detective for a patsy. Most unsettlingly, Rā's Al Ghūl's daughter, an exotic beauty named Talia, loves Batman, and the feeling is mutual, leading Rā's to suggest Batman as his successor!

Since the stories are all penned by O'Neil, some patterns emerge. First, O'Neil knows the character of Batman well, representing him as a great detective, a master of disguise, and "the world's greatest martial artist." The stories represent the maturing of Batman from a generic hero to a tortured soul in a genuinely dangerous context. Guns and knives do damage, characters die, and feelings are hurt. Three of the stories also represent Batman's most heralded writer-artist team: O'Neil and Neal Adams. Sam Hamm (screenwriter of the 1989 Batman film) turns in an excellent, informative introduction that puts Rā's Al Ghūl in the context of the political anxiety of the late sixties and seventies. These stories are, after all, paranoid thrillers about underground conspiracies, making the indomitable Batman a much-needed wish-fulfillment hero. At book's end, O'Neil provides a friendly afterword commenting on his own bygone style and how the stories effectively add up to a graphic novel, despite their episodic monthly origins.

In "Into The Den Of The Death Dealers!" (Detective Comics #411—May 1971; art by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano), Rā's Al Ghūl does not appear, but Talia does. She's the hostage of Dr. Darrk, with whom Rā's Al Ghūl once partned in the League of Assassins. Batman and Talia team up to bring down Darrk, but not before Batman fights a bull. It's a solid transitional Batman story, with a serious mood balanced by an action gimmick and Brown's action-packed but uncomplicated pencils.

"Daughter Of The Demon" (Batman #232—June 1971; art by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano) is an essential and highly influential story. Aside from the first appearance of Rā's Al Ghūl, we get indelible, incomparable art from Neal Adams and inker Dick Giordano, including a one-and-a-half-page version of the origins of Batman and Robin. Batman and Rā's Al Ghūl trek through the Himalayas on the trail of the Brotherhood of the Demon, which has kidnapped Talia and Robin. It's a swift Batman story with a bit of everything, culminating in a hard-charging fight scene and a bombshell dropped by Rā's and his daughter.

"Swamp Sinister" (Batman #235—September 1971; art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano) puts Batman on the trail of Talia once again, at the behest of Rā's Al Ghūl. One of Rā's former employees has absconded with a chemical capable of spreading plague. Talia, who seeks mortal vengeance from the thief, is unaware of the chemical's danger. Mostly notable for tramping Batman briefly through the Bayou and establishing the depth of Talia's ruthlessness: can Batman love a woman who would kill for justice?

"Vengeance For A Dead Man" (Batman #240—March 1972; art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano) is an entertaining murder mystery with a ridiculous science-fiction twist. Most importantly, Batman fends off the transparent treachery of Talia and looks at Rā's in a new and unflattering light. Highlights include a confrontation in an all-night smoke shop and an underwater battle. Novick's so-so art again gets a big assist from crack inker Giordano.

"Bruce Wayne - Rest In Peace!" (Batman #242—June 1972; art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano) kicks off a trilogy that firmly establishes Rā's's character and pits him against Batman in an ultimate showdown. With Wayne "dead," Batman is free to pursue Rā's Al Ghūl, no matter how much time and effort may be consumed. Admitting ruefully that he can't tackle a man of Rā's's caliber alone, Batman enlists infamous mobster "Matches" Malone, Mongolian assassin Lo Ling, and scientist Dr. Harris Blaine. O'Neil indulges his best pulp-mystery instincts in this fast-paced chapter, with good support from Novick and Giordano.

"The Lazarus Pit!" (Batman #243—August 1972; art by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano) introduces the pivotal, titular device, which allows Rā's Al Ghūl his nickname "the Immortal." It begins with a terrific duel between Ling and Batman, takes Batman's team to Switzerland (where they acquire the assistance of international ski champion Molly Post), and arrives at a dramatic climax in Rā's Al Ghūl's mountain lair. As usual, Adams's panel-busting art strikingly cuts above his peers while dynamically serving this action-adventure yarn.

"The Demon Lives Again!" (Batman #244—September 1972; art by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano) wraps up the trilogy by exploring the consequences of the Lazarus Pit in a brief and brutal battle between Rā's and Batman, foreshadowing the death-duel climax. In between, Molly and Batman get to prove their skiing prowess. The desert swordfight resolves with a surprising turn employing intriguing ambiguity, and Adams delivers some of the most frequently reproduced of Batman panels: novel images of a shirtless Batman still wearing his cowl. His embrace of Talia at story's end is a classic Batman image.

If Rā's Al Ghūl's criminal activity in "I Now Pronounce You Batman And Wife!" (DC Special Series #15—Batman Spectacular—Summer 1978; art by Michael Golden and Dick Giordano) seems a trifle mundane, let's not forget that the story lives up to its title by having Rā's himself marry Talia to the Caped Crusader. Golden's distinctive art is far from bad, though not particularly suited to the character of Rā's. The real star here is O'Neil, who delivers an eventful script, sexy and exciting, with a devastating ending. (Inexplicably, O'Neil permanently replaces Rā's's guard Ubu with an identical-looking henchman dubbed Lurk.)

"The Vengeance Vow!" (Detective Comics #485—August 1979; art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins) gives the Newton-Adkins team a crack at the character of Rā's Al Ghūl, though he seems to be the one character Newton can't get a handle on. That aside, Newton and Adkins' unmistakeable art enhances this dark, blunt story that dispatches a long-term Batman character for good and pits Batman against the Sensei (leader of the League of Assassins) and his unwitting minion, the Bronze Tiger. The latter proves an especially formidable foe for Batman in a nifty martial arts contest.

The ten-page "Where Strike The Assassins" (Detective Comics #489—April 1980; art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins) finds Newton and Adkins working at full advantage, in sync with a funky story by O'Neill. After realigning the Bronze Tiger as an ally to Batman, our hero races to protect a geologist from the Sensei. In fact, Rā's Al Ghūl and Talia are nowhere to be seen, but set-pieces set in a hospital, a bingo parlor, and an amusement park are plenty diverting.

In "Requiem For A Martyr" (Detective Comics #490—May 1980; art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins), Batman once more tangles with both the League of Assassins (still led by the Sensei) and Rā's Al Ghūl. The bizarre threat involves an earthquake and a summit of the world's religious leaders. Twenty pages aren't enough to allow all of the story elements to gel, but the tale's filled with ticking-clock tension and fiery action all the same. The biggest surprise in the whole book comes in the last panel, as Batman—with Talia on his arm—breaks out into a toothy grin.

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