By: James Tynion IV (writer), Jeremy Haun (artist), John Rausch (colorist)

The Story: The Secret Society invites Ra’s al Ghul to join them, but will the Great One accept?

The Review: Have I mentioned how much I’ve missed Ra’s al Ghul lately? I have? On this very blog? I don’t care; I’ve missed Ra’s al Ghul. I don’t know if I can think of another Batman villain who’s risen to such prominence, but if not, it isn’t without reason.

Many of the villains showcased in this month’s issues have faltered in my opinion, the chosen stories unable to stand without heroes. Well see here folks, the Demon’s Head leans on no man, not even the Batman.

Perhaps it’s that Ra’s already has a secret society, perhaps it’s fact that Ra’s existed long before the Dark Knight Detective and will likely go on living long after he is gone, but whatever it is, Ra’s has what it takes to stand on his own.

Then again, I suppose the honor only goes to Ra’s as much as it does to James Tynion IV, who cleverly avoids many of the traps that have snared far more experienced writers than he. Though the issue does serve as an origin story, Tynion keeps the specifics clouded in half-truths and legends, merely hinting at Ra’s’ motivations. For all the time we spend learning the history of Ra’s al Ghul, the issue does what these Villain’s Month issues need to and shows us why the Demon’s Head is more than words on paper.

Tynion brings a very special joy to this issue, one that screams out his own love for the character and comics as a whole. One particular shout out early on put an embarrassingly big smile on my face. Though Villain’s Month felt somewhat shoehorned into DC’s calendar, Tynion keeps his enthusiasm up as he takes us on a whirlwind tour of Ra’s past. Admittedly, he makes the common mistake of attributing too many significant historical events to sinister forces, but isn’t it a more interesting world when the war to end all wars was caused, not by a sandwich, but by ancient middle eastern ninja!?

The book has a strong grasp of its characters voices. Ra’s, the new White Ghost, and the Society’s messenger, who looks oddly like an amalgamation of several Tim Drakes by way of Marvel’s Vanisher, all read as you know they should deep down. There are a few instances where things get a tad dramatic, but that’s a rather fine line given the subject matter so your mileage may vary. There are also a couple of moments when Tynion sacrifices the reality of his characters to be cute; once again, it may vary.

Best of all, Tynion shows us why Ra’s is a threat that both transcends Batman and is inexorably tied to him. Despite the common refrain that Batman’s villains are a mirror darkly, few of this month’s Gotham City issues have said anything meaningful about Batman the way that Batman stories frequently say something about his villains. This is an exception.

The art team’s angular style and subdued colors suit the issue perfectly. Ra’s feels just as pervasive and immovable as an immortal genius should and the contrast of the messenger’s red cloak against the earthy colors of the Demon’s tower cleverly mark him as an intruder.

The story’s many locales provide ample fodder for Haun’s imagination and skill. He makes interesting use of line density, leaving a border of empty background around an image full of details, down to the engravings on Ra’s’ sword.

While there isn’t much of an attempt to depict the individual blows of the battle, we get a good sense of the duel in this issue and why the classic battle between Bruce and Ra’s is such a potent battle of wits. Similarly, throughout the issue we are treated to a number of lovely action panels that find ways to stay exciting despite their static composition.

The Conclusion: Though some other issues reached higher this week, Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins proved to be the sturdiest and best constructed of the Villain’s Month titles I read. James Tynion’s story is one of the first to truly revel in its nefarious star. And Jeremy Haun does a great job with the visuals, simple with just a touch of polygonal style.

Ra’s al Ghul has been off the grid for a long while now, but this issue is a fine way to welcome him back where he belongs.

Grade: B

-Noah Sharma

Some thoughts:

  • The last page seems to ignore the commonly referenced problem of Ra’s eventual death. I wonder if Tynion considered the events of Batman Inc. when writing Ra’s’ final words. If so they seem quite a bit more tragic.
  • It would appear that some version of contagion occurred in the New 52. It also seems that Death and the Maidens and, thankfully, The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul are out.
  • Has Ra’s not gotten a new change of clothes in 700 years!?!?