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“… is Ra’s Al Ghul immortal?” Denny O’Neil, and Reflecting on a Bronze Age Batman Villain…

Denny O’Neil passed away last week, at the age of 81.

Many more informed and articulate individuals have written at length about the writer and editor’s contribution to comic books as a medium. In practical terms, Denny O’Neil was a crucial figure in the evolution of Batman, one of the medium’s most enduring characters. During the seventies, he served as a stepping stone between the bright and chirpy “New Look” of the sixties and Frank Miller’s gritty reinvention of the eighties. He also served as editor of the line during the nineties, overseeing beloved events like Knightfall and No Man’s Land.

This is to say nothing of O’Neil’s larger contributions to comic books. During the seventies, he served as the conscience of mainstream comics, reinjecting the sort of politics that had been largely missing since the earliest days of Action Comics and Superman. With runs on Justice League and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, O’Neil sought to engage the iconic DC superheroes with contemporary America. It was often clumsy, but it was always powerful. This is without getting into O’Neil’s hugely influential runs on books like Iron Man or The Question.

However, this week was also the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Batman Begins. This was a hugely influential superhero film, kicking off what might be considered the genre’s crowning accomplishment. Christopher Nolan’s film is heavily indebted to O’Neil, with O’Neil’s comic The Man Who Falls serving as a touchstone for the film’s approach to Bruce Wayne. However, the film was also notable for offering the first live action interpretation of one of O’Neil’s most sizable additions to the Batman mythos: Ra’s Al Ghul.

Batman has one of the most crowded and iconic rogues’ galleries in comics, packed to the brim with recognisable faces: the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, the Mad Hatter, the Scarecrow, Mister Freeze, Clayface. It’s a crowded field. Writers and artists are constantly trying to add to that, to add their own new characters to the mix. Very few actually catch on, with arguably only Bane and Harley Quinn managing to reach the top tier within the last thirty years. This makes Ra’s Al Ghul all the more impressive.

In the past few years, Ra’s Al Ghul has been cemented as an essential part of the Batman mythos. Both Arrow and Gotham featured the character as a major antagonist, anchoring season-long arcs, played by Mathew Nable and Alexander Siddig. (Liam Neeson reportedly even considered reprising the role for Arrow, even if he couldn’t make the schedule work.) The character has also been a staple of animated adaptations, going back to Batman: The Animated Series and continuing through Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice and Beware the Batman.

Ra’s Al Ghul has become such a fundamental part of the larger Batman universe that it is hard to imagine it ever existed without him. Nevertheless, he stands as one of the enduring creative legacies of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, who first introduced him to the Caped Crusader in the early seventies. In hindsight, as with Bane, it’s easy to see why Ra’s Al Ghul has endured in the way that he has. He fills an important gap in the larger Batman mythos. However, it was the genius of O’Neil and Adams to recognise that gap in the first place.

That’s what makes the character so fantastic. Despite being a relatively late addition to the Dark Knight’s collection of foes, he seems like he always belonged there.

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Mark Waid’s Run on Justice League of America – Tower of Babel (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Although actually published in 2000, Tower of Babel is the third definitive Batman story of the nineties. Running only four issues instead of a massive sprawling crossover across an entire line of comic books, Tower of Babel is certainly more condensed than either Knightfall or No Man’s Land, hitting on many of the same themes and concepts. It is very much constructed as a cautionary tale – a warning about taking a particularly cynical approach to Batman to its logical extreme.

Due to his stand-off-ish nature, the nineties iteration of Batman is sometimes affectionately (or not so affectionately) referred to a “Batjerk.” This version of the character has a wonderful knack of pushing his friends and allies away, making enemies, and escalating problems due to arrogance and ego. In many respects, Tower of Babel is a quintessential “Batjerk” story, where Batman’s anti-social tendencies lead to the humiliation and defeat of the entire Justice League using his own plans.

The last temptation of Batman...

The last temptation of Batman…

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Superman: The Animated Series – The Demon Reborn (Review)

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and the birth of the shared DC animated universe that would eventually expand to present one of the most comprehensive and thorough explorations of a comic book mythology in any medium. To celebrate, we’re going back into the past and looking at some classic episodes.

I’m generally not a fan of excessive continuity in comic book storytelling. I find it insular and exclusive. One shouldn’t need to pick up a twenty-part crossover involving books they’ve never heard of in order to read a story featuring an iconic character, and one shouldn’t feel left out because they weren’t reading comics written twenty years ago receiving an obscure but vital reference in this month’s issue. That said, I do think there’s an element of fun that comes from the idea of all these pulp characters sharing the same fictional space. It allows for a curious mixing and matching of archetypes and ideas, turning old matches into something a bit more exotic. The Demon Reborn finds Superman facing off against Ra’s Al Ghul, and the result is quite fascinating.

The Demon you know…

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Batman: Birth of the Demon (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises this week, today we’ll be reviewing the complete “Demon” trilogy, exploring the relationship between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul.

Birth of the Demon is very much the odd one out of the Demon trilogy. Of the three stories, it is the only one not written by Mike W. Barr. It also is arguably the most reflective of the three stories in the series, focusing on the origin of Ra’s Al Ghul more than in any modern conflict with Bruce Wayne. Still, it all feels strangely appropriate that, more than a decade after his creation, Denny O’Neil should return to tell the back story of his most iconic addition to the Batman mythos.

Shadow of the bat…

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Batman: Bride of the Demon (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises this week, today we’ll be reviewing the complete “Demon” trilogy, exploring the relationship between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul.

Bride of the Demon is generally agreed to be the weakest of the Demon trilogy. Written by Mike W. Barr, with artwork from Tom and Eva Grindberg, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t the most conventional story in the set. While Son of the Demon and Birth of the Demon both justified their one-shot graphic novel status by telling fairly unique Batman stories, Bride of the Demon feels like an adventure that could have been written during Barr’s run on Detective Comics. That’s not to say that it isn’t an entertaining story, or that it doesn’t fit within the context of the trilogy, just that it feels relatively straight-forward and a tiny bit mundane.

Things are heating up…

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Batman: Son of the Demon (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises this week, today we’ll be reviewing the complete “Demon” trilogy, exploring the relationship between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul.

Son of the Demon is an interesting graphic novel. Written by Mike W. Barr and illustrated by Jerry Bingham, it occupies a strange place in the Batman canon. A story in which Bruce allies himself with his old enemy Ra’s Al Ghul and marries the villain’s daughter, Talia, the story was all but forgotten for years until Grant Morrison unearthed it for his Batman run, reuniting Batman with the child fathered in this story. Son of the Demon has an intriguing premise, even if Barr’s execution feels a little clumsy and overwrought, and it makes for an interesting exploration of some of Batman’s deeper facets.

He shall become a bat…

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Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated: The Deluxe Edition (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

Criminals used to be afraid because they didn’t know where Batman was. Things are different now. Thanks to Batman Incorporated, I can tell you exactly where Batman is. Batman is everywhere.

– Bruce Wayne, Batman Incorporated #6

I’ll admit to warming to Grant Morrison’s gigantic Batman epic. Sure, I don’t think it ranks with All-Star Superman or New X-Men or even Seven Soldiers as the very best of the writer’s mainstream work. It’s still immensely fun comics. I’ll concede that I’m still only lukewarm on his initial continuity-heavy Batman run, but the combination of his Batman & Robin and his Return of Bruce Wayne were some of the most entertaining comics produced by a major comic book company in the past few years. (Certainly the only other mainstream book that could match Morrison’s energy was Paul Cornell’s severely underrated Action Comics run.) While Batman Incorporated never quite reaches those same pulpy highs, it is a massively entertaining and very astute pulp narrative featuring one of the most enduring pop culture creations of the twentieth century.

Batman and his Amazing Friends…

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The Dark Knight Rises 101: Or, Tell Me About Bane…

Read our in-depth review of the film here.

To help get everybody in the mood for The Dark Knight Rises later this month, I thought it might be worth taking a look at the third film in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, the sequel to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

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A Bluffer’s Guide to the Dark Knight Rises Rumours…

This week has been a bit of an early Christmas for movie geeks such as myself, with Warner Brothers unveiling both the teaser poster and the teaser trailer to The Dark Knight Rises, the much-anticipated closing chapter to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. When we know a bit more later in the year, I’ll dig into the movie in a bit more depth, but it occurred to me that a lot of fans on-line are throwing out concepts and references that might seem a bit foreign to the uninitiated. I can’t imagine how strange it must be for a non-comic-book-fan to hear titles like Knightfall or “Lazarus Pits” thrown into casual conversation. So I’ve put together a bluffer’s guide to all the speculation and rumours, so that you can hopefully understand a bit more of what nerdy geeks like myself are talking about when we casually reference stuff like “I will break you!” It should be stressed that all these are 100% rumour, and not meant to reflect the film, but to help understand geeky references in discussions about the film. Sort of like a handy guide to the “offside rule”in soccer or such.

Welcome to underground comcis culture...

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Back to Begins: Is Nolan Bringing The Dark Knight Rises a Full Circle?

As The Dark Knight Rises draws closer and closer to filming, the rumours are just going to grow more and more intense. The latest rumour de jour (succeeding in a long line of debunked suggestions like the Riddler or Robin Williams as Hugo Strange) suggests that the League of Shadows will return to take on the Dark Knight in the final part of the trilogy, led by the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul and her lover Bane. I was initially skeptical of the rumours, perhaps because they so neatly dove-tail back into the first film of the trilogy, Batman Begins.

The birth of Batman...

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