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Who is Ra’s al Ghul, Batman’s Nemesis?

The Joker may be considered by most as the ultimate enemy of Batman, but he certainly is not the only deadly threat in the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery. One that also stands apart among other DC Comics supervillains is Ra’s al Ghul.

Ra’s al Ghul’s First Apparition

Created by writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams in the story “Daughter of the Demon” (Batman #232, 1971), Ra’s al Ghul was named by DC editor Julius Schwartz–in Arabic, the name means “the Head of the Demon.” If we are to believe Talia al Ghul, Ra’s chose this name himself, it was not given to him.

Ra’s al Ghul first entered Batman’s world after his daughter Talia, whom Batman had recently rescued from the League of Assassins, was kidnapped. He appeared suddenly in the Batcave to reveal to the Detective that the people responsible are the same as the ones who just took Robin (Dick Grayson). Once the shock passes, the two team up to go on a series of adventures, following the criminal to the other side of the world.

It was ultimately revealed that Ra’s was behind Robin’s kidnapping. He wanted to test Batman to determine if he was good enough to marry his daughter and become his son and heir. Batman soon learned that Ra’s mission was to eliminate most of humanity and take control of those who survived to rebuild a “better” society in his image.

This led the two enemies to a swordfight to death in the desert. One that Batman won, but Ra’s al Ghul’s death was not the first one, nor his last.

The Demon’s Creation

The reason for Ra’s al Ghul’s creation is lost as nobody remembers the exact motivation behind it, but O’Neil thinks that he and Schwartz “saw a need for a new Batman villain, a mastermind who would be different from the Joker and the other costumed crooks associated with the character” (Back Issue #10). The time for a more ambitious villain had come.

The design of Ra’s al Ghul came from Neal Adams’ imagination alone. He did not want to create just another one of the rogues. He wanted to make this new threat credible and somewhat equal to Batman—making him what Lex Luthor is to Superman, and not giving him a ‘funny’ costume. Ra’s had to look smart and have a very strong presence—the defining visual characteristic became a receding hairline and no eyebrows.

Ra’s al Ghul’s Resurrections

Like with other DC comics’ characters, Ra’s al Ghul’s story has been revised. But it has been established more than once that he is at least 700 years old (other times he was around 450-500 years old). He is known to be using the Lazarus Pits to extend his life.

At first, we were told there was a single Lazarus Pit, but this also changed. Those green pools linked to major ley lines of mystic energy could only be used once, but they became large pools found around the world. However, their properties remained the same: the pits can revive someone from the dead if they have just died. One of the side effects of the pits is known as the “Lazarus Fever,” a temporarily uncontrollable rage. It is known that using Lazarus Pits can corrupt a person’s soul over time.

They helped Ra’s al Ghul survive centuries. He discovered them a long time ago. For him, the story started when he left his nomadic tribe to study and become a physician. He was recruited by a great sultan who asked him to save his son’s life. That’s when as a doctor he discovered the properties of the Lazarus Pits and their dark side. Once resurrected, the sultan’s son suffered from “Lazarus Fever” and killed his savior’s wife. Refusing to face the truth, the sultan decided to leave the doctor in a cage under the desert sun with his wife’s corpse. Rescued by a group of rebels, the good doctor joined the fight against the sultan. He then took the name of Ra’s al Ghul and formed the League of Assassins.

He saw the world, fought in numerous wars, and as humanity entered the industrial revolution, he started to resent it as he saw the natural beauty of Earth being destroyed by humans. This led him to become the eco-terrorist Batman met.

Ra’s al Ghul may died, but he always comes back and fights Batman, his greatest enemy. Their connection has however evolved with time as Ra’s al Ghul is the grandfather of Damian Wayne, Talia al Ghul and Bruce Wayne’s son.

Learn more about Batman’s other enemies with the story of Bane, the supervillain who broke Batman’s back; the origins of Poison Ivy, also known as Dr. Pamela Isley; and the origin story of Oswald Cobblepot, alias The Penguin.

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