What’s it all about?
At his downtown Gotham penthouse, Bruce Wayne receives a photo and a brief message informing him that his partner-in-crime-fighting, Robin, has been captured by person or persons unknown. Batman heads to the original Batcave deep underneath Wayne Manor to analyze the note, and is surprised to find a stranger waiting there for him – a stranger who knows his secret identity!
The mysterious intruder introduces himself as Ra’s al Ghul. His daughter has also been taken, and he carries with him a similar note. The two concerned guardians decide to pool their resources and search for the missing youngsters together.
Their search takes them all around the globe, but finally al Ghul stands revealed as the mastermind behind the kidnappings! You see, his daughter Talia, who met Batman just a month earlier in Detective Comics #411, has fallen in love with the Dark Knight of Gotham, and before Ra’s could bless any union between the two, he needed to see what kind of man Batman was. The truth stuns the Batman, and in his moment of surprise, Talia plants a kiss on his cheek.
What does Brian think?
Only two months after my birth, O’Neil and Adams strike with the first bona fide Batman classic of my lifetime!
I am only able to review the title Batman in uninterrupted order here because my Detective Comics collection doesn’t go back quite as far. While I have every issue of Batman since April 1971, I only have MOST issues of Detective from the same time frame. Because of this, I couldn’t cover the introduction of Talia al Ghul in May’s Detective Comics, but this issue of Batman is a far more important landmark.
Ra’s goes on to become one of Batman’s most important villains, trying to save the world from destruction by ridding it of humanity. The highlight of his career undoubtedly was his appearance in the film Batman Begins, with the very talented Liam Neeson playing the role. Here in Batman #232, Neal Adams attempted to tell us a lot about the character through his illustrations, as he explains in TwoMorrow’s excellent book, The Batcave Companion:
People draw Ra’s al Ghul with eyebrows. Ra’s al Ghul has no eyebrows. I like that because that meant that something happened in his life that removed his eyebrows. It doesn’t bother him at all. It’s part of him….Have his hair recede because he’s been around and experienced life. He should be sort of Middle-Eastern…but not with a beard…give him something interesting as facial hair. And see what happens when all those pieces are put together. Does it become somebody original? Wow, it did.
Not only did Adams succeed in creating a visually-striking enemy for the Caped Crusader, he turned in one of his greatest issues ever in terms of iconic images. Paging through this issue, virtually every page has some sort of treat for your eyes. It is a tremendous illustration of why he was important to the development of the art form in the 1970s.
O’Neil sets up decades of storylines with the introduction of Ra’s and Talia – not only in terms of adventure, but also romance. As I write this, DC Comics is kicking off a Batman storyline called “Batman Reborn” with Dick Grayson taking over the mantle of the bat. Serving as his Robin is the young Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce and Talia! This interesting turn of events came about in Mike W. Barr’s 1987 graphic novel, Son of the Demon, another classic Batman story. And I don’t want to paint the picture of Bruce Wayne as a dead-beat dad, so it must be said that for over a decade, Talia kept Damian’s existence a secret.
The only aspect of the story that I question is the recap of Batman’s origin on pages six and seven. It doesn’t hurt the story, but the lead-in to it pulls you out of the book with its awkwardness. Having said that, it is a treat to see Adams’ version of some of the artwork from Batman #1.
In The Batcave Companion, O’Neil mentions that the retelling of Batman’s beginning wasn’t originally in his script. Adams had simply wanted to draw it, so he did! It wasn’t until he saw the penciled pages that O’Neil even knew what Adams had done. O’Neil says that it doesn’t hurt the story at all, and I agree; I just find it a bit jarring. Another interesting tidbit revealed by O’Neil in TwoMorrow’s interview is that it was editor Julie Swartz who came up with the name Ra’s al Ghul. He suggested it to Denny and told him to run with it, having come up with nothing beyond the interesting sobriquet himself.
As Robin was part of the main story this time around, there was no back-up feature detailing his adventures at Hudson University.
Anything else to say?
Another famous name shows up in the letter column this month. The aforementioned Mike W. Barr, who would himself pen many memorable Ra’s al Ghul tales, comments on Batman #229 and is shocked to find himself unable to complain about much. Barr wrote an underrated al Ghul story with underrated artist Trevor Von Eeden for 1982’s Batman Annual and created the series Batman and the Outsiders.