By various (DC Comics)
This fast and frantic collection presents another “final” clash between the Gotham Guardian’s extended gang-busting family and the immortal criminal mastermind: one which re-invents the eco-supremacist Ra’s Al Ghul.
This contemporary and more acceptable embodiment of the classically inscrutable “ancient foreign menace” was typified in a less forgiving age as the Yellow Peril or the threat of the Eastern races for the “civilised” West, embodied most memorably by Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu. This breed of alien archetype permeates the early days of popular fiction and is an overwhelmingly powerful symbol, although here the character’s Arabic origins, neutral at the time he was first created, seem to embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11 world.
The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to cull teeming humanity back to ecologically viable levels and save the Earth from Mankind’s poisonous polluting madness, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where such issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a core of good sense in what “the Demon’s Head” planned.
The character is still best remembered for the O’Neil/Adams collaborations (see Batman: Tales of the Demon) but has come a long way since: arguably becoming more diluted and less impressive with each outing, but here an awesome assemblage of writers – Paul Dini, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Fabian Nicieza, Keith Champagne and artists David López, Jason Pearson, Tony S. Daniel, Freddie E. Williams III, Don Kramer & Carlos Rodriguez, Ryan Benjamin, David Baldeón, Alvaro López, Jonatham Glapion, Wayne Faucher & Bit, Saleem Crawford and Steve Bird revive “the Demon’s Head” in breakneck, high-octane fashion just as DC’s much-publicised plans to kill off Bruce Wayne were about to commence.
Gathering the crossover story-arc that featured in Batman Annual #26, Robin Annual #7, Batman #670-671, Robin #168-169, Nightwing #138-139 and Detective Comics #838-839 the tale follows Talia and her son Damian as he learns the secret history of his dead grandfather Ra’s Al Ghul as Batman roves the world hunting down the last ancient alchemical Lazarus Pits which have always resurrected the long-lived villain over the centuries.
Genetically perfect, young Damian, whose sire was (technically) the Dark Knight is a reluctant student, and suspects that there might be an ulterior motive for his latest lessons. Playing hooky in a Cantonese graveyard the boy experiences things that shake even his cocky, obnoxious bravado…
Old time Wonder Woman mentor I-Ching (see Diana Prince: Wonder Woman volumes 1-4) guest-stars in the unfolding saga as does the deadly Sensei, master of Al Ghul’s League of Assassins; all strands in a broader web of intrigue revolving around the son of Batman, a factional war to determine the eventual successor to the Demon’s globe-girdling organisation and the desperate hunt to find the mystical city Nanda Parbat; an utterly pure refuge from all earthly evil.
However it seems the Demon is not quite dead: his consciousness is trapped in a disintegrating animated cadaver and if he is to survive the immortal mastermind needs to transfer his soul into the body of someone young and who, preferably, shares his genetic structure…
Revolted and on the run Damian turns to the Batman Family to save him from this horrendous fate whilst his mother Talia is been ousted from leadership of the cult by the mysterious White Ghost, fanatical acolyte of Al Ghul and one who holds the secrets of reviving the undying eco-terrorist…
Perhaps a little short on mood, this all-out blockbuster epic might appear a little disjointed to newer readers, but the action is non-stop and absolutely mesmerising as the assorted heroes try to halt the villain’s inevitable return, prevent a far worse monster from taking his place and save an innocent city and potentially malign child from falling into undying darkness.
Dedicated fanboys will thrill to the return of low-key old baddies such as Merlyn the Archer, Silken Spider, Tiger Moth and Dragonfly, the heroes strut their martial stuff against hordes of ninjas, assassins and warrior death-cults and the settings range from lost world to hidden kingdoms with the ever-present treat of soul-stealing body-snatchers ramping up the tension page by page. Daft and joyous this is real treat for the extreme combat fans and lays the threads for much of what would follow in the days after the latest “Death of Batman”.
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