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Ra's al Ghul

DC Direct Hush
by yo go re

For the most part, all of Batman's best villains were created more than four decades ago. The Joker, Two-Face, the Riddler... all of them are older than the average comic reader. Compared to the flood of creativity that infested early Bat-creators, relatively few new enemies have proved very memorable. Sure, Killer Croc was created in the early '80s, and Bane came from the '90s, but would anyone really put Electrocutioner or the Crime Doctor at the top of any list?

There is one relatively modern foe who has proved himself worthy of a spot among Batman's greatest foes: the diabolical schemer known as Ra's al Ghul.

A billionaire eco-terrorist with a thirst for power, Ra's al Ghul defies death using his mystical Lazarus Pits!

Ra's (it's pronounced "raysh awl gool") was envisioned as a grand villain in the tradition of the original yellow peril, Dr. Fu Manchu. As drafted by creator Sax Rohmer, Fu Manchu was the sinister heart of a vast anti-Western conspiracy that comprised all of the Orient, from the steppes of Turkey to the sea of Japan. Of course, as a character born of Victorian literature, he was also a paper-thin, borderline-racist stereotype.

Sixty years later, pop culture was a bit more enlightened, so when Denny O'Neil and Neil Adams conspired to create an opponent worthy of Batman, they managed to avoid many of the pitfalls that plagued their inspiration. Ra's has no concrete ethnic background - though he is often based in the desert and names himself in Arabic, his indeterminately long lifespan grants him citizenship in any number of cultures.

It was the desert where Batman met Ra's in the best-selling "Hush" storyline from creators Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. After finding evidence that the madman was involved in the problems plaguing him, Batman went to confront Ra's. The two crossed swords, with the promise that Ra's would reveal his role in the events if Batman bested him.

Fu Manchu was described as "tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan," so Ra's has usually looked similar. Lee's take on al Ghul is definitely influenced by Neal Adams' designs, though he is a bit meatier - maybe he's been working out. Maybe Jim Lee just likes to draw big square guys. Ra's is shirtless, but wearing his traditional black, green and gold colors. His chest is huge and muscular, like all Jim Lee's characters - the guy's a good artist, but sometimes he could tone it down a little.

Ra's' face was previously fairly long and lean, but remember, this is Jim Lee, so Ra's is now a square-jawed bruiser. If not for the haircut, this could be Wolverine. And to be honest, the haircut isn't even that different. His brow is furrowed, his nose angular and the scowl on his lips most impressive - it all combines to give him a very stern and dedicated look. Tim Bruckner did a good job turning Lee's art into a sculpture, but it just doesn't look right.

As Neal Adams said, "I created a face not tied to any race at all. It had to have evidence of a great many things having happened, a face that showed the man had an awareness of his own difference at a very early age... Ra's's face had to convey the feeling that he'd lived an extraordinary life long before his features were ever committed to paper."

The figure has all the usual DC Direct articulation: neck, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. Again, no excuse for not including a waist. The paint apps are good, though there aren't many of them: Ra's doesn't wear an ornate costume. There's a wash bringing out the details of his face, his eyes are bright green (another nod to Fu, who had "long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green") and his hair is a dark brown with gray streaks at the temples. The hair on his chest and arms is painted on very well, and even his nipples got an app. The paint on his sideburns and moustachlette is pretty sloppy, with the brown paint not entirely covering the area intended to be hair.

Ra's has one accessory, his sword. It's a scimitar type of blade, which suits him - the blade is silver, of course, while the hilt is the same gold as his belt. The sword fits (with some difficulty) into the figure's right hand, but he looks imposing even when he's unarmed.

Ra's al Ghul is a different kind of villain, one who doesn't put on a costume and seek the spotlight, but who is notable only by his absence. The Penguin robs a bank, Batman catches him, The End. Two seemingly unrelated men die seemingly unrelated deaths. Are they as disconnected as they seem, or are they simply the edge of the criminal tapestry being woven by Ra's? And will Batman (or the readers) ever know? It was a brave decision to create a character like this, and the fact that he showed up as part of Batman's year-long parade of villains just goes to show how big a role he plays in Bruce's life.

-- 05/04/05

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