Batman’s shirtless duel to the death with Ra’s al Ghul defined an era


Today, we’re stepping back 50 years to see how Batman became what Grant Morrison once called the “70s hairy-chested globetrotting love god” via sword fight to the death ( and beyond) with Ra’s al Ghul.

This is “Look Back”, where every four weeks of a month I will highlight a single issue of a comic that has appeared in the past and talk about this issue (often on a larger scale, like the series as a whole, etc.). Each spotlight will be a look at a comic from a different year that was released in the same month X years ago. The first spotlight of the month takes a look at a book released this month ten years ago. The second spotlight is on a book released this month 25 years ago. The third spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 50 years ago. The fourth spotlight looks at a book released this month 75 years ago. The occasional fifth week (we’re looking at weeks in a broad sense, so if a month has five Sundays or five Saturdays, that counts as having a fifth week) look at books from 20/30/40/60/70/ 80 years old.

Today, we go back to July 1972 to Batman “The demon lives again!” by the late and great Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano (we’ve sadly lost Denny and Neal in recent years), where O’Neil and Adams helped define an entire era of Batman comics in one issue (I seriously, I was going to say “Changed Batman Forever” in the title, to do these three Look Backs in a row with that title, but I thought better).

NOTE: Comic book art has always been difficult to crop into a header, so for the header of this piece I used a print of Neal Adams depicting the fight he drew from years later. I don’t think it’s for sale on his site anymore, otherwise I’ll send you there. Feel free to check out other stuff on his site, though.

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I’ve covered this issue so many times that I’m just repeating myself here, but one of the important things to remember about Denny O’Neil’s Batman is that, for the most part, his take on Batman wasn’t not that the Dark Knight was this perfect crime fighter. He was obviously a talented superhero, but he was about as close to a “normal” superhero as you can get. This is never more evident than in the storyline that introduced Ra’s al Ghul to the world of comics.

Batman fakes the death of Bruce Wayne and assumes the identity of Matches Malone because he must focus solely on finding and defeating Ra’s Al Ghul. He even puts together a team of experts in their fields to help him (like a martial arts expert named Ling). This is all pretty much based on the James Bond films of the era, where Bond would team up with a disparate group of people in just about every film.

In Batman #243 (by O’Neil, Adams, and Giordano), Batman approaches Ubu (Ra’s al Ghul’s bodyguard) when he meets Talia, but then Batman is shot by a ski champion. And when she insists on joining his team, he basically goes, “Hey, okay.” However, this all seems like a moot point when they arrive at Ra’s al Ghul’s headquarters, and he’s already dead! Of course, he is then resurrected, and he is MAD.

He kicks everyone’s ass at the start of the next issue (the problem to solve today), and as he escapes, Batman tries to chase them on skis, but the skier insists on coming too, and the things are not going well for her…

Batman has to let Ra’s and Talia escape to deal with his new friend (By the way, these are the modern recolorations of these stories, done by Adams himself. I know they lose some of the original flair of the 1972 comic, but I figure if that’s how Adams wanted them to look, I’ll go with that).

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Batman is a very good detective, so he hunts down Ra’s and that impresses Ra’s a lot.

They decide to fight with swords in the desert without a shirt, because of course they did…

Like I said before, Batman is super FALLIBLE in this comic, because he gets bitten by a scorpion and nominally appears to die. But Talia comes at him with an antidote for the scorpion bite, and we almost see Batman transcend his normal “typical dude” self and become something more, something that shocks Ra’s too, with all his “still alive” deal. “, as Ra’s delivers the quote we’re highlighting this time…

I love that a dude who JUST WAS BACK FROM THE DEAD HIMSELF is so shocked that Batman isn’t dead. It’s still an EXCELLENT scene. My God, Adams pulled the hell out of it.

Ra’s folds like a cheap suit and Batman kisses Talia…

So that’s what Grant Morrison later called the definition of Batman’s “hairy-chested globe-trotting love god” era, and Morrison really nailed it (which isn’t surprising, of course, as they are a brilliant writer).

Then Batman leaves with Ra on his back, to, you know, travel the world for the Gotham City PD to stop him, I guess…

I imagine something interesting Weekend at Bernie’s style stuff where Batman becomes Matches again and gets Ra into his unconscious private plane.

If you have any suggestions for the August (or other later months) 2012, 1997, 1972, and 1947 comics, email me at [email protected]! Here’s the guide, though, to book cover dates so you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional time lag between cover date and release date of a comic for most of comic book history has been two months (sometimes it was three months, but not during the periods we discuss here). So the comics will have a cover date that is two months before the actual release date (so October for a book released in August). Obviously, it’s easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago came out, because there was internet coverage of the books at the time.

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