Friday, April 24, 2015

From RAGs to bitches

Ah, Ras Al-Ghul. The comic book Fu Manchu with the light shellacking of 'environmental concern' to make him shiny enough for the 1970s when he was created.


"Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, ... one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present ... Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man."
The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu


I have little love for RAGs.  Batman's rogues gallery of deformed and idiosyncratic gangsters may stink of the Depression-era Dick Tracy, but at least, like Batman, they are firmly rooted in urban cops and robbers. RAGs, however, is based on Edwardian-era British terror of the alien 'yellow peril' of Asian villains with inscrutable values and goals, bent only on the destruction of Western civilization.


Who would put a Fu Manchu knockoff in Detective Comics?!
Those '70s writers had no respect for tradition, I tell ya.

Decent criminals, of course, want to just steal some crap and maybe kill a few people along the way.

Fu Munchu, on the other hand, wants to kill everyone in what you would call 'civilization'. Just like Ras Al Ghul!

RAGs kind of fits on "Arrow" because, well, Green Arrow is SUPPOSED to be dumber than Batman is (his rogues gallery certainly is). Arrow is, after all, the guy who brings an arrow to a gunfight; pitting him against asian/assassin/ninja/sword people makes some thematic and tactical sense. And he has the same ridiculous sense of honor/drama that the GA crew do.  Batman does not have time to waste on your schoolyard swordfights, RAGs.  Librarians are being shot and pre-Incan moth idols are being stolen, even as we speak.

Even Liam "Darkman" Neeson couldn't make Ras Al Ghul cool.  Admit it; you barely remember him from the Bale-Batman trilogy, certainly when compared to the likes of the Joker, Two-Face, and the insidious Coleman Reese.


"You were supposed to UNDERSTAND. ... I'll MAKE you understand."


Characters like the Joker and Two-Face earned their street cred.  They showed up a long time ago and worked for it, for decades.  And doing some grubby **** too, like robbing chewing gum shipments and flower shops. DC just lazily 'ported in Ras Al Ghul and declared him a Big Bad-Ass through exposition, "OMG he knows who Batman is, and he has unlimited resources and a numberless army of faceless killers and lives in a mountain with a hot-to-trot daughter and is ancient and justified and can come back from the dead and wants to destroy the world!"  Yawn. Call me when he's stolen the Van Landorph emerald or fought somebody on a giant prop.  Because so far his major accomplishments have been...not destroying the world, and dying.  There are a lot of people who've done that.

Oh, and he spends a lot time on his retirement plan; marry off his daughter and find someone to take over his business.  He's Tevye the Supervillain.  On Arrow he's gone so far as to frame Ollie for murder because he wants him to take his place as head of the league of pointlessly evil Asians.  Fortunately, that's a idea so ridiculous that RAGs never tried it on Batman!

Except that time where he DID.



By disguising himself as a circus midget.


Oh, look; it is the head of a demon on a banner. 
What a strange but surely entirely coincidental thing.


WORDS!  Sure, I'm a fan of words...in moderation.  And this ain't moderation.  Comics books used to read as if they were written for a radio play.  Maybe it was because they thought readers were stupid and wouldn't understand the pictures. Maybe writers were paid by the word or were all frustrated novelists.  In the High Bronze Age, every Batman story started this way: with pretentious Vincent-Price-like palaver.  No matter! It is almost fitting.

Batman, at this point in the arc, is wanted and on the run from the GCPD, having been framed for the murder of Ra's Al Ghul and his daughter, Talia. You know, the only two people on earth with free and easy access to a magical mud bath that brings the dead back to life.  Naturally, we know he's not guilty, not because of Batman's code against killing, but because the incompetent Bronze Age Batman couldn't kill a butterfly with a bazooka.

In fact, the comic opens with a disguised Batman getting help from Jack Ryder.  Apparently the World's Greatest Detective needs a hack reporter to tell him that a lion's hair probably came from a visiting circus.


You get three guesses who the snake charmer really is.

This story checks all the 'circus setting' boxes. Suspicious sideshow? Check.  Wild chase through the Hall of Mirror? Check.  Acrobat attack? Check.



Bronze Age Batman NEVER shut up and what he said was always soul-crushingly stupid.
Goons fell over themselves to get knocked out first,
because the sooner they were unconscious the less they  had to listen to.




At some point Batman disguises himself as Ra's, which is stupid.  Which gets pointed out.


Clowns are Batman's kryptonite.

Some times Bronze Age Batman just seems like a giant kid playing at being Batman.  "Ah ha! But... I MYSELF am disguised as Ra's!  And then.... and then I jump at you!"  Stupid Bronze Age Batman.

Just like in Arrow, RAGS has framed Batman for murder so that Batman will give up Batmanning and become Ras Junior.  Batman tells him, "Take This Job and Shove It!"


Literally.

Batman is then attacked by a sharpshooter and a flaming knife-thrower. Um, it's the knives that are flaming, not the thrower. Batman hurls an arrow in the sharpshooter's gun barrel and catches the knife and throws it away.  Bronze Age Batman may be an idiot, but he's a savant at catching crap and throwing it back at you.  Just as Batman is about to be overwhelmed by a second acrobat attack, the Creeper saves his butt.  

The Creeper, by the way, was the "Captain Atom" of the 1970s. DC owned him and was damned determined to force him down your throat and make you love him.  Which is why the Creeper is such a beloved figure to kids and adults today!  With his own comic book, the cartoon, and of course the forthcoming feature film.  I can't wait till his live-action show crosses over with Captain Atom's!


This is so stupid I'm at a loss for words.
And I've written about evil Kryptonian space-cats in the Phantom Zone.

Batman is observant enough to see through RAG's midget-disguise...


Stupid Bronze Age Batman.
I think RAGs used to just show to keep him from accidentally killing himself.

...but not enough to notice that he threw a flaming dagger into a circus tent and set it on fire.  Which lets RAGs get away (again), but somehow gives Batman the evidence he needs to exonerate himself.  I guess he couldn't have just asked Gordon to dig up the 'corpses' before, could he?  Then there'd be no reason for a circus (either figurative or literal).  



Add "flipped my cork" and "oh, yeah" to the list of Things Batman Should Never Say.


So, that's how Ra's Al-Ghul seems to me still.  Wastes all his time like Sally Brown following around Linus Van Pelt, trying to make Batman (or, on tv, Green Arrow) love him. Lurking around circuses atndthe like, playing little "How to Host a Murder Mystery" parlor games.  Not destroying civilization, or anything bigger than a circus tent.

He's the enemy Green Arrow deserves.




23 comments:

Joshua Roots said...

"Librarians are being shot and pre-Incan moth idols are being stolen, even as we speak."

When Killer Moth is better at Villainy than you, it's time to hand in your Nemesis Card.

Batman Archives said...

I remember the Batman: Murderer storyline from the 70's. That storyline was INSANE.

Scipio said...

I was going to write more about it, but... I just CAN'T. It's simply too painful.

John said...

What I've never quite understood about Ra's (other than why he keeps turning back up) is how/why the fact that Bruce Wayne stupidly left an easy-to-follow paper trail for all his Bat-shopping was never followed up. It seems like that simple concept could drive more and more dramatic stories than a foreign guy who wants to blow up cities...like Ted Turner, but not as weird.

I don't think he fits Arrow, though. Everybody on Arrow, except for Lambchop (sorry, "Muttonchops," not the puppet) and the Million-Zillion Ninjas, is atoning for the past. The heroes, the supporting cast, the villains, even presumably the dude that delivers beer to the club, all have some kind of tale of redemption. And Ra's waltzes in...looking for a surrogate son because of a prophecy.

They could be setting up a story where Ollie works to redeem said Million-Zillion Ninjas, of course, and even Ra's environmental terrorism would fit, but as it stands...he just doesn't fit.

In comics, he's Ollie's ideal nemesis, though, true.

(I should also mention that I was actually kind of disappointed to learn that Ra's al Ghul actually pretty much does mean "the demon's head" in Arabic, and is where we get the star name Algol. I had always kind of hoped they just made up something foreign sounding and nobody in the DCU ever bothered to check.)

And yes, that was a heck of a story. Thruck, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Algol ... there is a super obscure Marvel character, a primordial time entity named "Alioth". Alioth too is the name of a star, and it mean's "the sheep's tail".

Beware, those of you who travel through time; should you venture too near to the beginning of all things, you may face ... The Sheep's Tail.

This is how interesting Ra's al Ghul is, I'd rather talk about a Marvel villain who showed up maybe three times ever.

Mark said...

"wants to kill everyone in what you would call 'civilization'. Just like Ras Al Ghul!"

Ra's always stood out like a sore thumb and you can always feel the strain in the story to either bring Batman out of Gotham or bring Ra's to Gotham.

it's amazing that he's such a popular villain - because he makes no sense. Great villains have an internal coherence. Ra's is a collage. The "environmental" angle is ridiculous ("I want to save the planet. I shall found a group called The League of ASSASSINS.") And the LofA members were always a weird collection of super-villains that had no reason to be connected to Ra's or his cause. And the pan-Asian approach to Ra's is worse. Why does an assassin with Arabic name surround himself with ninjas and is obsessed with a city in Tibet? DC could have built something interesting and distinct if they had run with the whole Middle Eastern assassins guild angle rather than making the League seem like the Hand-lite. Still not an opponent for Batman but I could see Ra's and the League as interesting opponents for certain interpretations of Wonder Woman or Hawkman.

The show "Arrow" has done a better job appropriating wider DC concepts than the vastly overrated Smallville did. And the actor playing Ra's has been a pleasant surprise. He doesn't necessarily look the part, but his performance is quite good and understated (though that may be because John Barrowman has already eaten all the scenery on that show).

Side note - not sure she'll make the transition all the way to her comic character, but still Katana works much better as a character tied to Green Arrow than she ever did being tied to Batman. ("Green Arrow and the Outsiders" a missed opportunity for an 80's classic)

"The Creeper, by the way, was the "Captain Atom" of the 1970s."

That's great! I've always had the same problem with both characters - they don't make sense visually, which is kind of a big problem in comics. Is his skin yellow (and if so, why) or is it a costume? Magic or science? Is he trying to be crazy or funny? I remember the first time I saw the all silver-Captain Atom, and I couldn't figure out what the Silver was - if it was a costume, why were his lips silver and how does his hair look like that. If it was metal - was he trapped in that form (like Metamorpho) and why did he paint symbols on it. And why do you need boots? I'm sure all those questions would make sense if I had cared enough to read their books. But they weren't weird/cool/I want to find out more but came across as weird/stupid.










Anonymous said...

"'Green Arrow and the Outsiders' a missed opportunity for an 80's classic."

Yes!! I've long said that DC needs a team for its B-Listers; that team could have Green Arrow, Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter (depowered so he is more stealth than Superman), and maybe Hawkman.

Bryan L said...

Props for the KLF reference, Scipio.

I have the same problem with Ra's as Mark -- the League is a bizarrely eclectic collection of killers. Add to that the fact that they're pretty inept for a group that styles themselves as highly trained killers. Batman has taken out dozens at a time. "Hey, League, you've got ONE JOB ..."

Hoosier X said...

For me, the biggest problem with Ra's al Ghul is that he is a complete failure.

Most of the great villains are successful early in the story. They rob banks, they steal jewels, they rob the payroll at the typewriter factory. Then they caught.

Some of the great villains - The Joker, The Riddler - are also playing a game with Batman, matching wits with Gotham's great defender. Batman wins, in the end, but that is what they are playing against.

Ra al Ghul has bigger plans of world conquest. And he always fails, miserably.

I have a lot of issues of Detective (#500 to #881) and quite a few Batmans as well, and I always roll my eyes when I see that every writer wants to have a go at Ras al Ghul. There hasn't been a good Ras al Ghul story since the 1980s. (I think it was an annual, with art by Trevor von Eeden.)

He shows up way too much. His rate of failure wouldn't be so embarrassing if he didn't show up so much. He's not the Joker or Two-Face or the Mad Hatter, a bunch of nuts in costumes who get a kick out of wreaking havoc and pestering Batman.

I remember the first time I saw Ras al Ghul in a comic: It was the "Where Were You When Batman Was Killed?" storyline in Batman #291 to #294 in the 1970s. There was a courtroom run by criminals, "judging" the Batman murder stories of Catwoman, Riddler, Lex, Joker.

Ras al Ghul was the judge. It is by far my favorite Ras al Ghul appearance. He should have stayed in the Gotham underworld as a criminal judge.

American Hawkman said...

Of course, Ra's was literally the worst person on the planet to be the judge there since he DEFINITELY knew Batman was alive. But apparently he was bored that afternoon, so...

I'll note that someone who is essentially Ra's takes on Hawkman in his third Golden Age appearance. It's pretty good, and always made me think they'd be good enemies.

Sr. Favo Posso deixar vazio sim said...

Hey! I like Captain Atom! Creeper still sucks, tho.

Just finished Arrow Season 2 (althrough I know Ra's will be a villain in it), but from what I know of Ra's, I have to agree that he doesn't seem to fit Batman thematically.

I agree that his problem seems to be same of a number of would-be world conquerors: Ra's is doomed from the start - he will never depopulate the world, he will never convince Batman to be his sucessor and marry Talia, etc. So he ends up looking like a old loser who keeps failing to conquer the world, even through he's ancient and immortal. Sorta like Vandal Savage, but Vandal Savage is way more interesting because he's a total ruthless powermonger immortal caveman who had his ups and downs and was buddies with Hitler.

Also, Poison Ivy already got the enviromentalism thing while being a lot easier on the eyes.

Scipio, how do you feel about Deathstroke as a green arrow villain? I think the way they framed it on the show actually made it work - Slade doesn't want to kill Ollie (that's easy, because Ollie is just a dude with arrows, and Slade is Captain America on steroids and evil), Slade wants to make him SUFFER. In the comics one could easily have Titans-Slade who has a code of honour and does contract killing but ins't really vicious, and a Green Arrow-Slade who has a grudge against Green Arrow.

Sr. Favo Posso deixar vazio sim said...

Also (damn char limit):

I feel like Ra's may have been a attempt to introduce a "bigger" villain to Batman, someone with world-wide power and stakes, etc. Most of Batman's villains are psychos and criminals, hardly world menace material (althrough the Joker had a go at it twice with Emperor Joker and Last Laugh). Makes him look like he's slacking compared to everyone else.

To compare - what are the three biggest Batman villains? (because 3 and 52 are magic numbers in DC, also aparently 8 with Multiversity)

Superman's top three are quite well-defined:
Lex Luthor, General Zod, Brainiac. Without Zod, post-crisis, the Eradicator pretty much subbed for him.

Batman's are, what?
Joker, Riddler, Penguin? Ra's instead of Riddler?

How about Ra's as a enemy for the (real, Victor Sage, no mysticism) Question instead? Add some JLU crankish conspiracy theorist and it could work hilariously. Who would believe in something like Ra's Al Ghul?

SallyP said...

"Clowns are Batman's Kryptonite"...just made me laugh and laugh.

He does seem particularly inept in this tale, doesn't he? I actually don't mind the Creeper...he's a better character (marginally) than Captain Shinypants, and Ra's is pretty boring to me.

Can't STAND Talia however.

Anonymous said...

Say what you will about Ra's al-Ghul but I really did love his contribution to season 2 of Young Justice. Show up during Summit, get played by Aqualad with the rest of The Light and then get murdered by Black Beetle. It was truly a fitting end that perfectly fit the legacy of the Great Demon's Head.

Of course, he probably would have been back by the time of season 3 but with the cancellation of Young Justice we'll never know that for certain now.

Anonymous said...

Say what you will about Ra's al-Ghul but I really did love his contribution to season 2 of Young Justice. Show up during Summit, get played by Aqualad with the rest of the Light and then get murdered by Black Beetle. It was truly a fitting end that perfectly fit the legacy of the Great Demon's Head.

Of course, he probably would have been back by the time of season 3 but with the cancellation of Young Justice we'll never know that for certain now.

cybrid said...

"the only two people on earth with free and easy access to a magical mud bath that brings the dead back to life"

With due respect, I'm pretty sure that Marv Wolfman created the Lazarus Pit in Batman #335 (1981), which was supposedly the first time that Talia used it. I neither know nor care if later stories contradicted this, I'm not a Ra's al Ghul expert, I just have more than average familiarity with Batman storylines of 1980s, that's all.

King Faraday, a Robert Kanigher character created in 1950, turned up a few issues earlier as part of the storyline's foreshadowing. Faraday's a relatively rare DC character who was created BETWEEN the golden age and the silver age and has never quite disappeared since. Which has nothing to do with anything, I just found it interesting. :-)

John: "What I've never quite understood about Ra's...is how/why the fact that Bruce Wayne stupidly left an easy-to-follow paper trail for all his Bat-shopping was never followed up"

Well, again, with due respect, that's not something you don't understand about Ra's, that's something you don't understand about DC writers. ;-)

Besides, in that story, Batman said IIRC in the very next panel that he'd take steps to make sure no one would ever be able to do that again.

Besides, what's an easy-to-follow paper trail in Gotham City worth? Millions of dollars for death traps and giant props change hands every day. Ra's could just as easily have deduced that Killer Moth was Batman.

cybrid said...

"Which is why the Creeper is such a beloved figure to kids and adults today! With his own comic book, the cartoon, and of course the forthcoming feature film."

No offense, but I don't see the point in judging comic book characters of past eras by the standards of today. The Creeper was created in the psychedelic 1960s, fit into that milieu quite well, and hadn't quite become "dated", let alone "lame," by the time of the storyline under discussion. His merits, and lack thereof, by 21st century standards are irrelevant.

"The Batman of the 1970s was an idiot" is, in contrast, an objectively discernible fact based on near-universal standards of intelligence and stupidity. Focusing on THAT makes sense.

"The Creeper, by the way, was the "Captain Atom" of the 1970s"

Well, in the 1970s, there were much fewer characters waiting around to be shoehorned into a storyline. Nowadays, well...

Coincidentally, the Creeper was created, and Captain Atom co-created, by Steve Ditko. Back when that meant something.

John said...

Cybrid, no, I don't understand it about Ra's, because Batman thought he was going to fix it. But that's closing the gate after the prisoners escape. Even assuming Batman beats up all the accountants, bankers, and contractors who know parts of the secret, the Ragtag Band of Underdog Assassins and Forensic Accountants presumably still has copies of everything.

I agree on the Creeper, though. He fit the classic DC profile of a professional who acts melodramatic to hide his identity. It wasn't until writers started obsessing over explaining him that it went wrong.

Plus, he's an acrobatic wise-cracker who dresses in bright colors to fight crime, so of course he's going to hang out with Batman, especially while Dick Grayson is off at college being a grown-up.

cybrid said...

(I just keep thinking of additional comments, sorry)

"Batman's rogues gallery of deformed and idiosyncratic gangsters may stink of the Depression-era Dick Tracy, but at least, like Batman, they are firmly rooted in urban cops and robbers."

Characters who are firmly rooted rarely go anywhere. If Batman had stayed forever close to his roots, he'd never have joined the JLA (which would admittedly have spared the world the "Tower of Babel" storyline (starring Ra's al Ghul), so there IS that).

Besides, the forces that the Joker and Two-Face command don't even rise to the level of the League of Assassins, and at least Ra's al Ghul has a mission statement and a philosophy, however twisted. The Joker's purpose in life is to entertain himself by kill as many people as possible, and Two-Face isn't even that goal-oriented.

Batman's ongoing career is based not on the fact that the Joker, Two-Face, and their ilk are so brilliant and powerful but on the fact that Gotham City so incredibly SUCKS at keeping them imprisoned. This is of course true in the cases of many super-heroes, but most of Batman's enemies don't even have super-powers, which only makes the situation that much more ridiculous.

Sr. Favo Posso deixar vazio sim said...

I will FLIP YOUR CORK, whatever the hell that means.

But the question that should really be asked here is: How can a tall arab disguise himself as a midget? No, really. A midget.

Dan P said...

I'm pretty sure comic writers have always been paid by the page, not by the word.

As for caption boxes describing what's in the pictures, that is because Bronze Age comics were still being written for kids in their early teens, with an eye for even younger readers. For many readers, comics were their way to learn about the outside world. Many scenes and situations were new to them, so they needed some extra explanation that images themselves could not provide. (Example: a picture of a circus is all a circus-goer needs to fill out in his mind what's going on; but to someone who's never seen a circus, further explanation is necessary. Same for kids who didn't know anything about crime scenes, etc.)

Another reason writers used so much verbiage, especially for those writing full script, was that they had no idea what the illustrations would look like and so the descriptions were a kind of insurance policy against poor/unclear art.

Text descriptions started to fade away as the industry's audience started trending older.

Dan P said...

I like Ra's because he's ideological. The rest of Batman's rogue's gallery is pretty much just gangsters and thieves in funny clothes.

I have enjoyed his desire to have Talia marry him. RAG obviously sees Batman as someone very much like himself, except he wastes too much time fighting petty crimes (like murder, theft, etc). RAG is thinking generationally.

I can't say RAG and the LOA have been handled perfectly. But I grew very tired of Batman playing "catch and release" with villains clearly beneath him.

GREAT villains are ideological counter-points.
Doom is opposite Reed Richards.
Luthor is opposite Superman.
Red Skull is opposite Captain America.
Loki is opposite Thor.
Magneto is opposite the X-Men.
Bruce Banner is opposite the Hulk.

If done well, RAG is the opposite of Batman.

Dan P said...

I meant "I have enjoyed RAG's desire to have Talia marry Batman.