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Batman: Birth of the Demon. Written by Dennis O'Neil. Illustrated by Norm Breyfogle. New York: DC Comics, 1992. 1v. (unpaged). $12.95. ISBN 1-56389-081-X.


Adults, teens, kids; violence, mild gore

Some men are illicitly digging in a ruined church. Batman scares them away, but one manages to knock him into a pool of toxic waste. [No kidding--there's a sign near the pool: "Danger, Toxic Waste."] Poisoned and dying, he travels to North Africa, where he meets with Talia, the daughter of one of his greatest enemies, Ra's al Ghul. Ra's has been behind these midnight excavations--he's been looking for sources of mystic power where he can place his resurrecting Lazarus Pits. Now, Batman is ready to confront his old enemy once and for all. But first, we are treated to a long biography of Ra's.

Once the royal physician for the Salimb (ruler) of an unknown country, the man who would become Ra's al Ghul has a dream that leads him to create the first of what would become his Lazarus pits. He does this in order to save the life of the Salimb's son. However, when the son arises, renewed, from the pit, he is temporarily maddened, and he kills the physician's wife Sora (whom he has coveted). Refusing to believe that his son is the murderer, even though he watched the murder, the Salimb chooses to blame the physician for her death. As punishment, the son imprisons the physician in a cage with Sora's body and lowers him into a pit with other criminals. However, he is rescued by the grandson of a woman whom he eased into death. The two travel to the physician's uncle, who leads a band of bandit nomads. The physician enlists their help in the massacre of the Salimb and his people; then, himself dying, he enters the Lazarus Pit and is reborn. However, he's gone kind of crazy, and he demands that the entire nation be wiped off the face of the Earth and pronounces himself mightier than the demon-god that the Salimb had worshipped.

This is a fairly interesting book; its focus on Ra's al Ghul instead of Batman definitely helps. O'Neil does a good job of showing the physician's mental journey from sensitive healer to megalomaniac, helped by his occasional dream-struggles against the embodiment of death. It's a deeper-than-average character study for superhero comics, and the book is all the better for it.

Too bad the lesser characters aren't much more than cliches. Sora is one of those wives whose death is predictable from the moment she calls her husband "Beloved." (Honestly, what's with this fascination with the word "Beloved"? Does any real person call their spouse this? The only time it ever sounds normal coming out of a comics character's mouth is in Elfquest.) You gotta wonder why the Salimb would trust the physician after all he and his son did to the man, desperation or not (and especially given the evil grins that the physician keeps flashing). And of course, none of the exotic types ever use contractions. Everyone in olden times spoke their languages perfectly and with formal grace, didn't you know?

The art is attractive, dark, moody, and better than average at complementing the text. Some of the images are striking: the physician being caged with his dead wife; the horse race that runs down an old woman; the physician's dream-fights with Death (which is drawn as a Batman-like winged dragon); the two-page spread when Batman, shovel sticking out of his chest, confronts an astonished Ra's. However, Breyfogle throws a few silly things in, like the aforementioned evil grins and the "Toxic Waste" sign (roughly equivalent to bad-movie barrels with "Gunpowder" stenciled on them). He also used some standard visual cliches, like the hand coming out of the pool (three times in the book) and the fight during the thunderstorm. And how come, when Bruce Wayne claws his way out from being covered with sand, he doesn't have sand in his hair or ears or mouth or in any crevices? At least when people come out of the Lazarus Pool they're dripping wet. Finally, these people sure are Caucasian for folk native to North Africa.

Ah, regrets...

We should all have such expressive eyes.

Copyright 1992, DC Comics

Recommended for comprehensive Batman collections and fans; probably of more than average importance because of its focus on Ra's al Ghul. An enjoyable read despite its occasional lapses.


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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