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RA'S AL GHUL

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Ra's al Ghul

Ra's al Ghul (sometimes written Rā's al Ghūl) is a DC Comics supervillain, and an enemy of Batman. His name is Arabic for "The ghoul's head (the Demon's Head)" (see Algol). He was created by writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams and introduced in Batman #232's "Daughter of the Demon" (June 1971). He has been described as a "James Bond"-style villain, created as a response to the popularity of James Bond during the 70's, and to give Batman a more epic scope and enemy. Given the grand scale of his plans, he has also come into conflict with Superman and the general DC Comics superhero community.

Abilities and agenda

Ra's al Ghul was several centuries old before he ever encountered Batman. Replenishing his aged, injured, or dead body with a bath in a Lazarus Pit, Ra's has survived through the centuries, all the while accumulating wealth, knowledge, and power. Ra's is a criminal and scientific genius, particularly in the field of alchemy. He also rivals Batman in hand-to-hand combat and sword fighting. Currently, along with Malhar Naik, also known as "Iceman", Ra's coleads the League of Assassins, a fanatic group willing to die at a word from Ra's and consisting of some of the most dangerous assassins in the world. He is constantly accompanied by a servant given the title Ubu, who is typically an especially dangerous fighter.

When a person uses a Lazarus Pit, the person emerges temporarily insane. Repeated use of the Lazarus Pit could have more subtle and dangerous effects, and no one has used as many Lazarus Pits as has Ra's. Use of the Lazarus Pits may well have driven Ra's completely insane.

Ra's's goal is a world in perfect environmental balance, a goal he will achieve at any cost. Since he believes that the best way to do so is to eliminate most of humanity, he may be regarded as an ecoterrorist bent upon global genocide. That he has the means to achieve his goal makes him extremely dangerous and brings him in into frequent conflict with Batman. Ra's usually tries to assault the world's human populace with a biological weapon, such as a genetically-engineered virus.

Ra's is among Batman's most formidable foes. Not only can he physically and mentally challenge "the Detective" (the name by which Ra's always refers to Batman), but he has also deduced Batman's secret identity.

According to Batman Villains Secret Files & Origins 1998 #1 (October 1998), Ra's stands 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) in height and has a weight of 215 lb (98 kg).

Biography

Early life

Ra's al Ghul's early life is told in the graphic novel Batman: Birth of the Demon (1992) by Denny O'Neil and Norm Breyfogle.

Ra's al Ghul was born between six to seven hundred years ago to a tribe of nomads in a desert somewhere in Arabia, near a city whose inhabitants' ancestors had journeyed to the Arabian Peninsula from China. Ra's was interested in science from an early age. Unable to learn any science living as a nomad, he abandoned his tribe to live in the city, where he could conduct his scientific research. He became a physician and married a woman named Sora, the love of his life.

Ra's discovered the secret of the Lazarus Pit, and he saved a dying prince by lowering him into it. The prince, who was sadistic to begin with, was driven completely insane by the Lazarus Pit. He proceeded to strangle Sora, on whom he had already had his eye for some time. The ruler of the city, unwilling to admit to himself his son's culpability, declared Ra's guilty of the crime and sentenced him to a slow and tortuous death in a cage with Sora's corpse.

Ra's was set free by the son of an elderly blind woman, despite having failed to save her. The son felt he owed Ra's a debt for having eased his mother's suffering during her last few hours. Ra's and the son headed into the desert to seek the tribe that Ra's had been born into. Ra's convinced the head of his tribe, his uncle, to follow Ra's in his quest for revenge by promising the downfall of the king of the city. By understanding the germ theory of disease hundreds of years before anyone else did, Ra's was able to infect the prince with a deadly virus by sending him contaminated fabrics. When the ruler of the city came to ask Ra's to cure the prince again, Ra's killed both him and his son. Ra's then led his tribe to raze the city to the ground and kill all of its inhabitants.

Subsequently, Ra's declared himself the "Demon's Head."

Building an empire

Ra's spent the next several centuries journeying the world. During this time, Ra's, his uncle, and the boy had all been using the Lazarus Pits to live their extended lifespans until an incident in London, England (exact date unknown, but at least a century had passed according to Batman: Birth of the Demon (1992)). Ra's caught the boy writing his own memoirs in their original language, of which Ra's had forbidden all records. During a battle, Ra's killed the boy and fled to a Lazarus Pit, which he used. When he returned to their home in London, his uncle had vanished with the remnants of their historical records.

Over time, he would become a master of many forms of combat, notably fencing. He also built up vast wealth and created such organizations as the League of Assassins and the League of Shadows.

Daughters

Nyssa

In Batman: Death and the Maidens (2004) by Greg Rucka, it is revealed that while traveling in Russia in the 18th century, Ra's had a child named Nyssa Raatko. Enamored by the romantic stories told to her as a child by her mother about Ra's, Nyssa set out to find Ra's and eventually located him at his headquarters in North Africa. Impressed by her beauty, her warrior skills, and the fact that "she was able to locate him," he promoted her to a high position within his organization. Ra's was so impressed with her abilities, he even allowed Nyssa to use his Lazarus Pits.

Nyssa eventually became disillusioned with Ra's ideals and methods, and disassociated herself from her father sometime in the 18th century. Ra's reluctantly approved this with the idea that she would return to him and that she and/or her children would become his future heirs. To his disappointment, Nyssa refused to give herself or her family to Ra's, causing him to officially disown her for good. During World War II, as part of the Holocaust, Nyssa and her family were sent to a concentration camp where Nyssa was rendered infertile by gruesome Mengele-esque experiments, as the rest of her family was exterminated. Nyssa began plotting her revenge, which would take fruition years later.

Talia

As explained in Batman: Birth of the Demon (1992), Ra's met a woman of mixed Chinese and Arab ancestry at Woodstock. From that union, Ra's second daughter, Talia al Ghul, was born, and she would accompany him for many years.

Batman



The first appearance of Ra's al Ghul, from Batman #232, June 1971. Cover by Neal Adams.

After Talia encountered and fell in love with Batman in Detective Comics #411 (May 1971), Ra's began to consider Batman as a possible heir in light of his great abilities and skill. Ra's first deduced Batman's secret identity as Bruce Wayne; he was then ready to put Batman to a final test.

The story of Ra's first encounter with Batman is told in Batman #232 (June 1971), "Daughter of the Demon", by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. The story is widely considered one of the greatest classic Batman stories. Ra's surprised Batman in the Batcave, seemingly to enlist his aid in rescuing both Talia and Dick Grayson, the first Robin, both of whom had apparently been kidnapped. The whole affair was a charade orchestrated by Ra's to test Batman, however, which he passed; He refused to be Ra's's heir, however, and also actively began to oppose Ra's' genocidal plan to cleanse the world.

From that point forward, Ra's al Ghul and Batman would repeatedly find themselves in conflict.

In the 400th issue of Batman, known as 'Resurrection Night', on the anniversary of Bruce Wayne's first donning the cape and cowl, Ra's helps all of Batman's foes escape from Arkham Asylum and the Gotham State Penitentiary, setting them on a plan to kidnap certain individuals across Gotham who are linked in one form or another to Batman. However, Ra's' true intent is to show Batman the folly of his efforts to protect the 'corrupt' and imperfect society and morality which allows criminals and psychopaths to exist and flourish. Ra's eventually uses the Pit while still healthy, endangering himself yet granting himself increased strength, in an attempt to outmatch the Dark Knight, a plan which backfires as Ra's is left writhing in the pit, seemingly destroyed.

Talia, disillusioned with her father and his plans, left him to run LexCorp for former U.S. President Lex Luthor, before selling the company to Bruce Wayne for his Wayne Foundation to aid Batman and Superman's victory over Luthor.

Ra's blames Batman for his failed relationship with Talia, and had his right-hand servant Ubu stage an assassination attempt on Grayson shortly before Wayne officially adopted his now fully grown ward.

JLA: Tower of Babel

In the "Tower of Babel" storyline, as told in JLA #43-46, Ra's discovered Batman's notes on the weaknesses of the other members of the Justice League of America and used them to almost destroy the group. Though defeated, Ra's did cause the (temporary) exit of Batman from the JLA. Batman's exit occurred because of the mistrust of his teamates due to his contingency plans. Though some of the leaguers were not happy with the plans they agreed that the plans were created for the right reasons. The contingency plans for the current leaguers are as follows; Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner was given a hypnotic suggestion which then used the ring to make it real for Kyle. Martian Manhunter became infected by nanites that had magnesium in them, this caused him to burst into flames in open air. Wonder Woman, shot by a Virtual Reality bullet, causing her body to believe she was fighting an even, never-ending battle, from which her heart would eventually give out. Flash a vibrating projectile shot into his spinal column causing super-speed epileptic seizures. Aquaman was exposed to a fear toxin giving him hydrophobia. Plastic Man was frozen and shattered, temporarily disabling him. Superman was exposed to a synthetic Red Kryptonite which had lasting effects on him, making his skin transparent, super-charging Superman and causing him pain in the process since the sunlight is blazing right into his body without being filtered by his skin.

Death and the Maidens

In Batman: Death and the Maidens (2004), Nyssa, furious at Ra's's abandoning her in a concentration camp, began plotting to destroy him. Nyssa befriended Talia and then kidnapped and brainwashed her. Nyssa plotted to destroy all hope and optimism in the world by assassinating Superman with kryptonite bullets she stole from the Batcave. While Batman stopped Nyssa from killing Superman, he was unable to stop her from mortally injuring her father. A dying Ra's revealed that this was all part of his greater plan to ensure that his daughters, both initially dissatisfied with his plans, would realize that he was right about the world and what needed to be done to it, and would come to accept their destinies as his heirs. Ra's plan worked: both Nyssa and Talia became the heads of the League of Assassins. Talia disavowed her love for Bruce Wayne, and both sisters declared Batman to be their enemy.

Other continuities

In the graphic novel Son of the Demon, Ra's successfully enlisted Batman's aid in defeating a rogue assassin who had murdered Sora. During this story line, Batman married Talia and she became pregnant. Batman was nearly killed protecting Talia from the assassin's agents. In the end, Talia concluded that she could never keep Batman, as he would always be defending her. She claimed to have miscarried and the marriage was dissolved.

The child was eventually born and left with an orphanage, and was eventually adopted with the name Ibn al Xu'ffasch. The only identification provided was Talia's jewel-encrusted necklace, which had once belonged to Talia's mother. This story is stated to no longer be in continuity, although two Elseworlds, Kingdom Come and Brotherhood of the Bat, feature two alternate versions of Ibn as an adult, coming to terms with his dual heritage.

Ra's had previously been revealed as alive in the 30th century setting of Legion. The rebooting of Legion of Super-Heroes continuity means that this is no longer the "official" future, however.

In the first Superman & Batman: Generations series, created by John Byrne, Batman replaces Ra's after combat and uses his criminal empire to set up an anti-crime information network. He also gains immortality. The series, though, is an Elseworlds and has no effect on continuity.

Other media

Animated roles

In Batman: The Animated Series, Ra's al Ghul was voiced by David Warner. The cartoon Ra's was consistant with the character in the comic books, as was Batman and Talia's relationship. Al Ghul's ecoterrorist motives in his first major appearance mirror that of his incarnation in the comics (the story is modeled after Daughter of the Demon). Later appearances show him mainly attempting to prolong his life even longer to complete his goals. Ra's is shown at first as a frail, elder man who can barely keep up with Batman, yet after a dip in the pit, he becomes a physical match even for Batman. One departure from the comics, however, was the revelation that Ra's also had a son, Arkady (voiced by Malcolm McDowell), whom he considered too unstable and cruel to inherit his empire, especially when he was defeated by Jonah Hex in the 19th century. He also made a guest appearance in Superman: The Animated Series where he targets Superman in an attempt to steal his powers in order to save his life.

Ra's was also featured in Batman Beyond, although there was a twist to his reappearance; he had taken possession of his daughter's body after his own death, replacing her mind with his own. Wayne, furious and disgusted at this profoundly selfish act of self preservation, said, "You don't cheat death; you whimper in fear of it," even joking that he now "hits like a girl."

Ra's somehow plays a role in the Near Apocalypse of '09 mentioned in Justice League Unlimited

Batman Begins

Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard/Ra's al Gul with Ken Watanabe as the fake Ra's al Gul.

In the 2005 film Batman Begins, Japanese actor Ken Watanabe plays Ra's al Ghul, who trains Bruce Wayne to be a warrior in his League of Shadows (a renamed League of Assassins). When Ra's reveals to Wayne his plan to destroy Gotham City and demands that he execute a peasant who had murdered his neighbor as his initiation, Wayne rebels and sets fire to the League's fortress, apparently killing Ra's in the process. Months later, Wayne, now embarked on his career as Batman, discovers that Ra's is alive and conspiring with the Scarecrow to poison Gotham's reservoir with a fear toxin that would destroy the city. Towards the end of the movie we learn that Watanabe's character was a decoy, and that his second-in-command Henri Ducard (played by Liam Neeson) is the real Ra's al Ghul. Although Ra's is originally a character of Arab ethnicity in the comic books, he is presented here as either of East Asian (in the case of the decoy) or European, or likely Eurasian ethnicity.

In the film, the agenda of Ra's al Ghul's organization differs slightly from that of the comic book version. In the film, Ra's explains that the League of Shadows is an ancient group dedicated to preserving what it perceives as justice, by means as violent as necessary. They believe in "purging" or destroying cities that have become corrupt and decadent. He claims that the group was responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire, the Bubonic plague, and the Great Fire of London.

Ra's appears to have been killed at the end of the movie, but the certainty of his demise, or his access to a Lazarus Pit, is yet to be determined.

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