Ra's al Ghul is one of the most dangerous foes Batman has ever faced. A gifted warrior and fighter, an anarchist leader of a revolutionary collective of assassins and technically immortal. Ra's has been wreaking havoc as a member of Batman's Rogue's Gallery for decades. In some ways he's one of the most pivotal villains in the entire DC Universe, considering he is the grandfather of Damian Wayne. In others, he's sought to destroy "the Detective's" world in every way possible. Most famously, Liam Neeson brought the character to life in Christopher Nolan's famed The Dark Knight trilogy.
In 2005's Batman Begins, Neeson's al Ghul led the League of Assassins as a pseudo-revolutionary group that had brought various civilizations to their knees. After training a young Bruce Wayne in the art of Ninja, he sets his sights on Gotham. A decisions Batman obviously disagreed with. Ra's al Ghul terrorizing Gotham with his League of Assassins is nothing new to the comic world. However, his comic origin and motivations are much more insidious than they appear.
Ra's Al Ghul's Comic Origin
Ra's al Ghul first appeared in the pages of Batman #233 in June of 1971. He was created by the incredible team of Denny O'Neill and artist Neal Adams. In the issue, Batman is tasked with finding the kidnappers of Ra's daughter, Talia. A group known as the "Brotherhood of the Demon". In a a fairly unsurprising twist, it turned out that the mission was actually a test. Ra's al Ghul and Talia were testing whether or not Batman would be a suitable suitor for his daughter. Whether Batman would be, as Ra's put it himself, a "worthy successor....a worthy son-in-law."
Ra's and Talia's next appearance is a few issues later in Batman #235. Once again Batman is set off an adventure after a member of Ghul's science team has potentially released a deadly virus. Throughout their travels Talia shows off both her skills and her willingness to kill, much to Batman's dismay. At the end of the issue, when Talia rewards the Dark Knight with a kiss, he begins to question whether or not he should pursue the "Daughter of the Demon". Ra's al Ghul was always the head of this mysterious and elusive group of warriors, but he wasn't always a villain. The character's connection to Batman was calculated and planned. The result of a mission that would lead to the creation of the one of the most interesting and controversial characters in modern DC history.
Ra's Al Ghul's Comic Powers
Like any villain with a long and storied history, Ra's al Ghul's powers can vary. His most notable source of power is the "Lazarus Pit". After being submerged, the Lazarus Pit grants Ghul immortality as well as temporary insanity. It's been shown to improve his endurance, strength and health. Recently in the New 52, Ra's al Ghul dunked himself into the "Well of Sins", the first Lazarus Pit. This granted him true immortality, the power to fly/levitate, and magical powers of telekinesis and construct creation.
In the early days, the "Demon Head" was able to switch souls with anyone by merely touching them. This would ensure that his soul could survive to live a long a healthy life even is his body was destroyed. Thanks to Ra's extended life, he's also developed a vast knowledge of martial arts and weaponry. And he's an incredibly gifted warrior with detective and chemistry skills that rival that of the Caped Crusader. However, getting your powers from a Lazarus Pit can come with a downside. After being exposed to the pit, Ra's tends to suffer from brief fits of insanity. Over time, Ra's al Ghul will become more and more insane as he continues to use the Lazarus Pit.
Ra's Al Ghul's Connection to Batman
For decades, Ra's has believed Batman to be the only man worthy to both succeed him and be with his daughter, Talia. So much so that he has tried to manipulated Batman into the relationship numerous times to no avail. However, one fateful night Talia drugged and seduced Batman into a night of passion in a story concocted by comic madman and genius, Grant Morrison.
This night of passion led to Batman's biggest connection to Ra's: Damian Wayne. Talia became pregnant with Batman's child. She raised him under the watchful eye of Ra's and the League of Assassins. Damian was trained to be the most successful assassin and warrior in history before he ultimately decided to follow in the footsteps of his Father. The history between Talia, Ra's and Batman has been violent and complicated, his relationship with Damian hasn't. And while Ra's insidious plan to have Batman marry his daughter and lead his army of Assassins never worked out, he likely gave Bruce the greatest gift he could ever receive. Some might recall that in the Under the Red Hood animated film, Ra's brought Jason Todd back to life using a Lazarus Pit. One of the only times Ra's has shown genuine remorse for his actions.
Ra's al Ghul is one of the most interesting villains in Batman's Rogues Gallery. Not because he possesses some massive collection of powers, or because of some ridiculous costume, but because of his true motivations. Much like the Joker, Ra's al Ghul doesn't "win" his battle when Batman is dead. Al Ghul doesn't want to kill Batman, he wants to turn him. He wants him to take up the mantle of "Demon Head" and lead the world into a downward spiral of Chaos as the head of the League of Assassins. The world that Ra's envisions is one of mass destruction, with his daughter, his grandson and Batman standing on top of the ashes.
Thanks to his Lazarus Pits, Ra's al Ghul will always lurk in the corners of Batman's world. A man whose mission is to turn one of comic's greatest heroes into a true "demon".