Monday, September 13, 2010

The Bat and The Demon (part 3): Batman 244

Batman #244 (September 1972)
"The Demon Lives Again!"
Writer: Denny O'Neil
Artist: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano

Karen: We're back with the finale to our three-part Batman review, looking at the O'Neil/Adams Ra's Al Ghul stories. Last time, we saw the Batman's foe, Ra's Al Ghul, seemingly rise from the dead in the Lazarus Pit, while the Batman, thinking Ra's dead, began to head off to the west, Talia in tow.

Karen: Before Batman can even leave Ra's mountain-top lair, his enemy shows up, left temporarily mad by the process that revived him-a process that also temporarily greatly
increases his strength. Ra's dispenses rather easily with his former henchman Ling, and then brutally tosses Batman around like a rag doll.

Doug: Ya gotta love hyperbole... The Batman, who has fought alongside Superman and J'onn J'onzz, remarks when Ra's takes out Lin
g: "I've never seen such a powerful punch!" Yeah, right. I know lines like that are used for added emphasis to the art, but c'mon... This isn't the first funnybook I've ever picked up. I also thought that, for all of Batman's training, he took a pretty predictable front-on approach to fighting Ra's. The best part of the scene was the image of Batman laying on the deck -- Adams' art showing the cape clinging to Batman's limp form is really photo-realistic!Karen: Talia manages to talk her father into coming with her to a hidden hovercraft (!). Ling is badly injured, so Dr. Blaine states he will take him to a hospital (that's the last we see of these two). In the meantime, Molly decides to pursue the hovercraft on skis.This is actually a pretty effective sequence, and again, reminiscent of a Bond film. Batman also dons skis and the two try to catch up to Ra's hovercraft. Molly gets ahead of the vehicle and tosses a ski pole into one of its jets. This brings the ship down but she is also injured in the effort. As Ra's and Talia stagger off, Batman has to make a choice: pursue them or get Molly medical attention. Can you guess which one he chooses?

Doug: I was going to comment on the silliness of Batman on skis, but you
know what? It's really not bad. It fits into the story, and of course Adams draws it perfectly. He really makes us think that they are on a steep downhill and when Batman remarks that there are numerous obstacles and drop-offs, Adams obliges not just with scenery, but form and style as well.

Karen: As Batman carries Molly down the mountain, she apologizes to him for messing things up. I really thought we were going to get a kiss
between Bats and Molly in that one panel but instead he called her a "kid" and a "good girl" -so much for that! And then Molly is out of the picture for the rest of our story -and I would guess forever! Just like a Bond girl - except Bats didn't even get any action with her!

Doug: PG-13 hadn't been invented yet... I, too, thought ol' Bruce was going to plant one on her. You know, when I read Batman nowadays, I often "hear" Kevin Conroy's voice -- he's the voice actor from the many years of the ultra-fine Batman: The Animated Series shows. I guess with that in my head, I really cringed at that line you cited -- "kid" and "good girl". Just felt weird, I guess.

Karen: I adore Kevin Conroy! I'm glad you mentioned him. I think he is the best Batman
actor -he doesn't need to growl like a rabid dog (are you listening, Christian Bale?) to sound tough. The man just projects the utter confidence and determination that is Batman. But I don't think even Conroy could read those lines convincingly!
Karen: You know, one of the things I like best about Batman is the fact that he solves many of his problems with his mind -he out-thinks his enemies, he plans, he figures things out. Yet here, O'Neil has him find a camel bridle that Ra's dropped while leaving the hovercraft, and Batman deduces exactly where Ra's will be! Think about it -Ra's leaves the hovercraft -in snow-covered Switzerland -and drops a camel bridle. Why the heck would he have a camel bridle on the hovercraft? The camels weren't on the hovercraft! Did he have it for good luck? What?

Doug: Well aside from that plot hole, what about Batman's thought that he always knew he'd end up facing Ra's alone anyway? Well then what the heck was all of the build-up? Truly, there was not a char
acter introduced/used along this path that had any major role in the way this ultimately played out. I can't even really write it off to plot development, simply because there is no pay-off here at the end. I guess I'd like to know what was going on when Denny O'Neil was plotting this story -- what made him think that anything that has gone before was a great way to move this story along?
Karen: Agreed. Even the scientist who solves a puzzle in the previous issue was unnecessary, as they could've easily had Batman -chemistry whiz that he is - figure it out. There's just a lot of extraneous stuff here. We switch scenes to "the desert" (which one?). As Ra's talks about how he plans to re-shape the Earth, Batman steps into his tent and tells him that,"Though I've never intentionally killed...I swear you will not leave here alive unless you surrender!"

Doug: "never intentionally killed"... That's a pretty big admission for a Bronze Age DC. I think 1) it acknowledges the original character of the Batman, as written by Bill Finger, and 2) shows that in these superhero slugfests/extravaganzas there are bound to be collateral damages.

Karen: This leads to a duel in the desert
between the two shirtless opponents (Bats still has his mask on). Again, there are some really nice visuals on the next couple of pages, but the duel itself is rather disappointing, as within a few panels, Bats is stung by a scorpion and Ra's leaves him to die. However, Talia can't stand to see her beloved die, so she slips him an antidote. A furious Batman then makes his reappearance in Ra's tent, in a panel that's been duplicated many times in books and magazines (and here too!). The startled Ra's is knocked out with one punch. Batman grabs Talia and gives her a passionate kiss before leaving with her father -and significantly, leaving her where she is.

Doug: Ra's is a villain who never seems to do a heckuva lot. I mean, he do
esn't have a schtick like a lot of the other rogues Batman tussles with. That being said, I always think he has this air about him that he is at the very top of the "most dangerous" list. And the respect that Ra's and Batman have for each other is noteworthy as well. It was subtle, but did you catch the panel where, after suggesting a duel to the death, Ra's motions Batman outside the tent? Batman turns, and without watching Ra's, walks out with his back to the Demon. He knew Ra's was an honorable man, despite his other faults. And tho' the duel was short panel-wise, did you notice that it lasted from midday until the sun set? That's quite a lot of "jab, thrust, parry!" if you ask me!

Karen: It's just too bad we don't get to see more of it! Then, when Bats returns, he takes Ra's out easily. Well, so much for Batman needing help to face him! Talk about anti-climactic. Although the Adams art in these stories was fantastic, I'm just left not that impressed with the stories as a whole. I hate to do this again, as I had issues with the O'Neil/Adams Green Arrow/Green Lantern series, but I'm beginning to think that I just have a problem with O'Neil's style. Or maybe it's the difference that still existed between Marvel style and DC style. When I compare this series with the work that Roy Thomas and Adams did on X-Men -well, there's no comparison. Those X-Men stories are far superior in my opinion.

Doug: I'll certainly agree with you on the caliber of Thomas' writing as compared to O'Neil's. I would say, however, that O'Neil's scripts for the GL/GA stuff we looked at had more imagination, and character development. This story was overall pretty shallow -- hate to say it, but it sort of fits into that DC "cookie-cutter hero" mold. You could have told this story with Green Arrow in the title role and not known the difference. So, A+ for Adams' art, but I guess I'd give the words a C -- just pretty average stuff. Sorry to say, because I really wanted to like it more.


Edo Bosnar said...

I read this whole story all the way through for the first time recently, in TPB form, and I have to say I share your disappointment. Previously, when I was little, I'd only read parts of it reprinted somewhere (can't remember where), but I recall reading the shirtless Batman sword fight and thinking it was way cool - looking at it now, it's obvious the mind-blowingly beautiful and atmospheric art played a big role in creating that impression. And I agree, those X-men stories were so, so much better.
That said, I still can't diss the now iconic O'Neill/Adams work on Batman and GL/GA too much. I still think those stories were so crucial to creating that new and improved look and mood in Bronze Age comics (especially at DC).

ChrisPV said...

I think I'm significantly more forgiving of this and GL/GA stuff on the basis that this was truly epic by DC standards. Seriously, after seeing the GL issue where Carol Ferris invites GL to a party and then convinces all her snooty friends to try and rip off his mask for a scavenger hunt without his knowledge, seeing him blow up her plane is just wonderful. Too bad she didn't stay gone.

Lost the plot there, didn't I?

Anyway, I think that O'Neil deserves some props for simply trying a story with a bigger scope and bigger potential consequences. Frankly, any DC story from before the 80's that isn't just terribly goofy and internally inconsistent is okay by me.

Anonymous said...

It's funny you mention Kevin Conroy, because I think that BTAS vastly improved on this story and on the character of Ra's Al Ghul overall. I couldn't stand Ra's until he showed up in the cartoon, and David Warner did a great job voicing him.

Anonymous said...

Am I an old fuddy duddy for much preferring this Adams art to the material that's currently being published in that "Odyssey" title?

B Smith

Doug said...

As I've said before, my guess here is that perhaps Denny O'Neil might have preferred to tell a different story, or tell this story in a different way, but DC's editorial control was so stringent that any other outcome may have simply not been possible.

And BSmith, I think what Adams is doing now in Odyssey (based solely on my 1st issue reading) is not too far off from what we saw here almost 40 years ago. Like Karen, I prefer the simpler four-color art to some of today's computerized coloring, although modern techniques certainly have their place. I'd argue that at times today's coloring enhances poor or sub-par draftsmanship.

But Adams, like Buscema and the other masters, is pretty to look at in any era.



Four Color Promises said...

I read this issue in reprint form and it's on the top of my list of comics to hunt down. I would love to have a decent copy of this book. Very iconic...

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