Batman’s rogues gallery features an eclectic range of villains who push The Dark Knight to his limits. Few have tested him like Ra’s Al Ghul, a man with complicated motives and a warped sense of justice. Helped by the mystical Lazarus Pits, Ra’s seeks to bring balance to the world through any means necessary. Ra’s desire to create environmental balance is juxtaposed against his quest to wipe out humanity. This clashes with Batman’s ideals, causing them to be locked in an ongoing struggle. But what sets Ra’s apart from other villains is his genuine respect for Bruce Wayne. The Comic Vault is looking into the history of the Demon’s Head to understand what drives him.
The story of the man who became Ra’s Al Ghul began with a Bedouin tribe of nomads in the Arabian desert. From a young age Ra’s showed an interest in science, so he left his tribe in order to live in the city and became a physician. Ra’s married a woman named Sora and some time later he discovered a Lazarus Pit through saving a dying prince. Driven insane by the pit, the prince strangled Sora to death. The sultan refused to acknowledge his son’s crime, declaring Ra’s guilty.
Ra’s was set free by the son of a dying woman who the former had helped. The two of them returned to Ra’s tribe and he convinced his people to rebel against the sultan. Through understanding the germ theory of disease, Ra’s infected the prince with a virus by sending him contaminated fabrics. The sultan asked Ra’s to cure his son, only for Ra’s to kill both of them and lead his tribe into the city. After killing everyone within the city and seizing control of the Lazarus Pit, Ra’s declared himself ‘Ra’s Al Ghul’, or the ‘Demon’s Head.’
For the next 600 years, Ra’s used the Lazarus Pits to extend his life and created The League of Assassins. Having fought in various wars he came to see the ugliness of humanity, believing it to be a plague that was destroying the natural beauty of the world.
Although the Pits rejuvenated him, they came with a heavy price. Every time Ra’s used them, the chemicals caused insanity. Having been exposed for centuries, Ra’s mind was twisted. After meeting Batman for the first time, he developed a great amount of respect for him. This led to him calling Batman ‘Detective’ out of regard for his intellectual brilliance. In Batman, Ra’s believed he’d found a successor to his empire.
The relationship between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul is built on mutual admiration and conflict. Bruce respects Ra’s intellect, but disapproves of his goals. Ra’s is one of the few people to know Batman’s identity, but he hasn’t revealed it to anyone else. Their relationship is complicated further by the attraction between Batman and Talia Al Ghul. Ra’s has used his daughter as a pawn in his schemes, believing Batman to be worthy of marrying her. As Talia is the mother of Bruce’s son, Damian, Ra’s is linked to the Wayne family for better or worse.
Having lived for so long, Ra’s fighting skills are formidable. During battle he favours a sword, to which he has few equals. His greatest weapon is his mind, as he’s concocted plots that have routinely thrown the globe into turmoil.
When Ra’s motives are examined they can be identified as a form of eco-terrorism. He believes in making the world greener and allowing it to grow without the interference of humans. Ra’s may be a proponent of biocentrism, a philosophy based on the idea that people are simply ordinary members of the biological community. It’s a belief founded on all living things having a right to be protected, to which Ra’s justifies as part of his mission.
There are many parallels between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul. Both were born from tragedy, with Bruce’s parents dying and Ra’s losing his wife. They’re completely devoted to their crusades and have the intelligence to carry out their goals to the best of their ability. Ra’s cunning, paired with his motives, make him one of Batman’s greatest foes.