Long ago – when the pyramids were still young – Egyptian kings played a game of great and terrible power. But these Shadow Games erupted into a war which threatened to destroy the entire—
Oh, sorry. I accidentally started reciting the opening to the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime. What was I saying? Ah, yes. Long ago – when the pyramids were still young – I uploaded my review of Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul #4, written and illustrated by Neal Adams.
The article, written in February of 2020, has clearly not aged wonderfully.
For the website’s newer readers, Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul is Neal Adams’ latest foray into the world of DC – and a spiritual successor to Batman Odyssey, one of the most entertaining trainwrecks in all of mainstream comic books. This follow-up – which is honestly as much of a Deadman story as it is a Batman one – is only a little more coherent than its predecessor, if only for the fact that it follows a linear narrative that doesn’t jump around in time. While Adams is clearly a legend in the world of comics, it’s hard to recommend his latest books in a traditional sense. The artwork is sloppy and difficult to follow with little to no inking, the plots make the barest amount of sense (and even “barest” is debatable), and the dialogue feels like what you’d hear when your best friend wakes up at 3am to mumble a conversation with himself. These are not good qualities in a book – but they certainly are entertaining qualities, so in that sense Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul is an absolute joy to read. By the time I’d finished my last review on the comic, I was excited to read the following, penultimate issue!
That was over a year ago.
To say the momentum of this book has died is about as much of an understatement as standing in the middle of the Antarctic and saying you could use a coat. Picking up the threads of this already messy book after a twelve-month hiatus was difficult, so I’m going to forgive myself for the delay in this review. That being said, I struggle to find purpose in this critique – even as I’m writing it at this very moment.
I mean really, what’s there to say about this book that you haven’t already heard? In a lot of ways, Neal Adams’ comic books speak for themselves at this point. If you know what he’s about, then you already know exactly what you’re getting: it’s simply a roll of the dice as to whether or not you’ll understand what’s going on. Here, I’ll show you an example.
We begin this scene with a follow-up from the previous issue: one of the false Batmen, participating in a contest to become the Dark Knight’s successor, is recalling his eyewitness account of Ra’s al Ghul’s death. The Court of Owls dump Ra’s’ “body” on the table, revealing to our “Batman” that Ra’s was actually a robot: a duplicate designed to trick his would-be assassins. Something of a nonsensical idea, sure, but this is a comic book! It’s not all that unusual, and I think we can safely move on to the next few panels…
…Well, except for the fact that the Court of Owls has never appeared in the story until this very moment. Participating in one of the most unceremonious reveals of all time, the Owls are revealed as the villains pulling the strings behind the attempt on Ra’s’ life – and are the ones responsible for this strange Batman contest. Alright, fine. It’s a lot to take in, but I’ve managed to grasp it. Let’s move on to the rest of the page and—
Hang on, it’s NOT the Court of Owls? It’s a new, thematically identical organization called “The Money”? And one of its members is a beady-eyed demon creature, with the head of a pufferfish? Even though in the previous panel, he was illustrated with regular hair? Also, that blonde guy – did you know he’s Deadman’s brother? What? It’s just too much to comprehend for any reader, let alone one who hasn’t perused this comic in more than a year. I feel like to truly understand this comic would be to unlock a dark, universal secret, one that may spell doom for humanity should we realize its true implications.
Meanwhile, while the art is messy and ridiculous, I will say it isn’t as incoherent in this chapter. Not only is the action of the story fairly clear, but the panel composition is well-laid out, to the point where having several people in Batman costumes on the same page doesn’t actually feel like a major burden. More than that, some of Neal Adams’ past skill really shines through – especially in this panel here, setting up the presumed finale of the story. It’s weird to think that so soon after this book has returned, it’ll be leaving me again – my longest-running review series on this website, finally reaching its close before I’ve even begun to understand it.
- You’ve always wondered what the comic book equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls might look like.
- Neal Adam’s star power is enough of a draw for you – or you love the “so bad it’s good” brand of graphic novel literature.
- You’ve been waiting for an improvement in Adams’ art once again!
- One Batman spouting ludicrous dialogue isn’t enough for you, and you need at least two more to satisfy that itch.
y̴̤͂ợ̵ù̸̧ ̵̝̑ŵ̸͇í̸͙ṣ̴̐ḩ̴̀ ̴̱͛t̴̫̐o̸̐͜ ̵̡͗ŵ̶̗a̵̟̋k̸̈ͅë̴̫́ ̸̣̿t̴̪̆h̸͚͆e̸͠ͅ ̷̛̫b̷̰̕l̸̙̇ï̸̩n̶͖͝d̶̳͊ ̶͍̎i̶̖̿d̶̗̈́i̵̙̅õ̶̥ẗ̸͍ ̸̓͜g̵̘͠o̶͇̔d̸̼̍ ̵̬̉ă̵͈z̶̙͗a̴̫̿t̵̩͂h̷̪̐ô̶̪t̴̡́h̸̢̓,̸͙̏ ̷̻̈d̴͎̈́ŗ̴͒ë̶͉́a̵͔̐ḿ̶̻è̴̥r̶̈́͜ ̵͍̑ǒ̵̹f̷̘̋ ̴͙̊a̵̝͋l̴̜͌l̶̫̏.
So, with all of that said: do you really think there’s a purpose in me analysing this book? What can I truly learn if I dig beneath its wild, frenetic surface, save for a level of forbidden knowledge no man should be privy to gain? Like the inner workings of Lovecraft’s Outer Gods, is there truly any insight the human mind can gleam from this masterful disaster unfolding from page to page, without falling into the clutches of insanity? I fear the answer, and so I hope not to seek it. For now, I’ll leave you with a score of its quality – and a possible recommendation for whenever the trade comes out. If we’re lucky, you should expect it on your shelf shortly before the Rapture.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch