You want to make a Batman comic.
Simple enough, right? Over the course of 80 years, Batman has become one of the most versatile characters in all of popular culture. He’s been everywhere: travelling the world, the universe and the spacetime continuum itself! Batman can be found doing anything, anywhere a creator likes. There’s so much room to play with this character, and a million different angles you can take his story. But how are you going to make yours special? How will it stand out?
Really, anyone can make a Batman book – but not every fan’s dream project is published by DC! It takes a special kind of creator to get that prestigious honour, and the superhero publishing giant wouldn’t just put anything out onto store shelves. If we want to whip your story into shape, we need to see how one of the greats does it. Today, we’re looking at what makes a good Batman story, according to one of his most prolific artists: Neal Adams. This’ll be fun!
Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul is Neal Adams’ latest (and greatest?) comic so far, beginning in 2019 at the same time I began working for Batman News. After over a year of waiting, we’re finally reading the ending: surely, this time was spent refining a masterful, satisfying and sensible conclusion to Adams’ work. Let’s have a look at the first panel, so we can take apart what makes comic book legends like Neal so effective at storytelling:
Okay, so this-
Okay, no, hang on. I can explain this.
Now you might think to yourself, “Sayf al Ghul? Who’s that? Ra’s al Ghul has never had a son until this opening panel.” If you’re thinking that, slap yourself in the face, because I honestly pity your stupidity. The reality is quite simple: Sayf al Ghul is just the name Ra’s has given to Aaron Brand, the brother of Boston Brand (Deadman) and the witch Chiaroscuro. Aaron and Chiaroscuro are both Neal Adams’ original characters, and they are vital to the plot – because Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul is obviously a story about Deadman, not Batman. We clear so far?
Now, Aaron had been taken in by Ra’s al Ghul as a successor of his, should Bruce Wayne not be capable. When Ra’s trapped Bruce in Chiaroscuro’s pocket dimension, Aaron stepped in to pose as Bruce Wayne – and while pretending to be Bruce, he disguised himself as a blonde Australian, who he found auditioning to become the next Batman in a scheme organized by Ra’s’ business competitors, The Money. Aaron disguised himself with an elaborate face mask, which you can see in this easily comprehensible panel where Aaron tears his Bruce Wayne mask, revealing the real person underneath. See how different Aaron looks?
Now, this is all to the end of eliminating Ra’s’ rivals, The Money. You’ll recall them from last issue, when they impersonated The Court of Owls for exactly one page. Both The Money and Ra’s are competing for control of Gotham’s power grid: with The Money owning Gotham’s traditional power resources, and with Ra’s campaigning for the use of nuclear power. At this point, you might think it’s sensible to ask, “Why is this important? What does Ra’s stand to gain by controlling Gotham’s power?”
No. Shut up. This is why you’re not being paid to make Batman comics. What you SHOULD be asking is, “how does electrolysis work?”
This is the beginning of a three-page – yes, you read that right – explanation on the science and economics behind electrolysis. Realizing that he would not win the fight to use nuclear power for Gotham’s energy, Ra’s brings in a doctor to argue the benefits of electrolysis as Gotham’s primary power supply. Said doctor proceeds to demonstrate this in a live tutorial, accompanied with a host who’s happy to give this scene the gravitas that it deserves.
Now, while this is happening, the two Batmen – Sayf al Ghul/Aaron Brand disguised as Bruce Wayne disguised as the Australian, and Bruce Wayne, who escaped from the pocket dimension and is disguised as his mustachioed persona Matches Malone – are staging an attack on Ra’s’ power plant, in order to frame The Money and make them reveal themselves on live television. This will eliminate Ra’s’ competitors and make it easier for him to control Gotham’s power, even if Commissioner Gordon immediately informs the audience that Gotham will be sticking with traditional energy.
But none of that’s important. What’s really important to know is that Ra’s al Ghul is actually a robot.
And that is how you make a Batman comic! See how cohesive that was? In just a measly five hundred words, you now have everything you need to know to understand the first panel of Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul #6.
It took three days for me to write this.
Now when you read a comic as special as this one, you’re tempted to have doubts in DC’s publishing process. You might wonder, “What the hell did I just read? Did anyone edit this? How did this get greenlit? Did DC ever think to say ‘no’? Is this only being published because of Neal Adams’ reputation as an iconic artist?” For the third and final time, you’d be wrong: Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul is the smartest comic book of all time.
It has to be, after all! If it isn’t – if it’s really as asinine and ridiculous as it seems to be – then I’ve spent my entire career at this website attempting to verbalise a book that’s nigh impossible to quantify in the mind of anyone but its creator. Thus, this book must be genius. You want more proof? Sure! Notice how I didn’t put a title card at the start of my review? No credits, no acknowledgment to the letterer or editor? Well guess what?
There are no credits!
None! Not a hint! I went through this book once, twice, three times, four times, five fucking times – and there was not a single space that acknowledged who worked on this book! This comic is so bold that it’s elected to forgo the practice of giving credit to its creative team! What could that be, if not the purest of visionary art incarnate???
When I began to review this series, I believed I was treading down the path to insanity. I truly thought that I was doomed by Lovecraftian forces to bear the weight of unfathomable knowledge, and to lose my mind in the process. Now, I see the truth: this book is a divine work of God himself, and I have become his Seraphim.
- You want a reading experience akin to Grant Morrison’s alien abduction in Kathmandu.
- Neal Adams is a name you support, no matter the comic. No matter the comic.
- God, I don’t know, do you really wanna drop money on this? You’ll need alcohol. I had to do this sober.
If I didn’t think this was the greatest comic to ever exist, I imagine I’d have a lot to say about this. I’d probably mention how, unlike Batman: Odyssey, the subject matter of this book is infinitely less insane or interesting, and with a doubly underwhelming conclusion. I’d mention how while this is certainly entertaining from a nonsensical, so-bad-it’s-good angle, the act of reading through it and understanding it requires a degree of effort that might turn the readers off from attempting the endeavor. I’d definitely state that while Neal Adams has done amazing work and is owed a great deal of respect, that should not give him a pass to publish whatever he likes. This is especially relevant with DC’s “Round Robin” publicity stunt, where diverse up-and-comers are forced to compete to get their pitches published by DC. Prestige should not be a hall pass, and while this book is ironically charming, it doesn’t deserve praise for being just that, and nothing more.
…Fortunately, I don’t think any of that. So instead, I’ll be awarding Batman vs Ra’s al Ghul #6 my first ever 10/10.
Oops. My finger slipped.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch