Zdarsky has taken Batman: The Knight in a direction that I’m genuinely shocked he’s decided to go: rewriting the origin of Bruce and Ra’s al Ghul’s relationship. When this series began, it seemed like pretty straight forward concept; the time between when Bruce’s parents were shot and when he returns to Gotham to fight crime had hardly been explored by other stories. It made sense that it would be a time period perfectly suited for a limited series. However, the meeting of Batman and Ra’s takes place in one of the most iconic Batman stories of all time. It’s a bold move to say the least to try and incorporate that into this new origin story.
The decision on its own carries with it a number of issues. As I already mentioned before, it takes what was initially a filling in of the gaps in Bruce’s history and turns it into rewriting that history. DC has for a while now been very unclear as to what is and isn’t canon, and I believe their current stance is some mixture of “everything’s canon”, “the best stories are canon”, and “lol, I dunno”. Not only does introducing Ra’s this early in Bruce’s career explicitly contradict Denny O’Neil’s Demon Saga, but it also sort implicitly contradicts Batman: Year One, wherein Bruce is still inexperienced outside of his training and has yet to put his skills to the test.
However, all that being said, I can look past the continuity issues and instead look at this as a fresh new story in its own right with an open mind. There are definitely elements that I really like. Ra’s’ characterization is spot on. He has always had a grand vision which works on the scale of centuries; I’d call them delusions of grandeur but he seems very capable of following through. Here, we see how true that is with Ra’s’ ability to control vast resources and even manipulate world governments. His facility itself is extremely impressive, and conveys the Bond villain aesthetic that the original stories from the 70s had, complete with tucked away missile silos.
This version of Ra’s more explicitly focuses on the environmental aspects of his motivations, as opposed to the enigmatic “making the world clean” plan that the original story had. It makes sense as a creative choice, since Zdarsky can’t rely on the character’s mystery to grab the readers given how well known Ra’s al Ghul has become to Batman fans.
However, I’m not so much a fan of how quickly he sought out Bruce and Anton. It makes sense to me that he might invite them to join the League of Assassins, but he clearly thinks that they are something extremely special. Their training is impressive, but it’s not like either of them have done anything that would have earned them serious renown. Ra’s just saw a rich kid traveling the world learning from remote teachers and thought “I HAVE to seek him out take him in under my wing.” Contrast this with the original Demon Saga where Batman only accidentally stumbles upon the secretive League of Assassins while investigating some murders, and only comes into contact with Ra’s himself through Talia after saving her life. Simply put, I don’t think that at this point Bruce has “earned” the reputation that is being put upon him.
Many of the designs have been updated as well. Ra’s’ design is largely unchanged, and I think he looks great in Di Giandomenico’s art style. The facility however, while I like its grandiosity, feels almost too high tech. Everything is so sleek and shiny, almost bordering on futuristic. It makes sense that Ra’s would have all the latest technology for his operation. I’m not upset about that. It’s just that from a visual standpoint, I think that the Head of the Demon should have a certain ancient mysticism, much of which is lost here.
I also can’t not talk about Talia’s redesign.
What am I looking at here? I think her hair is supposed to just be hanging down and framing her face, but it honestly looks like she has aggressive side burns and a widow’s peak à la Elrond. Her dress is also really bizarre. The intention seems to be to lean into her Asian heritage, but there’s just so much going on. It has segmented colors and lines going everywhere, there’s her giant WWE championship belt, and a Wonder Woman color scheme. If I had to guess, I’d say that Di Giandomenico is trying to imitate the look of the Dora Milaje from the Black Panther movie, but not only does that “tribal warrior” motif not fit Talia’s character, I don’t think this version works like it did in the movie.
Because Talia is here, of course the story needs to start developing her romance with Bruce. Her role in the original O’Neil stories was not very complex. She initially fell in love with Batman after he saved her life from Dr. Darrk (Detective Comics #411), and then her infatuation was solidified when he passed Ra’s’ test by traveling the world to “rescue” her (Batman #232). She was the Bond girl archetype: assistant to the evil mastermind, but loves the hero and struggles with whom to serve.
I appreciate that here Zdarsky takes the time to further flesh out that relationship, but it mostly feels like a lateral move if anything. Instead of falling in love with her savior, she just seems to fall in love with him because he’s good at fighting and stands up to her father. It replaces an infatuation with the incredible Batman who saved her life and would scour the four corners of the Earth with a teenage rebelliousness who likes the bad boy who talks back to her dad.
The pivotal scene that is meant to establish their relationship feels somewhat overdone. The dialog is often overly grizzled and self-serious to the point of being silly. Bruce talks about how no one has authority over him, and that he wants her but can’t because “my life is a mission.” It’s dripping with angst which is made all the more extreme by the dramatic facial lighting that this series loves so much. It’s a scene that is maybe a bit too enamored with how important these two will become down the line.
- You want to see a new take on Ra’s and Bruce’s first meeting
- Bruce’s training journey needed a “final challenge”
- You’d like a tinge more rebelliousness to the Bruce/Talia relationship
Batman: The Knight #9 delivers a new spin on the first time Bruce and Ra’s al Ghul met, moving it back to before he even became Batman. Some of the changes offer a refreshing new modernization to the fateful encounter, while others feel unnecessary or even detrimental to the dynamic it’s meant to be establishing. It’s no small task to try and rewrite such a famous Batman story, fitting it into a new Batman origin no less, and Zdarsky responds to the challenge with mixed results.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided a copy of this issue for the purpose of this review.