Review: Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul collected hardcover (DC Comics)

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Given Grant Morrison's great fresh-classic take on Batman in Batman and Son, I expected great things from the Bat-family crossover Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul. Instead, what we have here is a fairly bland, gigantically decompressed story with a lot of punching and kicking, but not much to make it very remarkable.

I think few believed, when Greg Rucka killed off Ra's al Ghul in the riveting Batman: Death and the Maidens (if you haven't read it, run out and get a copy), that DC wouldn't bring the villain back one of these days. And given both Ra's appearance in Batman Begins and Rucka's excellent use of Ra's in Death, I've been eager to see Ra's next appearance.

But Resurrection disappointingly glosses completely over Ra's rebirth scene, and there seems to be some confusion between the various writers from the prologue to the story as to the exact science of Ra's return (and they ignore, completely Devin Grayson's brilliant set up of a Lazarus Pit in the Batcave in Batman/Ra's al Ghul: Year One). Moreover, Ra's "evil goals" are not much more than immortality, again, when something with a bit more mystery might've differentiated this story from most other Ra's al Ghul tales.

One intention of Infinite Crisis was to rid the DC Universe of the angsty Batman (at least, more angsty than normal) who betrayed and belittled his Bat-family at every turn. The result, however, is to bring us a Batman crossover that's all plot and no character development. Batman learns that Ra's has come back to life (an event that, undramatically, seems to surprise no one in the comic), Batman goes to confront Ra's, Batman and Ra's team up to fight a third enemy, and then Batman and Ra's fight one another. The internal Bat-conflict in Batman: Fugitive and Batman: War Games might've felt tired after a while, but at least it gave the crossovers a subtext beyond just fighting the villains.

There is, you might argue, a "character-based" subplot here involving Robin being tempted by Ra's to use the Lazarus Pit to resurrect his parents, Spoiler, Superboy, and others. Except, as Nightwing himself points out, Ra's offer makes no sense in terms of how the Lazarus Pit has been explained in comic book science (the bodies are too old, the Pit waters aren't portable, etc.) -- not to mention that no reader really believes Robin's going to make the obviously-wrong choice and join forces with Batman's enemy. The subplot deals with Robin's character, sure, but it's essentially two-issue-long filler that darts away from the real Batman/Ra's action in order to involve the Nightwing and Robin titles, and it makes the story unnecessarily bloated.

Finally, if I can add just one more insult to injury, Morrison's Damian character suffers greatly, writing-wise, in this story. As written by Morrison, Batman's erstwhile son walks the fine line between attention-starved child and deadly killer; as written by Keith Champagne, Fabian Nicieza and others, Damian comes off as a whiny brat, more Jar-Jar Binks than Batman's son. On the other hand, there's a bunch of instances here of Alfred playing action hero (taking on a crowd of ninjas, no less!) so I guess there's something here for everyone.

(To be fair, of sorts, Pop Matter's Shawn O'Rourke felt equally underwhelmed.)

[Contains full covers, short biographies]

Yeah, so Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul didn't quite do it for me. Good thing there's some Justice Society right around the corner. Join us next time!
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3 comments:

  1. Dead on. I was very disappointed by this volume, coming off of Batman and Son. It's especially damning compared to the story's direct predecessor, the great Death and the Maidens, which this book shamefully ignores besides one or two lines referencing the mere existence of Nyssa Al Ghul.

    The writing was horribly uneven, most of the Robin and Nightwing sections felt unnecessary. I'll usually give some leeway to these huge crossovers for lapses in characterization or weaker art due to the mixed teams, but this just didn't come together at all, really bringing down Dini and Morrison's high quality post-IC work.

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  2. Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul really does Death and the Maidens a disservice, and also Batman/Ra's al Ghul: Year One.

    Just goes to show even great writers can sometimes mess up a crossover; Morrison's Resurrection fails whereas Final Crisis arguably succeeds.

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  3. I just read the trade of this, myself. I wasn't AS disappointed as I expected to be, but this definitely wasn't what it could have been. To give a brutally honest opinion, I think this crossover could have worked if there weren't other writers there ruining Morrison and Dini's good time.

    There were certainly elements I enjoyed; and surprise, surprise at the fact that they were almost all in Morrison and Dini's issues. I liked the Ra's Al Ghul prologue chapter that gave a basic synopsis of Ra's; not to mention Damian in this, who I felt had some good moments like his line about being disappointed if Ra's didn't look a bit like a zombie. The issues Grant did absolutely shined. Seriously, I thought those chapters had some great moments that gave a glimpse of what this could have been, such as the battle between Batman and Sensei where Bruce was impaled by a stick, but subsequently ripped it out of him and nailed Sensei with it (to which my response was that there was no longer any doubt about it, as Batman had proven himself the manliest man in existence). Dini's chapters were similarly good writing-wise; with the exception of the ending of the whole thing being a bit hokey with the Christmas deal, of course.

    Also, this was the first exposure I had to the character of I Ching. I freaking loved the guy. I hope Grant uses him again, because I thought he was a pretty cool cameo character.

    Of course, the problem was everybody else. Ryan Benjamin's art for the Detective issues were horrible. I had to look back at the credits, because after that Simon Bianchi cover I was flabbergasted at what I was getting. The Robin issues, of course, completely blew. Tim was not in fine form as he became something of a whiner; not to mention a dolt who reacts to heavily instead of using his head. This was a subplot that was frankly a complete waste and should not have been there.

    The Nightwing issues were a lot better. Before Resurrection rolled around in the monthlies, I had been close to hating Dick. Other places started redeeming him, but after finally reading this, I felt this was where he first started the road back to being likable. The problem was that he was completely unnecessary. I would have cut out the second Nightwing issue involving the Tim subplot and I doubt anyone would have missed it. But I would have kept the first one, if only because in that issue I felt like he played a likable, if unnecessary, role in things.

    The second prologue starring Damian was also horrible and missed the point of the character.

    Anyways, like I said, if this were leaner and handled completely by Morrison and Dini, I really think this could have worked as a small crossover. Think the kind of thing X-Men has been doing of late. I was disappointed more in the lost potential than the story itself; this was really a story Morrison should have told and without his hand guiding the majority of it, it all just fell apart.

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