Understanding the Demon’s Head, Ra’s Al Ghul

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I am he who is called Ra’s al Ghul.”
“The Demon’s Head. I thought you were only a legend.”
“I am quite real.

We wrap up independence/dystopia month with a look at one of the villain greats: Ra’s al Ghul. He’s one of my favorite Batman villains, and not just because he can keep the Dark Knight shirtless for long periods. His intellect, skills, and longevity make him one of the most independent villains around. He manipulates people and circumstances to suit his ends. He runs his own secret society. He’s practically immortal. He goes toe to toe with the Batman. Why? All to free nature from man’s destruction and to free man from its addiction to technology. (And if I have to trip over one more PokemonGO player, I might agree with him.)

But what really makes him independent? What makes anyone independent? Hint: it’s not unlimited data or mounds of money, though Ra’s has both.


Origin of the Demon

Since his first appearance in the 1972 Batman comic #232, Ra’s al Ghul (pronounced Raysh Al Gool and meaning “Demon’s head” in Arabic) has proved to be a nearly indestructible villain. But all Batman’s villains are that way, you say. They all have Joker immunity! Ah, but the nice young men in their clean white coats don’t come to take Ra’s away to Arkham, ho ho, he he, ha ha. No, he suffers DM lightning and usually “dies” from falling masonry. No matter how much debris drops on him, though, he always comes back. I’m focusing on his incarnation in Batman: The Animatd Series primarily, so it’s up to you to discover his…intriguing future.

His durability may be due to the Lazarus Pits that restore his youth. Or maybe he just plans really well. He is a genius, after all. For a quick background, check out Watch Mojo’s slick origin recap:

I’m serious! Watch it! Okay, basically he was a Chinese nomad in Arabia 600 years ago. The allure of science wooed him from his tribe and led him to discover the Lazarus Pits, which restore the body after it takes damage. That includes damage from age. Think Herbs/Healing Potions on steroids. He shared the knowledge with the prince of the country, who used them but suffered the madness that is a semi-temporary side effect. He kills Ra’s’s wife. The king blames Ra’s, not the prince. The sentence: death in a cage in the desert, with his dead wife beside him. Nomads rescue him. He uses the pits and also suffers the madness for a time. But he recovers (mostly?) and goes on to fight in wars and amass a great fortune. The only thing most people would amass over 600 years would be debt, so props for not only his intellect but also his wisdom.

ras al ghul vs batman animated series

Ra’s has a flare for the dramatic

During all those 600 years fighting, training, and studying in many martial arts, he became a master swordsman and formidable warrior. He’s good enough to take on Batman, who became a master martial artist in 30+ years of life – in addition to being a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist – because he is the goddamned Batman. Ra’s doesn’t fear anyone, as he can win against almost any opponent.

In addition to superior combat abilities, he leads a powerful criminal/eco-terrorist organization called the Society of Shadows, and its League of Assassins. Those are ninjas. Cool, I know. His network of contacts is vast, partly due to his long life and varied pursuits and partly due to his accumulated wealth. When it comes to masterminding schemes to save the earth from man’s destruction, his only limitation is his imagination. Given his genius-level intellect and touch of mental instability, sky’s the limit!

Mind of the demon

What’s the psychology of Ra’s al Ghul? You know it’s going to be far from normal when the man calls himself “the Demon’s Head.”

ras al ghul liam neeson batman

In Batman Begins, Liam Neeson did a bang-up job as Ra’s

He is, above all, devoted to restoring the earth to its pristine state. All his plans revolve around protecting or restoring nature’s beauty. No doubt he’d get along great with Cat Woman.

His deep concern – his obsession, really – stems from the 600+ years he’s been around to watch people wreak havoc. A common theme in fiction is that great age/immortality breeds bitterness because the person has witnessed so much hell. Writers ignore the fact that the same destruction that can cause PTSD in one person can cause another person to grow stronger and more mature.

In some ways, Ra’s bucks that norm. He wants to help the world with complete global saturation in Lazarus Pit fluid. I’m sure he and Albert Wesker would happily share a drink as they toasted that scheme! He isn’t so much embittered against the human race as he is tired of seeing the destruction of nature. It’s not revenge he seeks, it’s revival.

This goal is so grand that he will happily sacrifice 2 billion people on its altar. In The Demon’s Quest episode of Batman: The Animated Series, he planned to bomb the Lazarus Pits of the world, causing them to erupt and flood parts of the earth with their fluid. The details are sketchy, but the global upheaval that would ensue would pretty much cause the end of civilization as we know it. With the elections and general state of chaos in the world right now, I can see where he’s coming from. After the worldwide cluster, somehow the earth would shake it off and return to its original perfection. Look, he had computer simulations and a PR video, so it’s gotta be viable.

I’m sure he would be the god of this new world, even if he doesn’t admit it when he monologues to Batman.

Batman and the Demon’s Head

After Batman foiled Ra’s attempt to liberate a sonic drill from its owners in Off Balance, and after Batman met Ra’s daughter Talia during the adventure, Ra’s took a special interest in the Dark Knight. Bats impressed him so much that Ra’s decided to make him his successor.

To make the deal official, Bruce would marry Talia, who in addition to being Ra’s offspring is also his most loyal follower. The plan after that was for the happy couple to have a son to carry on the Demon name. Sexist much? But what can you expect from a man 600 years old who spent his formative years in Asian and Middle-Eastern cultures? It’s actually a nice bit of continuity as for as the character writing is concerned, since a person born in that time period would likely hold sexist views. People rarely change their beliefs as they age, so why would 600 years vs 60 change that? Being a woman of good taste, Talia doesn’t have any complaints about wedding Batman. Heck, Ra’s even gets him half undressed for her. Thanks for the fan service!

Unlike Cat Woman, who had a crush on Batman but didn’t know his true identity, Ra’s discovered not only Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, but also the location of the Bat Cave. If there’s one thing Ra’s knows, it’s how to make an entrance, and he made one of the best entrances of any Batman villain: he walked out of the shadows of the Bat Cave, taking the Great Detective by surprise.     

While Ra’s respects Batman’s prowess in battle, he is more impressed by Bruce’s intellect. As a fellow genius, Ra’s feels a kinship with and genuine respect for Wayne. Ra’s doesn’t call him Batman, instead titling him Detective.

What makes Ra’s even more interesting is how he turns Bruce’s skill in detecting against him. Ra’s has his own daughter and Robin kidnapped, then comes to Batman and pretends that another group did the evil deed. This was a multi-faceted plan to test A) Batman’s suitability for marriage to Talia, B) his suitability to succeed Ra’s, C) Batman’s skill in general, and D) Batman’s loyalty to his young ward, Robin.

ras al ghul monacle batman animated series

See the guy behind Ra’s? That’s monocle envy right there

What other villain chooses Batman to be their successor? Props for thinking outside the box. Ra’s does what he wants, independent of the unwritten rules that other antagonists follow. He’s so convincing that Batman actually considered assuming the mantle, even if the thought was fleeting.

Ra’s isn’t a narcissist, but he does think highly of himself. He might join Wesker in saying, “The right to be a god is now mine.” While he lacks Wesker’s superhuman abilities, Ra’s has a right to feel superior to the average human. Independently wealthy, independently heading a secret society, independently controlling the Lazarus Pits… When it comes to reasons for pride, it beats being employee of the month.

Declaration of Independence

ras al ghul comic cover batman

Green Peace…with skulls!

1. Ra’s is a fierce, unique, tenacious villain, we see that with no problem. But why is he a good example of independence? I could cite the obvious reasons, such as his long life, genius IQ, massive wealth, and perfect facial hair, but his independence goes beyond those attributes.

2. One of Ra’s greatest abilities is thinking outside the box. Ra’s doesn’t let other people’s standards and methods constrain him. He doesn’t worry about what others worried about. After all, he tried to make Batman his heir! How much more out of the villain rut can you get? Ra’s has a vision. He sees what others don’t. That sight enables him to achieve – or at least come very close to achieving – his vision. Even when the odds are stacked against him, he turns strengths against his enemies and weaknesses to his benefit. His imagination knows no bounds.

3. He’s also able to adapt. When Batman began to foil the plot to blow up the Lazarus pits, Ra’s stepped in personally. This wasn’t a last ditch attempt; he knew his skills and Batman’s. Then he used the pits as a way to fake his own death and escape scot-free.

5. He holds the absolute loyalty of his followers. People in his organization will die for him. He doesn’t abuse people, though, so this loyalty isn’t from fear. Odds are that like Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad, he doesn’t consider fear an effective motivator. The people around Ra’s share his vision, even if they don’t share his blood.

ras al ghul comic sword batman

With a little help from his friends

Independence isn’t about being alone; it’s about being with the right people. He may be the demon’s head, but a head isn’t much good without a body.

6. He takes stock of the situation and makes plans accordingly. Not much catches him by surprise. While other villains launch into action without thinking, he does his homework. A little surveying can prevent a world of chaos, especially in unfamiliar situations. Organization will set you free.

7. He sees his goal with perfect clarity. Yes, I’m going to harp on having goals again. Because Ra’s’s goal is clear, he knows what to do. He’s free of indecision.

In summary, it’s the inter-working of many aspects that give him the full measure of independence that he enjoys. And he knows it. Self assurance radiates from him as he strides into the Bat Cave like he owns it, or as he fights Batman shirtless, or as he details his plan to end civilization. He wasn’t always rich and powerful, but he was always intelligent, wise, and creative. The latter often leads to the former. If nothing else, they make you live more successfully.

Further reading:

Villainous tactics: torture vs toys?

Dystopian freedom: Learn to love the bomb

Villainous independence: More than fireworks

Villainous opportunism: How to take advantage of every opportunity, Albert Wesker-style

Got a devil on your back? So do villains

Hero or Villain? It Starts with Demons

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.

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Lead researcher at Villainous Life Natures Research. Writer, reader, snarker. Lover of all things Geek and Dark. INTJ.
Read my reports at vlnresearch.com and learn how understanding villains can help you succeed in life.
Find my action-adventure post-apocalypse zombie thriller Wolves of the Apocalypse series at lcchamplin.com.
I write fiction because the characters in my head have too much attitude to stay in my skull, I want to see the world through different eyes, and I want to live life through different souls.

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