This month a new 6 issue Batman miniseries began with Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul #1. The series is written, drawn and colored by Batman legend Neal Adams. As a Batman fan, I had to check this new series out. As a general comic book reader, I was interested as well with a comic being written, drawn, and colored all by one person. It’s unusual for one person to undertake all these roles, especially for a major character they don’t own like Batman. To make this rare occurrence stand out even more, on the front cover, which is also done by Neal Adams, below the comic book title only the name Adams appears.
The story begins with a strange interaction between Batman, a derelict, and his dog. Batman seems to be acting overly aggressive and deceptive. I’m not sure if that interaction is a clue to something important in the future or just part of the strange characterization in this book. After this first scene, we learn that Gotham is a warzone with drugged up terrorists attacking all over the city. Deadman takes notice of the state of Gotham and joins in the effort to stop the terrorists. Ra’s al Ghul is surprisingly brought in along with his guard by the Mayor to help get the city under control. Batman and Deadman work together and deduce that something more is going on and someone or something is controlling these terrorists.
There is something off-putting with the characterization of the characters. Perhaps there is more going on than the reader knows, but the writing seems a little strange. Batman seems to be following the style of the ’66 television series. He is overly talkative and dramatic. He uses old phrases no average, or modern person would, such as “damn your eyes “and “like stink on a skunk”. Commissioner Gordon seems very relaxed and trusting about Ra’s working alongside the police. As a Batman reader, one thing I’ve never noticed is Gordon trusting Gotham’s criminals. He barely tolerates Batman and his methods after all their time together. Although we haven’t seen much of Ra’s, he thus far seems less than impressive. The only character that appears to be themselves is Deadman, who is a continuation of his classic personality. I’m hoping this strangeness is part of a bigger story, but it could be choices by Adams.
There is a fanbase for ’66 style, Batman, out there, but this story seems darker than that. Therefore, you have a continuation of Adam West’s Batman struggling to make sense in a more current, terrorism-stricken Gotham. The reader is left feeling a little confused as to what exactly is happening. Is there more going on that we don’t know yet? Is Batman going to use Bat terrorist repellant spray against the drug-fueled, gun-toting men ravaging the city? In a way, this issue feels like a throwback to classic Batman, but it feels out of place here. All the recent batman characterizations have been more of the sharp, quiet, brooding Batman, so the jump takes some adjustment.
The art is classic Neal Adams; it’s a sketchy style with a darker tone to it. I feel the sketchiness brings more attention to the images on the page than many cleaner comics. Adams draws his blue and grey Batman the same way that he has for years, and there is a welcome familiarity to that. Unfortunately, the classic Batman look on the page feels sort of out of place with the context of the story. I am a black and grey Batman fan all the way, so that could be having some effect on my feelings towards the issue. One of the characters, Khaos, looks a lot like Mongul in shape and color layout. Again. I don’t know if this is on purpose, but it instantly made me believe that Mongul was in the comic.
At the end of the comic, there seems to be a mysterious cliffhanger. We see an explosion and Batman’s destroyed cowl at the site, but we see an unscathed Bruce Wayne at the same time. The Bat Family is there and of course, doesn’t believe Batman’s dead, but Bruce Wayne is seemingly oblivious to what’s going on. These final few panels were confusing. I couldn’t’ tell who knew what. Either there’s foul play, and something is wrong with Bruce Wayne, or Batman faked his death to trick Ra’s. I can’t tell the difference, but that does have me anxious for the next issue to find out what’s going on.
Overall, I think Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul #1 is entertaining. It’s neat to see Adams take on all the roles on his own. It’s interesting to see his current take on Batman and his attempt to bring the old and new together. There is a lot of action, plenty of beautiful Batman filled panels and some old school Batman flair, old chums. Right now, though some of the writing and characterization are a little perplexing. Hopefully, Adams has something up his sleeve that he’s building towards to explain some of this awkwardness. I give Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul #1, 2.5 out of 5 stars. I recommend it for fans of Ra’s al Ghul, 70’s Batman and Neal Adams art.