REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES RA'S AL GHUL
By Thomas Wheeler

The vast majority of Batman's cavalcade of adversaries are pretty much nutjobs who confine their endeavors to Gotham City. There are exceptions, of course. You never know where the Joker is going to turn up. But most of Batman's arch-enemies tend to limit their activities to the grim skyline of Gotham.

With one very notable exception -- the global-level terrorist known as -- RA'S AL GHUL.

Although somewhat more contemporary than Batman's earliest and best-known enemies, having been introduced in the early 1970's, Ra's has nevertheless managed to make life unpleasant for the Dark Knight on repeated occasions. And he's finally been added to Mattel's line of DC Universe Classics-style action figures through the Signature Series, via the Club Infinite Earths subscription.

Ra's is one of those characters that fits into the category of "long overdue for this line". There's been any number of characters that have emerged from the Signature Series that fit this description, including the likes of Jay Garrick, Atrocitus, Saint Walker, Poison Ivy, Larfleeze, and others. Ra's is definitely part of this crowd.

Let's consider a good portion of the history of this character, and then have a look at his action figure.

Ra's al Ghul is considered to be one of Batman's greatest enemies. His name in Arabic has been translated in the comics as "The Demon's Head". Created by writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams, he was introduced in Batman #232's "Daughter of the Demon" (June 1971).

Given his high status as a supervillain, he has also come into conflict with Superman and other superheroes in the DC Universe, and even came info conflict with Marvel's Spider-Man as part of a cross-company story that featured Batman and Spider-Man taking on Ra's and the Kingpin, who eventually sided with the heroes when he realized the devastation that Ra's had in mind.

Ra's al Ghul has been featured in various media adaptions, most notably the Batman animated series, where he was very capably voiced by David Warner, and the Christopher Nolan films Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, where he was portrayed by actor Liam Neeson. IGN's list of the Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time List ranked Ra's as #7.

Ra's al Ghul is an international criminal mastermind whose ultimate goal is a world in perfect balance. He believes that the best way to achieve this balance is to eliminate most of humanity. Ra's usually tries to assault the world's human populace with a biological weapon, such as a genetically-engineered virus. He is aided in this quest by the Lazarus Pits, reservoirs of rejuvenating chemicals that restore the dead and dying to life; these pits have granted him a lifespan of several centuries.

He regards Batman as his worthiest opponent, addressing him as "Detective" out of respect for his intellectual brilliance, and has frequently sought to make the Dark Knight his successor. He is one of the few criminals in Batman's rogues gallery to have deduced his secret identity as Bruce Wayne, and keeps silent on the matter due to the same sense of respect for Batman.

For his own part, Batman's opposition to Ra's is complicated by his attraction to the villain's daughter, Talia, which she reciprocates.

Ra's al Ghul's real name, early life, and exact age have been described differently by various writers. His Post-Crisis origin story is told in the graphic novel Batman: Birth of the Demon (1992) by Dennis O'Neil and Norm Breyfogle.

As told in Birth of the Demon, Ra's al Ghul was born over 600 years before his first appearance in Batman comics, to a tribe of nomads in a desert somewhere in Arabia, near a city whose inhabitants' ancestors have journeyed to the Arabian Peninsula from China. Ra's is interested in science from an early age, and abandons his tribe to live in the city, where he can conduct his scientific research. He becomes a physician and marries a woman named Sora, the love of his life.

Ra's discovers the secret of the Lazarus Pit, and he saves a dying prince by lowering him into it. The prince, who is sadistic to begin with, is driven completely insane by the Lazarus Pit. He proceeds to strangle Sora, on whom he has already had his eye for some time. The sultan, unwilling to admit to himself his son's culpability, declares Ra's guilty of the crime and sentences him to a slow, tortured death in a cage with Sora's corpse.

Ra's is set free by the son of a dying elderly woman, whom Ra's had earlier examined. The son feels that he owes Ra's a debt for easing his mother's suffering during her last few hours. Ra's and the son head into the desert to seek the tribe of Ra's' birth. Ra's convinces the head of his tribe, his uncle, to follow Ra's in his quest for revenge by promising the downfall of the sultan. By understanding the germ theory of disease hundreds of years before anyone else, Ra's is able to infect the prince with a deadly virus by sending him contaminated fabrics. When the sultan comes to ask Ra's to cure the prince again, Ra's kills both him and his son. Ra's then leads his tribe to burn the city to the ground and kill all of its inhabitants. Subsequently, Ra's declares himself "Ra's al Ghul", the "Demon's Head."

Note: Batman: Birth of the Demon provides a rough figure of 500 years for Ra's al Ghul's age. Due to living so long, he is assumed to have lost track of how old he is. Azrael #6 (July 1995; written by Dennis O'Neil) places Ra's age closer to 450 years. As he tells Jean Paul Valley, "I appear to be a vigorous fifty. I am actually a very vigorous four hundred and forty-eight...or is it four hundred and fifty-three? I lost count during the Black Plague. No matter." In Batman Annual #25 (published in 2006), Ra's al Ghul is described as a "700-Year Old International Terrorist."

Using the Lazarus Pits to extend his life, Ra's spends the next several centuries journeying the world. He fights in the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution and becomes a formidable warrior.

As the world entered the modern age and industrialization began to cover much of the Earth, Ra's grew to despise humanity, who he believed were destroying the world's natural beauty, thus setting him on a path of eco-terrorism. Also during this time, Ra's, his uncle, and the boy who freed him from the sultan are all using the Lazarus Pits to prolong their lives until an incident in London. Ra's catches the boy writing his own memoirs in their original language, of which Ra's has forbidden all records. During a battle, Ra's kills the boy and flees to a Lazarus Pit, which he uses. When he returns to their home in London, his uncle has vanished with the remnants of their historical records.

Over time, he becomes a master of many forms of combat, notably fencing. He also builds up vast wealth and creates The Demon, a huge international organization. According to Justice League of America (1st series) #94; "It has been whispered in the darkest places for 500 years that a cartel of criminals has slowly sucked its way into the rich veins of the Earth. Many are its names spit from the mouths of men, but most often it is cursed only as ...The Demon. It has a leader ... a Head." The League of Assassins, one of the many smaller organizations making up The Demon, is thus sometimes called "The Demon's Fang" or "Demonfang."

Ra's comes dangerously close to realizing his dream of worldwide genocide in the "Contagion" story arc of the Batman titles. His organization unleashes a deadly virus known as Ebola Gulf A (a.k.a. "The Clench") in Gotham City, putting Batman in conflict with a force he seemingly cannot defeat. A cure is eventually located by Batman and his allies, though the mastermind behind the outbreak is not discovered until the follow-up story "Legacy".

Batman and his team circle the globe, preventing further outbreaks of the virus. Ra's allies himself with Bane, the man who once crippled and nearly killed Batman. Ra's considers Bane a potential heir to his empire, despite his daughter Talia's distaste for the criminal mastermind. Eventually, Batman deduces a way to eliminate the Clench virus from an ancient "Wheel of Plagues" artifact whose knowledge has aided Ra's in the creation of the disease.

In the "Tower of Babel" storyline, in JLA #43-46, Ra's discovers Batman's contingency plans for stopping the other members of the Justice League of America, should they turn or be turned evil, and uses them to try to destroy the group. Meanwhile, Ra's steals the bodies of Batman's parents. This theft prevents Batman from realizing Ra's is using his traps until it is too late, as he is distracted by the search for the corpses of his parents.

Though defeated, Ra's does cause the exit of Batman from the JLA, who now distrust the Caped Crusader. Though some of the League resent Batman's plans, they agree that the plans were created for the right reasons.

Talia, disillusioned with her father, leaves the League to run LexCorp for former U.S. President Lex Luthor, before selling the company to Bruce Wayne for his Wayne Foundation to aid Batman and Superman's victory over Luthor. Ra's blames Batman for his failed relationship with Talia, and stages a plot where he tries to separate Batman from his heir, Dick Grayson, shortly before Wayne officially adopts his former ward as his son. The plan fails, and Wayne and Grayson go ahead with the adoption.

Ra's is also featured in Birds of Prey #31-35, where he has a romantic fling with the Black Canary. The superheroine is injured and healed in the Lazarus Pit, which also restores the Canary Cry she lost years earlier.

In Death and the Maidens (2004), Ra's' other daughter, Nyssa Raatko, furious at her father for abandoning her in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, begins plotting to destroy him, prompting Ra's to contact Batman to make a deal for access to a Lazarus Pit to give him the strength for a final confrontation with Nyssa; in exchange for the location of a Pit, Ra's provides Batman with a serum that will allow him to walk in the spirit world and speak with his parents. While Batman experiences his "vision", Nyssa befriends Talia and then kidnaps and brainwashes her. Nyssa plots to destroy all hope and optimism in the world by assassinating Superman with Kryptonite bullets she steals from the Batcave. While Batman stops Nyssa from killing Superman, he is unable to stop her from mortally injuring her father. A dying Ra's reveals that this is all part of his greater plan to ensure that his daughters will realize that he is correct in his perceptions about the world and what needs to be done to it, and that they would come to accept their destinies as his heirs. Ra's' plan works: both Nyssa and Talia become the heads of The Demon and the League of Assassins. Talia disavows her love for Bruce Wayne, and both sisters declare Batman their enemy. It is too late for Ra's, as Nyssa stabs her father through the heart, seemingly killing him for good. To ensure Ra's will not return, Batman oversees his nemesis' cremation.

In Batman Annual #26, Talia is prompted to read the history of Ra's al Ghul to her son Damian by a mysterious figure from Ra's' past: the White Ghost. Unbeknownst to her, the White Ghost plans to use Damian as a vessel for Ra's' return. However, mother and son escape before the plan is completed. After the escape, Batman confronts the White Ghost; he fights Batman, but accidentally falls into a Lazarus Pit.

As of Batman #670 Ra's al Ghul has returned, having evaded death by transferring his consciousness into the body of another. Because his host body is decaying from radiation poisoning, he needs to transfer his mind into another host body. His first choice is that of his grandson Damian Wayne, but Damian escaped to alert his father, Batman.

Upon taking Ra's to a "Fountain of Essence," which contains the qualities of a Lazarus Pit, Batman is confronted with the sight of the Sensei, who is revealed to be Ra's' father. After defeating Ra's, Sensei fights and impales Batman with a cane. Determined to win, Batman drags the Sensei into the Fountain, where he is killed for not being a pure soul. Ra's, meanwhile, has taken over the body of a Nanda Parbat monk and departs. Healed by the Fountain, Batman emerges and yells for Ra's.

Ra's attempts to make amends with Batman after his resurrection, but Batman responds by crushing his decaying fingers. Ra's accepts this latest rebuke and, with the help of his men, overpowers Batman and captures Damian, who has arrived to try to help his father. Ra's attempts to take over Damian, but Batman breaks free just as Robin, Talia, Alfred Pennyworth, and Nightwing arrive to save him. While the battle ensues at Nanda Parbat, the White Ghost takes Ra's to a secluded place, where the terrorist appears to accept the fact that his death is inevitable. The White Ghost is revealed as Ra's' estranged, albino son Dusan, and offers up his own body instead. Ra's performs the transfer of souls, but the White Ghost apparently dies soon afterward. Ra's resumes the battle and attempts to kill Batman, but the monks at Nanda Parbat stop him and banish him from the temple.

Following his resurrection, Ra's al Ghul, in his new body, moves his base of operations to Gotham City where it is revealed that a remnant of his son Dusan's consciousness still remains within him. Since the White Ghost was his son, Ra's was able to use the resemblance between them to modify his new body's appearance to be more like his own. This arrogance contributes to the brazen move to Gotham and a subsequent ninja attack on Batman, which indirectly leads to the discovery of a map of all the known Lazarus Pit locations across the globe.

Batman then infiltrates Ra's al Ghul's new Gotham penthouse headquarters and easily defeats his horde of ninjas and Ra's himself. To ensure Ra's is not a constant threat within Gotham City, Batman comes up with the false identity of "Terry Gene Kase," and plants it along with credible photos, medical records, and police records for both Blackgate Penitentiary and Arkham Asylum. Batman takes an unconscious Ra's directly to Arkham where it is believed he really is the prisoner "Terry Gene Kase," a criminal with multiple personality disorder who has just been transferred to Arkham to finish out multiple life sentences.

Along with attaching false information and a false identity to Ra's al Ghul's file, Batman attaches a false prescription of potent medication that ensures slurred speech and next to zero mobility. Despite these precautions, Ra's eventually escapes when the orderlies miss his dosage once, which allows him to become conscious enough to escape from Arkham.

Ra's realized that Batman has apparently died after Darkseid's invasion during Final Crisis. After confronting Nightwing with his knowledge, he and the hero eventually duel with swords. Nightwing defeats Ra's and earns the immortal's respect, signified by leaving his sword in the Batcave as a gift after their fight. Ra's refuses to believe his enemy's passing despite the evidence, leading him to be involved in the Red Robin's (Tim Drake) quest concerning the fate of the original Dark Knight.

After Drake finds proof that Wayne is still alive but lost in time after his battle with Darkseid, the former Boy Wonder cripples Ra's' terrorist organization, the League of Assassins, from within. In response, Ra's returns to Gotham to begin his attack to destroy every legacy of the Wayne Family. While his men target everyone close to the Waynes, Ra's makes a pact with Hush as part of his plans. Unknown to both men, Bruce Wayne has already named Tim as his heir prior to his disappearance, leaving him in control of the Wayne Family resources.

Enraged, Ra's then engages Tim Drake in combat which ends with Tim mocking Ra's that there's nothing he can do to harm the Bat Family anymore, to which Ra's smiles and says "Well done... Detective" (a name he has only ever reserved for Batman). He then proceeds to kick him out of a skyscraper window and retreats from the battle. Later in seclusion, Ra's reveals everything which happened was a test for Tim Drake, from the League, the Council, the Men of Death, and the plot against Bruce Wayne.

Learning of Bruce Wayne's return, Ra's muses that his next confrontation with the Detective will be particularly interesting as he believes that Batman has at last had a taste of the immortality that Ra's himself enjoys.

As to his powers and abilities, due to his expanded life span, Ra's has accumulated a vast knowledge of hand-to-hand combat, chemistry, detective artistry, physics, and martial arts, all of which rival that of Batman. He has also gained many international contacts and a vast fortune, gained over centuries. When in combat, he favors more ancient weaponry, as he has had more time to utilize them than more modern weaponry. These weapons include scimitars, katanas, bolas, throwing stars, smoke pellets, and miniaturized explosives.

Ra's' greatest tools are his Lazarus Pits, which will heal him of any injury, even if he is recently dead, while restoring him back to his prime of life. His constant exposure to the pits has granted him slightly enhanced endurance, strength, and healing but also comes with the price of a gradual onset of insanity if overused.

So, how's the figure? Really excellent. I'm truly pleased to be adding this prominent Batman adversary to my DC Universe collection.

Ra's al Ghul is a fairly normal-looking human, although he does have a rather distinctive hairstyle. It starts with a pointed tip on the forehead, and is brushed back. Prominent waves of hair above his ears give him a not-quite-Wolverine hairstyle. He has rather thick eyebrows, and two tufts of hair on either side of his jaw. Curious way to grow a very slight beard, but it's certain;y unique.

The headsculpt is excellent, although the face looks a little long and narrow. I've noticed this with several recent DC sculpts, including on the forthcoming Superboy figure, one of a sadly small handful of figures coming out in 2014. I am assuming that this is simply the style of whichever member of the Four Horsemen studios is handling the headsculpts at the moment for the DC line. I'm not saying it's a bad sculpt. In fact it's very good, as one would expect from the Four Horsemen. But it does have a certain "look" to it, a certain style, that works better on some characters than others. On Ra's al Ghul, it's not bad. Superboy? I'm not so sure. We'll see when the figure is actually released.

Ra's has black hair, although in the comics he is frequently portrayed with gray temples. This figure only has a slight indication of this. It is there, but it's very subtle. So -- why knows? Maybe he just got out of a Lazarus Pit and is particularly youthful. Or Talia gave him some "Just For Men" hair color for Christmas...

The painted details on the head are superb. The hair, the eyes, very neatly done. No complaints there whatsoever.

Ra's isn't one for wearing a spandex costume. Although he has been shown in a variety of outfits over the years, and tends towards a certain aristocratic elegance much of the time, he's best known for wearing a fairly straightforward dark green suit with a green cape. Must be getting his fashion tips from Doctor Doom...

The figure is wearing a green business suit, a rather dark olive green. This is based on a set of molds that has seen multiple use within the DC Universe Classics line, to one degree or another, and has turned up on characters such as Two-Face, Sandman, Phantom Stranger, and others.

The main body part of the coat is essentially a "vest" that fits over the main body of the figure, and the arms of the figure represent the sleeves of the coat. This is a fairly common practice for action figures from a variety of lines that are wearing coats, jackets, or robes. Sometimes it works well, sometimes not so much. In Ra's' case, it works extremely well.

Ra's' shirt, under the coat, is a light gray, and he is wearing a necktie, interestingly enough a separately molded piece secured at the collar. The necktie is a burgundy-brown in color.

Ra's' trousers are the same color as his coat, and he is wearing black shoes, which have been given a nice glossy finish. The shoes are superbly detailed, right down to the laces.

Keeping Ra's from looking like just a businessman in a suit is the distinctive cape. It's a somewhat lighter shade of green than the suit, and has a high, upturned collar. It appears held in place by a gold chain around the neck, although the cape is actually attached high on the back.

There aren't really a lot of painted details on the figure. Apart from the head, the only painted details are the necktie, chain, and shoes. The hands are molded in the proper flesh tone, and are not painted. Also, the buttons on the front of the coat have been painted a glossy green, roughly the same shade as the coat itself, just with a glossy finish.

This may sound relatively minimal, and perhaps it is, but no one ever said that Ra's was an especially flashy individual. He doesn't really need to be.

The figure is of course superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles. The figure lacks the typical mid-torso articulation, but that would have been hindered by the coat anyway, so it's not a big loss.

Ra's al Ghul comes with a fancy sword for an accessory, very nicely designed with a gold handle and a silver blade, and is certainly indicative of Ra's' preferred personal weaponry.

I would also like to commend the artist who prepared the painted illustration for the package. The vast majority of these paintings have been outstanding throughout the Signature Series, and this one is certainly no exception.

So, what's my final word? I sincerely lament the fact that Club Infinite Earths did not receive enough subscriptions to extend into 2014. I lament even more the fact that even though we are getting four figures during 2014, Mattel has announced that this will be the end of the line. There is so much more that can -- and should -- be done with these superb figures, which I truly believe to be the finest DC super-hero figures ever. And I'm not seeing anything on the horizon that look anywhere near as impressive.

As such, we need to enjoy and appreciate what there is while it still exists. Ra's al Ghul is a great entry into this line. He's a very prominent character in Batman's corner of the DC Universe, and has had an impact elsewhere, as well. Certainly he deserves this figure, and Mattel did a really outstanding job with him. I'm very pleased with him, and I believe any DC Universe and/or Batman fan will be similarly pleased.

The DC UNIVERSE SIGNATURE SERIES figure of RA'S AL GHUL definitely has my highest recommendation!