Ra's al Ghul, sometimes written Rā's al Ghūl, is a DC Comics supervillain and an enemy of Batman. His name is Arabic for "head of the demon". Created by writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams, he was introduced in Batman #232's "Daughter of the Demon" (June 1971). He has also come into conflict with Superman and other DC Comics superheroes.
Little is known of the early years of the nearly immortal Ra's, but it is accepted that he has lived for many centuries due to the Lazarus Pits' mysterious brews that restore his youth. A brilliant master of strategy and organization, Ra's al Ghul's goal is to save the Earth from ecological devastation by destroying most of its population. He recognizes Batman as both a worthy foe and a possible ally—except that Batman cannot accept his dystopian worldview. Batman also shares a love-hate relationship with Ra's daughter, the beautiful Talia. Ra's also commands a legion of followers dedicated to bringing his version of an earthly paradise to fruition.
Ra's al Ghul is an international terrorist and assassin whose ultimate goal is a world in perfect environmental balance. He believes that the best method by which this can be achieved 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 hundred years.
He considers Batman his worthiest opponent, 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. Ra's usually refers to Batman as 'Detective', possibly in recognition of his formidable mental prowess, and the intellectual battles in which they engage, as opposed to Batman's traditional physical conflict. For his own part, Batman's opposition to Ra's is complicated by his love for the villain's daughter, Talia.
Ra's is often accompanied by a loyal manservant, Ubu.
Ra's al Ghul's early life and exact age are somewhat difficult to recount by writers. The current, in continuity, 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 is born over six hundred years before his first appearance in Batman comics, to a tribe of desert nomads 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 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 ruler of the city, 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 king of the city. 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 ruler of the city 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 raze the city to the ground and kill all of its inhabitants. Subsequently, Ra's declares himself 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 assumes to have lost track of how old he is. However, Azrael #6 (July 1995; written by Dennis O'Neil) places Ra's age closer to 450 years. "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." - Ra's al Ghul to Jean Paul Valley.
However, in 'Batman Annual 25' (published in 2006), Ra's Al Ghul is described as a "700-Year Old International Terrorist".
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. During this time, Ra's, his uncle, and the boy 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 vast 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".
Contagion and Legacy
Ra's returns to prominence and 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."
Learning that the Demon's Head still lives, 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. The immortal madman again eludes justice, however.
JLA: Tower of Babel
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 Leaguers 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 adopted 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. Black Canary is injured and healed in the Lazarus Pit, which also restores her Canary Cry that she lost years earlier.
Death and the Maidens
In Batman: Death and the Maidens (2004), Nyssa Raatko, furious at her father for abandoning her in a concentration camp during World War II, begins plotting to destroy him. 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. However, 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 the Teen Titans storyline "Titans Tomorrow", the Titans are transported into the future, where a future Bette Kane mentions a deal with Ra's to use the Lazarus Pits. Whether this indicates Ra's' eventual return or a successor is unknown.
The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul
- Main article: Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul
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.
Upon taking Ra's to a "Fountain of Essence," which contains the qualities of a Lazarus Pit, Batman is confronted with the sight of Sensei, who is revealed to be Ra's father. (Batman #671, January 2008) 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, overpower Batman and capture Damian, who has arrived to try and 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. However, the White Ghost, revealed to be Ra's estranged, albino son Dusan al Ghul, offers up his own body instead. Ra's performs the transfer of souls, but the White Ghost dies soon afterward. Ra's resumes the battle and attempts to kill Batman, but is stopped by the monks at Nanda Parbat, who instead banish him from the temple.
Detective Comics #840 details the aftermath of The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul storyline. 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. This arrogance attributes 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 schizophrenic prisoner "Terry Gene Kase" 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.
After some time being locked inside Arkham, an asylum orderly fails to give al Ghul a single dose of the drug. Ra's regains his mind, body, and mobility. Using this regained strength, Ra's escapes from Arkham and is currently on the loose somewhere in Gotham.
Powers and Abilities
- Lazarus Enhancement: Ra's al Ghul has lived for several centuries thanks to his use of Lazarus Pits, which he has utilitzed countless times, replenishing his aged, injured, or even dead body. As a side effect to numerous exposures to the pits, his strength, speed, stamina, agility, and durability has been enhanced.
- Longevity: He has extended lifespan through the use of the Lazarus Pit.
- Genius-Level Intellect: Ra's possesses a genius level intellect with aptitudes in a wide variety of sciences and medicine, particularly in the field of alchemy.
- Leadership: He is the indisputable leader of the League of Assassins, one of the largest and most dangerous organizations of all time, whose agents are willing to sacrifice themselves for their master.
- Master Strategist and Tactician: He is a brilliant tactician, planning his exploits many months even years in advance.
- Master Swordsman
- Master Martial Artist: expertise in at least 100 different fighting styles.
- Medical Science
- Multi-Lingual: He's able to speak Arabic, French, Greek, Latin, English, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, Urdu, multiple Indian languages and possibly more.
- Vast Resources: Over the centuries, Ra's has gained many international contacts and a vast fortune.
- Weapon Master: He has more than two centuries of experience using old and modern weapons. When in combat he favors the old-world weapons such as katana, European swords, polearms, and axes.
- In the graphic novel Son of the Demon, Ra's successfully enlists Batman's aid in defeating a rogue assassin and warlord, Qayin (a variation on the spelling of Cain), who has murdered Ra's' then-wife Melisande (Talia's mother). During this storyline, Batman marries Talia and she becomes pregnant. Batman is nearly killed protecting Talia from the assassin's agents. In the end, Talia ends her relationship with Batman, unwilling to put him in danger. She claims to have miscarried and the marriage is dissolved. The child is eventually born and left at an orphanage (eventually taking the name Ibn al Xu'ffasch). The only identification provided is Talia's jewel-encrusted necklace, which once belonged to Talia's mother. Two Elseworlds stories, Kingdom Come and Brotherhood of the Bat, feature versions of Ibn as an adult, coming to terms with his dual heritage. A recent appearance of a child (under the name Damian) in an issue of Batman implies that this policy may have changed.
- Ra's (or at least a clone) has previously been revealed as alive in the 30th century setting of Legion of Super-Heroes, impersonating Leland McCauley.
- In the first Superman & Batman: Generations series, created by John Byrne, Batman tracks Ra's al Ghul after passing the mantle on to his son. Ra's offers Batman a chance at immortality, having discovered a means of attaining truly eternal life, without the ensuing madness, from one Lazarus Pit: Two souls enter and the Pit destroys one while imbuing the other with youth and immortality. Batman survives and uses Ra's' criminal empire to set up an anti-crime information network. He also becomes a virtual immortal, aging one year for every century.
- In the second Spider-Man/Batman crossover book (considered an Elseworlds story), Ra's begins plans for worldwide devastation. He manipulates the Kingpin to his side by infecting the crime lord's wife Vanessa with cancer and promising him the cure in return for his allegiance. Ra's then orders him to press the button on his machines which would send New York City under the ocean. Ultimately, Spider-Man and Batman interfere and the Kingpin reveals that he knows Ra's' plans and allows the two heroes to board his plane so they can assist him. Defeated, Ra's bows out of the plan gracefully but claims that there is no cure for the cancer. Vanessa convinces her husband that she wishes no further violence, and they leave. Talia soon gives the cure to Batman, who then gives it to Spider-Man, who passes it on to the Kingpin.
- In Captain Carrot and the Final Ark, Ra's is parodied as Rash Al Paca, an alpaca who plans to save the environment from "animalkind" by increasing global warming and flooding the planet.
The father of Ra's al Ghul, Sensei is considered a a highly skilled martial artist having trained a great number of the League of Assassins. After being thought dead following a previous battle with Ra's, Sensei returned and revealed his true connection with Ra's. He views his son as a failure who continues to live like a cockroach.
In Batman: Death and the Maidens (2004) by Greg Rucka, it is revealed that while traveling in Russia in the 18th century, Ra's fathers a child named Nyssa Raatko. Enamored of Ra's' romantic stories of her mother, Nyssa sets out to find her father and eventually locates him at his headquarters in North Africa. Impressed by her beauty, her warrior skills, and the fact that "she was able to locate him," he promotes her to a high position within his organization. Ra's is so impressed with her abilities that he even allows Nyssa to use his Lazarus Pits; Nyssa finds a means of making the Lazarus Pits reusable (previously, each could only be used once).
Nyssa eventually becomes disillusioned with Ra's ideals and methods and disassociates herself from her father sometime in the 18th century. Ra's reluctantly approves this with the idea that she would return to him and that she and/or her children would become his future heirs. To his disappointment, Nyssa refuses to give herself or her family to Ra's; he retaliates by disowning her. During World War II, Nyssa and her family are sent to a concentration camp, where she is rendered infertile by gruesome Mengele-esque experiments, as the rest of her family is exterminated. Ra's, who is temporarily allied to the Nazis, abandons her and her family. Nyssa begins plotting her revenge, which comes to fruition years later.
In Robin: One Year Later, it is revealed that Cassandra Cain, the former Batgirl, has assassinated Nyssa and then taken over the League of Assassins.
Talia al Ghul is also Ra's' daughter and accompanies him for many years. With the recent loss of her sister, she has apparently taken control of The Demon. In Batman: Son of the Demon (1987), Talia's mother was said to have been murdered by Qayin, a terrorist, back in the late 1940s. As explained by Talia in Batman: Birth of the Demon (1992), Ra's had met a woman of mixed Chinese and Arab ancestry at Woodstock. Talia is the result of that union.
Damian Wayne Ra's grandson, and the son of Talia and Batman. He is also the current Robin.
Ra's' only known son. He is born with the name Dusan al Ghul but because he was an albino Ra's called him "the failed one" and kept him alive only out of pity. Dusan sacrifices his body in order to ensure his father's life. After his son's death, Ra's wishes he had treated Dusan far better as he was the only child who remained loyal to him.
Involvement with Batman
After Talia encounters and falls in love with Batman in Detective Comics #411 (May 1971), Ra's begins to consider Batman as a possible heir. Ra's first deduces Batman's secret identity when he realizes that the Dark Knight has to be rich, and learns that only Bruce Wayne has bought the equipment that a crime fighter would have; he is then ready to put Batman to a final test.
Ra's surprises Batman in the Batcave, seemingly to enlist Batman's aid in rescuing both Talia and Dick Grayson, the first Robin, both of whom have apparently been kidnapped. Batman soon discovers that the whole affair is a charade orchestrated by Ra's to test Batman, which he passes. Ra's asks that Batman become his heir, which Batman refuses, appalled by his genocidal plan to "cleanse" the world.
From that point forward, Ra's al Ghul and Batman are mortal enemies, even though they respect each other as adversaries. Of all Batman's enemies, Ra's is probably unique in that he respects Batman's intellectual abilities more than his physical ones, as shown by his constant referral to Batman as "Detective."
In the story "Resurrection Night" in Batman #400, Ra's helps all of Batman's foes to escape from Arkham Asylum and the Gotham State Penitentiary, setting them on a plan to abduct certain individuals across Gotham City who are linked in one form or another to Batman. However, Ra's' true intent is to show Batman the folly of his efforts to protect a corrupt society that, to his mind, allows criminals to exist and flourish. Ra's eventually uses the Pit while still healthy, both increasing his strength and putting his life at risk, in an attempt to outmatch the Dark Knight. The plan backfires, as Ra's is left withering in the pit, seemingly destroyed.
In Other Media
Ra's al Ghul appeared in animation, movies, and games, each time as an antagonist to Batman.
DC Animated Universe
Ra's al Ghul was voiced by David Warner in the DC Animated Universe. That marked the character's first appearance in media other than the comic books.
- In Batman: The Animated Series, Ra's al Ghul first appeared at the very end of "Off Balance". That set the stage for subsequent appearances — each as the episode's villain — in the two-part episode "The Demon's Quest", and adapted his attempts from the comic to make Batman his heir and then to cleanse the world of humanity, "Avatar", where he made an attempt at true immortality, and "Showdown", where he related a long-ago battle with Jonah Hex, who also battled Ra's deranged son, Arkady Duvall (voiced by Malcolm McDowell).
- In Superman: The Animated Series episode, "The Demon Reborn", Ra's attempted to steal Superman's power.
- Ra's also appeared, after a fashion, in the Batman Beyond episode, "Out of the Past", where he possessed his daughter, Talia.
DC Universe Animated Original Movies
- Ra's al Ghul was a supporting character in the animated film, Batman: Under the Red Hood, and was voiced by Jason Issacs. At some point prior to the film, Ra's had planned to topple the economy in Europe, but realized that Batman was on to his plans. Ra's ultimately hired The Joker to act as a distraction for Batman and the second Robin, Jason Todd, in Bosnia while he conducted his plan. However, Ra's ultimately regretted hiring the Joker in the first place when he learned that Joker not only abducted Robin, but also tortured and ultimately murdered him. Attempting to make amends with Batman, Ra's and his faction secretly stole Jason's corpse, replaced it with a dummy, and planned to revive him via the Lazarus Pit. Unfortunately, that resulted in unpleasant side effects when Jason was apparently driven insane by the revival, with him seemingly falling to his death before Ra's and his men could stop him. Five years later, Ra's was paid a visit by Batman and restrained, although he told Batman to unhand him and let him call off his guards (as Batman didn't disable his palace's alarm systems beforehand). True to his word, Ra's called off the guards, and then explained what had transpired in the past after he learned not only of Jason's survival, but also his new activities in Gotham as the vigilante known as The Red Hood. Ra's also ordered his men not to pursue Batman, and felt that he had already "meddled enough." Ra's was last seen in the ending, where he was on a plane watching the news of Joker's incarceration in the aftermath of Red Hood's fight with Batman with remorse.
Justice League: The New Frontier
- Ra's al Ghul had a cameo appearance in the animated film. Justice League: The New Frontier. He was seen during the famous speech by President John F. Kennedy.
Animated TV shows
- In Young Justice, Ra's al Ghul worked with Lex Luthor to help two cities stop fighting, where the Light was their employer.
- In the Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Ra's al Ghul was voiced by Peter Woodward. He attempted to infect Coast City with mutated plants using his flying island, but was stopped by Robin, Aqualad, and Speedy. Ra's was interested in making Robin his heir, rather than Batman. In a different episode, he tried to launch an exploding rocket into the sun, which would flood the Earth in a matter of days. Ra's threw Batman into a pool of water with a giant man-eating squid but his daughter, Talia, saved him. Batman and Talia were later tied to the rocket, but were saved by the Green Lanterns of the JSA and the JLI. The Green Lantern from the JLI smashed the rocket after the other sliced the ropes that tied the hero and the daughter to the weapon. They glided to the roof of the tower where they noticed that Ra's waited to battle Batman. Soon, Ra's foot was tied to the tower that fell down to the deep dark snow, and he died.
- Ra's appeared as a villain in the Batman Begins Video Game based on the film.
- Ra's was the final boss and main villain in the 2003 video game, Batman: Dark Tomorrow.
- Main article: Ra's al Ghul (Arkhamverse)
- Main article: Ra's al Ghul (Lego Batman: The Videogame)