Neal Adams is a legend in the comic book industry, having helped defined Batman in the 1970s and created the iconic villain Ra’s al Ghul, who was later popularized in other media, from Batman: The Animated Series to, of course, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, where he was portrayed in two films by Oscar winner Liam Neeson. So, when I found out the artist who helped create the character would be returning to draw him in a new miniseries called Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul, I was cautiously optimistic. Having read Batman: Odyssey, I knew that might have been overly generous, but I couldn’t help but admire Adams’ tenacity. Judging from recent interviews with him, this was going to be a kind of continuation of his work with Deadman and the aforementioned Odyssey, even if the latter didn’t work as he had hoped. Unfortunately, based on Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul #1, this latest entry in the battles of the Bat and the Demon’s Head does little to improve Adams’ recent Batman exploits.
In Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul #1, Gotham City is on the edge of chaos far more than usual, and Batman is in over his head as he tries to help Gotham’s citizens. The comic goes back and forth between that story a newscaster as we discover how Gotham got into its current state, the result of terrorists taking advantage of the Justice League repelling a Kryptonian invasion. Things escalate to the point where Gordon is willing to allow Ra’s al Ghul’s forces to assist in getting Gotham back on track, something about which Batman isn’t pleased. Things keep getting worse and culminate in one of the laziest twists I’ve read in a Bat book in a long time. I won’t spoil it here, but needless to say, it did next to nothing to make me want to read the next issue in this series.
To say Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul #1 goes off the rails quickly is an understatement. While I usually love it when a story starts in medias res, it really doesn’t work here. Gotham in decay is nothing new, and I’m all for seeing the citizens trying to cope with living in a city that is continuously on a “knife’s edge,” as Don Falcone put it in the pilot episode of Fox’s Gotham. That being said, it just doesn’t seem to be very cohesive with this story. It sometimes feels as though Adams is throwing a couple of story ideas at the wall without having a decent narrative to build around them, as he bounces from one idea to the next and doesn’t leave the reader much time to figure out what going on (something that wouldn’t be an issue if the book were better written). Bits of Adams’ dialogue, particularly when Gordon tells Batman he’s only one man as an excuse to bring in Ra’s, don’t seem to match up with things that happen later in the issue, and I don’t understand what Adams was trying to do with this story. It would be one thing if we were seeing a stripped-down version of Batman protecting Gotham on his own, a la the early episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, but since the extended Batman family is in the mix in Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul, trying to argue that Batman needs Ras’s’ help is a bit overkill and just serves as a way for two of the best characters in comics to interact in the most contrived way possible. There seems to be an “anything goes” mentality about this story that doesn’t do much to service the characters or the mythology of Gotham City. At the very least, I suppose fans can take solace in the fact that there are a few good things about the issue, most notably the coloring; I’m not usually one to focus on this aspect, but I have to admit that, based on the way the cover just sticks out and instantly made me want to check it out. If only the story between the covers was up to the standards of this comic book legend.
It’s difficult to argue that Adams hasn’t earned the right to do whatever he wants in the DC Universe. Aside from his work on Batman in the wake of the ’66 TV series, he’s also provided a haven for artists between gigs called Continuity Studios and has helped to ensure Superman creators Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster were credited for his work on the Blue Boy Scout. As a result, when he pulls double duty as both writer and artist, I’m always intrigued, not only because such things are a rarity in American comics, but also because it’s great to see this icon still doing what loves after all these years. So it pains me to see his recent work has been somewhat slipping, and Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul #1 is another example of that. I know a lot of fans think that this is now the new normal for the comic industry veteran, but I strongly feel that we need to expect more from these creators, regardless of their past work. There’s a reason a character like Batman has been around for as long as he has; a lot of that has to do with people like Adams coming in and doing their own take, almost as if the character is merely a summation of an 80-year-long debate amongst industry titans as they delineate who the Dark Knight is. Yet what was initially one of the greatest voices in comics has now begun to talk in circles without a clear direction, or at least a direction discernible to readers.
Despite some great coloring, Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul #1 is another haphazard chapter of Adams’ career. I don’t know what he intends to say with this miniseries, and this issue does next to nothing to make me want to find out. Whenever Adams writes a new story, I’ll always check it out, so here’s hoping his future work will be a lot more like his earlier work and a lot less like Batman vs. Ras al Ghul.