Monday, December 9, 2019

BATMAN #335

"ASHES TO ASHES!"
Writer: Marv Wolfman | Artists: Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin
Colorist: Adrienne Roy | Letterer: Ben Oda | Editor: Paul Levitz

"The Lazarus Affair" -- and our overall look at Batman in the Seventies -- concludes with the May, 1981 issue of BATMAN. On Infinity Island, the Caped Crusader is offered a chance to join Ra's al Ghul, and -- after weighing the options -- he agrees.

But of course, Batman is bluffing. The funny thing is that everyone goes along with this in their own ways, but they all know it's a sham. Ra's al Ghul welcomes Batman into the family and sends him off with Talia for a tour of the island, then confides in his chief scientist that he knows Batman's agreement is insincere. Robin puts on a show of feeling betrayed, but secretly receives hand signals from Batman that let him know the Dark Knight is simply buying time. Even King Farady, who throws a punch at Batman over his betrayal, does it for show, as he also catches the hand signals, and even though he doesn't know what they mean, he understands this is a ruse.

So surely Batman, the world's greatest detective, must realize that no one believes him. Yet for whatever reason, everybody plays along... until they decided they're finished. For al Ghul, it happens when Talia escorts Batman into a room containing the Lazarus Pit. He decides at this point to go beat Batman up and turn him into a mutate. For Robin, Faraday, and Catwoman, it happens after they've been escorted back to the slave mines. Robin randomly decides that Batman needs them, so the group breaks free -- again -- and returns to the dome -- again -- to help Batman. From a story perspective, none of this seems to make any sense. We could've jumped straight from the opening page to al Ghul knocking Batman out and his friends fighting on his behalf -- but Wolfman needs to squeeze in some exposition, so he uses Batman's transparent ploy to work it in.


Specifically, we get al Ghul explaining that Infinity Island is the home of the original Lazarus Pit, and that Bruce Wayne owns it -- something Batman was unaware of, but which al Ghul says was the means by which he initially discovered Wayne was actually Batman. Which seems like a bizarre and unnecessary ret-con, but whatever. At least it's harmless. However, Wolfman also reveals that al Ghul's repeated attempts to marry Batman and Talia never had anything to do with his wanting Batman to eventually take over the family business and/or produce an heir -- rather, instead, per Wolfman's dialogue for al Ghul, the Demon simply wanted to add Bruce Wayne's assets to his portfolio. He wanted Talia to marry Bruce and spy on him for her father, with the eventual goal of al Ghul absorbing all of Wayne's various businesses and resources into his own organization.

I can't say I like this motivation realignment at all. Previously, al Ghul saw Batman as a worthy rival and therefore the only person who could carry on as the leader of the League of Assassins. He still deems Batman worthy here, but the idea that he never had any interest in him as a person, and only wanted him for his wealth and resources, completely undermines Denny O'Neil's original version of the character. On the plus side, at least, Talia does say that even though she was originally on board with her dad's plan, she did actually come to love Bruce Wayne.


But for good or ill, this is where Wolfman leaves his final word on Ra's al Ghul, as the remainder of the story is all-out action, culminating in the Demon perishing in his own Lazarus Pit as Infinity Island explodes. (Though some quick internet research reveals al Ghul was back in action literally a year later in 1982's BATMAN ANNUAL... you'd think they might have wanted to let him rest for a while after such a monumental finale here!)

The issue features an epilogue in Bruce's penthouse, where we learn that Catwoman has departed and Talia is leaving as well. Bruce and Dick make amends over their previous arguments, and head outside to enjoy the weather. Somehow, even though the serious would of course continue the very next month, this feels like a good place to call the "end" of the 1970s/Bronze Age Batman. Perhaps it's because, even though he had a relatively few number of appearances overall, Ra's al Ghul is basically the definitive villain of the Bat-decade. His stories are among the best in the O'Neil/Adams canon, and his plotlines carry all the way through the seventies -- further visited by Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, O'Neil himself again, and Marv Wolfman -- as really the only major continuing threads across all those multiple writers.

Which is why, even though for Batman the seventies ended a while back, I decided to plug along into 1981 before wrapping this project up. And it was a lot of fun all the way through, too. Of course, I had the benefit of only reading things that have been collected by DC, which means that most of the dreck was never anywhere near this project -- because, like any decade in the life of any superhero, Batman's seventies were hit-and-miss.

I'm sure I'll return to the Darknight Detective again someday... I still really, really want to read the three-year run on BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS written by Gerry Conway, which basically started up right after this Wolfman run ended -- but that feels like a different chapter in Batman's life... a new "novel", so to speak. Which means that for now, I'm content to let the Batman rest, and move on to other things.

2 comments:

  1. You've successfully completed your reviews on the 1970s "Batman" comics run.

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    1. Yes, I have!

      (Or have I...?! Stay tuned next week!)

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