Tue
May 7 2013 2:00pm

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: “The Demon’s Quest: Part 1 & 2”

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: The Demon's Quest Part 1 and 2

The Demon’s Quest, Part 1”
Written by Dennis O’Neil
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Episode #059
Music Composed by Michael McCuistion
Animation by Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co.
Original Airdate—May 3rd, 1993

Plot: Robin disappears, and mystery man Ra’s al Ghul walks into the Batcave, telling Batman he can lead him to the man who took the Boy Wonder and Ra’s’s daughter, Talia.

Let’s talk about Dennis O’Neil for a minute.

If you’ve enjoyed basically any Batman story in the last 40 years, you can thank Denny O’Neil. It was O’Neil who, in the wake of the 1960s TV series, redefined Batman as a vengeance-fueled obsessive crime fighting machine. He’s the one who reintroduced the Joker as a homicidal maniac in “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge” (which was partial inspiration for “The Laughing Fish” episode). His version inspired Frank Miller and it was O’Neil who hired Miller to create The Dark Knight Returns. And in the ‘90s, O’Neil was the Group Editor of the Batman family of titles, overseeing storylines from A Death in the Family to Knightfall and No Man’s Land.

(Additionally, O’Neil changed Green Arrow into a left-wing activist, put Jim Rhodes in the Iron Man armor, and named Optimus Prime. He also depowered Wonder Woman and put her in a white jump suit, so they can’t all be winners.)

And he created Ra’s al Ghul.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: The Demon's Quest Part 1 and 2

Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams introduced Ra’s al Ghul (Arabic for “the head of the demon”) in Batman #232, “The Daughter of the Demon,” which “The Demon’s Quest, Part 1” adapts almost word for word. Ra’s was a new kind of Batman villain. Even at their most powerful (looking at you, Clayface), most Batman villains have very basic motivations and goals: revenge, survival, greed. Ra’s al Ghul is the head of a large secret society who uses Lazarus Pits, special pools of chemicals that have kept him alive for 600 years. His goals are just much bigger, on a scale of remaking the world in his own image.

The usual comparison is to a Bond villain, and certainly that influence can be seen here. Part 1 follows the basic plot of a Bond film: our hero travels the globe from exotic location to exotic location before tackling the villain’s mountain lair, and the gun toting minions on skis are right out of The Spy Who Loved Me. But Ra’s also draws on a much older, and unfortunately much more racist, villain trope of the mysterious, semi-mystical, Oriental puppetmaster, such as Fu Manchu and, well, the Mandarin. Ra’s unfortunate facial hair doesn’t help matters.

What does help is David Warner, who provides Ra’s voice. Warner is a veteran of countless genre movies and shows (including a recent episode of Doctor Who) playing a range of characters, but as anyone who has seen “Chain of Command, Part 2” can tell you, when he’s evil he’s very, very evil indeed. He imbues each word with such cruel intelligence that you sense Ra’s pitiless disdain. Really, why hasn’t Warner shown up on Game of Thrones yet? He also seems to having a lot of fun, like he finds his grandiose dialogue delicious, and O’Neil keeps feeding him great lines like “I am he who is called Ra’s al Ghul.” Seriously, that’s how the suave motherfucker introduces himself after strolling into the Batcave like it ain’t no thing. I’m going to try that at my next party.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: The Demon's Quest Part 1 and 2

And as much as Ra’s is a departure for Batman villains in general, he fits right into the ethos of Batman: the Animated Series. Dark reflection of Batman? Check, especially when he wears his pointy eared Anubis mask and a cape. Surrogate father figure? Check. For a villain, Ra’s is incredibly supportive of Batman, constantly telling him how smart he is, how brave, how good. And finally, Ra’s gets dumped into a pool of green goo, only to emerge stronger, violent, and cackling his fool head off, which ties him directly to Batman’s other arch foe.

(Quickly, has anyone done a story revealing the toxic chemicals the Joker fell into was an attempt to create a Lazarus Pit? Because that would explain his madness, strength, and inability to die.)

Not that some changes haven’t been made to fit Ra’s into the show. The “League of Assassins” is changed into the “Society of Shadows.” And the magical nature of the Lazarus Pit is toned down. No more talk of leylines and earth goddesses. It’s just a naturally occurring spring of “unknown chemicals” that happens to revive the dying. We also have only Ra’s word to go on that he’s actually 600 years old, and Ra’s is not exactly reliable.

To get to the episode at hand, we immediately know that something’s off because we get a prologue before the title card. Then Ra’s simply walks into the Batcave and kicks off the plot. Ra’s deduced Batman identity in almost exactly the same way the Penguin found Batman’s mechanic, which implies basically anyone who’s interested could have found out who Batman really is.

It’s a good thing David Warner has such a great voice, because boy does Ra’s al Ghul talk. And talk. And talk. We only see the highlights, the moments of their trip interrupted by assassins and wildcats, but Batman must have spent hours with Ra’s flying from continent to continent. Did Ra’s spend the whole time personally blaming Batman for the destruction of the rainforest when he wasn’t remembering how his friend Napoleon told him this or how the Czar gave him that?

Batman show remarkable, possibly uncharacteristic, patience throughout the episode. Because he’s a detective, as Ra’s constantly points out, Batman knows from the beginning that the man in the green suit is the one responsible for the disappearance of the closest thing Batman has to a son. But instead of beating the truth out of Ra’s or dangling him off Gotham Tower, Batman resignedly plays along with Ra’s’s dumbshow until it’s revealed it is all one, long, extremely dangerous job interview.

Ra’s wants Batman to take over the Society of Shadows, and despite Batman’s immediate refusal, the show does a good job of showing why such an offer would be tempting. First of all, the Society is a giant resource which, added to Wayne Enterprises, could be used to reshape the world. Secondly, the Lazarus Pits mean Batman could continue his mission indefinitely, something that’s maybe more of a concern after last week’s brush with mortality. Third, Ra’s could step in as the father Batman lost, constantly reassuring him that he’s doing the right thing, that he’s making the world a better place, that Batman should be proud. And finally, there’s Talia.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: The Demon's Quest: Part 1 and 2

Where I have a problem with this episode is the treatment of Talia. In “Off Balance,” Talia was Batman’s equal, a badass spy who could make her own way out of a castle full of deathtraps. Here she’s a hiring bonus, bait Ra’s can dangle in front of Batman. The difference in characterization is obvious in her clothes. When she’s a super spy, she wears a black jumpsuit with a utility belt and a gun. Now she’s wearing silk pajamas with a cleavage window, bare midriff, waist high slits, and a crotch diamond. It’s possible her reduced power reflects her father’s stated sexism, as Ra’s believes only a man can take over for him (Poison Ivy would be pissed).

Visually, the episode is a treat. The action scenes are good, and better for building on what came before, so that each fight seems more difficult. But it’s really the little moments that sell the show. The way Ra’s has crazy eyes while watching Batman fight. Bruce’s genuine concern every time Ra’s has a coughing fit. How Talia sidles up to Bruce to get his attention, and ends up getting Robin’s instead. And finally, how Ra’s eyes glow red as he emerges from the Lazarus Pit, letting us know that Batman has stepped out of the frying pan, and into the fire.

 

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: The Demon's Quest Part 1 and 2

The Demon’s Quest, Part 2”
Story by Dennis O’Neil, Len Wein
Teleplay by Len Wein
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Episode #061
Music composed by Harvey R. Cohen
Animation by Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co.
Original Airdate—May 4th, 1993

Plot: Batman must infiltrate Ra’s al Ghul’s desert stronghold before al Ghul uses the Lazarus Pits to kill half the Earth

Boy, things really get crazy in the second half.

Whether that’s because Len Wein (who wrote “Off Balance”) takes over for script duties, or because this is a much looser adaptation of Batman #244, “The Demon Lives Again!”, than Part 1 was of Batman #232, or it’s simply natural for a slow burn to lead to a huge explosion, but the change in tone is obvious. Part 1 was a drawing room mystery (who kidnapped Robin?) disguised as a travelogue. Part 2 is a straight up pulp war story involving immortality pits, self-destructing bases, and a swordfight for the lives of billions. Part 2 just feels more epic than any episode we’ve seen so far.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: The Demon's Quest Part 1 and 2

Part of that is the raised stakes. Like I said earlier, Ra’s is playing at a different level than Batman’s other villains. Batman is usually trying to save one person at a time. And while we’ve seen mass attacks before, Ra’s tries to kill 1000 times more people than the population of Gotham. “Two-billion, fifty-six-million, nine-hundred and eighty-six thousand,” as he tells Batman. That he knows how many people he will kill sets Ra’s apart from the other villains. He knows the horrible consequences of his actions. He just doesn’t care.

Also adding to the epic feel is the rising action. My favorite director Kevin Altieri and Tokyo Movie Shinsha, who handle both halves of the story, really build to an explosive finale, with Batman facing Ra’s goons until there are just too many of them for him to handle. There are some great action moments here too, Batman stalking the caravan exactly as the panther had stalked Batman, Ubu seeing through Batman’s disguise almost instantly, a rematch with Ubu as precurser to the main event, the fight with a rejuvenated Ra’s, who after his trip through the Lazarus Pit is now bouncing around like a Gummi Bear and quick to tear of his shirt. Altieri also includes visual nods to other pulp classics Lawrence of Arabia, Raiders of the Lost Ark (especially in Harvey Cohen’s score) and Errol Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood for the swordfight at the end.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: The Demon's Quest Part 1 and 2

Okay, the swordfight. The shirtless swordfight is iconic, and most of what Wein and O’Neil took from Batman #244, the biggest difference being that in the ‘90s version, Ra’s and Bruce wax their chests. It’s also extremely Oedipal. Here’s Batman fighting an older version of himself for control of the world. That they are half naked and hitting each other with phallic symbols adds a sexual component to the fight, only reinforced by the role of Talia. There is an incestuous element to Talia’s worship of her father, and her attraction to Batman is explicitly related to how much Batman is like her father. Ra’s, on the other hand, seems to have eyes only for Batman, whispering how brave Batman is to come face him. And once Ra’s is defeated, Talia asks Batman if she is to become his prisoner, with the subtext that she’s practically begging to become his prisoner. Yikes! No wonder Bruce is quick to hop in the plane with Dick and fly away.

Oh yeah, Robin is also in this episode. I understand why he has a small role in Part 1, but he’s barely in Part 2 either. You’d think Batman would have liked some help saving billions of lives, but no, except for a good line about missing his thermal tights, Robin spends most of the episode hanging out in the plane.

Also, Batman is pretty quick to dismiss Robin’s concerns that Ra’s al Ghul could come back. Nevermind that Ra’s’s chosen method of suicide was to fall into the life-giving pit, Bruce, you’ve fought the Joker before! They always come back! It’s not much of surprise that the last shot we see is Ra’s hand dragging him out of the pit, and the last thing we hear is laughter. Laughter. Laughter.

Batman: The Animated Series Rewatch: The Demon's Quest Part 1 and 2


Steven Padnick is a freelance writer and editor. By day. You can find more of his writing and funny pictures at padnick.tumblr.com.

11 comments
Christopher Bennett
1. ChristopherLBennett
Yeah, Wein taking over for Part 2 does lower the quality of the writing a bit. I've never cared for Wein's stilted dialogue writing. On the other hand, Part 2 does something that I never felt O'Neill's comics did, which was to spell out exactly what it was that Ra's al Ghul was trying to achieve and actually depict his endgame in progress. I mean, the comics I read made it clear that Ra's was a militant environmentalist and had vast secret schemes in motion to deal with the world's problems, but I never got a good sense of just how he intended to do that. His scheme here is implausibly cataclysmic and cartoony, but at least it's specific and detailed.

My understanding of Lazarus Pits, and I think this was explained in the 2-parter, is that they can revive the recently or nearly dead, but are fatal to the healthy. (Perhaps akin to how a shot of adrenaline can start a stopped heart, but an adrenaline overdose can put fatal strain on the heart.) So by all rights, it should've been fatal to Ra's. Maybe it was soon enough after the previous immersion that he was somehow still protected. Or maybe he's endured the pits enough times that he's built up an immunity to the toxic effects -- thought that suggests he might eventually develop an immunity to their healing effects as well.
Athreeren
2. Athreeren
I never understood why Batman refused Ra's al Ghul's offer: either he gets the immortality, the girl and the powerful organization, or billion of lives are killed. Considering that controlling the Society of Shadows means that he wouldn't have to fight them and to make sure that they wouldn't cause a genocide, and furthermore he could use them to do good (if he had a problem with not respecting the law, he wouldn't be Batman), why would he refuse such a gift?

Furthermore, it's exactly what he gets from Talia in Batman Beyond, so it's not like he had a problem with using the Lazarus Pits...
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
@2: Bruce Wayne already has his own powerful global organization -- Wayne Enterprises. But it operates within the law for the most part. Batman operates on the fringes of the law, but with respect for its principles. His priority is to see justice done, and to protect the innocent. What drives him above all else is to prevent, or at least avenge, the suffering of the victims of crime, suffering like he felt when his parents were gunned down.

The Society of Shadows is a well-established criminal empire that's built itself up using blatantly illegal and unethical means, including, no doubt, a great deal of bribery and corruption, profiting from drug and arms trafficking, and quite a few assassinations (remember, in the comics they're the League of Assassins). It's been built up on the backs of suffering and murdered innocents. If Batman accepted Ra's's offer, he would've been implicitly condoning the acts that the Society is responsible for. He'd be agreeing to work with people who had committed horrible crimes, rather than bringing them to justice. There's no way he would ever do that.

Besides, remember, Ra's was inviting Batman to take over in pursuing Ra's's goals for the world, not Batman's. And Ra's had built up this organization with a particular agenda in mind, an agenda that its members were no doubt fanatically committed to and would not be easily swayed from. Accepting Ra's's offer would've meant giving up his own mission, and that's never going to happen.
Mahesh Banavar
4. maheshkb
I am torn about this. It is somewhere between a fun story and a caricature of an Indiana Jones movie, with the panthers in the tempes, and so on.

With regard to Ra's emerging from the pit at the end, I interpret that as Ra's was dying due to the fall, and the preceding fight with Batman. The pit did its job on the dying man.

Also, is this idea of Lazarus pits visited again in the series? Was it seen in the latest Batman movie? I remember some talk about it, but I cannot recall if it actually made it into the movie itself.
Matt Stoumbaugh
5. LazerWulf
Does anyone else think Ra's's (sp?) beard looks like he's got a batarang stuck in his chin?
Liz J
6. Ellisande
@4 No, the movie teased the notion of Ra's being back and therefore the Lazarus Pit might exist (especially when Liam Neeson was seen on the set during filming), but he wasn't alive in the present. Though I suppose the pit/prison is also an homage to it, come to think of it.
Athreeren
7. Nicholas Winter
@1: An episode of Batman Beyond will deal explicitly of what happens what Ra's building up an immunity to the Pits drives him to doing. Let's just say his solution is quite horrifying.

Is it this series that has Ra's meeting Jonah Hex? Or is that in one of the Justice League series? I admit they all run together in my mind.
John C. Bunnell
8. JohnCBunnell
Furthermore, it's exactly what he gets from Talia in Batman Beyond
That rather depends on how one reads a certain key revelation in that episode of Batman Beyond, which I hesitate to do as it constitutes an absolute spoiler. Suffice to say that I would strongly disagree with this characterization....
Christopher Bennett
9. ChristopherLBennett
@4: Remember, the Indiana Jones movies themselves were an extended homage to earlier adventure films and serials going back decades. They certainly owe a huge debt to Allan Quatermain and Doc Savage, and particularly to a Charlton Heston film called Secret of the Incas. Not to mention, of course, that these episodes are an adaptation of comic-book stories written in the early 1970s, a decade before Indiana Jones was created. Both were drawing on pre-existing adventure-fiction tropes.

@7: Ah, yes, I thought the BB episode had mentioned Ra's building up an immunity, but I couldn't remember.

And yes, the Ra's/Jonah Hex episode, "Showdown," is in B:TAS, and should be coming up in another 17 episodes/9-ish posts.
Athreeren
10. CounsellorDeannaTroi#1Fan
Wow, I haven't watched this show since 7th and 8th grade and I'm amazed at how far animation has come since them.

I don't think the quality of animation has held up all that well compared to what we see nowadays. The drawing reminds me of Captain Planet, another cartoon I used to watch during that period (which I loved because it was unafraid to be unabashedly liberal).
Jeremy Clegg
11. Cleggster
Wow, this takes me back. I was allways more of a Marvel fan than DC. But I did like BtAS. But when David Warner walked into the Batcave calling bats Detective, I was mesmorized. I called a frend of mine right after the show to ask WHY he had not told me about this chracter.

Ras' has become my favorite DC villin of them all. I have since gone and read all his origional stories. As an avid mountain climber I could empathise with his feeling of remote lands. He had a coolness about him that other Bat and Dc villins don't have. The stakes with him are always higher. And I liked Batman better then when he was a detective instead of Mr. Ubercompetent who is never wrong.

Hell, Ras' is why I went to see the first Noral film since I had quit batman after the previous one. And I blame it all on the menacing tones of David Warner.

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