Keeping The Detective’s Villains Fresh: Chapter 5 – Ra’s al Ghul

The following is an opinion piece written by our new writer Stephen Doria.

Whether he is the head of the League of Assassins or the League of Shadows, Ra’s al Ghul (translates in Arabic to “The Demon’s Head”) is arguably the most connected and therefore dangerous villain that the Detective has.  He is a man with a plan and that plan always entails reshaping the world into a more perfect and harmonious society.  This makes him especially dangerous, because with this motive that he and his society believes  is the right or the good, he is ever more-so driven in the same way that the Detective is driven.  However, one can make an argument that many villains believe that they are doing the right thing, but Ra’s al Ghul has an entire organization behind him (I am leaning away from using the words terrorist organization here because he does not really believe that he is a terrorist in its natural sense).

I would usually go into the history of the character attempting to show how the so called “freshest” version differs and improves the villain from the years and years of comic writing and media interpretations.  This time,  it is not really going to be all THAT different, but it will be a little.  Since the version that I chose is so controversial, obviously it is the version from the film Batman Begins; I am really going to go into the main elements of what made this villain so fantastic before the movie.  So, let’s get started!

Ra’s al Ghul has always been one of those fringe villains to me at least.  In the universe of the Detective, which is pretty much the most realistic universe of almost every superhero, Ra’s al Ghul does not seem to fit in very well.  With borderline magical attributes, Ra’s has made an impact on the world during his 600+ years of existing in it.  He has ideas of perfecting the planet into a more modern utopia and goes around town by town, city by city, and country by country using terroristic tactics and strategies in order to form his utopia.  He is a man that does not “mind the blood,” and believes that the Detective’s biggest downfalls are his inability to “finish the job.”  He feels that if you do not simply walk up behind your opponent and stab them in the back that they can one day come back and do the same to you.  He looks at the Detective as the only worthy opponent of his and even his own daughter, Talia al Ghul, has become a means to an end to his purpose.

Ra’s al Ghul was first introduced in Batman #232, Daughter of the Demon, in 1971.  Created by writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, he was intended to be a new lease for the Detective storylines.  He is most known for living so long that he cannot even remember his own age, his abilities to be a brilliant tactician and his ability to be a brilliant fighter.  Honestly, after you live for 600+ years, it would not matter if you were the laziest person on the planet, you are going to pick up a few things.  And for a man who is as driven as Ra’s al Ghul, he definitely learned a few things over six centuries of life.  For anyone who lives under a rock, he is able to live for so long because of the rejuvenating effects of the Lazarus Pits, he has many around the globe.  These are pits that can heal an old man to youth, or bring a recently deceased man back to life.  But, they do have a few rather large drawbacks.  Most importantly of them are that they do not last forever and that once you do take a bath in the pit you will be temporarily insane upon your emergence.  Which would make it a good idea to have a cage waiting for you when you get out, that way you do not attempt to throw your own daughter into the pit (throwing a healthy person in the pit would kill them).

So, I guess the real question still remains, What makes the Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins the freshest version of the character?  Well, to answer that will cause some obvious controversy.  The short answer to the question is that Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins is not really a person at all.  Ra’s al Ghul is a title, just as being The President of the United States Barack Obama.  Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe, and Jay Buozzi’s characters may all have been called Ra’s al Ghul and the general consensus is that only Neeson’s character of Henri Ducard was actually Ra’s al Ghul, but the evidence in the movie seems to disagree.  Now, I will admit that Jay Buozzi’s Ra’s al Ghul was actually a decoy, meant to distract Bruce Wayne at his own birthday party and play one final mind game with Wayne.  As far as Watanabe’s and Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul go, I would have to say that the dialogue of the movie, as well as both Nolan’s themes for his Batman franchise and the theme of the movie go, Ra’s al Ghul is in fact a title and not an actual person’s name.

Here are some quotes directly from Batman Begins that support the evidence that Ra’s al Ghul is not simply Henry Ducard, but rather Ra’s al Ghul is a title given to the current leader of the League of Shadows… 

  • Henri Ducard: My name is merely Ducard, but I speak for Ra’s al Ghul, a man greatly feared by the criminal underworld. A man who could offer you a path.
  • Henri Ducard: No, no, no. A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely.
    Bruce Wayne: Which is?
    Henri Ducard: A legend, Mr. Wayne.
  • Henri Ducard: The will is everything. If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely.
  • Henri Ducard: You must become more than just a man in the mind of your opponent.
  • Henri Ducard: Theatricality and deception are powerful agents.


At this point, my argument states that he is still just Henri Ducard

Now, I most definitely understand that many of you reading this post are saying very not nice words to me and my ability to recognize who and what Ra’s al Ghul is.  I mean seriously, it is so obvious that Henri Ducard was always Ra’s al Ghul!  He was simply using manipulation tactics to make Bruce Wayne believe he was just the right hand of al Ghul from the start, all along being al Ghul.  He could not let Wayne know that he was al Ghul because it would expose too much of himself to his greatest student.  Not wanting to be stabbed in the back before Wayne fully committed himself to the League of Shadows.  He taught Wayne to be that killer, that man who could walk up to someone and simply stab them in the back, and to him, if Wayne knew who was really in control, it was a real possibility.  Ducard did not really know who Wayne was, outside of being extremely vengeful, emotional, and now well trained.  He expected Wayne to take the head of that farmer to complete his initiation into the League of Shadows, so with all of this flowing from Ducard from the start, why would he want Wayne to know who was really in control of the League of Shadows?  Granted, I made a great argument for all of you out there that believe I am so completely wrong with my analysis.  But, before you curse me anymore, let me make my counter-argument for how wrong the argument I just made on your behalf is, and then you can decide how you feel about this article afterwards.

From the first time that Bruce Wayne walked into the “castle” on the top of the mountain, Ducard started his mind games.  He, throughout the entire movie alludes to Wayne, and the Detective, that in order to be able to change the world you have to become more than a man.  He tells him that he must turn himself into a legend.  These words were extremely powerful words, and you are lead to believe that it is the inspiration for Bruce Wayne to become the Detective.  However, why would Henri Ducard states these words if The League of Shadows did not also follow them?  He was stating the philosophy of the entire league, not giving a motivational speech that would also be spat out by a high school football coach at halftime.  Ducard was attempting to mold Wayne into the ideal soldier of the League.  In the comics, television shows, and video games it is well know that Ra’s al Ghul’s attempts to mold Wayne into his successor. However, there is not a single shred of evidence of this in the movie.  Without any type of evidence in the movie that Ducard’s ultimate goal was to develop Wayne into the new head of the League, you can only formulate that these words Ducard is using about becoming a legend were words to show Wayne the philosophy and power that the League stands by.  In laymen’s terms, he was telling Wayne that Ra’s al Ghul is such a feared man because he is a man that cannot be killed, he himself has become a legend.

Now, you are probably screaming out that he cannot be killed because of the Lazarus Pits that keep him alive forever, but if this was the case then you would imagine there would be some inclination of the Pits stated in the movie, if not directly than indirectly, and there is not.  Not even with the evidence we have of the new movie is there any consensus that Ra’s al Ghul, as Liam Neeson, will be back for anymore than a cameo or flashback scene.  He only filmed for a day, maybe two, so that is hardly enough to make him a villain for the movie.  I know that there is a consensus that the Lazarus Pit’s will be in TDKR, but that scene shot in India is not necessarily the Lazarus Pit, it is only speculation.  I would go as far as to state that it is probably a CGI opening of the well that we see in the trailer.

So, to gather things up so far, I am basically pointing out that the evidence in the movie’s dialogue transpires to the point that Ra’s al Ghul is not a man, but rather a title.  He is a legend that is feared by all of those who know his name.  I also want to note that in the comic books, and the other forms of media, he is over 600 years old.  With the notion that Ra’s al Ghul is the title of the leader of The League of Shadows (Assassins), he can live for another 600 years.  We have read time and time again that Miranda Tate in the new movie will NOT be playing Talia al Ghul, and with this argument I am making, this can very well be the case.  With Ra’s al Ghul being a title, Tate can be playing Ra’s al Ghul as her villainous dual identity.  This, of course, is under the assumption that the Eastern apparel that she has been spy shot wearing is her villainous dual identity and not a costume party she is WAY overdressed for, and the men with guns around her are just an unhealthy addition to said costume.  Now, this is not to say that the title of Ra’s al Ghul is unisex, she very well could be playing Talia al Ghul and we are being lied to.  But even if she is playing Talia al Ghul my argument could still stand that it is still simply a title, Talia al Ghul could just be the female leader’s title.

Finally, at the start of the movie’s climax, Bruce Wayne is at his own birthday party, sort-of enjoying his night, a rich white lady walks up to him telling him that he MUST meet someone.  This someone is the last person he thought he would ever lay eyes on again.  Dressed in the same attire he watched him die in stood Jay Buozzi’s Ra’s al Ghul.  The detective immediately knew that he was nothing more than a body double (because it took a lot of detective work for this and all), a mind game, meant for shock effect.  This exchange of dialogue is then stated:

  • [meeting someone introduced as Ra’s al Ghul]
    Bruce Wayne: You’re not Ra’s al Ghul. I watched him die.
    Henri Ducard: [from behind Bruce Wayne] But is Ra’s al Ghul immortal?
    [Bruce turns around to face Ducard]
    Henri Ducard: Are his methods supernatural?
    Bruce Wayne: [to Ducard] Or cheap parlor tricks to conceal your true identity, “Ra’s”?
    Henri Ducard: Surely, a man who spends his nights scrambling over the rooftops of Gotham wouldn’t begrudge me dual identities?

Here, Ducard has the perfect opportunity to tell the Detective that he was in fact an immortal figure.  That he really could not die.  He had nothing to hide anymore, his plan was already in effect, there was no stopping him.  So many times in Hollywood the classic Bond villain syndrome happens at this moment, where they state their entire plan, thinking that nothing could stop them anymore.  Ducard does none of this, but instead chooses to continue his mind games with the Detective.  He never once called himself immortal, but only posed a question and possibility to it.  He alludes to being supernatural even.  Immediately, he is called out by the Detective as being no more than a cheap parlor trick.  With the chance to then defend his own honor and the integrity of the name Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Shadows, he declines.  Rather, he deflected.  He put the pressure back on the Detective and took a stab at him for “scrambling over the rooftops.”  A man with as much pride as Ducard, he was offended that he was left to die earlier and that his student could not finish the job ever would immediately have to defend his own honor.  He would simply not have the strength of his own will to not admit to his own supernatural or scientific abilities.  You might feel like this is a stretch in my argument, that no he could have the strength of will, but my response to that is even with Ducard being such a strong man, he is still a man, and that no man of honor can allow himself to be dishonored as such.  If Nolan meant for Ra’s al Ghul to truly be a man’s name, and for him to be immortal or anything towards such, than he would have had inserted at least one line of dialogue during these final moments as some type of acknowledgement.  However, all Nolan did at this scene was put in an Easter egg for the fan boys to smile about, he just wanted to give us all that little treat, like J.J. Abram’s did throughout 2009’s Star Trek.

So, how did I do?  I know that many of you out there believe so much that Henri Ducard was always Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins, but I just cannot see this.  All of the evidence during the movie seems to point that Ra’s al Ghul is an immortal being because it is nothing more than a title.  The title has made the legend.  The legend has made him extremely feared by any who have the unfortunate luck of knowing of him.  What Liam Neeson, Christopher Nolan, and etc. did for Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins was not only enlightened the most fantastic version of the character, but they did so by completely reinventing him into a realistic world.  Nolan focuses these movies so much on the possibility that it all could one day happen and here they have taken a villain that simply could never happen and turned him into possibility that we can all respect and fear.  I congratulate you for doing the impossible.

– Stephen Doria

Quotes courtesy of IMDB