Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Collect This! Batman: The Lazarus Affair 4

After weeks of set up, we have finally reached the explosive conclusion of "The Lazarus Affair!"

As usual in these situations, Ra's al Ghul presents Batman with a choice: immortality and life in paradise fathering genetically perfect children with Ra's's hot daughter, or death. Batman, not one to be limited by binary thinking, goes for the third option: hand-to-hand combat.

(Now that I think about it, that's always the choice Batman takes. Surrender or watch a hostage die? Batman chooses punching instead. White or wheat? Paper or plastic? The outcome is always the same.)

This is basically how every meeting between Batman and Ra's al Ghul ends: two guys with excellent taste in capes throwing down.

Before the fighting begins, however, Ra's needs to find a metaphor to explain his relationship with Batman. Luckily, Ra's keeps a cobra around for just such an occasion.

A cobra cage hanging from the ceiling of a computer lab really serves no purpose other than providing a handy metaphor (or it could work as a good motivational tool for employees. If productivity were slipping, Ra's could move to the cage and ask, "When did you say my plans for world domination would be complete?" In the choice between the carrot or the stick, Ra's chooses the snake.). However, in order to illustrate his comparison, he has to kill the snake every time, so he has to have a good back-up supply of snakes. Or maybe he has cages of various animals around for this purpose--the snake metaphor probably gets tired after a while.

Before the fighting starts, however, Batman and Ra's have to be reminded of their common ground: Talia. In this case, she gets in the way of a machine gun fired by Ra's's chief scientist, Saltzer, which inspires characters to speak with an excessive amount of alliteration:

"Saltzer, you snivelling sycophant!" "Despite all she has done, Talia was my daughter!" "He deserved to die!" "She's breathing, but just barely!" It's a little known fact that, in some schools of martial arts, the alliterative attack is the first stage of a fight to the death.

And Ra's breaks Saltzer's neck with a backhanded pimp-slap.

Once Talia is healed by a dip in the Lazarus Pit, Batman and her father can commence to fighting. For a while, it seems that Ra's has the upper-hand, but Batman eventually leg-tosses Ra's into the Lazarus Pit. Though this should be the end of things, it isn't, and a red, flaming, insane Ra's al Ghul rises from the pit to continue the fight.

In the finale to this battle, we learn something that we probably should have always known about Ra's al Ghul:

Ra's is a top.

The fight ends with Batman giving Ra's another toss into the Lazarus Pit, this time also causing the pit to flame up and destroy Infinity Island. Batman and Talia manage to escape in a helicopter, where Batman succumbs to the injuries he suffered in the fight.

The story ends with an epilogue where a wheelchair-bound Bruce Wayne recovers in his penthouse home. The triangle between Batman, Robin, and Talia that had been established in the early chapters also resolves itself. Talia leaves to face her impending old age alone, while Robin decides to stick around and work again as Batman's partner for a while.

This story does have some goofiness common to Bronze Age DC comics, but writer Marv Wolfman sets up a fun multipart adventure (when such stories were rare) that hits all the high notes of classic Ra's al Ghul conflicts. And when 12-year-old Dr. K read this story when it first came out, he loved the inclusion of an obscure character like King Faraday (Wolfman later turned Faraday into the go-to secret agent for the DC universe, including him in some issues of New Teen Titans as well.). As I said in an earlier post, I'd really like to see DC put out a second volume of the Tales of the Demon trade, to include this and the great "Bat-Murderer!" multiparter from Detective Comics 444-448 (more on that story in a future post).

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