Writer/Artwork/Colours: Neal Adams
Lettering: Clem Robins
Release Date: 4th September 2019
Released as part of DC’s “Year of the Villain”, Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul sees living legend Neal Adams returning to his creation as he pits the Caped Crusader against one of his most formidable adversaries. Set in the wake of 1999’s “No Man’s Land”, this six-part series sees Batman dealing with a war-ravaged and desolate Gotham while trying to stay one step against of Ra’s and his endless machinations.
Throughout the course of this first issue, a couple of things started to become apparent to me. Firstly, and with the exception of some occasional moments of roughness and a slightly unfinished quality to certain panels, Adams’ artwork doesn’t look to have lost too many steps since its iconic heyday. The action flows smoothly, Batman is every bit the lithe, heroic detective that a lot of us grew up with, and the whole thing has a pleasingly ‘old school’ aesthetic without ever feeling too dated.
Unfortunately, the second thing that became apparent is the fact that Adams is a far stronger artist than he is a writer. Don’t get me wrong, the plot is serviceable enough, and features Batman getting physical with the criminal gangs who have sprung up in the wake of “No Man’s Land”, before crossing paths with Ra’s al Ghul and his mercenaries who are apparently assisting the G.C.P.D. with their clean-up operations. It’s just that the dialogue and narration, unlike the artwork, feels incredibly dated, and doesn’t flow anywhere near as smoothly as it needs to. Hey, I’m all for some nostalgic hokeyness, and having Batman using phrases like “what in the Sam Hill is that?” helps to cement the time period where the book is supposedly set, but there are several conversations here that feel forced, awkward and downright confusing, which derails a lot of the momentum that Adams has built up with his artwork.
Also, the final pages almost seem unrelated to the rest of the book, with Nightwing and the two Robins showing up as Batman is seemingly vanquished once and for all by his nemesis. It’s a confusing cliff-hanger that seems to take the story in a whole new direction, and is one that – in a worrying trend for a lot of DC books these days – is completely given away by the cover of the issue.
Ultimately, Batman vs. Ra’s al Ghul is very much a book of two halves. The artwork is fantastic, with Adams proving that he still has a lot of gas left in the tank when it comes to bringing his iconic version of the Caped Crusader to the printed page. The story and dialogue on the other hand… well… isn’t.
That said, this is still very much worth a look for fans of Adams or Batman’s classic heyday, and inclusion of Deadman livens things up considerably (even if he doesn’t necessarily do much besides hopping from body to body), but I can’t help but feel that the clunky dialogue is limiting this new series as being something merely serviceable rather than something truly special.