After 600 years of life, could The Demon’s Head actually be dying?
That’s the central premise of Batman: Death and the Maidens. Due to Batman’s constant vigilance over shutting down every possible Lazarus Pit location in the world, Ra’s Al Ghul is unable to gain access to a proper spot, and as such his health has started to deteriorate rapidly.
He seeks out Bruce and attempts to strike a deal with him, offering up the one bargaining chip he has: a chance for Bruce to talk to his long-dead parents.
Bruce doesn’t immediately accept, but he takes the vial from Ra’s nonetheless.
In the meantime, a new player, Nyssa, is on the scene, and is intent on ensuring Ra’s’s death. She seeks out Bruce and asks that he not believe the Demon’s lies. The comic provides numerous flashbacks to Nyssa’s life: how she was granted a Lazarus Pit by Ra’s and has been surviving off of it for the past few hundred years. Originally Ra’s’s ally, she grew to hate him after he allowed her entire family to be killed, doing nothing to help even though she pleaded. As a result she hunts down Talia and murders her again and again, using the Lazarus Pit to revive her, until Talia is fully devoted to Nyssa’s cause.
Batman decides to use Ra’s’s potion, and slips into a vivid, hallucinatory experience. He speaks with both of his parents, who express concern over what their son has become; or, more specifically, concern over what he has given up to become it. They believe he has sacrificed his own life, the chance for love, the chance to feel, in order to avenge their deaths and to sooth his own mind.
When he awakens from the experience, Bruce isn’t entirely happy with what he heard, and questions if it was real or merely a vivid dream brought on by the potion. So much of who he is was supposedly dictated by the events of his childhood, and some could question whether his parents’ deaths were controlling Bruce’s life. Batman provides a pretty unequivocal answer to this:
This is a pretty profound statement, and impacts the way Batman is viewed. He is taking back control of his own life, such as it is, by stating that he chooses to don the cowl and fight crime each night. His parents’ death were no doubt the catalyst for such a choice, but he maintains that he is ultimately responsible for the decision.
Reaffirmed in his belief that he’s doing what’s right, Batman tracks down Nyssa and Talia as they journey to the Mid-East to murder Ra’s Al Ghul once and for all. Ra’s has located a Lazarus Pit, as laid out by Bruce in exchange for having used the potion.
As Batman arrives, Nyssa orders Talia to kill Ra’s. She falters, and instead Ra’s stabs her. Batman rushes to her side, focused on saving her. Nyssa approaches Ra’s, and the two voice their feelings for one another (it having been previously revealed that Nyssa was actually Ra’s’s daughter and Talia’s half-sister). The scene culminates with her stabs Ra’s through the heart as she professes her love for her father.
Generally I would have suspected that Ra’s would have a contingency plan in place, and would somehow survive this attack. This comic felt different though, and it looks like Ra’s may truly be gone.
Nyssa escapes, and as we learn later she has Talia beside her. The two have formed a powerful bond, and both view Batman as an enemy. Nyssa is truly Ra’s heir, taking up his title of The Demon’s Head and vowing to destroy those who have caused so much pain and death in the world.
I wasn’t expecting this comic to shake up the status quo as much as it did. Ra’s is presumably dead and gone (at least for now) and we have a new Demon’s Head to take up the mantle. This, coupled with the introspective declarations Batman made, makes this comic well worth reading. There are plenty of stories that could stem from this one, and I’m curious to see how writers handle a new leader of The League of Shadows. There will no doubt be a brand new dichotomy between Batman and Nyssa (as well as Talia), and I’m excited to see that play out.
The fact that Batman: Death and the Maidens can cause that sort of intrigue is more than enough to recommend it.