Home > A-minus, Batman: The Animated Series > Batman: The Animated Series, Episodes 60, 61: “The Demon’s Quest”

Batman: The Animated Series, Episodes 60, 61: “The Demon’s Quest”

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Teleplay by Dennis O’Neil and Len Wein
Story by Dennis O’Neil
Directed by Kevin Altieri
Original Airdates:
DVD: Batman TAS Volume 3

Summary: Batman must work with the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul in order to find Robin and Ra’s’ daughter Talia. However, the kidnapping is merely a test by Ra’s to see if Batman is worthy of being brought into Ra’s apocalyptic schemes.

Debuting Characters: Ra’s Al Ghul (yes, I know he had a cameo at the end of “Off Balance”), Ubu

Background:

In the aftermath of the Batman TV series becoming a legitimate pop culture phenomon in 1966, the comics naturally tracked in that same campy direction for a while. However, once the series was cancelled after its third season, the comics floundered and a change of direction was needed. Enter the man who would come to be more associated with Batman than any creator other than Bob Kane, Dennis ‘Denny’ O’Neil. Teaming with another future legend in Neal Adams – with whom O’Neil had previously worked on as part of the famous “Hard Travelling Heroes” era of Green Lantern / Green Arrow – O’Neil worked on returning Batman to his status as a detective first and foremost, bringing back the urban crime and problem-solving focuses of the character. Coupled with Adams’ dynamic pencils, their brief teaming is looked upon as the birth of the so-called ‘Bronze’ Age at DC, a return to a more grounded style after the hippy-trippy 60s.

O’Neil also shares some responsibility for the second-most significant revamp of an ongoing character in modern comics, as he was editor on Daredevil during Frank Miller’s legendary first tenure on on the title (Denny also wrote the bridge between Miller’s first and second runs). He also was the editor on a personal favourite title, Larry Hama’s GI Joe, and is credited with coming up with Optimus Prime’s name when Marvel was working on localising the Transformers concept… let’s just say Denny’s had influence on a lot of big films during the past ten years. Following the Marvel stint, he returned to DC and took over as editor of the Batman group of titles, which he handled through the controversial decision to kill Jason Todd in response to a telephone poll – Denny has gone on record as saying he never thought the readers would actually vote to kill off Robin – through the massive sales spike following the 1989 movie, to the revitalisation of the group with the Knightfall arc.

However, while he’s become known for his skills in revitalising existing heroes, Denny has also added the most significant Batman villain to the Rogue’s gallery of the past 40 years in the form of the villain of this episode, Ra’s Al Ghul, the “Demon’s Head.” This story is specifically based off of two of Denny’s stories from his writing tenure, “Daughter of the Demon” (Batman #232, June 1971) and “The Demon Lives Again” (Batman #244, September 1972).

In fact, aside from his role in writing this two-parter, O’Neil was paid tribute by the BTAS staff by being used as the character model for ‘The Perfesser’, one of the Terrible Trio (who appeared in the episode of that same name). As an FYI, the other members of the Trio were based on longtime Superman group editor Mike Carlin and the late Archie Goodwin, who at the time was editor of the Batman anthology title Legends of the Dark Knight.

Thoughts on the Episode:

It’s often been said before, but it bears repeating – the beauty of Batman as a character is that he’s open to a much broader range of interpretation than any other comic book character. Spider-Man always feels out of place in cosmic storylines, while Superman loses much of his grandeur in a street-level tale (albeit with some notable exceptions). Batman’s versatility, on the other hand, is his greatest strength, as a Batman story can be either unflinchingly realistic or see him attempting to engage in combat with a nhilistic space-god, and the viewer / reader will go along with it because, well, it’s Batman (I’ve often said that only one thing can make Batman seem implausible – specifically, that he willingly commits murder).

In this story, we see Batman-as-James-Bond. He hops around the world, falls for a beautiful woman, gets into disguise in order to infiltrate an enemy base, gets into trouble in the snow, destroys a couple of strongholds, and stops the plans of a maniac whose goals are not merely murder and city-wide mayhem, but quite literally to remake the planet. If Lucius had told him to pay attention and supplied him with a pen that shot acid, Denny would have been sued by the Fleming estate.

This is also a type of rivet-gun episode  – hard not to be when based off two separate issues, even if the latter was intended as the direct sequel to the former – but this time it works better then in “Only a Dream” because there’s only one villain spread across the two chapters, even though it’s not necessarily obvious at first. Ra’s was actually an unusual choice of adversary at the time this episode aired, being a character respected amongst older readers but one that might not necessarily work in a show that was theoretically aimed at children. The production team neatly resolved that problem by not even bothering to pretend that this one was intended for kids, instead telling a tale with a legitimate romance and an uncompromising villain.

The first half is very well done, one of my favourite single episodes of BTAS, as it both does a great job of setting up Ra’s’ character in a short amount of time while also cramming in a lot of action to that same length. The scene with Ra’s casually explaining how he figured out that Batman is really Bruce Wayne is excellent, and makes him into a huge threat within seconds of his appearance. Ra’s is, in some ways, a twisted reflection of Bruce Wayne, although of course while Bruce spends money philanthropically, Ra’s uses his fortune to achieve a mass extinction.This is best seen during the series of still hand-drawn (… well, more obviously hand-drawn than the usual animation) images in the second part of the story, as Ra’s tells the story of the devastating effects his plan will have on the planet. This takes the confrontation with Ra’s into a slightly more philisophical realm than the usual Batman villain, but

Of course, as Batman points out in his parlour scene at the end of the first episode, Ra’s’ initial plan to test Batman’s worthiness isn’t exactly the height of deviousness. Which is good, as the story at that point becomes less about Ra’s’ attempts to test Batman as it does the Batman / Talia relationship and Talia being forced to choose between her father and the man she loves. This choice would define Talia’s character for the remainder of her appearances. Although she’s portrayed as somewhat less capable here than she would be in her other appearances (it’s hard to be an action grrl when she spends the entire second half of the story dressed up in an outfit that is very revealing even by her standards), since her bona fides were already established by her debut story what matters is that Batman gets on-board with the idea that he’s developed feelings for Talia., Their kiss at the end of the episode is appropriately passionate; it’s certainly a much better romance angle than one would normally get from an afternoon cartoon.

Structurally, the storyline tends to place more action in the first half, before the second half completely apes the Bond formula as Batman infiltrates Ra’s’ base, stops to listen to his plans, then squares off with him amidst an exploding headquarters. As Bond pastiches go, you’re not going to find much better, and frankly Ra’s would be near the top of the list of greatest Bond villains anyway. The combination of the practical plan and Ra’s quasi-mystical immortality gimmick make him more appealing than most bad guys of this type, and unlike his movie incarnation there’s no limitations on what the cartoon counterpart can do in the action scenes. He does get a bit cliche at the end with the horror movie-esque revival at the last moment, but that’s a very small complaint. The animation holds up its end of the bargain, even throwing in some well-populated (and hard to animate) crowd scenes in Ra’s’ hideout.

Basically, if anyone ever tries to tell you that Batman always has to be a grim urban avenger, tie them to a chair and force them to watch this one. If Chris Nolan ever decides to bring back Ra’s for a return engagement, ripping this story off wholesale would be a great place to start (as would following through on the obvious choice of Angelina Jolie as Talia).

Grade: A-. Easy episode to do well, given the quality of the source material and guest star, but the execution is almost flawless.

Random Thoughts:

  • Talia should be a doctor – she could just go around slapping people and curing them of mental illness.
  • Robin’s anguish at leaving the Nepalese hideaway after he sees Talia is the anguish only a college student who isn’t getting any can feel.
  • Soooo… Batman just left Talia out in the desert?
  • Ra’s has to be recruiting some very strong guards for them to be able to tear apart the kevlar-reinforced Batsuit so casually.
  • I assume Talia slipped Batman the lockpick when she kissed him – I’ll refrain from the obvious implication out of trying to keep these reviews suitable for all ages – but it’s not quite made clear. Since he’s Batman, it is entirely possible that he keeps a lockpick in his mouth at all times just for such an occasion.
  • Talia and Ra’s next canonical appearance would be in Avatar, which is essentially the BTAS tribute to the Indiana Jones movies.
  • Before anyone e-mails me, I know that Lucius wasn’t playing the Q role in TAS.

Line of the episode: “Yes, I see it clearly now… you are completely out of your mind.”

Next Justice League: If you promise to only read it as a Christmas episode and nothing more from a long-term plot standpoint, I’ll skip ahead to “Comfort and Joy.”

Next Time: Well, might as well be entirely seasonal, starting off with “Christmas with the Joker.”

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  1. JFink
    December 21, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    “the obvious choice of Angelina Jolie as Talia”

    Boo, sir. Booooo!

    The better choice would Rachel Weisz from the Mummy and the Mummy Returns. She has the action chops to play some who can hold their own with Batman, is a much better actor than Jolie, not to mention way hotter.

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