Sunday, March 29, 2015

Birth of the Demon

Ra's al Ghul - Head of the Demon - has always been a complex character. In Batman: Birth of the Demon, Denny O'Neil and Norm Breyfogle trace the origins of Ra's al Ghul. It's a complex psychoanalysis of a villain with whom Batman has much in common, and a cautionary tale about the darkness in each and every one of us.
Ra's starts off as a well-intentioned physician-scientist in Arabia in the middle ages. He is an ambitious and intelligent young scholar who dreams of curing the ultimate disease.
Ras hypothesizes that earthly energies can be concentrated to bring the dead back to life. He has the opportunity to test his theories on a patient, and is soon celebrating his first scientific success.

But success comes with a price. The patient, driven mad from the pit, kills Ra's' young wife, an act which catapults Ra's on a spree of revenge, madness, and murder.
The story unfolds as part of a conversation between Batman and Ra's' daughter Talia, who sees Batman as a possible successor. Sand and fire dance and swirl as these two spar orally over the moral differences between Bruce Wayne and Ra's al Ghul.
As Talia looks on, the tale concludes with a raw and brutal duel-to-the-death between a weakened Batman and the Demon, who he has been tracking for years.

I'll leave it to the reader to learn exactly how this one ends. Birth of the Demon is filled with beautiful paintings by Norm Breyfogle (get better soon, Norm!), which are best viewed in print. Like Dream and Hob Gadling in Sandman, the story raises questions about the possible price of immortality.

In the end, the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Mud Pack

(Third in a series of tribute posts for the Norm Breyfogle Stroke Recovery Fund)

Preston Payne - Clayface III - longs for the human touch. The trouble is, anyone he touches turns to ooze. Luckily for us, Preston has found domestic bliss in Arkham Asylum...

So begins The Mud Pack, a classic miniseries by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. I must have read it about a hundred times as a kid.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Catman is up to his usual mischief in Cats.

(Second in a series of tribute posts for the Norm Breyfogle Stroke Recovery Fund)

Cats is a perfect little one-shot by one of my favorite Bat-teams, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. Catman is making mischief, Catwoman is being blamed, and Batman is in the middle of it. Oh, and did I mention there's a white Bengal tiger on the loose in Gotham City?

Both Batman and Catman set out in search of the missing tiger. They don't need to wait long. Notice the series of 'cats' on the following page, which Breyfogle unifies into a striking visual parallel.

Thanks to Catman, Batman ends up facing the tiger in gladiator-style combat. Catwoman has also come out to play, and admires the scene from afar.

I'll leave it to you to discover how this one ends. There's a lot in Cats, particularly in the relationships, and I urge you to visit your local comics shop and pick up a copy. For me, this one's got just the right mix of humor and adventure. It's beautifully scripted by Alan Grant and beautifully drawn by Norm Breyfogle. It's a testament to this issue that I still come back to it from time to time, almost 25 years after it was published.