With the rise of “Forever Evil” in the DC Universe, most of the Batman villains have staked out various corners of Gotham City, in a manner that can’t help but bring “No Man’s Land” to mind for long-time readers. That’s in part what’s so refreshing about “Batman and Robin #23.3: Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins” (which sounds less like a comic and more like a new Prince album), as James Tynion IV and Jeremy Haun deliberately stay far away from Gotham City for this glimpse into Batman’s immortal foe.
Aside from “Batman Incorporated” as a supporting character, readers have seen remarkably little of Ra’s al Ghul in the New 52. In some ways, Tynion explains that with a focus on a character who isn’t afraid to hang back if the time isn’t right. Tynion nicely works that in by giving Ra’s al Ghul a (understandably) long world-view. As reminded in the opening sequence, he’s existed for centuries and only shows himself to the rest of the world when he wishes. The idea of him getting swept into “Forever Evil” makes no sense when you think about it, and Tynion frames it in a smart and clever manner.
The sequence in 1285 that opens “Batman and Robin” #23.3 is that rare beast that actually works well as a flashback; it has a certain level of tension to it, and it also informs the rest of the story in the present day. It’s tackled quite well not only by Tynion but by Haun as well. Prince Gerhardt’s descent is drawn in a creepy manner, and the expressions on Gerhardt’s face bring across everything from anger to surprise to wariness. And while the present day sequence isn’t quite as interesting (and the emissary from the Secret Society looks a little ridiculous), it’s good enough that it’s clear that Tynion and Haun haven’t lost track of the greater purpose of the comic and still stick their landing.
Credit to Haun that while Ra’s al Ghul’s outfit can look a little silly in the hands of the wrong artist, it feels very classic and in place for its surroundings. It’s much more a “what they wore many years ago” look here, rather than a guy bolting a green cape onto a white pirate shirt like some artists have done. Best of all is the glint in Ra’s’ eyes when he’s staring at the newly arrived emissary; it’s not even a close-up image, but there’s something about that look which should have sent the emissary bolting for cover. It’s a quintessential look for Ra’s al Ghul, and Haun handles it perfectly.
For a comic in which not a lot actually happens, “Batman and Robin” #23.3 feels well-paced and interesting from start to finish. I’d love to see Haun on a monthly title again, and if Tynion happens to write it, we know they work well together. This comic could have easily been a snooze-fest, but this duo makes it work.