Welcome to Adventure(s) Time’s fifty-seventh installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we're examining a well-remembered Batman: The Animated Series episode, and a story from the Nixon era that inspired it.
Fans of the 1970s Batman had to recognize quickly that the cartoon's producers shared their love. '70s scribes like Gerry Conway, Len Wein, and Denny O'Neil have a decent number of writer credits on Batman, and every so often a direct adaptation of a '70s comic would appear. Not all of them are classics, but they were coming from a good place. Producer Bruce Timm has spoken of his intense love for 1970s Marvel, only showing infidelity when purchasing Batman comics as a kid. Batman is notable for taking almost the entirety of the canon and reassembling it into a new reality...but if there's any bias shown, it's towards the '70s.
Detective Comics #411 (May 1971) is known as the debut of Talia al Ghul, during the era of Denny O'Neil shaking off the camp of the '60s TV show. Its title, "Into the Den of the Death-Dealers!", is classic Bronze Age melodrama. Neal Adams is the most famous artist from this period, yet this issue is rendered by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano, a fine team in their own right. The story opens with Batman atop Gotham's "Statue of Freedom," meeting with an informant.
This doesn't work out so well for the stoolie, as the League of Assassins appears. Batman, still not the hyper-competent, infallible ninja of the modern day, can't prevent their escape. He does, however, manage to follow their trail to the Soom Express, searching for their associate, Doctor Darrk. Batman proves how not-super competent he is yet again, getting knocked unconscious by the assassins and taken captive. He awakens to find Darrk's mysterious female companion hovering over him, tending to his wounds.
She introduces herself as Talia, daughter of Ra's al Ghul. (We don't even know who Ra's al Ghul is yet, but presumably O'Neil has put some thought into the future.) Talia is revealed not as Darrk's arm candy, but as a prisoner he's taken. Her father, this mystery guy we don't know, had a falling out with the villain. Batman feels obligated to help Talia escape, and end the threat of the evil Doctor Darrk.
This leads to a bull fight...
...a gunfight (notice those amazing 1971 sideburns)...
...and a knife fight...with an oncoming train approaching, no less!
Talia's in a position to save Batman, although it likely means killing Darrk. He taunts that she's too delicate to do anything. She proves him wrong.
How much of Talia's character O'Neil already had in mind is unknown. It's possible he intended for her to be only what we see here, the damsel in distress forced to make a horrible choice at the story's end. Clearly, the audience has come to see a very different side of Talia.
And, with two decades of hindsight, the Batman producers were in a position to revisit Talia's debut from another perspective. Debuting on November 23, 1992, "Off Balance" is the first outside media appearance of both Talia and Ra's al Ghul.