Batman: One Bad Day - Ra's al Ghul #1 Review: Ra's al Ghul Was Right

Ra's al Ghul's co-creator Dennis O'Neil once established a bible at DC Comics to be used when telling Batman stories. It provides lots of insight into the character from one of their most influential writers and editors. Amongst the advice offered is the notion that Batman should be able to meet the challenges faced in his stories; to tell a story where Batman must act monstrously is to undermine the very concept of the character. This suggests why Ra's is such an enduring villain, perhaps even Batman's greatest foe, because the character challenges Batman's very rationale for being. Both men seek to save the world and they cannot both be correct in what is necessary to do so. To tell a story in which Ra's al Ghul is heroic requires Batman to be foolish, at best, and harmful, at worst.

And so Batman: One Bad Day – Ra's al Ghul isn't really a Batman story. It opens with a sequence from Ra's childhood framing his relationship with a species of wolf nearing extinction in the modern day. The story eschews the "one bad day" concept of this anthology in favor of The Killing Joke's true conceit, holding sympathy for the devil. While it could be argued that Ra's "one bad day" is facing the exact moment of extinction for another species he cherishes, the story really hinges on the ideological struggle between himself and Batman in the face of climate change's true cost. Ra's al Ghul persists in waging a war to preserve as much life on Earth as possible; Batman insists that every human life must be protected no matter the cost. It is a familiar conflict found in almost all of this arch-villain's appearances.

What's surprising in Batman: One Bad Day – Ra's al Ghul is that the story's sympathies never slip from Ra's side. Even when Batman begins investigating the carefully designed assassinations of global oligarchs overseeing destructive interests in energy, media, and other spheres, there's never a reversal or twist to explain why Ra's use of murder and mayhem to shift corporations from engaging in mundicide to working for a sustainable future is actually evil. Rather, the story remains consistent in considering Ra's motivations and whether those ends can justify his means. Although Ra's al Ghul's plan lacks the nuance, realism, and span of the Children of Kali in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, the same logic is applied and effectively argues for the value of ecoterrorism. When the issue ends with hundreds dead in the wake of Ra's al Ghul's machinations, it remains difficult to argue that he is even an anti-hero, much less a villain, in this story.

By O'Neil's standards, and those of many other Batman creators and fans, that outlook makes Batman: One Bad Day – Ra's al Ghul a poor Batman story. Bruce Wayne's journey ends in a clear homage to Rorschach's final moments in Watchmen. With the plan already achieved, this masked crusader is left to choose between disrupting a good outcome in the name of justice or allowing their nemesis to succeed. Bruce does not opt for suicide in this moment, but Batman functionally leaves the story and the legendary figure is significantly diminished in surrendering the fight and argument. This is, at best, a tragic Batman story, but it is a triumphant Ra's al Ghul story.

Penciler Ivan Reis, inker Danny Miki, and colorist Brad Anderson light this spectacle of ecoterrorists battling against caped vigilantes for the planet's future in a familiar style appropriate for a grand event in the DC Comics tradition. There are abundant splashes posing both Ra's and Batman at their most fearsome, and the sword fights that inevitably follow are bound by well-defined muscle, sleek steel, and plenty of fast-paced panels. Even the detective sequences make good use of specific details to remind readers of Batman's nigh-omnipotent array of abilities. The presentation of indulgent superhero sequences encourages readers to expect what they've read before and makes the issue's final notes all the more surprising when there is no final twist to reveal why Ra's al Ghul's plan was bound to fail.

Instead, Batman: One Bad Day – Ra's al Ghul opts to give its protagonist's worldview a fair hearing. The mass suffering, death, and extinction perpetuated by humanity to endlessly serve the greed of a rapacious view is not defended, and the issue suggests, at the very least, that some form of violence and death to end that terror is entirely justifiable. It is an admission that breaks the very concept of Batman, but one that provides Ra's al Ghul and those he protects their first good day in a very long time.

Published by DC Comics

On March 21, 2023

Written by Tom Taylor

Art by Ivan Reis

Inks by Danny Miki

Colors by Brad Anderson

Letters by Wes Abbott

Cover by Ivan Reis, Danny Miki, and Brad Anderson