The Ra’s al Ghul Gotham wants would be no Ra’s al Ghul at all! But perhaps the Ra’s al Ghul Gotham deserves is quite different from one that the great city would openly welcome onto its streets. Perhaps Gotham deserves an even more powerful Ra’s al Ghul than the one Batman has battled through the years.
Ra’s al Ghul has appeared in many different Batman storylines – the Gotham series, the Dark Knight Trilogy, the comic books, Batman: The Animated Series, and more. He is one of Gotham’s greatest and most powerful threats, best known as the leader of the League of Shadows (or, in the original comic book depiction of Ra’s, the ‘League of Assassins’).
The long-time adversary of Batman is one of the only enemies aware of Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne (in the alternative Gotham series timeline, he encourages a pre-Batman Bruce to serve as his ‘knight in the darkness’ and to be his heir). Ra’s never reveals Batman’s identity to the world, though – probably due to the fact that Ra’s respects Bruce so much.
As well as his ability to respect others, Ra’s al Ghul is intelligent enough to convincingly justify his tendency for violence. His crimes are driven by a desire to do good, which makes him a far more interesting villain than most others.
Could it be that Ra’s al Ghul is actually a force for good and that Batman is the villain that stands between Ra’s and the creation of a better world? Is it Ra’s al Ghul Gotham deserves?
The Ra’s al Ghul Gotham Mission
Ra’s al Ghul’s overall goal is always the same: to build a world in perfect balance with the natural state of its environment. In the Batman storylines, Ra’s usually identifies Gotham as a city so strife with crime and corruption that it is unredeemable. Due to this perception, he often attempts – with the assistance of his League of Shadows – to destroy Gotham and restore the balance that he believes the world needs.
And that, there, is the Ra’s al Ghul Gotham mission: to destroy Gotham.
If you are starting to think that Ra’s al Ghul is crazy because he wants to destroy an entire city based on a belief, then I don’t blame you. But let’s dig deeper and get to know this fascinating villain better…
Ra’s al Ghul Origins
To understand Ra’s al Ghul’s logic (whether or not that logic is flawed!), we must first understand his backstory. The exact details of his origins, his early life, and his age vary in different comics and the Gotham series background story is a little different, too (you can find that one here). But this is a general overview of Ra’s al Ghul’s origin story, consistent with most versions of al Ghul:
He was born, over 600 years before his first appearance in Batman stories, to a Chinese tribe settling in eastern North Africa. Ra’s and the tribe lived close to a city governed by a Sultan.
City Life & Marriage:
After developing an interest in the sciences from a young age, he eventually abandoned his tribe to live in the Sultan’s city. He grew up to become a physician and married a woman named Sora.
Discovering the Lazarus Pit:
The explanation for Ra’s al Ghul’s unusual old age! Ra’s accidentally found a naturally-occurring chemical pool – the Lazarus Pit – while digging in search of potential cures for the city’s dying Prince (the Sultan’s son). Ra’s saves the life of the Prince by lowering him into the restorative pools … however the chemicals also drove the Prince to insanity, causing him to kill al Ghul’s wife, Sora.
The Sultan Swings:
Unwilling to admit the guilt of his own son, the Sultan accused Ra’s al Ghul of murdering Sora and sentenced him to a torturous death in a cage with Sora’s corpse (comic books really don’t hold back, do they?!). But Ra’s was then saved by a boy whose dying mother he had previously examined. The boy felt indebted to Ra’s for comforting his beloved mother in her last hours, therefore rescues and joins him in his pursuit for revenge…
Ra’s Strikes Back:
Ra’s sought the help of his old tribe, asking its leader (and Ra’s’s uncle) to follow him on his quest, promising the downfall of the despicable Sultan. Utilizing an understanding of biological sciences far beyond his years, Ra’s infects the Prince with the germs of some disease; when the Sultan comes to him to help his son, Ra’s kills them both. He then leads the tribe to destroy the city and kill all of its citizens. Thus, ‘The League of Shadows’ (or ‘The League of Assassins’, or ‘The Demon’s Fang’) and Ra’s al Ghul were born.
The Next 600+ Years:
Using the Lazarus Pit to preserve his body, Ra’s traveled the world for many years. He became an exceptionally powerful warrior, fighting in the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and more. Some Batman stories (including Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins) state that Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Shadows were responsible for ‘cleansing’ events such as London’s Black Plague and the fall of Rome.
Next on his list, of course, was Gotham…
The Logic for Ra’s al Ghul’s Gotham
With the context of his origin story, we can begin to understand what has motivated the Ra’s al Ghul Gotham mission.
Ra’s was clearly affected by the old Sultan’s harsh and unjust treatment of him. He realized that the people with power and societal influence are not always good or well-meaning – and that they are not willing to give up their powers easily.
In Batman Begins (2006), Ra’s explains to Bruce that his League of Shadows tried a less violent method of bringing the corrupted and crippled city of Gotham to its knees: economics. However, this strategy proved unsuccessful so Ra’s reasoned that the only way to defeat such damaged societies is to remove them from existence.
Given that he has 600+ years of experience – and considering the fact that Batman never seems to completely resolve Gotham’s crime problems (it seem that for every villain defeated, another three villains appear in their place) – perhaps we should concede that the Ra’s al Ghul Gotham mission is not as crazy an idea as it seems.
What’s Wrong With Gotham?
At the core of the problems in Gotham city (in the majority of Batman storylines) is its corruption.
Crime gangs dominating the streets, politicians, public servants, and police officers that have been paid off (Commissioner Gordon, of course, being a key exception) … gangsters simply run the show. As a result, the streets are riddled with issues: murders, muggings, robberies – homelessness, drugs, and downright destitution.
When Bruce Wayne’s parents (Thomas & Martha) were alive, they worked hard with their wealth and influence to purge Gotham of its crime. After their death, the gangsters had free reigns over the city, and things went from bad to worse.
Why else would Bruce Wayne feel the need to become Batman, and take to the streets?
One alternative theory, worthy of note in this article, was presented in the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum. The theory is that Gotham was poisoned by Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pit in the 1800s during one of his experiments. As a result, toxins from the pit have permanently contaminated Gotham’s water supply, explaining why Gotham harbors so many super-villains.
It’s a cool enough theory and, with its links to Ra’s al Ghul, it seemed worth sharing!
But for the sake of this article, we will stick with the original, more widely-accepted theory that Gotham is in its current state as a result of deep-rooted corruption.
Got Any Better Ideas?
There don’t seem to be many (if any!) characters in Batman storylines who believe Gotham is a thriving city. Batman and his enemies mostly seem to agree on that.
Bruce Wayne took these problems into his own hands as Batman, but there isn’t any storyline in which Batman has managed to erase and defeat crime and corruption in the city. Clearly, Batman’s approach is not enough to solve the core issues.
So… what about the Ra’s al Ghul Gotham mission?! If a friggin’ super-hero can’t save Gotham, then is it true that the city is, indeed – as Ra’s al Ghul suggests – beyond saving?
Come Off It, Folks!
It might seem like this article is advocating the destruction of an entire city … but that is not what it’s doing. It is simply highlighting the depths of a complex web of issues in a (fictional) city.
Do I believe that the Ra’s al Ghul Gotham mission is a desirable fate for the great city? No, I do not. I do, however, recognize that there is a convincing logic behind the reasoning for such a mission. Ra’s al Ghul is not a fool. He recognizes the severity of the problems faced by humanity and wants “to do what is necessary.”
But sorry, Ra’s! It really doesn’t matter how old, wise, or powerful you are. You are always limited in your ability to know what is right for the world – only God can possess the knowledge to make such a decision in an informed manner. And, if God exists at all, you are not He, Ra’s al Ghul!
So does Gotham deserve Ra’s al Ghul, and the fate he wishes upon it? Well, frankly, I’m in no position to offer a well-reasoned answer to that question. But it seems reasonable to say that no individual has the right to decide the fate of millions of other individuals.
What Can We Learn?
It is important for anybody that wants to live a life akin to Batman’s to be aware of the sheer scale of the issues he/she faces. You are likely to face opposition – like Ra’s al Ghul – who make extremely valid arguments against the moral foundations of your missions.
Just because you mean well, doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing the right thing. It is important, in order to increase your Batman factor, that you are fully self-aware and critical of your own, deeply-held beliefs. Because the truth of any situation is never so black and white as it may seem.
To increase your Batman Factor, you should tackle problems with open-minded objectivity, so to be certain that fighting the problem is a worthwhile course of action.
In short, becoming Batman requires genuine, level-headed intelligence. To increase your Batman Factor, sharpen your critical thinking skills!