The Comic Cave – Batman: Son of the Demon

The Comic Cave is a bi-weekly feature where we spin the Wheel of Comics and see what graphic novel story it brings up for us to deep dive into! This week we take a look at Batman: Son of the Demon, one of the earliest graphic novels produced by DC, and a book that would go on to create lasting changes in the Batman mythos.

The late 80s was a big time for DC Comics. They’d just reshaped their universe with Crisis on Infinite Earths, and were starting afresh with a lot of their characters, exploring their histories and origins in new ways. One character that go this treatment a lot was Batman. Frank Miller wowed audiences in 1986 with The Dark Knight Returns: a dark, gritty future version of the DC universe where Batman comes out of retirement to fight crime once again. The book was so well received that Miller was brought on board to tell Batman’s definitive new origin in Batman #404-#407, a story called Batman Year OneBatman Year One became THE Batman origin story, one that would stick around for decades, and inspire a huge number of other stories.

This early days story was so beloved that DC began a new series that could continue to explore this era in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. With multiple Batman titles telling stories from across his long career it wasn’t long before DC started to produce stand-alone graphic novels to get even more Batman content out into the world. Batman: Son of the Demon was one of these early graphic novels, an 80 page book that explored Batman’s relationship with one of his greatest enemies, and his father-in-law, Ra’s al Ghul.

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First created in the storyline ‘Daughter of the Demon’ in the 1970s, Ra’s is an immortal warrior who leads the League of Assassins. Ra’s believes that the world cannot survive if humanity does nothing to change their ways, and seeks to make a world in perfect balance with nature. This means that Ra’s is often enacting plots that will see most of humanity destroyed. Over the years this has put him at odds with Batman, and the two have gained a respect for the others skills and abilities, if not their methods and mission. Because of this, in a previous story Ra’s married Batman to his daughter, Talia. Batman: Son of the Demon is the first real interaction between Batman and the al Ghul’s in the post-Crisis timeline, and seeks to address the marriage between Bruce and Talia.

The book begins with a hostage situation in Gotham, one that sees Batman breaking into a chemical factory to take on a group of heavily armed criminals. The fight that we get here is one that shows a somewhat extreme Batman, one who doesn’t kill, but doesn’t seem to mind letting the bad guys get themselves killed. Batman plays a part in crashing a chopper that has people inside it, resulting in a fiery crash, and at one point he stands in front of chemical tanks so that when one of the criminals shoots it the toxic contents splash in the man’s face and literally melts it off in what is a truly horrifying moment.

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Injured in the fight, Batman collapses in an alley, and awakens in the Batcave having been brought there by Talia, who was following him earlier in the book. When a murder occurs in Gothm, targeting one of the city’s best scientists, the clues point towards the involvement of Ra’s, and the two of them head to his hidden mountain fortress to confront him. It’s here that Batman learns that the real killer is a man called Qayin, a former League of Assassin member, and the man who killed Ra’s wife (and Talia’s mother) Melisande. Hearing that Qayin is an even worse threat that Ra’s, Bruce agrees to work with him in order to stop the killer.

As Batman works alongside the League, even teaching their assassins new non-lethal combat techniques, his relationship with Talia becomes more intense. Batman eventually agrees to be her husband fully, and is named as Ra’s son within the League. After a while, Talia announces that she’s pregnant, and Bruce begins to change his outlook, becoming more risk averse, and more cautious. This comes to a head when Bruce is almost killed protecting Talia and their unborn child. Talia realises that Batman is being weakened by him becoming a father, and tells him that she has lost the baby. After defeating Qayin, the marriage between Bruce and Talia is dissolved, and he returns to Gotham City. In the book’s final scenes, Talia takes her and Bruce’s son to an orphanage, where she leaves him to be raised by a new family.

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In a lot of ways Batman: Son of the Demon feels like a meshing of Batman stories and spy movies. Ra’s al Ghul’s mountain fortress, the various globetrotting missions, and the fights with low level goons in order to get to the big figure behind everything feel very similar to a Bond movie, and a fair few of the designs from artist Jerry Bingham would fit perfectly into that world. It also doesn’t feel like Batman a lot of the time, as the character is being tested in ways readers had rarely seen at this point. Pre-Crisis Batman had been a father (and a lot of other weird things too!) but this was the only time this new version of the character was presented with the prospect of having a family. Seeing how that changed him and affected him made the book feel like a character study more than a superhero adventure a lot of the time.

Because the book was released as a solo graphic novel and didn’t really fit into any of the ongoing stories or series, its place in continuity was something that fans would question over the coming years. This was, however, changed when Grant Morrison came on to write their now famous run on Batman. In the very first arc of their run, ‘Batman and Son’, Bruce Wayne comes face to face with his son, Damian. Damian’s mother is Talia al Ghul, and Morrison took parts of Batman: Son of the Demon as the explanation for where Damian came from. In this new story Talia never gave her son away, and instead raised him to be a warrior. This cemented Batman: Son of the Demon into continuity for many readers, and made it an essential book for those wanting to delve deeper into the lore that Morrison was drawing from; it was even reprinted in 2006 with new cover art to tie into the Morrison releases.

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Even before this, however, the book was often featured on a variety of ‘Best Of’ style lists for Batman graphic novels, with it being held up as one of the best stories featuring Ra’s al Ghul. The book seemed to cement the idea of a semi-antagonistic relationship between the two, rather than Ra’s simply being a villain, and this odd dynamic where they’re both mortal enemies, but occasionally allies, and – weirdly – family has continued on ever since, and has only gotten stronger thanks to the creation of Damian.

Whilst the book is only short, clocking it at less than the length of four regular sized issues, it manages to pack a lot into the pages, and Mike W. Barr uses the limited pages well. It sets up a darker, more dangerous version of Batman and then deconstructs him in ways that readers don’t expect. Family has always been an important theme in Batman’s mythos and history, and this book plays an important part in that.

Batman: Son of the Demon was first published in December 1987.

Next time on The Comic Cave – Superman: Up In The Sky by Tom King and Andy Kubert.

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