Ra’s al Ghul had a strong start in animation, making his debut in BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES in “The Demon’s Quest, Parts I and II,” written by Denny O’Neil and Len Wein and directed by Kevin Altieri, which stands as one of the most faithful and successful direct translations of a comic book to animation, well, ever.
All of the dramatic beats from the comic story are here and executed brilliantly, from Robin’s kidnapping to Batman’s fight with the panther to the duel in the desert between Batman and Ra’s.
As for the acting, Helen Slater does a great job as the tough but lovestruck Talia and David Warner gives one of the best performances of the series as Ra’s al Ghul, blending a regal dignity with an occasionally manic villainous flair.
Ra’s al Ghul’s next appearance on BTAS didn’t quite meet the same standards, with “Avatar,” written by Michael Reaves and directed by Kevin Altieri, some fairly routine business with Batman and Talia tracking down Ra’s, who’s on the trail of an ancient Egyptian mummy.
The episode ends, naturally, with a big mummy fight, which admittedly looks cool but doesn’t have the class and gravitas of Batman and Ra’s’ earlier encounter.
Ra’s had a smaller part in “Showdown,” written by Altieri, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Joe Lansdale, and directed by Kevin Altieri, in which a kidnapping at a Gotham old folks’ home leads Batman and Robin to discover the story of one of Ra’s’ adventures a hundred years ago in the Old West, in which Ra’s al Ghul finds himself at odds with the legendary DC gunslinger Jonah Hex.
It’s a fantastic change of pace for the series, an excellent Western adventure, and at the end, a touching note of humanity for Ra’s al Ghul. It’s one of my favorite episodes, and it’s on the newest DVD collection of BTAS episodes, so check it out.
Ra’s al Ghul and Talia sat out THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES, but made their next appearance in SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, in the episode “The Demon Reborn,” written by Rich Fogel and directed by Dan Riba. Here it’s shown that Ra’s al Ghul’s many rebirths in the Lazarus Pit have caught up to him, and the ancient, dessicated Ra’s has only one chance at continued life: siphoning off Superman’s strength with a mystical artifact. Suckering in Superman with a pretend attempt on Lois Lane’s life (and I have to admit, Talia looks pretty good in Lois’s outfit), Talia and Ra’s manage to drain Superman of much of his strength, transferring it to a now freakishly pumped Ra’s, before Batman arrives and puts the kibosh on the experiment.
Talia made her swan song in the Batman animated universe in an episode of the futuristic BATMAN BEYOND series, “Out of the Past,” written by Paul Dini and directed by James Tucker. For those who may have missed out on this underrated show, BATMAN BEYOND featured an 80-year-old Bruce Wayne serving as mentor to Terry McGinness, Gotham’s new Batman. However, in this episode a still young and vital Talia returns and offers Bruce his lost youth back via a dip in the Lazarus Pit, a prospect which doesn’t thrill young Terry, who fears that a once-more youthful Bruce Wayne may wish to reclaim his mantle as the Batman.
It’s very cool to see a once-more-young Bruce fighting alongside Terry for the first time, and the long-dead Ra’s al Ghul even makes his presence felt, in a most disturbing and unsettling fashion. And as if all this wasn’t enough, the story opens with a hilarious sequence in which Terry drags Bruce to the smash “Batman” Broadway musical – the scene in which “Batman” and “Commissioner Gordon” sing the duet “A Superstitious, Cowardly Lot” has to be seen to be believed.
The Batman animated universe set a pretty high standard for using these characters, one which director Chris Nolan came to close to meeting, but never quite struck the mark.