Episode Number: 60
Original Air Date: May 3, 1993
Directed by: Kevin Altieri
Written by: Dennis O’Neil
First Appearance(s): Ubu, The Lazarus Pit
We have reached what feels like a seminal piece of Batman: The Animated Series: “The Demon’s Quest” and the true debut of Ra’s al Ghul. There’s no denying that the biggest break-out star from this show was Harley Quinn, a character created for the program who has gone on to become a rather popular part of DC. She was an original star, and if we were to pick a break-out from the list of pre-existing characters from Batman’s past it would come down to two villains: Mr. Freeze and Ra’s al Ghul. Freeze was already fairly well-known to fans of Batman, both casual and hardcore. His presence in the 60’s television show is largely responsible for that, and even though his portrayals are rather lame in comparison to what this show did for him, he didn’t experience the same boost that Ra’s did, for he was only known to the hardcore fan base. Without this series, does he get featured-villain treatment in Batman Begins? Probably not. And while he debuted in “Off Balance,” this episode is essentially his real unveiling and where the audience gets to learn just who this guy is.
The episode opens unconventionally as it jumps right from the opening credits into the action without a title card. Robin is returning from a night out and is sneaking back into his dormitory. The interior of his room is dark when he climbs in through the window, but we can see he keeps a framed picture of Bruce on his dresser which is just adorable. We wouldn’t be seeing this though if something important wasn’t about to happen, and Robin is confronted in his room by some shadowy men. They tranquillize him, and as he falls to the floor the camera pans up on a darkened figure and a flash of lightning gives us a look at this green-cloaked figure with a horned mask.
The title of the episode is then introduced, but over a “live” shot as Batman enters the Batcave on one of his motorcycles. Alfred is there to greet him and ask if there’s any word, to which Batman responds there is no sign of Robin or Dick Grayson anywhere in the city. Alfred is clearly distressed and hands Batman some mail that arrived for him as he heads upstairs to wait by the phone in case Dick calls. Batman opens the envelope and is angered to see it contains a photo of a bound Robin with a crooked dagger being pointed at his face. His anger is further fueled when a voice from the dark calls to him and a figure walks into the light.
Demanding how the man got in, Batman rushes at him only to have a dagger strike the ground in front of him. A second, much larger, man emerges as well and the first, soft-spoken figure apologizes for his overzealous protector. The man is Ra’s al Ghul (David Warner) and his attendant is Ubu (Manu Tupou). The viewer saw Ra’s in the closing moments of “Off Balance,” but this is Batman’s first time meeting what he refers to as The Demon’s Head. It would seem Ra’s has a reputation. He reveals that, via a second photo, that his beloved daughter Talia (Helen Slater) was abducted the same night as Robin and he wants Batman’s help in rescuing them. Batman, after seeing the weapon and rope in the image, knows them to be of Indian origin and the preferred weapon of a mercenary cult there. An impressed al Ghul declares they should then head to India aboard his aircraft.
As they depart the Batcave, Batman makes the mistake of walking in front of Ra’s al Ghul causing Ubu to toss him aside. Ra’s apologizes and asks Batman to consider it a case of overzealousness, but Batman instead refers to it as strike one. Aboard the aircraft, Ra’s explains how he figured out Batman’s identity and also alludes to how old he is by referencing a conversation he once had with Napoleon.
On the streets of India, Batman notes a building of interest thought to be connected with the mercenary group they’re looking for, and once again makes the mistake of passing in front of al Ghul leading to strike two. Once inside the building, the trio are attacked by ninja-like assassins. Ubu ushers Ra’s out of the way and the two seem content to watch Batman at work. He neutralizes their attackers, but leaves one conscious for interrogation. The frightened mercenary (Frank Welker) says the others have left and taken the hostages with them. They’re heading for Malaysia.
The group heads for Malaysia, though this time via automobile. As they drive through a rain forest, Ra’s al Ghul reveals more of himself. He condemns those who prioritize profits over the environment and rattles off statistics about the rain forest’s rapid destruction. Batman attempts to defend the good name of Bruce Wayne by mentioning how much money he donates to environmental causes, but Ra’s is unimpressed. It will take force to fix what is wrong with the world, not capital, and Batman asks if Ra’s is the one who will wield such force, but he’s non-committal citing his advanced age.
At the temple the merc instructed them to check out, Batman races ahead and finds himself trapped. A black panther emerges to do battle, and Batman is forced to suffocate it, but not kill it, with his cape. As he replaces his cape, Ubu smashes in a giant steel door that had slammed shut behind Batman and he and Ra’s enter. They seem dismayed to see little of value in the room, save for a map. Batman notes there’s a scratch on the map likely left by a fingernail and determines that it likely represents someone tracing a route on the map. It starts at the temple, and leads into the Himalayas. Ra’s says he’s familiar with the area and knows where they could land an aircraft and the three set out. This time, Batman beckons Ra’s to go first with a polite bow and smirk for Ubu, who nods approvingly.
High above the mountains, Batman is preparing to parachute to the base of the mountain while Ra’s and Ubu will land closer to the summit. Batman doesn’t seem thrilled about having to trudge through the harsh, winter, conditions while the other two get to fly, but Ra’s insists it’s needed so Batman can gather intel. Dressed in a warm looking parka, Batman jumps and begins his descent down. A flash catches his eye and soon a rocket zooms past him and strikes the chopper causing it to burst into flames and crash below. Before Batman can even be allowed to wonder if the other two escaped, machine gun fire starts heading his way forcing him to ditch the parachute.
A pair of mercenaries on skis arrive at the wreckage and see what appears to be Batman face-down in the snow. They open fire, but it turns out Batman had simply ditched his parka as it bounces around from the gunfire. He emerges from the snow behind the mercenaries and takes them out. Looking rather cold and miserable, Batman follows the trail left in the snow from their skis to their origin.
There he finds a cave which leads into a fairly large temple. Robin is there bound to a chair and Batman races over to check on him. Robin is quite glad to see Batman, and Batman lets him know he’ll have him free in a second.
Famous last words? Knives and spears immediately come flying in from the darkness at Batman who deftly dodges them only to be met by a rush of masked men wielding giant axes. Batman tangles with them, while we’re left to mostly experience the fight through Robin’s expressions as he marvels at his mentor’s abilities. Once all of the men have been dealt with, Batman frees Robin and also reveals he know who kidnapped him. Before he can explain, some clapping can be heard as the shadowy man with the horned mask enters the room. Batman rushes him, removing the mask, and revealing the man behind it: Ra’s al Ghul.
Batman is obviously rather irritated at this whole sideshow, but he does go into detail how he figured out it was Ra’s all along. Ra’s seems impressed, and when Batman demands to know why he orchestrated this whole thing Ra’s reveals his intentions. He’s old, and nearing the end of his already well-extended life, and he needs someone to take up his mantle. He has his own view of justice, of which we were privy to some of that during their conversation on the rain forest, and he thinks Batman is the man for the job. Not only is he a worthy warrior and detective (the name Ra’s uses for Batman throughout the episode), but he has also captured the heart of his beloved daughter, Talia. She also enters the picture showing off far more skin than before, and Batman’s eyes turn into that half-circle shape when Ra’s mentions that she loves him. She gives him an inviting gaze and for a second it seems like Batman might be for this (who could blame him?), but his cutely shaped eyes turn back into narrow slits and he refuses.
Batman then takes his leave with Robin at his side. Ubu runs up to him and reminds him that his master did not give him permission to leave. When Batman says he didn’t ask, Ubu takes a swing. Batman catches his fist and holds it in place. As we hear the bones in Ubu’s hand crack, Batman declares that this is strike 3 and dumps Ubu on his back. Ubu, who was apparently strong enough to smash in a steel door earlier, can’t match Batman’s strength nor can he withstand a simple arm-drag. At this point, Ra’s is irate, and as the sweat beads on his forehead he declares that they shall now be enemies. A fit of coughing overtakes him and he crumbles to the floor. Talia begs for help, but Batman insists he isn’t playing any more of their games. Talia insists this is no game and that her father is dying. Batman checks his pulse and determines there’s no faking that, and Talia tells him they must take her father to the Lazarus Pit in this mountain.
Batman carries Ra’s as the others follow and Talia leads the way. They come to a cliff-face inside the mountain with a gurney on a pulley. At the bottom of the cliff is a pit of green, boiling, liquid. Robin thinks it’s crazy to put Ra’s in there, but Talia insists it’s the only way. Batman declares that it will have to do, as Ra’s has stopped breathing. They place his body on the gurney and lower him in. As the two heroes look on in wonder, Talia stands there smiling. Down below, the liquid swirls and the outline of Ra’s al Ghul appears in the water with fiendishly glowing red eyes. The liquid bursts forth in a water spout and Ra’s lands back on the cliff looking strong, and fit. He begins to laugh maniacally as Talia rushes in to embrace him. He looks completely crazy, and he grabs Talia around the waist and continues to laugh in her face in this demented fashion. He then hoists her above his head, prompting Batman to demand he let her go. He rushes al Ghul, only to be kicked and sent flying backwards. As Batman continues to demand he release Talia, Ra’s al Ghul’s laughter continues as the episode ends.
“The Demon’s Quest” is an effective and exciting way to introduce Ra’s al Ghul. He was already mysterious and interesting after his first appearance, and this episode illustrates just what makes him special. His apparent immortality makes him a more supernatural foe in a series that’s fairly grounded for a cartoon. He also has an almost supernatural ability to acquire information and setup elaborate traps to ensnare Batman. And at the same time, he’s dangerously relatable. Who didn’t identify with Ra’s al Ghul’s thoughts on the rain forest devastation in 1993? It was a hot topic and kids especially would have been expected to take his side in that argument. His motivations are still mysterious and we don’t really know just what he does that makes him a villain. He has ideals and principles, and very clearly is not afraid to operate above or outside the law as he’s willing to stage a kidnapping just to test Batman. And then there’s the madness of the character at the episode’s conclusion. Is that his true nature or a side effect of the Lazarus Pit? His behaviour there makes him a more natural villain, especially as he seems prepared to harm his daughter, which perhaps is a way to make sure the viewers don’t move fully to his side.
The reappearance of Talia is also welcomed. She and Batman have unfinished business stemming from her first appearance, and it was rewarding to see that followed-up on. There’s still a lot of questions surrounding her. She and Batman seemed to hit it off in “Off Balance,” but how much of that was just she playing him? Even here, Ra’s claims that Batman has captured his daughter’s heart, but we don’t know how much of that is true and how much is deceit. She’s obviously well-trained so anything is possible. It’s also clear she’s devoted to her father, so Batman better watch out. As a child viewer, I think I wanted to see Batman go for it with Talia, but as a more mature viewer now I must say I think he was trying to do the right thing in just walking away from that hot mess.
Dennis O’Neil wrote this episode and he was responsible for the works from which it originates, Batman #232 and Batman #244. Other episodes of the show were based on his comic stories, but this is the only one he was either asked to write for the show or the only one he chose to write. And interestingly, he’s just a co-writer on Part II as he shared duties with Len Wein. Wein is credited as handling the teleplay which leads me to think he may have only received credit for the original work, while Wein handled the translation of comic to screen. At any rate, if you’re only going to write one episode of the show this (and the conclusion, Part II) is a pretty good one.
In addition to the fascinating villain of the episode is also the presentation. Robin working his way through a stormy night at the episode’s open is an attention-grabber. The scene itself isn’t thrilling from the start, but just the way it decides to forego the title card is enough to make it unsettling. It feels like an important episode from act one. It also looks fabulous and that’s largely due to the animation of Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS). TMS works on some of the most elaborate and expensive animation in Japan so every episode of this show they handle feels extra special. While this doesn’t top the fantastic work the studio did for “Feat of Clay – Part II” it’s certainly not a slouch in the animation department. If I had one piece of criticism though it’s that they may have gotten a bit too horny with Talia. Her bust is massive and dominating and, at times, oddly shaped as if they were paying way too much attention to making her sexy. It’s all the more stark since Part II was animated far more tastefully. I’m not against her being sexy, as seduction is one of her weapons, it’s just a bit over-the-top.
“The Demon’s Quest – Part I” sets up what should be a rather interesting conclusion. With Ra’s gone mad and Batman and Robin stranded in the Himalayas, it would seem they’ll need to get rather resourceful if they want to get home. In terms of setup, it might not be quite as exciting as some of the others, but the possibility of a worthy pay-off seems just as likely.