You don’t often see villains falling in love and taking wives. Ra’s Al Ghul is an exception. Of course, he bathes his woman in the Lazarus Pit first, and really only pursues her to begin with so he can have a son. He is a villain, after all.
In the trio of stories that precede Grant Morrison’s classic tale of Batman’s son Damian, Bride of the Demon is the one that probably does the best job at following a somewhat believable storyline. It follows the plot of Ra’s to secure the services of Carmody, a man who can help Ra’s scorch the planet in his attempts to (eventually) bring Earth back to a pure state, without all of man’s pollution.
Batman becomes aware of Ra’s and his plot, and decides to intervene. Like the previous story, the strength in this one, as far as story-telling goes, is that Batman isn’t really anchored to Gotham. He goes abroad to stop Ra’s. Of course, he inevitably runs into Talia again.
Talia isn’t as well written this time around. She seems more fickle and indecisive, likely a by-product of the typical sexism in the era, which typically portrayed women in comics as emotional, impulsive, and unreliable. She also looks almost nothing like she did in the previous graphic novel, which would be understandable given the different artist, except the other major characters, like Ra’s and Bruce, look pretty much identical. Nevertheless, the tension between Bruce and Talia feels very real, and their on-again-off-again relationship feels quite real in this installment, with Talia struggling between her love for Bruce, and the loyalty she feels obligated to give to her father.
The part of the story that is more despicable, however, comes with Ra’s and his wife. When he decides that he wants a child, and therefore decides to pick a wife, he doesn’t pick her based on her character. Instead, he goes to a woman who used to be a gorgeous movie star, gives her a dip in the Lazarus Pit to restore her youth (the artist offering a far too revealing pose of her newly found youth in the process), then uses that to attract her to him, all essentially being only for the sake of creating an heir, since Batman won’t cooperate.
So in other words, in Ra’s’s world, women are only good for making male babies, and they’re only good enough for that if they’re young and hot. That’s an extremely sexist message, which would make me inclined to want to burn this book, except for one thing: it’s coming from the villain. You’re supposed to dislike Ra’s and what he does, which extends to the way he goes about finding a bride. This is juxtaposed to our hero, Batman, who in Son of the Demon showed a very sacrificial care for Talia, during the time that they were married.
Beyond the setting of these relationships, the story itself is pretty interesting. It contains some really cool fight sequences, particularly when at Ra’s’s headquarters, and the story manages to include Robin (Tim Drake) and Alfred as well, going from Gotham to the other end of the world, back to Gotham, and back to the other end of the world. This also makes the book feel longer than it actually is, in a good way. The story also expounds more on the rivalry between Batman and Ra’s, something that the previous story didn’t do very well, since it focused more on the temporary partnership between the two of them.
What positivity there is here is offset, however. Talia’s immodesty is quite a bit worse than in the previous story, and the aforementioned revealing look at Ra’s’s wife’s rise from the Lazarus Pit gives me some fairly serious concerns about allowing either gender to read this, either for reasons of avoiding possible temptation, or feeling devalued when compared to the unrealistic standards of comic book women.
So in the end, it is a cool story, but I’m not really sure it’s worth it for the sexuality that exists here. If the panel depicting the Lazarus Pit is cut out, it would certainly be more appropriate, although Talia’s dress is still a concern. If you have any concerns about missing out on important details for the Damian story, or future stories involving Ra’s, do not fear. The writers of the comics basically ignore everything in this story. So I’d move on. There are plenty of good Batman stories to read that aren’t as tainted by sexuality as this one is.