Review by Ian Keogh
While thematically linked to Son of the Demon and Bride of the Demon, and following up on some plot points, Birth of the Demon is a strained sequel, not least because neither of the original creators are involved. It’s left to Denny O’Neil and Norm Breyfogle to finish what’s considered a trilogy.
If anyone ought to be able to write a suitably imposing Ra’s Al Ghul without lapsing into parody it’s his creator O’Neil, and this is a very different character from the previous book, not least because he’s dying. Key to Ra’s Al Ghul is his requirement for immersion in a Lazarus Pit to prolong his centuries long life. Two of these were destroyed in previous books, and Batman has been monitoring likely sites for replacements, preventing their creation. That, however, isn’t the main portion of the story, which is the history of Ra’s Al Ghul. It’s disguised as a Batman tale by his presence bookending the bulk set in the past.
Seeing Norm Breyfogle paint his art instead of pencilling is unusual, and he’s very good. The script supplies him with visual spectacle that he fully exploits, painting in storybook brightness using bold and vivid colours and montage pages. He draws us into images we’re used to seeing associated with a fairy tale world, but here invested with a full range of emotional horror.
A strong spiritual streak has characterised O’Neil’s best writing, and it’s present here as we see Ra’s Al Ghul live his first life as a physician in a never named Arabic country. A dream guides him, and he receives a tragic early lesson in the ingratitude of the privileged, and their propensity for casual torture. What follows is a quest for bitter revenge and being set on a lifelong path with the realisation that power equates to freedom. O’Neil’s story also delivers on the consequences of power, however, and how it corrupts and diminishes compassion, and builds to a fine finish that’s consistent with all participants. It’s very satisfying and the best of the three Demon graphic novels.
Birth of the Demon is now the title of a book encompassing all three of these connected Ra’s Al Ghul stories, although it’s a standard trade paperback publication, reducing the art slightly from the original publication size. In the UK partwork series DC Graphic Novel Collection it’s also Birth of the Demon Pt 2.