The Rise of Ra’s al Ghul in DC Live Action

It’s interesting to me how certain things catch an unexpected wind and take flight. Like viral videos (Seriously, how did Chewbacca mom get more than 11 total views), no one ever knows what will gain speed. A strange example to me is the abundance of appearances of Ra’s al Ghul and his daughters in DC live action over the last decade.

Full disclosure: I was more of a Marvel guy growing up. A child of the 1970’s, DC live action consisted of Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin in the campiest show in the history of superheroes on screen. The villains were great. I still maintain Ceser Romero as a contender in the Best Joker Ever discussion. Burgess Meredith as Penguin? Get out of here. He was awesome.

Catwoman, the Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Lex Luthor, Brainiac – those were the villains of my youth. Enter Ra’s Al ghul.

Batman: The Birth of the Demon

I wasn’t really familiar with the Demon’s Head until his first (I think) screen appearance in Batman Begins. To be honest, I was meh about the story line in BB, and because of that, less than impressed by Liam Neeson, who I normally enjoy.

It was really season 3 of Arrow that was my big introduction to Ra’s al Ghul, who was played by Matt Nable. There is a fairly large creative liberty taken in the Arrowverse and Ra’s al Ghul was made a title passed from person to person, instead of an actual person. Hmmm. Can anyone say Dread Pirate Roberts? In season 3, Ra’s was the big bad, and he eventually chose Oliver to be the next Ra’s al Ghul, and even later in the season, Malcolm Merlyn becomes Ra’s al Ghul. I thought Matt Nable did a really great job of portraying the totally unflappable Ra’s al Ghul. It’s nice to see a villain who is calm, cool and collected at all times.

Finishing out the Demon’s Head live action trifecta, and the impetus for this article was the casting of Alexander Siddig in the role of Ra’s for FOX’s Gotham. The 51 year old Siddig has some serious Geek acting cred,  appearing as a regular in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Game of Thrones, and 24 among a pile of other things. He is scheduled to make his appearance on Gotham after it returns from the winter break (April 24), as Bruce Wayne digs deeper to see who is behind the Court of Owls.

The character of Ra’s al Ghul is totally intriguing … hundreds of years old…head of League of Assassins, and League of Shadows….. keeper of the Lazurus Pits….. father of Talia al Ghul and Nyssa Raatko…

For Ra’s al Ghul Reading – Batman: Tales of the Demon

Talia al Ghul, daughter of the demon, has done her DC live action time too. She was the secret big bad in Dark Knight Rises, played by Marion Cotillard, wanting to vaporize Gotham City with a nuke,  and has now has crept into the flashbacks of Arrow Season 5, this time played by Lexa Doig. In the comics she plays the important role of sometimes lover of Batman, leading to the super important role of mother of Damian Wayne, Bruce’s son and the 5th person to be Robin, a little fact I learned in a recent piece I wrote about the Boy Wonder.

Photo: Michael Courtney/The CW — © 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Nyssa, who in the comics goes by the last name Raatko, has made an abundance of appearances on Arrow, playing Ra’s impetuous daughter, who eventually orchestrates the undoing of Malcolm Merlyn’s ascendancy to the position of Ra’s al Ghul. Nyssa, is played by the talented Katrina Law, and is also the former lover of Sara Lance, who she met when Sara was training with the League of Assassins.

DC: Infinite Crisis

So, of all the characters in the DC universe to use, why is it that the al Ghuls have caught on so much in live action. Could it be that we are tired of the Joker, the Penguin, and Catwoman? They’ve all made multiple appearances as well. Could it be that they loan themselves to the gritty path that producers have banked on? I have to admit, that since I have found the al Ghuls, I wonder at Christopher Nolan’s decision to kill off Talia, knowing that she had such an important role to play later on. The Dark Knight trilogy was clearly never meant to be anymore than that… a three film stand alone event. Will the DCEU ever be able to build a foundation for a long-term series like Marvel? Batman is clearly the cornerstone of that, and they started with a Caped Crusader who is too old to be sustainable for a long run, unless they are willing to turn over the cowl to a younger Dick Grayson or one of the other non-villains who have worn the cape.

In any case, there is certainly more room for the Ra’s al Ghul family, after Siddig’s stint on Gotham, and Talia’s flashback scenes on Arrow. If I had to guess though, we are probably done with them for awhile, except perhaps seeing more of Nyssa or Talia in the DC CW Arrowverse in small doses. The giant liberties they took there, however, might have made that unlikely.

The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul

Look at all the speculation we can enjoy. This is the great thing about the comic book world. There is so much there, that even as a long-term fan, you can find something new, even if it has been around for decades. (Ra’s first appearance in Batman was in 1971.)

What do you think about the Ra’s al Ghul family prominence in the live action DC universe?  Should we see more of them in upcoming DCEU films? Let’s discuss below.


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Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two. Follow Pete Herr on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram . If you don’t he gets Grumpy. You don’t want to see him Grumpy.

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