The secret of immortality isn’t the Lazarus Pit—it’s family. This might sound like the tagline to an all-ages animated movie about Ra’s al Ghul, but it’s actually an epiphany that hits Ra’s at the beginning of “Shadow War,” the new Joshua Williamson-penned Batman crossover event. The currently in-progress storyline features an all-out war between the world’s greatest assassins sparked by the apparent murder of Ra’s al Ghul. Talia has reason to believe Deathstroke did it, even though Slade Wilson insists he’s been set up.
Needless to say, things get pretty destructive, and Batman finds himself caught in the middle. Don’t sleep on this storyline, the action is intense, the twists are shocking, and the emotional stakes are high. There is a mystery afoot, and I can’t help but wonder if the death of Ra’s is connected to his last minute change of heart.
The story begins in Shadow War: Alpha #1 with Ra’s lovingly watching his grandson Damian spar with his daughter Talia. It’s a sweet grandfatherly moment that almost makes you forget that the Demon’s Head is a tyrannical ecoterrorist who is responsible for countless deaths. Either way, when you look at Ra’s in that moment, it’s clear that he’s feeling pride and that changes something within him.
Talia lays it out to Batman in this week’s Deathstroke Inc. #8: “Our son finally showed him that his legacy would live beyond him. That someone could change for the better. I know this because Damian has shown me as well.”
Ra’s had even begun to reject the Lazarus Pits he once relied on for immortality. They say that old age mellows people out. With Ra’s it just took a few centuries longer.
Our world may not have rejuvenating pits of liquid that can revive the dead, but as Ra’s discovered, there are other ways to achieve immortality. It gets back to my opening statement: family is the key. When you teach your children, those lessons become a part of them. You leave a piece of yourself in their mind, and that will stay with them long after you die. They will pass those lessons down to their children, who will in turn pass it down to theirs. Our bodies don’t last forever, but we achieve immortality with what we leave behind, whether it’s family or art.
Consider Denny O’Neil, the iconic writer who passed away in 2020. He co-created Ra’s al Ghul, Talia and the Lazarus Pits, and it’s safe to say the “Shadow War” storyline wouldn’t exist without him. In a way, Ra’s is Denny’s Lazarus Pit, since the creation has granted him immortality. Deathstroke, a character created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, is also heavily featured in this story. Last week, DC announced that June would be George Pérez month, with the legendary artist celebrated for thirty days. Slade Wilson is one of many creations that will ensure that Pérez’s legacy is eternal.
Speaking of Deathstroke, he’s also going through his own introspection about family and immortality thanks to the arrival of Respawn. The young assassin is a genetic experiment with the combined DNA of Slade Wilson and Talia al Ghul, but Deathstroke looks at him as a son. Respawn isn’t Slade’s first child, but his track record as a father hasn’t been great, so he sees Respawn as a final chance to make things right. Throughout Robin #13, you can see Slade beaming with fatherly pride as he tells Batman, “That’s my boy. Not yours.”
With Respawn, Slade is trying to avoid the mistakes he made with his earlier children, Grant, Joey and Rose. In Deathstroke Inc. #8, Respawn considers cutting his own eye out to be more like his father, but Slade stops him. This echoes a moment from 2004’s Teen Titans #12 where Rose cut her eye out to prove her loyalty to Slade. He sees how he failed Rose, but rather than repair his relationship with her, he’s trying to fix those mistakes with Respawn.
Speaking of repairing relationships with your children, the fractured bond between Batman and Robin is at the center of this saga. When the Dark Knight runs into his son during Shadow War: Alpha #1, Oracle aggressively tells Bruce to hug his son. Unfortunately, healing the rift between father and son isn’t as easy as catching crooks. Damian still feels guilty over the death of Alfred, and Bruce’s attempts to talk it through only make things worse. Batman has been trained for many things, but dealing with teenagers can be challenging no matter how powerful you are. The death of Ra’s al Ghul only makes things worse, with Damian blaming Bruce for allowing his grandfather to die.
In a way, it’s ironic that a villain like Ra’s found comfort in family harmony while Batman continues to struggle. Ra’s spent thousands of years believing that the secret to immortality meant bathing in a mystical pit only to discover that real immortality was far easier to achieve. Family is forever, and the legacy you leave them will last centuries longer than your flesh and bones. When he realized this, Ra’s stopped using the Lazarus Pits. He no longer needed them. After centuries of prolonging his death, he was finally ready to die.
The question is, can Batman and Slade come to the same realization before it’s too late? It’s not too late to fix things between Slade and Rose. Respawn has given him another chance as a father, and perhaps it could give him the clarity he needs for a reconciliation with his daughter. Batman and Robin may have a long way to go, but the Dynamic Duo have come back from worse (and the ending of Robin #13 is certainly a step in the right direction for them). The opening shots of the Shadow War have been fired, and I can’t wait to see how everyone will fare once the dust settles.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.