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Batman vs. Robin: Dealing with the Devil Nezha

Batman vs. Robin: Dealing with the Devil Nezha

By Alex Jaffe Tuesday, September 13th, 2022

To say the least, 2022 has been an eventful year for Batman. There was the reconstruction of Batman, Inc., the Shadow War between Talia and Slade Wilson and who can forget that he was killed in Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths. But Batman’s greatest challenge of the year is still yet to come, when the highly anticipated Batman vs. Robin tests him and his son against the devil himself…or one specific devil. Throughout the year, a new powerhouse super-villain known as the Devil Nezha has been growing in reputation and formidability in the pages of several of DC’s titles—and with Batman vs. Robin, all that comes to a head. Here’s what we know so far about the new Big Bad for the Dynamic Duo.

The Legend of Nezha

The origin of the Devil Nezha is told in Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #2, by Batman vs. Robin’s own author Mark Waid. But Waid based his tale on Chinese folklore about an ascendant deity of the same name. Nezha’s origins can actually be traced back 3600 years to the Shang Dynasty, the earliest Chinese dynasty known to recorded history. In thousands of years of retelling, there have been many versions of the legend of Nezha. In Batman/Superman, Waid presents his own account, as informed by many such legends told long before the concept of superheroes as we know them today was born.

Waid’s account of the legend of Nezha begins with a powerful warlord, Li Jing, and his son Nezha, who inherited his father’s ambition for power acquired by military might. But when Nezha was slain in battle, Li Jing forfeited his kingdom to travel the world and pursue any means of resurrecting his child. Li Jing spent years humbling himself before a powerful wizard, who eventually took pity on the fallen warlord and granted him an Elixir of Eternal Life. Li Jing used this elixir on his son, which not only returned him to life, but granted him immortality. But upon witnessing the wretched creature his father had become to resurrect him, Nezha slayed him in disgust.

Armed with immortality, Nezha reclaimed his father’s lost empire and expanded it ever further, collecting mystical artifacts from every land he conquered to increase his own power. The Devil Nezha, as he had come to be known, may well have conquered the Earth, if not for the intervention of five mystic warriors from the House of Ji—one of whom would sacrifice himself to seal Nezha away for all time in an inescapable crypt from the inside. Thus was the Devil Nezha defeated, and no one ever had to worry about him ever again.

Just kidding. If that was true, we wouldn’t be here right now, would we?

The Lazarus Connection

So, you may recall we mentioned an “Elixir of Eternal Life.” Isn’t there something like that in Batman stories, which keeps an immortal enemy going for centuries and often restores long lost enemies and allies alike?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, we’re talking about the Lazarus Pits, most often utilized by Ra’s al Ghul. The 2019 Robin series presents us with a wealth of new lore about the Lazarus Pits as Damian Wayne journeys to a tournament on Lazarus Island where a “League of Lazarus” controlled by Mother Soul—who turns out to be Ra’s al Ghul’s own mother and Damian’s great-grandmother—conspires to resurrect the “Lazarus Demon” which imbues the pits with their power.

Damian and his allies join forces to take the Lazarus Demon down, but in the end, Mother Soul indicates that the true force behind the pits, a different devil entirely, remains undiscovered. While the connection between the Lazarus Demon and Nezha remains nebulous, it’s no doubt something we’ll see further developed in Batman vs. Robin…especially considering how the recently concluded Robin series ends. We’ll get to that in just a moment.

The World’s Finest

Let’s cut from 3600 BC to…not quite the present day, but years earlier. Back in the prime of Batman and Superman’s careers, when Bruce still worked alongside Dick Grayson as his first and only Robin. Such is the setting for Waid’s Superman/Batman: World’s Finest, an ongoing love letter to comic ages past.

The first Superman/Batman story arc features the return of Nezha, whose power to dominate the minds of whoever he chooses sets Superman and Batman in conflict with the world’s heroes and villains. With the help of Robin, Supergirl, the Doom Patrol and some clever application of a Phantom Zone projector, the World’s Finest manage to reseal Nezha in his tomb for all time. And this time…

No, we still don’t mean it. That tomb is getting opened one more time.

All right, now we can cut to the present day to a scene teased at the end of this World’s Finest story, and the end of Robin as well. Damian Wayne originally came to Lazarus Island with a purpose in mind. Like the warlord Li Jing before him, the son of Batman has made it his mission to restore the life of a loved one: the stalwart Alfred Pennyworth. That expedition to Lazarus Island gave him the prize he sought to resurrect his surrogate father, but he ultimately chose not to use it.

And yet, here we find Damian once more, unsealing the tomb of Nezha. Has Damian had a change of heart? Is Nezha the key to returning Alfred’s sardonic wit and unconditional support and love to Wayne Manor? And is the Devil’s propensity for possession responsible for the “versus” in Batman vs. Robin? All the answers await us today, as Batman vs. Robin #1 hits shops. It’s the crescendo of a legend that was 3600 years in the making.

Batman vs. Robin #1 by Mark Waid, Mahmud Asrar and Jordie Bellaire is now available in print and as a digital comic book.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.