The al-Ghuls are a well-written example of abuse in DC Comics. Their story is a humanized, relatable depiction of abuse passing through one family throughout several different generations.
Ra’s was designed to stand apart from costume crooks. Introduced in Batman #232’s “Daughter of the Demon,” writer Dennis O’Neil pitched him as a Moriarty to Batman’s Sherlock Holmes. The hero and villain mirror each other.
Both are men with a mission to improve the world and both train their families to assist in their mission. However, Batman is the head of a family of heroes. Meanwhile, Ra’s is the head of a family of assassins.
Ra’s al-Ghul’s name translates to English from Arabic as “head of the demon.” It’s an appropriate name for the leader of the League of Assassins (LOA), a criminal organization controlling the world through murder and sedition.
Ra’s has trained his family to be assassins in order to accomplish his goals and aspirations for not only his own family & legacy but also the League of Assassins group as well.
Introduction To The Demon:
Beginning with his introduction, Ra’s teams up with Batman after his daughter Talia and Robin are kidnapped by the same organization. However, it turns out Ra’s staged the kidnapping. It was a test to see if Batman was a worthy husband for his daughter. In the end, Ra’s offers Batman his organization and his daughter. Of course, as we know, the Dark Knight refuses.
Following this, Batman has had a long and complicated relationship with the al-Ghuls. Grandpa Ra’s considered him to be his only worthy heir. Talia called him her beloved, but often struggled to choose between him and her father. Damian Wayne, Batman’s son, was born out of a love affair with Talia.
The al-Ghul and Wayne families are not just in-laws, though. They are a dark mirror of the Bat Family. Ra’s started a cycle of violence that passed to his children, an intergenerational story of abuse in DC Comics.
Ra’s Al-Ghul: Parent To Child Abuse in DC ComicsSimilar to other comic book antagonists, Ra’s plays a double role as villain and father to Talia.
The Batman Chronicles #8 “The Prison” showed the way Ra’s trapped Talia in an abusive cycle.
The way Talia struggles to break free from Ra’s mirrors a cycle many victims endure.
In the comic Talia witnesses a man dying for betraying her father. Ra’s asked her to assassinate Batman to secure her loyalty. Most domestic abusers will not ask a victim to murder someone, of course.
However, portrayals of abuse in DC comics often use the fantastical as a lens for the mundane. This comic specifically models four phases of the cycle of abuse: tension-building, incident, reconciliation, and calm.
First, in the tension-building phase, stress from daily life builds. Talia notices and regularly tries to appease her father.
How terrified you must be at the thought of losing me. Yes, you are terrified another man will take me from you. Scared that Bruce’s love has a hold on me that you could never have.”
Second, an incident occurs, and physical or verbal abuse is inflicted to control their target. In “The Prison” Ra’s ordered Batman’s death to control her.
Third, in the reconciliation phase, the abuser’s remorse leads to either an ineffectual apology. Ra’s is shown comforting Talia in her sleep after giving her the order.
Fourth, the honeymoon phase is marked by the incident being forgotten with no real change in behavior. Talia does not kill Bruce in “The Escape.” However, she does not leave her father and the cycle remains unbroken.
No. I must never lose her. You are mine, Talia. You belong to me. Body and soul. I will never let you go. You will never, ever, be free… never.”
The accurate portrayal of this cycle is what makes their relationship a well-written example of abuse in DC Comics.
Nyssa Al-Ghul: Sibling To Sibling Abuse In DC ComicsThere are real-life parallels in the writing of abuse in DC Comics. The cycle of violence is often intergenerational, spanning from parent to child to sibling to sibling. Indeed, Ra’s children repeat the pattern their father established.
The “Batman: Death in the Maidens” storyline features Ra’s daughter and victim, Nyssa Al-Ghul.
In the beginning, Ra’s disowns Nyssa when she disagrees with his violent methods. When she is taken to a concentration camp in WW2, he turns his back on her.
Nyssa carries this trauma with her. As a result, she inflicts that trauma on her sister Talia. Nyssa actually arranges to have Talia killed and brought back by the pit so that Talia will experience what she experienced.
“I have endured the Lazarus pit, Talia. Just as have you. And all our times in that toxic soup, combined all that torment and trauma.”
Not only has Nyssa treated Talia the way Ra’s treated her, but she also adopts Ra’s more violent methods. After Ra’s witnesses her change, he makes Nyssa leader of the league and of Talia. Following that, Nyssa steps fully into her father’s shoes.
“I am my father’s daughter detective. His legacy is now mine, and what I do, I do for him. What I do, I do for the greater good. And isn’t that exactly what you do? A slave to the memory of your parents?”
Physical punishment has been linked to domestic violence later in life, and abuse in DC Comics is clearly written to reflect this reality.
Talia Al-Ghul: Intergenerational Abuse In DC ComicsTalia is another victim-turned-abuser. Her upbringing influenced how Talia raised Damian.
Damian’s conception is first depicted as happening in “Batman: Son of the Demon.” Grant Morrison’s 4-issue Story “Batman and Son” adapted this with a few changes. In Morrison’s version, Damian is a child conceived via date rape and raised as an assassin.
Arguably, these changes are an example of the “Dragon Lady” trope. In other words, it’s a harmful trope that reduces Talia to a stereotype of an East-Asian woman.
However, one could also look at this through the lens of her history. Talia’s behavior, as awful as it seems, makes sense considering the abuse she has endured.
For example, in the storyline “Bane of the Demon” the villain Bane met the al-Ghul family. Ra’s saw the potential in him as an heir and expected Talia to sleep with him. In this situation, “No” was not an option for her. Hence, Ra’s tried to control Talia’s sexual partners before, and sadly she always complied.
Ra’s “approved” of Bruce but often forbid Talia from seeing him too. He clearly believed his opinion of Talia’s sexual partners mattered. Furthermore, elements of eugenics or blood superiority always existed in Ra’s ideology. He expected greatness from his children because they are HIS children.
Provided that Ra’s raised Talia under those same ideals, it makes sense she might participate, even believe in creating a genetically perfect son.
The League Of AssassinsRaised within the LOA herself, Talia then raises Damian in the league.
In other words, Talia raised Damian in her father’s cult. The LOA exists for Ra’s to gain power and use it in any way he chooses.
Cults are another example of abuse in DC Comics. Parents within cults are often helpless to prevent their children’s abuse. This failure is frequently associated with battered women and is known as the “learned helplessness syndrome.“
“No, I’m talking now. Stop calling yourself a mother. You’re nothing of the sort. Mothers are kind and nurturing. Good mothers don’t program their children to become killing machines.”
Talia helped Ra’s indoctrinate her son into LOA ideology. Yet this wasn’t the first time.
“Red Hood: The Lost Days” effectively showed Talia wavering between her role as LOA member and mother. In the story she discovered an amnesiac Jason Todd wandering the streets of Gotham. She begged her father to rehabilitate him and spent more than a year with comatose Jason. Later, risking her father’s anger she arranged to restore Jason using the Lazarus Pit.
“I judge what I have done as not so much interviewing on fate’s behalf, but as stepping out of its way. You are meant for something, Jason. Only time will tell what it is. But you should know, more than any other reason – I have done this for love.”
Afterward, she stated the above. Her behavior towards Jason changed. She no longer nursed him. Instead, she hired a number of tutors in the art of murder. Also, she intentionally hired criminal tutors knowing Jason would enact vigilante justice on them.
Killing for the greater good is LOA ideology. Therefore, Talia tried to influence Jason’s beliefs into aligning more with hers. Talia’s refusal to leave the LOA or give up their ideas makes her a participant in Jason’s and later Damian’s brainwashing. She needed to distance herself from Ra’s to truly be a good mother.
In “Resurrection of Ra’s Al Ghul” she refused to let Ra’s possess her son’s body. Damian needed a mother who acted like that more often. One who chose him over the league.
Damian Wayne: Breaking the Cycle Of Abuse In DC ComicsDamian’s character differed from all previous Robins from the start. Raised as an assassin from birth, Damian does not need to be trained as a Robin.
Rather, he needs Batman to raise him as a son.
Damian’s entitled attitude reflects his upbringing. Talia raised a future Alexander the Great, not a ten-year-old boy. Therefore, everyone expects perfection from him at a young age.
Parentification is a form of emotional abuse where children are required to operate beyond their developmental capacity. Talia pressured her child to act like an adult. This results in Damian’s behavioral problems.
In the (2009) run of “Batman and Robin” Talia told Damian her expectations.
Talia: “Oh, Dami. Not only was the Wayne Fortune yours… but I would have given you the world as a birthday cake. What more can I offer you, but one last chance to accept your destiny my darling.”
Damian: “Can’t you just love me for who I am? Not what you want me to be?”
Talia “No, that’s not in my nature. I’m too much of a perfectionist.”
In real life, a parent might expect perfect grades from their children. As an example of abuse in DC Comics, Talia raises the perfect assassin.
Dick Grayson sees a side of Damian few saw before. Dick does not treat Damian as a perfect clone of his father. He sees a child whereas everyone else saw an adult. Alfred and Dick make an effort together to reach this child.
“If I may, we go to someone’s aid because we want to, because we need too, and that is what defines us. That is what defines you, master Damian. Not that your mother is Talia al-Ghul and your father is Bruce Wayne. In the end, you make you. No one else.”
Damian suffered from generational abuse in the al-Ghul family. However, he gets out. While still influenced by his mother and grandfather, he learns to form healthier relationships. Dick takes Damian’s needs as a child into mind. From there, Damian can start to grow up.
Making friends is a part of growing up, and A lot of the friends Damian makes are other victims of abuse in DC Comics.
Slade Wilson is another father who’s a villain to his own family. The list of his crimes is nearly endless, and he even spent some time with the League himself.
Rose is his bastard daughter. After learning about her, he abandoned her for others to raise. Later on, he realized his mistakes but also Rose’s potential use and expected to be a part of her life.
Slade is an emotional manipulator and controlling. Plus, as an assassin, his career puts his children in danger. In fact, his youngest son Joey Wilson lost his voice due to an incident with his father’s chosen profession.
He never chooses his children over his work.
Damian and Rose were raised in similar circumstances. Their parents chose their work over theirs. Since they are similar cases of abuse in Comics, Rose and Damian have connected on that basis.
In Robin (2021), Rose encourages Damian to make new friends outside of his family circle. This is what starts his arc of relating to victims of similar abuse in this series. Rose understood Damian because she knew what it was like to be used and abused by her family.
Connor is the son of Green Arrow or Oliver Queen. Just like Damian, his father is a superhero. Unlike Damian, though, Connor’s father abandons him the day he was born.
Children who are neglected or willfully abandoned by parents can experience developmental issues. Abandonment issues can develop from the loss of a parent. Connor shows several of these signs: social withdrawal, trust issues, and self-destructive behaviors.
In Robin (2021), Connor and Damian meet and compare notes. The differences in their fathers show the various ways abuse in DC Comics is written.
Connor began the story in an unhealthy place. Unable to trust anyone, he attempted to solve everything alone. Damian’s big moment of relating to him came when he realized Connor was too afraid to ask for help. When Connor is in danger, Damian calls for everyone’s help.
“He rang the bell and you came and helped him. My father’s first step in becoming batman was asking for help. Mother soul is right… I cannot win without your help.”
Damian not only relates to victims of similar abuse, but he also brings them together. His action of forming those healthy relationships is what breaks the chain. This decision in real life could be a huge opportunity to stop abuse in its tracks and end a cycle that plagues families.
Flatline was a character new to the series. Born with the power to absorb the skills of someone who died in her hands gives her an obsession with death.
Damian and Flatline relate to one another as well. Damian, born to assassins, left his mother behind for a family that treated him as a normal boy. Flatline’s parents refused to accept her powers and abandoned her. Death played a large role in both of their lives.
In Robin (2021), Damian joins a fighting tournament on Lazarus Island because fighting is what he thinks he does best. When Flatline is the first to defeat him, Damian takes an interest in her thinking he only wanted to win. They quickly develop a relationship out of the violence they learned as children.
Damian confesses to her the reason he has been carrying around a romance manga. He shares this because Damian and Flatline are looking for something in life besides their trauma.
“I just found it on the streets of Gotham and enjoyed it. It was something for me, so I kept it secret. So often everything I do or am is a piece of something else. My mother or my father. Even being Robin. But the manga… that’s mine.”
Damian serves as such a well-written example of abuse in DC Comics because he is allowed to grow. His trauma does not define him. Damian cultivates healthier relationships and a healthier sense of self outside of his trauma.
Abuse In The al-Ghul FamilyThe al-Ghul family forms a long chain of abuse being passed down through generations. Originally a husband and healer, Ra’s’ trauma of losing his wife started his obsession with the Lazarus Pits. From then on, Ra’s uses both the pits and his family as tools for his fight.
Abuse passes from one family member to the next. First, Ra’s inflicts that trauma on his family. Next, Nyssa, cruelly shaped by her father’s actions, controls her sister in a similar way. Then, Talia raises her son as an heir to the al-Ghuls first, and a boy second.
Only Damian, who leaves the family, begins taking steps toward self-improvement.
He inherits the trauma of his mother and grandfather but grows into his own person outside of it. Damian demonstrates recovery is possible, not only for other members of his family but other victims of abuse in DC Comics. As well as for those reading comics at home, in their own abusive household.