September 25, 2023

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #395: Nyssa Al-Ghul

Ra's al-Ghul has been around for a long time. So he was bound to have other children.

Like a lot of geeks, Batman is my favorite superhero.  And yet, I can’t say I have ever cared much for Ra’s al-Ghul.  I rather like the idea of Batman being the urban vigilante taking on the various darker elements of a dark city.  Ra’s feels like he came from a completely different sort of story, one that takes Batman out of his element and makes him some sort of globetrotting adventurer.  That’s fine and all, and there are plenty of good heroes of that mold.  I just don’t care that much when Batman does it without the Justice League.

Part of that antipathy comes from the character of Talia, so you can imagine my general delight when creators Greg Rucka and Klaus Janson gave the world another daughter to the Demon’s Head, and Nyssa was absolutely nothing like her sister.

Before I get into Nyssa, a character I probably should have covered a long time ago, allow me to explain why I don’t much dig Talia.  Ra’s, by himself, is fine, but Talia is an incredibly frustrating character for most of her history.  There have been efforts in more recent years, starting when she took over LexCorp during the period in the early 2000s when Lex Luthor was elected President of the United States, to me her what I would consider a better character.  However, that was during a period when Ra’s was believed dead, and so she was the one holding down what was probably his seat in the Secret Society of Supervillains’s inner council.  But before that, Talia can basically be defined by the fact that she was either smitten with Bruce Wayne/Batman and loyal to him or she was basically Daddy’s Little Girl and helped her father in his evil schemes.  She just bounced back and forth.  I even remember the DC Comics official encyclopedia of characters that tended to list most characters as either a hero, a villain, or maybe an ally, had Talia given the unique classification as “villain’s daughter”.  Basically, Talia was only ever defined in relation to various male characters.  There’s a reason why I liked just about any female love interest over Talia for Bruce.

So, basically, Nyssa is the opposite of Talia in every way.  Where Talia was basically set up as a partner or subordinate or something to one man or another, Nyssa was an individual who was more than capable of taking over her father’s empire if she ever cared to do so.  The thing is, she mostly didn’t.

Nyssa first appeared in the mini-series Batman: Death and the Maidens, a mini-series from the aforementioned Rucka and Janson, that basically took a look at how both Ra’s and Batman’s relationships with the women in their lives that didn’t get a lot of attention.  For Bruce, that was his late mother Martha, appearing as a hallucination of some sort instead of the usual haunting by Bruce’s father Thomas Wayne.  Martha actually thought the whole Batman thing was kinda silly.

For Ra’s, and he got more attention here, the focus was on Nyssa, the other daughter, the older half-sister to Talia.  Nyssa, daughter of Ra’s and a Russian Jewish peasant woman, had walked away from her father and his eco-terrorist ways when she figured he was nuts.  She went back to Russia, given permission to use her own Lazarus Pit, and had a large family.  However, when World War II broke out, the Nazis collected Nyssa and her whole family, and a woman who didn’t seem to die easily became something of interest to them.  Her family died, she was rendered sterile, and her father actually came to see her at one point…and left her in prison since she was now useless to him.  If she had or was capable of having children?  Sure.  Sterile?  Nope!  Eventually, she got out and went back to her Lazarus Pit and started planning.

Flash forward to the present when Nyssa springs a trap and manages to bring down her father, leaving him again temporarily dead, and Batman helpless to stop her.  She even managed to get Talia on her side.

Granted, she got Talia on her side by repeatedly killing her and bringing her back in the Lazarus Pit until Talia was so brainwashed she would have followed just about anybody.  Normally, I might point out Talia was never the strongest of characters, but I think the circumstances here are a bit different, so I’ll just say, yeah, Nyssa was pretty darn evil.  And, quite frankly, if DC had opted to never bring Ra’s back for one reason or another, Nyssa seemed to be a suitable replacement.

But then, after a story involving the Cassandra Cain Batgirl, Nyssa was killed by Lady Shiva with a simple car bomb.  That was during the One Year Later storyline.  So, basically, Nyssa didn’t last  very long.

Or, she did.  Oddly enough, Nyssa is a lot more popular on the small screen of the various members of the al-Ghul family.  That probably has something to do with the ability to get the rights to certain characters, but Nyssa would appear in the various Arrowverse shows on the CW, starting with Arrow, as played by Katrina Law.

And then, over on Gotham, she popped up briefly towards the end of that series’s run as played by Jaime Murray.

What I figure this means is Nyssa has been more of a TV character than a comic book character at this point.

Now me, I mostly see Nyssa as a character of lost potential, someone who could have been very interesting as the true heir to Ra’s al-Ghul, the one who initially didn’t want that, but then, after she’d felt wronged enough by her father, went out and took it in a way that suggested she might have been better at running the League of Assassins than he ever was.  But apparently, you can’t change things that much.  Regardless, she did have a great introductory story, and that alone is worth a read.