Tagged: Ras al Ghul

Dennis O’Neil: The Pit and the Conundrum

Lazarus Pit

When big pharma hears about the Lazarus Pit it will, of course, take out a patent on it and then… oh, maybe offer it as an option at upscale spas. Oh yeah, the wife and I both took a dip in the pit. Pretty pricey – 11 million and if you’re already dead double that – but boy! Way, way better than a massage…

The Pit, as far as I know, doesn’t really exist, at least not in our world. It’s a fictional apparatus that first appeared in Batman #233, back in the dark ages – we’re talking 1971 – and, like so much comic book material, has recently migrated to television, specifically to a Wednesday night program titled Arrow.

The Pit was originally the exclusive property of a 400-year-old scamp named Ra’s Al Ghul, who used it to restore himself when he was on the threshold of the Great Beyond, or maybe a half step past it. It fixed him up, all right, but he emerged from it a raving lunatic, an affliction that gradually abated.

There were conditions: it was strongly implied that The Pit could work its therapy only on Ra’s and that it was slowly losing potency – a time would come when it did nothing for Ra’s except maybe wrinkle his skin; it was highly toxic, so if anyone other than Ra’s dived in, kaput, the end, exit screaming; and it had to be situated over a certain kind of energy vortex – you couldn’t just dig one in the back yard if you wanted to one-up the neighbors and their puny swimming pool. Later, like all that lasts, The Pit evolved: it would only work once per person, and, most recently, The Pit can do its medicinal voodoo-hoodoo on someone who was good and truly dead – none of this sissy only-at-death’s-door bushwa.

Good storytelling demands that limitations exist if you’re working in a serial form and you want to run the bring-‘em-back-alive scam. The question naturally arises: why not just revive everybody who dies and – oops! – there goes conflict, suspense, maybe some other plot elements, doggone it. It’s the storyteller’s job to answer the question.

In a recent Arrow arc, the good guys used The Pit to revive one Sarah Lance, who’d been dead quite a while – maybe months. The Pit did its stuff, but Sarah didn’t recover her sanity until somebody realized that The Pit had taken her soul. The heroes’ team did some procedure, Sarah’s soul was restored, and off they went to another adventure.

The soul business gives me pause. What kind of soul – whose definition are we using? If by “soul” we mean some immaterial thing that lives within us, we suddenly face a version of philosophy’s old mind–body problem: if the soul is immaterial, how can material things – The Pit, for instance – act on it? And if it’s not immaterial… where is it?

Maybe I should ask my guardian angel and get back to you.

Ed Note: That awesome graphic atop this column is from, and is ©, The Sports Hero (All Rights Reserved, so watch your ass), “Where Sports & Comics Collide,” which is a wonderful concept.

Dennis O’Neil: This Shall Not Change!

I guess I should put some kind of SPOILER WARNING right here, up front. Isn’t that a rule?

So Arrow has made a devil’s deal with Ras Al Ghul and, in exchange for his sister’s life, agreed to become one of Ras’s League of Assassins. What next? I’ll be watching the CW on Wednesday night to find out, but in your time zone, that was yesterday.

The storyline is based on one that appeared in Batman some years ago. Adapting a Batman plot to the Arrow really isn’t much of a stretch – the characters, though impressive, are both thoroughly human and operate pretty much on the same scale. (I’m tempted to call it “mythic” but that might be edging toward pomposity so let’s settle for “primordial” and get on with it. Or is “primordial more pompous than mythic?)

The Arrow creative folk are basing their drama on the old Batman continuity to which I contributed, but they’re taking the basic ideas further and in the process making improvements. As I was watching the show I wondered if those improvements occurred to me, way back when.  Almost certainly not. Why? Well, uh…maybe because they break, or broke, some of the rules of superhero writing. And where, exactly, did I learn these rules? Were they written down, maybe on the walls of the publishing office? Given to me as part of a “welcome aboard” package? Or did some paternal executive, kindly eyes twinkling behind rimless glasses, take me aside and explain the facts of life to the new kid?

Nope, nope, and nope.

My best guess is, I intuited them, or figured them out, from the comic books I’d read. This, obviously, was how things were done. I’m not talking about sex or violence – we knew those had to be approached gingerly because of the times we were living in and that was no problem; I didn’t, and don’t, yearn to splash hormones and blood across the pages of comics. (The mandate, as always, is if the elements in question don’t serve the narrative, they probably don’t belong in the story.) No, the kind of unwritten taboo we’re discussing might have been broached if I’d had my masked vigilante reveal his real identity to the world, or had him ally with the villain, as Arrow apparently did last week.

Would rebellious li’l ol’ me have gotten away with such transgressions? Hard to say. Might have depended on who I was working for. Editors have their individual foibles. And there seemed to be no one way of reading and interpreting the Comics Code, the industry’s self-censoring tsar which was, presumably, the real rule setter. But nothing in the Code’s protocol mentioned double identities (though there was, if memory serves, a provision that dictated that the bad guys had to be in custody by story’s end.

(I did get away with depriving Green Arrow of his fortune and sending both the original Batwoman and Black Canary’s husband, Larry Lance, to their eternal rewards. Maybe nobody noticed.)

I guess the overarching commandment was: This Shall Not Change.

Some form of that is probably still The Commandment, but the enforcement is much more generous.

Alas, there was no rule, written or unwritten, that guarantees a great story every time out. There still isn’t. If I’m wrong about that, somebody please let me know.

Dennis O’Neil: Arrow and Bat

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice • Robert Frost

All you climate change doubters may now put on your dunce caps and leave. Don’t forget to shovel the walk on your way out.

…But where were we? Ah yes, where we often are, on opposite sides of a time gap. I’m writing here, you’re reading there. I suppose we can deal with it.

We’re looking ahead, you and I, to the forthcoming Daredevil television presentation, to be streamed on the increasingly diverse and interesting Netflix. Might be interesting. Might surpass the Ben Affleck movie Daredevil of a few years back, which may not have been everyone’s favorite entertainment. (I don’t have an opinion about it. Really, I don’t!) I see that Vincent D’Onofrio has gotten the job of being veteran DD baddie, The Kingpin, which seems to be good casting; let us not forget that Mr. D’Onofrio played a giant bug in the first Men in Black flick, so a corpulent gangster shouldn’t be a stretch for him.

What else am I looking forward to? (For you, it’s already past.)

Well, for one thin, the fate of poor Oliver Queen – other-named Arrow – last seen kneeling before the sinister Ras Al Ghul, a helpless captive. Ras stabbed him with a sword and kicked him off a mountain a while back, so is Ollie doomed to suffer a similar fate, perhaps again administered by a Ras who may have gotten a bit better at hero slaying? Nope. Ras is trying to recruit him into Ras’s criminal organization, The League of Assassins. (Good pay? Good benefits?)

This is not the first time Ras has gone hero-trolling. In the long ago when he was a mere comic book character, before being incarnated as a mega-movie star and a continuing presence in Arrow Ras made a similar move on Batman, sweetening the deal by suggesting that Bats and Ras’s daughter Talia might become an item and, yes indeedy, Talia would make a splendid trophy wife if she could just get past her daddy issues. Bats refused both job and lady and lived to fight another day but who knows what Ollie will do? (Well, actually, at this point, a lot of people. All those writers and actors and technicians…)

I like how our TV brethren are adapting some Batman tropes for Arrow. It’s a good match of characters: both the bat and the arrow are human-scaled, depending on skill and perseverance and motivation rather than some acquired superpower, and both are burdened with a tragic past. Since I prefer such characters I’ve always liked working on these two when I was a laboring scripter. Consider that an admission of bias.

Ras al Ghul, as some of you know, is a twisted idealist who wants to save the world – on his own terms, using his own methods, which are, to put it mildly, draconian. Pure fiction. But I look out at the snow and remember the savage winter which is not yet gone, and learn of the escalating barbarity in the middle east, and I wonder: Could there be a Ras?

But no, the reality is simpler and sadder, well expressed by Pogo the Possum: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”