Some would write Talia off as merely one of many of Batman’s love interests. An ex.
Talia is far, far more than that. As I mentioned before, she’s often (an unfortunately) defined by the men in her life - as the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, lover of Batman, mother of Damian Wayne.
It’s true, she is all of these things. But they hardly sum up her entire character. Talia has had an enormous impact not only in comic canon, but very well shaped the direction of Batman books from her introduction onward.
- Saved Batman’s life (God knows how many times) by both her medical prowess, pleading on his behalf, or sabotaging and combating those who would try to kill him.
- Restored Jason Todd to himself after his reanimated after watching over him for an entire year, then guided him on his path to Red Hood by providing intel, contacts, and resources.
- Gave us Damian Wayne, Robin V, thanks to her short-lived marriage to Bruce.
- Single-handedly outsmarted Lex Luthor and left him bankrupt after the Presidency crumbled
- Killed the Joker by shooting him. Many, many times. (The Demon Laughs)
- Gave Batman the Suit of Sorrows, during which she also helped to save her son from certain death at the hands of her father.
- Convinced Bruce to see reason and return to Gotham and his role as Batman after administering tough love to him in the aftermath of the disaster in No Man’s Land
- Saved Catwoman’s life (Hush)
- Was ultimately responsible along with her father for the restoration of Dinah Lance’s Canary Cry via Lazarus Pit
While often (and irritatingly) white-washed, it should also be noted that Talia has significance for her status as a WOC - she is both Arabic and Chinese and remains one of the most complicated and fleshed out characters in the DCU, transcending any trope associated with her race and role - not simply an exotic femme fatale, but a woman with real struggles, real strength, and real emotions.
Talia, when well-written, is conflicted but savvy, passionate, determined, and unwavering in her love. She is a woman both liberated and independent, able to defend herself and make her own decisions and take responsibility and stand on the same level (and often besting) any man - Talia is a feminist icon while also embodying traditional desires of marriage and motherhood. She’s a hopeless romantic as much as a warrior. Intelligent in mind and emotion.
While all of these qualities don’t come across in single issues or even single arcs, the totality of her character adds up to something great - the embodiment of feminist ideals while still able to desire more traditional roles and never be “weak” for those desires. She proves that one doesn’t have to be a she-woman-man-hater to be a liberated, strong woman. They can love, they can want families and husbands. And that’s who Talia is. Feminism in it’s true sense: the choice for a woman to be exactly who she wants to be.
Though written as both antiheroine and villain, there is no denying her significance as a character both on principle and within the pages of comic books.
And Talia’s influence doesn’t stop with in-comics events.
In his essay “Ra’s al Ghul: Father Figure as Terrorist” (found in a collection of essays, Batman Unauthorized) Michael Marano declares..
“❝ In February 1971, she did what was unthinkable for any other Batbabe until Catwoman/Selina Kyle became Batman’s semi-ally (post-Jeoph Loeb's The Long Halloween): Talia crossed the forbidden public/private line and took off the freshly ninja-pounded Batman’s mask, something no Gotham doctor or ER tech had ever dared before, even when Batman had to be hospitalized. Talia, the daughter of Ra’s and the first glimpse of his influence and power, brought Batman into a wider world of turmoil and upheaval while at the same time entering Batman’s private world in a way that even dear old Aunt Harriet couldn’t. ❞
Talia was the first outside of Batfamily to know Bruce’s identity, particularly by removing his cowl. And it’s Talia we see first of the Al Ghuls - Not Ra’s. Some of Marano’s other observations:
❝ Ra’s and Talia not only brought Batman into the wider world, they brought the wider world into the Batman mythology - which, in turn, added a new richness to that mythology. ”❞
❝ Talia herself was something new, international, and ballsy. She was no Vicki Vale. She was liberated, baby…in a way that put Mary Richards to shame. Talia was a Cosmo girl actualized in a fashion that Lois Lane had yet to be in her fringed-mini-skirt-and-matching-vest, mid ’70s nadir. She wasn’t a heroine living in the shadow of a male hero’s mythology… ❞
Up until Ra’s and Talia, Batman’s adventures were confined mostly to Gotham or mythological venues. The Al Ghuls added something serious to a series that was coming off of campiness from the Adam West Batman show. Being partly inspired by James Bond mythos, Talia and Ra’s pulled Batman into a more real world with real conflicts of the day. They made Batman relevant and concrete in ways he hadn’t been before.
They took him to real places. They brought a new air.
Ultimately the Al Ghuls transformed the tone and direction of Batman and Detective Comics - they lended themselves to something new and dramatic. O'Neil had already started moving the title in that direction (as in “The Secret of the Waiting Graves” [Detective Comics 395])
“There’s a gravitas to the setting to which Talia leads [Batman] that is new in the Batman mythos…a fever-dream comic book collage, evoking images of Bhutan, Nepal, and what was then, in 1971, the region of East Pakistan, which suffered bloody repression by the Pakistani government..”
(The imagery of Bhutan returned in Nolan’s Batman Begins)
O'Neil, enabled significantly by the creation of Talia and Ra’s, completely changed the tone and face of Batman and his mythos, leading away from camp and silliness for more serious, real plots rooted in geo-political happenings. They themselves opened not only possibilities for a broader world for Batman, but crossed very intimate, very personal lines that no characters before had even attempted.
Talia al Ghul is far, far more than one of Batman’s exes. At one time his wife and mother to his child, she helped shape the lives and paths of numerous characters - for good or for ill, whilst also playing a major role in the transformation of the Batman mythology and tone.