CREDITS: Written by Joe R. Lansdale, Kevin Altieri, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm; directed by Kevin Altieri.
REVIEW: Ra's versus Jonah Hex in a steampunk western adventure? I'll take it, even if it means there isn't much Batman & Robin in this one (they still get to fight some cool ninja mercs). Especially if the story will be so beautifully rendered. The animation is just stupendous. The lighting is moody. There's strong interaction between objects. Even a lot of wind. Details like heat distortion ih the forge, the kid jumping in the background to catch pieces of the railroad baron's speech, the shot of cannonballs flying right at the viewer, more balls rolling off the deck of the airship as it tips, a back house exploding (ha!)... Great stuff! The "weird west" genre is well captured, with many tropes used to good effect.
Now, I can't get behind Jonah Hex's look in this episode. I get that old age is one of the story's themes, and a Hex who's tired of the life is an interesting take on the character. But the silver locks, perhaps invented to visually push the character away from Two-Face (he looks more like Croc somehow, or really, like Superboy villain Scavenger), are a bright distraction on an otherwise somber character. But putting his appearance aside, this is the Hex we know, and that I think we'd love to see again. He's funny, he's violent, he's polite to women, he's valorous but doesn't want people to know it, and he's got something of a death wish, reckless in his daring-do. Sharp wit and crazy action go hand in hand in this character, which is why you hardly notice Batman's left listening to a book on tape in the frame tale. Shame he can't kill anyone on this show, but the lack of lethality isn't too unbelievable in context.
As for Ra's al Ghul, he's portrayed as a noble villain. Sure, he wants to become master of the United States, but his agenda includes saving the wilderness from industrialization, the railroads, and so on. Are these the origins of his eco-warrior side? He believes in treating his men well, and in greater ideals. We can even understand Batman letting him walk away at the end; his mission one of mercy and family, not - at least for the moment - a world-ending scheme. The real villain of the piece, then, is Arkady Duvall, a cruel man Hex wants to capture less for the money than for what he did to a girl back east. The shocker, if you will, is that he is Ra's son. While it contradicts some of the things Ra's has told us about himself, the circumstances can justify it, and I think we're meant to understand his deep disappointment, and why he would rather adopt Batman as his heir than rejuvenate the morally deficient Arkady.
IN THE COMICS: The Jonah Hex of the comics is not this old in 1883. Born in 1838, he would only have been 45 in this story. But aside from his age and slightly different look, this is very much the Hex from the comics. There would not be an explicit connection to Batman until the New52 All Star Western series made Hex move east to 19th-Century Gotham.
SOUNDS LIKE: Jonah Hex is here played by western mainstay William McKinney. Arkady Duvall is a recognizable Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, etc.). The airship captain is played by Michael Bell, the voice of such Super-Friends characters as Lex Luthor, Zan and Gleek. The Sheriff is voiced by William Bryant, another actor who specialized in westerns. And that's Elizabeth "Bewitched" Montgomery in her last role as the barmaid.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Ra's al Ghul episodes enjoy exploring new genres, and even though this one cheats by replacing the Bat with Hex, it's still a rollicking good time.