Something big is brewing in the DC Universe.
The epilogue of last week’s World’s Finest #5 doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Great Darkness, or the current Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths (or… does it…? We’ll get there soon enough), but it is closely connected to Batman and his family… and, perhaps, a longstanding piece of DC mythology.As seen in the final pages of the most recent issue of World’s Finest, the island where the title’s supernatural villain, the Devil Nezha, has been imprisoned is none other than Lazarus Island. For those who haven’t been reading the current Robin series by Joshua Williamson, Gleb Melnikov, Roger Cruz and others, that name might not have any special meaning, but it should: it’s the headquarters of the League of Lazarus, a splinter group of Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Assassins. It’s also an island upon which death can be reversed, as long as it happens fewer than three times.
In the Robin series, the League of Lazarus is responsible for a tournament aimed at finding the deadliest warrior alive, a search made all the more literal for the fact that those participating are able to kill their opponents with the knowledge that they’d return to life soon after. It’s revealed midway through the series – spoilers, but you should have read this all along – that the tournament has an ulterior purpose. Mother Soul, the mysterious figure behind the tournament and the League of Lazarus as a whole, is revealed to be Rúh al Ghul, mother of Ra’s al Ghul, who worships the demonic entity she believes resides at the heart of the island, whom she believes can control life and death itself. Moreover, the tournament’s true purpose is to find a warrior worthy of being possessed by what she’s calling the Lazarus Demon, who will then be freed to carry out their mission on Earth.
You can see where I’m going with this by now, I assume.
What if the Lazarus Demon is the Devil Nezha?
There are reasons why this might not be the case; for one thing, the Lazarus Demon emerged in the pages of Robin and didn’t announce itself as Nezha, nor resemble Nezha in any particular fashion. Of course, this might be down to the fact that the Lazarus Demon was actually introduced before the Devil Nezha, despite the fact that the initial World’s Finest storyline featuring the villain took place years before the events in Robin. (The continuity might be confusing to those not paying attention, but the first World’s Finest storyline features Dick Grayson as Robin, as well as the original Doom Patrol and is set in the past, sometime during the early period of Superman and Batman’s careers.)
There is the possibility that, having been trapped for some years, the Lazarus Demon had for some reason transformed or degraded from Nezha’s traditional form into the monster that was seemingly ably dealt with by Robin, Connor Hawke, and the other survivors of the League of Lazarus’s tournament.
Perhaps a better argument for the Lazarus Demon and the Devil Nezha being disconnected might be that final page of World’s Finest #5 itself, which suggests that Damien Wayne is only discovering the tomb of Nezha at that point, after having been faced with the Lazarus Demon – supposition, perhaps, but something supported by his tentatively reaching toward the door slowly and, it seems, uncertainly. Of course, perhaps that’s not the case, and he’s simply nervous about what he’s about to do… or even if he has discovered the tomb, it’s worth noting that, just because he’s only finding the tomb at this point doesn’t mean that he’s never met the entity imprisoned there before, unknowingly…
Nonetheless, the fact that the Devil Nezha is imprisoned on an island famed for hosting a demonic entity that grants immortality feels like it’s not entirely a coincidence. After all, the origin story of the Devil Nezha centers around an elixir that granted him immortality. How else could he be a threat to today’s heroes in the DCU, given that he started out as a Chinese warlord in the 16th century, if immortality wasn’t part of the equation in some way? The question becomes, then: is the Devil Nezha in some way responsible for the existence of the Lazarus Pits across the planet – and, if so, does that mean that the Lazarus Pits are something more than what fans have previously believed?
The Robin series suggested, quite purposefully, that there could be a spiritual cost to using the Lazarus Pits, with potential corruption and/or possession by the Lazarus Demon being a likely result. This is a spin on one of the traditional side-effects of being revived after death in a Lazarus Pit, which is temporary insanity. It’s certainly possible that what was previously considered insanity was, instead, something far more sinister and purposeful… but it would be a significant change to DC mythology.
The first World’s Finest storyline, meanwhile, showed that the Devil Nezha was no stranger to possessing others to do his bidding, with even the strong-willed Hal Jordan falling under his spell. What if this is somehow related to the possession or corruptive influence of Lazarus resurrection, as teased in the Robin series? What if they are, for all intents and purposes, one and the same thing…?
The wild card
If there’s a wild card in all of this, it’s the revelation during Thursday’s DC’s Dark Crisis panel at San Diego Comic-Con that the upcoming Dark Crisis: The Dark Army oneshot will tie into Batman vs. Robin in some manner. What does Pariah and his Great Darkness-controlled army of DC’s greatest bad guys have to do with Damian Wayne’s story? Are either the Devil Nezha or the Lazarus Pits infected with the Great Darkness? Anyone reading Josh Williamson and Daniel Sampere’s event book might already have their suspicions, given how Deathstroke has been acting recently…
One thing’s for sure; there are certainly more than a few pieces shared between these two stories (and entities) that seem primed to fall into place, given the opportunity. But are writer Mark Waid, artist Mahmud Asrar, and DC actually going to reveal the origin of the Lazarus Pits – a concept that originated all the way back in 1972’s Batman #243 – and permanently link them to a demonic entity whose first appearance was in a comic published earlier this year? We’ll find out when Batman vs. Robin #1 begins its five-issue run this September.
Oh, there is, admittedly, one last thing: we’ve already noted that the cover to Batman vs. Robin #1 features an unexpected appearance by none other than Alfred Pennyworth, who has been dead since 2018’s Batman #77. Now that we know that Batman vs. Robin will have something to do with Lazarus Island, and likely something to do with a villain whose own origin involves gaining immortality, I think it’s officially time for Alfred fans to get hopeful: surely, bearing in mind all of this, there’s a very good chance that Bruce Wayne’s faithful manservant will have the opportunity to come back to life once again. White-gloved fingers are crossed.