Written by Fabian Nicieza
Art work by Frazer Irving
With the suit of sorrow back in the hands of the Order of Purity, a new Azrael needs to be chosen to be the next angel of vengeance. This turn of events isn't viewed favorably by all, and there are those who will go to great lengths to see the suit of sorrows returned to where they believe it belongs. Enter Michael Lane: a man with a complicated past, and the Order of Purity's candidate for the Azrael mantle. A battle for the cowl tie-in.
In a slow comic week, a great opening gambit can lock in a great number of additional readers a title wouldn't normally have. The opening pages of Azrael are filled with enough fire and fury to draw in a decent number of readers, but those who bought the title after these few pages expecting more will be greatly disappointed. The intriguing opening scene featuring a self-righteous, crazed Azrael and the brutal event depicted are merely used a plot devise to open the title and initiate several of the character's involvement in the story. This potentially fascinating serial-killer-esque plot line is dropped for the far less interesting establishment of the next Azrael. Simply, it's all downhill from the first three pages.
A quarter of the comic in, the reader is introduced (by way of exposition) to the comic's protagonist Michael Lane. Lane's backstory is something of a sorry mix between that of Punisher and Captain America; a dead family sob story mixed with a police-project [the goal of which to replace Batman should he die, a-ha!] of questionable results. The backstory is over the top, a little too much pre-packed hero motivation, but the product of which should amount to an interesting character. Should, however, doesn't necessarily mean does. Lane is given a scant fourteen word balloon's and doesn't make an on-panel appearance until almost half-way into the issue. What dialog he does have is quick, and primarily tough-guy talk or quick jokes-- nothing that deals too significantly with his character. If he is intended to be an empty vessel, quietly moving through life, then that is what should be emphasized, though it's hardly appropriate for the hell-fire rhetoric of a character like Azrael. However, Lane isn't even given these element to his character. He is essentially faceless, despite his complicated backstory.
This is the source of next problem this issue has: because Lane is so undeveloped, and so ill acquainted with the reader, it feels as though he simply jumps into the Azrael costume without motivation. Does he do it because it was supposed to be his place to assume the mantle of the bat? It seems unlikely. Does he do it because he seeks some closure on what happened to his siblings? Maybe. Why doesn't he ever question a group of people who are essentially occultists? The questions surrounding Lane's motivations are numerous and it feels as though the writer wasn't interested in establishing a character-- simply interested in getting someone in the Azrael suit that wasn't crazy. The entire issue would have been exponentially better served had it been written from Lane's point of view instead of ignoring the protagonist entirely.
Lack of interest isn't a problem exclusive to Lane. The opposition to the Order of Purity isn't so much as a Who's who as a Who's that? If a reader is paying attention (though note, you do have to pay a good deal of attention), the reveal at the end of the issue will be something of an interesting development. However, the villains used as pawns in this issue are complete enigmas (I was only to identify one out of five of them). Between having no idea who the villains were, and having no interest in the new Azrael, the action sequences were totally flat and uninteresting. Even if captions had been used to identify the villains, it likely would have helped to make the comic a little more interesting.
To its credit, the issue does manage to divulge a great deal of exposition without bogging a reader down. The issue also has some wonderful pages of art work, though it doesn't stand out as a whole. Perhaps in the following two issues, the rather uninteresting Michael Lane will start to stand out a little bit-- but don't hold your breath.
RATING: 4 out of 10
The only excuse to read this is if you're a die-hard fan of the Azrael concept or you're collecting all of the Battle for the Cowl tie ins, even so I wouldn't recommend it.
EDIT NOTE: Apparently, the character Michael Lane dates back to sometime during Grant Morison's run on Batman. I feel as though the points I've raised concerning his character are still relevant though his origin may or may not date to prior to this issue.