I didn’t read the two Annuals leading up to this launch, despite the last one featuring the Question and Huntress, two characters for whom I share more than a passing fondness. The extremely heightened price tag and my so-so interest in Azrael, combined with the fact that I prefer a tongue-in-cheek Nicieza to a grim-n-gritty one, made them fairly skippable. But Nicieza does still have some good will with me, and the Batman-family relaunches have been fairly interesting to follow, so it seemed worthwhile to give the main title a shot.
Nicieza’s writing here seems to be all over the place. There are some aspects of it that are stellar, including a bizarre, memorable cliffhanger, and there are some that are downright ridiculous, like the fact that the cliffhanger happens ‘6 months, 6 days, and 6 hours’ after… I’m assuming that ‘Now’ always refers to the start of the issue, but it is nonetheless a clumsy device used by a writer trying to be too cute by half. The bulk of the issue falls somewhere in between those two extremes, with a quickly-solved mystery that largely functions as an examination of how Azrael will operate and a very brief introduction to Azrael’s seemingly bland supporting cast.
Ramon Bachs is almost certain to be the subject of a great deal of argument amongst the book’s readers. His broad, cartoonish style hurts some of the books slower moments, and give some of the action sequences a fairly stiff, posed quality that takes away from the excitement. However, alongside inker John Stanisci and colorist JD Smith, he also manages to create some genuinely memorable images, whether it’s the single, bright red band on Bullock’s hat in the otherwise sepia-colored flash forwards or the crackling afterglow of Azrael’s swords.
Overall, Azrael is a strange book. An awkwardly-conceived religious warrior with a pair of magic swords, he doesn’t seem to fit Gotham’s image terribly well, and a lack of consistency may turn off potentially interested readers. Nicieza appears to have some solid ideas as to where he wants to take the book, but he offers little evidence that he’ll be able to consistently keep the book interesting long enough to pull an audience with him.
– Cal Cleary