I’m probably not the best person to make this comparison, having only read a handful of issues of one of the series in question. But with the new “Azrael” series, I’m starting to feel like this is Fabian Nicieza’s attempt to create a modern-day version of Dennis O’Neil’s run on “The Question.” After all, “The Question” was (based on what I’ve read) a political and sociological themed series, where the protagonist being in the costume seemed almost secondary at times to telling the story of corruption and power. That’s what Nicieza is starting to do here as well, and I’m growing increasingly impressed.
After all, this is a story where the main character is barely in the actual Azrael outfit. It may open with him trying to quell a riot between two ethnic groups in Gotham, but for most of the issue Michael is in his every day clothes, dealing with an incident from his past as a Marine. Like the previous issue, Nicieza is starting to explore just what sort of hard decisions Azrael is willing to make in order to make things “right.” In many ways the series is still warming up, as Nicieza slowly moves Michael down a treacherous path. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, after all, and Michael is quickly learning that more often than not any choice is inevitably the wrong one.
The one problem I have with the series, though, is Ramon Bachs’ art. He’s not a bad artist, but he doesn’t seem suited for the stories that Nicieza is writing. Bachs tries his best here, but for a character whose alter-ego isn’t wearing that much different from regular street clothes, it’s just not working. Azrael looks strangely limp and deflated here, like Bachs is trying to make the costume realistic but it’s caught in a strange limbo between one extreme and the other. The staging is also a little strange here too; there’s an early scene with two sides of a mob raging against one another, but it actually looks more like the start of a music video than an actual fight. This should be a dark, gritty series (and it makes me wish that classic “The Question” artist Denys Cowan was on board, or at least someone of his nature) and despite colorist J.D. Smith’s attempts to make it otherwise, it just seems a little too superhero for what Nicieza’s doing here.
“Azrael” as a title is unfortunately saddled with memories of some of the worst excesses of the ’90s, and that’s a shame. This new “Azrael” is a different beast entirely, and hopefully Nicieza will get to continue to tell stories of this nature. “Azrael” is far more interesting than it deserves to be, and that’s a good thing.