In a weekly series with multiple plot threads, it’s almost a given that some will work better than others. While James Tynion IV, Scott Snyder, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, Andrea Mutti, Roger Robinson and Goran Sudzuka give it the old college try, the wrap-up of Azrael’s re-introduction in “Batman and Robin Eternal” #16 just doesn’t have the punch needed to make this issue quite as exciting as the other installments have been.
Azrael has always been a slightly problematic character, right from his original introduction over a decade ago. As a character who was brainwashed to be a killing machine for an ancient religious order, he was often hard to sympathize with or even get behind as a protagonist because of just how mentally damaged he’d become. In “Batman and Robin Eternal” #16, it feels like the pendulum has swung a little too much in the other direction; his breaking free from the Order of St. Dumas feels remarkably simple, that he really wasn’t that much under the organization’s sway after all. This might not be so noticeable if it wasn’t for the much more compelling characterization of Cassandra Cain in previous issues, as she is also a character that villains tried to turn into one of their own. While she’s been given an interesting personality, Azrael turns out to be little more than another guy in a fancy suit.
Tynion, Snyder, Lanzing and Kelly do shift some of the focus here to Jason Todd as he’s plunged into a hellish mindscape involving the Joker, but it also doesn’t quite click. There’s never any strong sense of danger here, and the dialogue feels a little too stagy and not very real. It’s not an easy task to have one character talk another back into sanity, and it ends up coming across a little too stilted.
The art is split between Mutti, Robinson and Sudzuka with varying effects. Robinson’s slightly blocky art is the winner here, with clean faces and a good depiction of Azrael’s handsome suit and flaming sword. That said, it would have been nice if we’d had some more backgrounds; far too many of Robinson’s pages contain little or no backgrounds at all. Mutti isn’t bad, but the faces look a little stretched and plain on the page, not quite up to par. It’s unclear if Sudzuka inked two pages with Robinson or drew part of the pages, but the two pages he worked on look good and match Robinson’s contributions well; there’s just a little more expression when Sudzuka is on deck.
“Batman and Robin Eternal” #16 does do one thing quite well, though, and that’s clear the deck for what’s still to come. With the other half of the title’s characters (Grayson, Cassandra and Bluebird) already done with their expedition, it’s nice to see the same happen for this team. It gives the title the perfect pivot point to leap forward with new material next week, and for that alone, I’m eager to see what’s next. Hopefully, whenever Azrael returns, it will be with a slightly stronger hook for the readers to cheer him on. Here, unfortunately, that’s what we never quite got.