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Into the back issue box #11

by  in Comic News Comment
Into the back issue box #11

I skipped this last weekend, and I’m sure there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments because of it!  Well, fret not – I’m back, with yet another example of comic-book … well, I’d like to say goodness, but it’s always a crapshoot with these posts, isn’t it?????

(Hey, check out the ground rules for these posts here, if you’re new ’round these parts.)

Azrael #30 (“Angel Errant, Part Two”) by Dennis O’Neil, Dougie Braithwaite, and James Pascoe.  Published by DC, June, 1997.

So you’re a first-time comic book reader.  You pick this up for God knows what reason and see what’s what.  It’s “Part Two,” but you figure any good writer will bring you up to speed on what’s going on, right?  RIGHT????

On the first page is some guy who reminds you of Oddjob from Goldfinger (he wears a top hat instead of a bowler, but still) facing off against the main character, who you assume is named Azrael.  “Oddjob” tells Azrael that he’s going to tear him into small pieces and stomp on the remains.  Seriously.  Does anyone talk like that beyond an elementary school playground?  So he’s the bad guy.  Then the narration comes in: “Expect the voice to be low and rumbling and be surprised.  It is high – almost a squeal – and shaded with an American southern accent.  The effect is charming – almost comical.”  This does not fill you with confidence.  You see what I’m doing so far in this post?  It’s called “second person,” and “you” is the subject.  The first narration balloon – the first sentence there – is in second person, technically.  Then it (sort of) switches to third.  Ugh.  Second person is hard enough to pull off – the only thing I’ve ever read that does second person really well is Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler – but to start in it, then switch, is weird.  Boo, Denny O’Neil!

                  

But that’s just a nitpick.  The next couple pages show Azrael and Oddjob fighting, with an apparent damsel in distress looking on.  It’s a pretty standard fight, although at one point Oddjob grabs Azrael and holds him over his head and says, “Folks ‘spect me to be dumber’n a post.  But I ain’t.  Not when it comes to … whompin’ ‘n’ stompin’,” as he hurls Azrael away.  You need to be smart to be bigger than everyone else?  Really?  He didn’t really do anything that smart, anyway – he said “Ow” when Azrael punched him, which I guess we’re supposed to think is some kind of great feint that Azrael falls for, but it’s not really.  I suppose Oddjob “went to school at U. of Hell” and “majored in kickin’ ass,” but he doesn’t need a “Ph.D. to be a doctor of fuckin’ misery.”  But I could be wrong.  After he throws Azrael away, we get a serious mistake in the artwork.  See if you can tell what it is:

                     

Azrael rescues the damsel in distress, who tells him they must wait until they leave, but before Azrael can ask why, he collapses, unconscious.  A sinister presence arrives and says, “Have him tended to, daughter.”  So the damsel is not in distress, and her father has some sort of plot against our hero.  Dastardly!  What kind of a craven coward would use his own daughter in a plot against an upright hero like Azrael?

                

We switch to a mansion, which turns out to belong to Batman.  Any first-time comic book reader would, let’s hope, at least know who Batman and Alfred are, so the lack of introductions for them is forgiven.  Alfred finds out that Batman has lost communication with Azrael, and “Oracle” predicted it.  I’m going to assume Oracle is a person who knows a lot about communication.  Basil Exposition – I mean Alfred – asks Batman why history is repeating itself, as Batman said before.  Batman obliges – he says when he first met Ra’s Al Ghul, he staged a phony kidnapping of his daughter and “Dick.”  You vaguely recall that Dick is Robin, because you watched the Batman television show when you were but a lad!  And Ra’s Al Ghul – wasn’t Liam Neeson good as him in that movie?  Who knew he showed up in the comics as well!  Batman says the “kidnapping” was a test to see if he was worthy to be Ra’s’ son-in-law, and he thinks this is the same thing.  He then tells Alfred that if he had gone against Ra’s when he was as young and green as Azrael, he would have been killed.  He doesn’t think Azrael has a chance.  Man, what a downer that Batman is!  Couldn’t he whip out some Bat Shark-Repellant and we can all have a laugh?

                          

We transition back to Azrael, who has been brought fruit by the daughter, whose name we learn – eventually – is Talia.  Talia says that she drugged him with her ring, and admits that, yes, the kidnapping was a ruse, and yes, her father was testing Azrael to see if he’s a good “mate” for Talia.  Ra’s is such a romantic at heart!  Azrael passed, and Talia tells him only two others have ever done so.  I suppose we’re supposed to know who those two are – from Batman’s speech earlier, one of them was him, but a first-timer would have no idea who the other one is or why he’s “a brute.”  Azrael asks her why she didn’t marry the first one – Batman, we must assume, since he was “magnificent” – and she says that he is a sworn enemy of her father, and she’s always loyal to her father.  A first-timer wouldn’t know this, but I would – she’s loyal to her father except for the many, many times that she has betrayed him!  Seriously, why hasn’t Ra’s thrown her off a cliff and found a young vixen to have a son with?  Has the Lazarus Pit made him impotent?  I’m just wondering.  I mean, Tony frickin’ Randall was getting chicks pregnant when he was in his late 80s.  Come on, Ra’s – find some genetically perfect supermodel, pay her a couple million dollars, and get busy!  Talia even admits that she’s not sure why Ra’s wants a grandson so badly.  Anyway, Azrael asks her if the smooching was part of the farce, and there’s a weird scene where she says “You are very nice” twice, once before and once after he kisses her.  It’s like she’s a robot or something.  Then we get a bit of Azrael’s backstory, which works, really, only in a comic book (and even then it’s a bit goofy):

 

I was raised [he says] to be an assassin, with no more feeling than a stone.  My genes were intermixed with those of an ape to make me as savage as possible.  I was supposed to father a child by some woman I would never meet.  When that woman gave birth, she was to be killed.  So you’re right.  I’m not exactly Romeo.  I’m not even fully human.  Sorry.

 

Man, that’s quite the story!  He asks her what happens next – do they marry, settle down, and raise some kids?  Ra’s interrupts by saying that he stands by his side and together, they save the world.  Cool!

            

         Note the creepy grape metaphor.  Or am I the only one creeped out by it?

We cut back to the Batcave, where Alfred asks if Batman is worried that “Jean Paul” – Azrael’s real name, we presume – will not survive.  Batman says he’s worried that he will survive, because he’s so very formidable – more formidable than Batman himself!  If Ra’s persuades him to join his cause (which is so far very vague, beyond the saving the world part), they might be unstoppable.  As a first-time comic book reader, this might strike as a bit presumptuous.  To paraphrase a famous quote, you know Batman.  Azrael, you are no Batman.  But then you check the name on the title.  Sigh.  Are all comic books like this, pumping up their own heroes at the expense of heroes that have, you know, actually been around for a while?  What’s next – some random loser called, I don’t know, Starman, who flies around the desert while all the heroes talk about how wonderful he is?  That couldn’t happen, could it?

                                        

Back in Ra’s-ville, Talia is trying to persuade Azrael, who says, “Your father’s ideas sound good to me.”  What ideas are they, exactly?  Seems kind of crucial.  Talia asks him about “the detective,” which we can safely assume means Batman, and Azrael says he’s not sure if Batman even likes him.  What are we, in high school?  Apparently, yes, because Talia shoves the knife into poor Jean Paul, saying, “I am very sure he likes me.”  Suck it, Azrael!  I’m wondering, as I step outside my role as first-time comic reader, if this is a reference to the Son of the Demon graphic novel.  Batman dug Talia enough to knock her up, after all!  Jean Paul says if she wants him, but she interrupts and tells him that what she wants is inconsequential, because it’s all about what her father wants.  Jesus, what a hold Ra’s has on her!  Jean Paul doesn’t care, though, because he caves and tells Talia he accepts the offer.  Ra’s shows up and Azrael tells him he’ll join, but Ra’s has bummer news: Jean Paul is “not satisfactory” because of the animal genes in his blood.  His grandson “must be genetically perfect.”  Why hasn’t he kidnapped Brad Pitt yet?  We know that Brad drops chicks at the drop of a hat, so Talia could easily woo him away from Freaky Lips.  Or how about George Clooney?  He’s kind of dreamy.  Or this guy.  Think globally, Ra’s!  It’s this narrow focus on Batman that is keeping you from propagating your family.  Talia appeals to her dad, but Ra’s is unmoved, and tells Oddjob – whose name is Bimmu, apparently – to strike.  Bimmu whacks Azrael, and the other thugs join in, but Azrael beats them all!  Ra’s appreciates his skills, but Jean Paul is still not “husband” material.  Jean Paul gets all uppity with him, so Ra’s knocks him out with one punch.  One punch!  He tells Talia, “I have been recently to the pit.  I am strong.”  What the heck does that mean?  A first-time comic book reader would have no idea.  Does Ra’s have something that gives him his strength back?  I guess so.  Ra’s gives the unconscious Azrael to Bimmu, and as good ol’ Oddjob is ready to drag him away, Talia kisses him farewell.  Even a novice comic book reader can see that that’s pretty suspicious!

         

Bimmu drags Azrael to a pool into which other thugs are pouring “acid and lye and stuff.”  He says Ra’s uses something like this for “medicine,” but he’s not like the rest of them.  Well, that’s a nice bit of exposition for us.  Bimmu, of course, is going to throw Azrael in and watch the flesh melt off his bones and such.  Nice guy, that Bimmu!  He chucks Azrael in, and the narration comes back, telling us in a minute the acid will burn through his costume.  Luckily, Talia slipped him a key into his mouth when she kissed him, although how she got it into her mouth in the first place is beyond me.  So he gets out of the chains they put him in, and comes out of the pool.  This is quite funny, as he leaps completely out of the water, despite having no place on which to stand.  How does he leap out of the water so well?  He doesn’t have rockets on his shoes!  So what the heck?  Anyway, if you think Azrael beats the living crap out of the bad guys, well, you’d be right – first he blocks their bullets with a tombstone (they’re in a graveyard), then he throws said tombstone at the bad guys!  Now that’s multi-tasking!  He confronts Bimmu, who totally punks out and says, “You want me to beg.  I’ll beg.”  Azrael knocks him into the acid bath, and Bimmu begs for his life.  Azrael pauses for a moment, then hauls him out.  Gee, how nice of him.  Azrael leaves Bimmu in a fetal position and walks off.  Jean Paul is hard core, man.  The narration tells us he has all the money he needs, so he returns “to the only home he knows.”  Sadly, “no welcome awaits him.”  He watches a couple embrace, an then the girl asks him about his arm, and then says his friend Brian has medical training to look at it, because she and “Luc” are going to Paris.  Jean Paul watches them leave, and the narration tells us that he is left alone with his “blistered and tormented flesh, and the memory of a kiss,” and then, the final, almost laughable denouement: “The bitter, bitter memory.”  Man, that Denny O’Neil can write some dramatic narration!

                                    

                                     How does he do this??????

This is, actually, not a bad comic book.  There are some serious gaps in the exposition, but that’s to be expected.  We never find out what the deal is with Azrael.  He doesn’t appear to have any powers, yet he runs around in a garish costume.  We find out in the course of the book that he was supposed to be an assassin, but that doesn’t explain the freaky outfit!  At one point he tells Talia he was supposed to be part of an organization, but he ended up destroying it.  So that’s nice.  It doesn’t tell us much, but it’s not bad.  We also don’t learn some crucial stuff about Ra’s Al Ghul, most significantly, what his plan is.  He wants to “save the world,” but Batman opposes him.  Batman is a good guy, so Ra’s must be bad.  This is, of course, “Part Two,” so perhaps we found out his plan in Part One, but it would be nice to hear a brief recap.  It’s fairly important, as it’s good enough to sway Azrael, who is ostensibly a good guy.  But O’Neil leaves it out, which is vexing.

                            

But those few points notwithstanding, this is a perfectly serviceable comic book.  We get a decent understanding of the players without it being too intrusive, and the plot moves along at a good pace.  There’s some nice character development, and although we don’t find out anything about the two people at the end, it’s clear there’s something sad going on in Jean Paul’s life.  And we get to see a weird relationship between Ra’s and Talia in only a few pages.  It ain’t healthy, I tells ya!

                

This is certainly not a great comic book, but it’s not horrible.  The art is nothing special, and neither is the story, but it won’t make you run far away from comics and gouge out your eyes for having read it.  It won’t make you want to hunt down the talent involved and feed them their own livers.  So that’s a good thing!

                           

                                              Azrael kicks ASS!

In the end, this is just another generic superhero comic book.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, even if there isn’t anything really right with that either.

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