Azrael Does Not Protect
Credits: Dennis O’Neil (writer), Joe Quesada (penciler), Kevin Nowlan (inker), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)
Summary: Batman and Alfred crash into the snow, while Nomoz leads Jean-Paul away from the remains of their chalet. LeHah attempts to escape with his lackey, but the avalanche created by the rocket blast causes their helicopter to crash. During the crash, LeHah becomes convinced that he is now the servant of the demon Biis. After they recover, LeHah kills his assistant as a sacrifice. Nearby, Jean-Paul attacks Batman on Nomoz’s orders. Nomoz saves the outclassed Jean-Paul from the fight, leaving Azrael’s sword behind in the snow. Later, Batman and Alfred continue to investigate the Order of St. Dumas while LeHah compiles a list of brothers to murder. Nomoz and Jean-Paul, in his new Azrael armor, travel to a hospital where one brother is being treated. Before Jean-Paul can don his armor, he’s shot repeatedly by LeHah.
- Nomoz reveals that LeHah was once the treasurer of the Order of St. Dumas. LeHah looted the Order's accounts months earlier, which is why Nomoz sent Jean-Paul’s father to deal with him.
- I have no idea what’s happened to Nomoz’s assistant, Heinreich. He doesn’t escape the chalet with Nomoz and Jean-Paul this issue.
- Quesada’s interpretation of LeHah doesn’t match his appearances during the later chapters of “Knightfall.” Based on those comics, I assumed LeHah was thin with blond hair; in this story he has a massive build and gray hair. (It’s hard not to notice he looks like Cable, right down to the scar over his eye.) Or maybe the character Azrael thought was LeHah in the later stories wasn’t him at all…he was going insane in those issues.
Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: LeHah’s rampage at the hospital is pretty bloody. Also, we see LeHah nude from the back during one scene as he rants into a mirror.
I Love the ‘90s: Cable LeHah, after taking the form of Biis, whips out a giant Chiclet gun.
Review: I’ll admit that I was confused by the opening sequence of this issue, and even after rereading it, I had to go back to the previous issue to make certain I could follow what was going on. The sequence of events has LeHah and an unidentified associate launching a rocket from the ground, acquiring a helicopter off-panel, and then being caught in the avalanche created by the rocket blast minutes earlier. Intercut with their story are two other plots involving Batman/Alfred and Nomoz/Jean-Paul escaping the chaos. Most of my confusion stems from the fact that a) Quesada kept LeHah in the dark for the majority of the previous issue, so it was difficult to place him this time, and b) O’Neil doesn’t seem to identify LeHah by name until the issue is half-way over. The fact that a gratuitous Batman/Azrael fight is thrown in during LeHah’s descent into madness doesn’t help matters, either.
After clarifying that the character I kept calling “Cable” was in fact LeHah, the rest of the issue seemed to be straightforward enough. LeHah has betrayed the Order of St. Dumas, a secret organization with connections to the Crusades that avenges evil to this day. Jean-Paul is destined to replace his father and adopt the role of Azrael, while LeHah has convinced himself that he is now the living embodiment of the demon Biis. What this has to do with Batman isn’t clear, but whenever he does appear in the story, Quesada does make him look cool. Okay, in fairness, O’Neil also provides a respectable amount of cute Batman/Alfred banter throughout the story. I can’t say that Batman feels totally shoehorned into the plot, but it’s hard to pretend that he isn’t coming across as a guest star in Azrael’s story, either.
The title of the issue eludes to something Nomoz tells Jean-Paul during the final scene. Nomoz hasn’t brought Jean-Paul to the hospital to “protect” its inhabitants from LeHah because “Azrael does not protect. Azrael avenges.” That brief line sums up the difference between Batman and Azrael, a point the Bat-titles spent almost two years trying to make. And yet, even over the course of dozens of comics, I don’t think this aspect of Azrael’s backstory was ever explained clearly during “Knightfall.” Azrael just comes across as unhinged during the storyline; I don’t think the concept that he was literally created to serve vengeance and vengeance only was truly addressed during his time as Batman. It’s obvious O’Neil had this idea from the beginning, but the writers of the monthly titles seemed far more interested in exploring Azrael’s mental instability than the concept of justice vs. vengeance.