Wednesday, August 26, 2015

BATMAN: SWORD OF AZRAEL #3 - December 1992

Direct Action
Credits:  Dennis O’Neil (writer), Joe Quesada (penciler), Kevin Nowlan (inker), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

Summary:  Jean-Paul’s life is saved when LeHah’s bullets hit his duffel bag, which contains his Azrael armor.  Bruce Wayne arrives with Alfred.  Bruce confronts LeHah inside the hospital, while Alfred escapes with Nomoz and Jean-Paul.  Bruce is drugged with ether and taken captive by LeHah.  LeHah’s attempts to interrogate Bruce fail, but he does steal the Batman costume Bruce was wearing under his clothes.  After killing the St. Dumas member Borgeron, LeHah travels to London to kill another brother, Harcourt.  LeHah dons the Batman costume just as Alfred and Azrael arrive outside Harcourt’s gates.

Irrelevant Continuity:  LeHah discovers Bruce’s secret identity because he’s wearing the Batman costume under his clothes.  Meanwhile, Alfred just casually reveals to Nomoz and Azrael his connection to Batman.  

I Love the ’90s:  Socks the Cat appears again in the alley behind the hospital.

Review:  In retrospect, it’s obvious that Dennis O’Neil wrote this miniseries with the intent of introducing Jean-Paul into the main titles as the new Batman.  This issue sees Jean-Paul stand up to his brutish mentor Nomoz and spare Alfred’s life (Nomoz declares that Alfred knows too much about the Order of St. Dumas and should die), just a few pages before he cracks the case and correctly deduces LeHah’s next move.  It’s amusing to read these passages today, because as I’ve mentioned earlier, the creators actually working on the monthly titles didn’t seem concerned about following the lead established by O’Neil in this series.  Not only was Azrael portrayed as a particularly lousy detective, but he was also much closer to Nomoz’s persona than the young idealist he appears to be in this issue.  O’Neil edited those comics, so if he had a real problem with their portrayal of Jean-Paul he could’ve done something, but it’s just odd to look back on this series and see how quickly Jean-Paul’s existing personality was tossed out in order to make him a strawman argument against vigilante anti-heroes.

There is a danger in this story of turning Batman into a bit of chump, and while I doubt O’Neil pleased everyone, I think he’s been able to prevent Batman from being totally overshadowed by Azrael so far.  Batman does lose the fight this issue, but O’Neil at least has him put up a respectable fight against LeHah, and the botched interrogation scene reads like classic O’Neil Batman.  It’s one thing for a drugged Batman to lose a physical fight, but there’s no way a punk like LeHah is going to break Batman’s will.

Every issue so far has had some excuse for a hallucination scene, presumably written with Quesada in mind.  This chapter has Batman hallucinating in the hospital after LeHah drops a shelf full of ether bottles on him, which is probably the best use of the gimmick so far.  Drugging Batman provides a credible excuse for him losing the fight, and allows Quesada a few pages to go even crazier, presenting a hazy Bruce vs. Demon action sequence.  Even when the story doesn’t require exaggeration, Quesada can’t help himself.  Azrael now appears to be ten feet tall in costume, while LeHah is growing shorter and fatter each issue.  Some of the signs of Quesada’s later excesses are already here, but I think he’s still at the stage where his overindulgences aren’t a major concern.  Looking over the issue, I do wonder if Quesada ran into deadline troubles during this month.  Some of the pages aren’t as heavily rendered as the ones in the previous issues, and it certainly seems as if Kevin Nowlan is doing more than standard inking on several pages.  Almost every panel of Bruce Wayne that isn’t a close-up looks like a Nowlan drawing, for instance.  I’m not complaining; Quesada and Nowlan don’t seem to be an obvious match, but I think the combination is interesting.  The panels that have Nowlan overpowering Quesada do take me out of the story, however.

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