No One Is Innocent
Credits: Dennis O’Neil (writer), Joe Quesada (penciler), Kevin Nowlan (inker), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)
Summary: Alfred is shocked by Azrael’s brutal assault on Harcourt’s guards. Inside, LeHah murders Harcourt and flees. Later, Nomoz chastises Azrael for pausing briefly to check on Harcourt’s body instead of pursuing LeHah. Alfred questions Azrael’s bloodlust, but Azrael explains that he can’t help himself when The System kicks in. The trio track LeHah to the oil refinery he owns in Texas. Inside, Bruce tricks LeHah into taking off the Batman costume, but discovers that LeHah is now adamant about killing him. Alfred, Azrael, and Nomoz arrive in time to stop LeHah. Azrael’s battle with LeHah starts a fire; against Nomoz’s wishes, Azrael rescues Bruce, but refuses to spare LeHah. Outside, Azrael tells Alfred that he now remembers his true name, Jean-Paul.
Irrelevant Continuity: LeHah explains that he stole the Batman costume in order to “sow confusion and discord,” which is a responsibility of a follower of Biis.
Review: Batman? More like Fatman, amiright, folks? (That’s a reference to the cover, of course. That’s LeHah in the costume, and he really is getting fatter each issue.) Okay, the Azrael introduction mini is over, and I think I can now make some sense out of those cryptic references in “Knightfall.” I still maintain that the Jean-Paul we saw during that event isn’t quite the character Denny O’Neil introduces here. This issue we see a savage Azrael unleashed by The System (he kills several security guards, and even a dog, which is a rarity in comics), but by the end of the story we discover that underneath it all, Jean-Paul is a decent young man who’s strong enough to fight against his father’s programming and do the right thing. The fact that he allows LeHah to die in the fire indicates that he isn’t quite as respectable as the traditional superhero, but the implication on the final page is that Jean-Paul is on his way to learning about true heroism and becoming his own man.
The Jean-Paul presented to us during “Knightfall” starts off as a Ken doll who seems to be chosen as Batman’s replacement based on his jawline, and within a few issues, he’s a raving loon that’s choking Robin and letting citizens be mugged because they need to be taught a lesson. Azrael didn’t seem to struggle with right vs. wrong during his days as Batman; any internal conflict was dramatized by periodic “bad trips” involving medieval Catholic imagery that always ended with Azrael screaming into the heavens. It is possible that the “Knightfall” trades skipped some of the issues that fleshed out Jean-Paul in-between this miniseries and his debut as Batman, I’ll acknowledge. (I’m assuming some story established what happened to Nomoz, right?) But based upon the story that DC is keeping alive in the reprints, Jean-Paul simply comes across as nuts.
As for the finale of the miniseries, let’s see…Quesada renders an Azrael that’s McFarlane-worthy, Kevin Nowlan’s distinctive faces are popping up again, there’s no payoff to Azrael losing his sword (based on the series’ title, I assumed this would be important), Batman has very little to do, and no one has acknowledged yet that Nomoz looks like something out of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. We also don’t receive a real explanation for why LeHah turned against St. Dumas and worshiped a demon instead, leaving him more of a caricature than a legitimate villain. I did enjoy his brief conversation with Bruce this issue, which has Bruce smugly telling LeHah that he’s been serving his own “demon” ever since his parents died. Great trash talk that’s unfortunately not paid off. I understand that Azrael needs to have a grand heroic moment at the end, this really is his miniseries after all, but Batman’s presence in the final two chapters hasn’t amounted to much. I was expecting Bruce to participate in LeHah’s defeat in some way; ultimately, he’s merely a prop to be rescued in the finale. Speaking of Bruce, why does he have Mad magazine-style rectangular word balloons throughout the miniseries? I’ve never seen Ken Bruzenak do this before, which makes me wonder if perhaps Joe Quesada was taking an active role in designing the word balloons. It’s just an odd design choice, and if we’re being honest, Quesada’s made a few of those over the years…