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Longbox Junk Azrael (Vol. 2) Part 2: Issues 10 18

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After a pretty strong start, can this unwanted and almost forgotten series stay on the rails heading into the back half?  Let's find out!

AZRAEL (VOL. 2) Part 2 (DC)

ISSUE 10

Azrael and Order of Purity Representative Father Garrett travel to London, following a trail of murdered Order of Purity members who are the keepers of their greatest secret. They arrive too late and find themselves confronting the killer. . .The Crusader.

Holy changeup, Batman!

The first issue of the back half of this series undergoes a complete changeover. New artist, new writer, new storyline, a whole new feel to the comic.

The new art leaves behind gritty realism in favor of a more standard comic book style. Lane is drawn as a much taller, more imposing figure. It's not BAD, it's just completely different than what came before. The only real problem with the new artist is that he doesn't do a great job with faces at all.

The new storyline is also a change from what came before. . .not in the subject matter, which stays pretty much in the realm of an underlying secret religious war in the DCU, but in that the "One and Done with a little extra' style seems to be done with, as this is the first part of a 4 part continued story.

Overall, I'm not thrilled with the changes. The gritty, realistic art and self contained stories gave Azrael a feel that made it stand out a bit from the average mainstream DC superhero book, almost like a Vertigo title.

ISSUE 11Azrael learns the secret that the inner circle of The Order of Purity are giving their lives to protect. . .that they have the Shroud of Turin, the shroud is genuine, and it proves that Christ was not resurrected!

First off. . .Great cover! One of the best of the whole series. Very nicely done.

After dipping a toe into the Gnostic pool last issue, the new writer dives deep into Gnostic belief this time out with the revelation that The Order of Purity is guarding the most devastating religious secret of all. . .that Christ didn't die on the cross and was not resurrected. The Crusader is after the shroud, trying to return it to the Vatican.

Some pretty heavy stuff in here. So despite the art switching up to a more traditional comic booky style and the writer switching to an internal narration style, the story itself remains interesting enough to keep Azrael on the rails.

ISSUE 12

This issue (and Azrael in general) dives deep into Vertigo-style storytelling as Azrael learns more of the secrets of the Order of Purity. . .that they believe that Lucifer is a second God, Jesus not only survived the crucifixion, but also had children with Mary Magdalene, and The Order plans to reveal to the world that the resurrection never happened.

The Catholic Church has purposely faked evidence the shroud is authentic, and that their own version of Azrael, The Crusader, was created to protect the secret of the shroud.

This ain't a kids story, folks. This series is getting down deep into the dark underbelly of organized religion. It's a surprisingly good story full of questions of faith, truth, and religious obedience.

ISSUE 13

While Azrael and Father Garrett rush to save the Shroud of Turin, Father Grieve sacrifices himself to be tortured by The Crusader to buy them time. During the final confrontation, Azrael uses his swords to reveal the truth that the shroud is genuine and the Pope is an agent of evil to The Crusader, who spares their lives and lets them leave with the shroud.

Before dying, Grieve reveals the Order's greatest secret to Lane. . .the suit of sorrows was created to be worn by the ancestors of Jesus Christ. Yep. . .that's right. Michael Lane is part of Jesus' bloodline.

Once again, this issue reads a lot more like something one would expect from Vertigo than a mainstream DC superhero book. It's deep, it's dark, and it's a really thought-provoking story.

I have to say that I was a bit worried about the creative team change and new direction for this series, but this "Killer of Saints" arc was really quite impressive.

ISSUE 14

After learning the deepest secrets of the Order of Purity (including that he is of the bloodline of Christ) and being haunted by the spirit of Father Grieve, Michael Lane's sanity finally snaps. The newly-returned Bruce Wayne decides that either Azrael joins his new "Batman Inc." program or he needs to be dealt with as a threat. . .

As Azrael gets sucked into crossing over with Batman Inc. there's an awkward conversation in the Batcave between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. . .

B: WTF, Dick? You let this new Azrael run around Gotham killing people because GOD tells him too?
D: Yeah. . .I thought it would go a little better. But hey. . .you weren't here and Damian and I were being Morrisoned!
B: I don't want to hear about how YOU were being Morrisoned! I was in the friggin' stone age with a cave boy Robin!
D: Yeah, but Morrison had US dealing with Joker pretending to be a suave English detective and learning that the grounds of Wayne Manor are in the shape of a giant FU#%^NG BAT! Like anyone with a helicopter never noticed!
B: I repeat. . .PREHISTORIC. CAVE. ROBIN.
D: Okay, Okay. . .we BOTH got Morrisoned pretty badly. What now.
B: Yeah. . .and I'm STILL being Morrisoned with this whole "Batman Inc." thing. Just go take care of Azrael and see if he's good for a crossover. . .

And so we get a crossover.

To tell the truth, the story here is not bad. Lane finally snaps, refuses to listen to Batman (Grayson), and the issue ends with him hanging on a cross, revisiting the mystery that was teased in the very first issue.

We also get another art changeup. I actually like this artist better than the one for the previous 4 issues. It's a happy medium between the gritty, realistic art this series started with and the more comic-booky style of the past few issues.

Overall, despite this being the first part of a crossover with the Morrison Madness of Batman Inc., this was a pretty good issue.

ISSUE 15

Batman investigates the suicide of Michael Lane and discovers that Ra's Al Ghul is pulling the strings behind Azrael and The Order of Purity.

In this issue, we see Azrael commit suicide with the help of his old police partner, Pete Farelli. Most of the book is taken up by flashback vignettes leading to the crucifixion and flash forwards to Batman's investigation.

It's pretty much based on his belief that he's of the bloodline of Christ and will be resurrected. . .but without him knowing that Ra's Al Ghul is behind it all and has treated the Suit of Sorrows with chemicals from a Lazarus Pit to fake a spiritual resurrection.

I like how, even though this is a crossover with Batman Inc., this series still maintains its own identity of exploring the dark underbelly of religion and faith in the DCU as Lane's delusions of grandeur and religious destiny overpower his ability to deal with reality.

ISSUE 16

Three days after committing suicide, Michael Lane rises from the dead.
Ra's Al Ghul, the mastermind behind Lane's "resurrection", gives Batman the bad news. . .Azrael now serves him, whether he knows it or not.

Being a sporting man, Ra's let's Batman try to recruit Azrael to Batman Inc. But now more than ever, Lane is convinced of his religious destiny of Judgement of Sin, thanks to his crucifixion and 3 day resurrection. . .due to Ra's Al Ghul and his Lazarus Pit chemicals, of course.

In this final issue of the Batman Inc. crossover, I liked that Batman lost, and lost badly. Ra's had stacked the deck and manipulated Azrael and the Order of Purity so well that he even invited Batman to witness Lane's rising from the dead. At the end of it all, the only small victory for Batman was Azrael telling him he wouldn't be an enemy.

All in all, a bit of a surprising end to this arc. It's not often you see Batman having to walk away a loser.

ISSUE 17

Azrael leaves Gotham for Afghanistan in order to destroy "The Brotherhood of The Sword" and their secret weapon, who turns out to be a man with pyrokinetic powers who calls himself "Fireball" and is a Muslim version of Azrael.

All in all, after the dark revelations and devious manipulations of the past 7 issues, this issue felt weak. . .like filler. I have the feeling that (like other series I've reviewed), the ACTUAL end of the story came last issue and these final two issues are going to be trade padding in order to get an even 18 issues - 6 issues in a trade.

This story was written at a time when the war in Afghanistan/Iraq was still in full swing, so in addition to feeling like trade padding, it also feels a bit exploitative.

This is NOT a good way for an otherwise pretty good series to go out. . .

ISSUE 18

After battling with the "Muslim Azrael", Fireball, it is revealed that Ra's Al Ghul is behind the confrontation. He brings the two of them to Gotham and Lane's mind finally completely collapses under Al Ghul's manipulation and Azrael swears judgement and vengeance on Gotham.

And so we come to the big finish. Really more of a "To be Continued" (In Batman #708) as part of the "Judgement on Gotham" multi-Bat-book crossover, where he teams up with Fireball and The Crusader to bring. . .well. . .Judgement on Gotham.

Overall, not a good ending for the series. The main character turned into a villain by the manipulation of Ra's Al Ghul and a "To be continued" leaving things swinging in the wind for Azrael fans (If there WERE any fans of this version of Azrael).

Once again, I maintain that the TRUE ending of this series was actually issue 16. This final issue (and the previous one) just leave a bad taste in the mouth and aren't a good ending at all.

CONCLUSION

Overall, this series surprised me.  Lousy ending aside, it was a grim exploration of religion, faith, and fanaticism in a world of superheroes.  The art was good throughout, and even though Michael Lane as a character wasn't that interesting in and of himself, the stories and world built AROUND him were good. 

I really think that Azrael failed because it wasn't in the proper place.  Like the Jonah Hex series I reviewed a while back, I sincerely believe that this version of Azrael would have done better as a Vertigo title, where it could have fully embraced the dark themes it was exploring.

Up next. . .

Anybody remember that A-Team movie that came out a while back?  Anybody?

Can a four issue prequel series to that utterly forgettable movie POSSIBLY be any good? 

IDW's 4 issue The A-Team: War Stories mini.

Be there or be square!

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