Batman: Angels of Death
After its cancellation last month, Azreal’s writer, David Hine, has brought his characters to play in some other titles for a month. Originally touted as a three-parter, this arc ended up taking place over four issues. Starting and ending in Batman #708 and #709, the arc crossed over with Red Robin #22 and Gotham City Sirens #22.
The story involves Azreal and the Crusader challenging Gotham, on the behalf of God himself, to find one good person from its populous otherwise the city will go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. Batman, Red Robin and Catwoman happen to be at hand and so the burden is passed to them to prove themselves worthy of saving Gotham. Whilst the challenge provides a nice format for the story (introduction followed by three challenges) a flaw can be seen straight away. As Red Robin asks: “Why let them set the agenda?” Why don’t Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and Selina Kyle simply take out the two insane antagonists straight away? However, Dick tells them to play by the rules of the challenge and they defer to his authority as Batman.
Things pick up as the story leads into the Red Robin issue and regular writer Fabian Nicieza takes the opportunity to explore a side of Tim Drake that we rarely see; his spirituality. As Drake completes his challenge we are given insights into how he has come to form his beliefs, which are ultimately his downfall. Red Robin completes his task successfully, but is deemed to have failed when he admits that he is an atheist; he doesn’t believe in God, so the challenge passes to Catwoman.
As we move into Gotham City Sirens the story digs into Catwoman’s past and the sister that she abandoned as a street child. I have to wonder why Selina Kyle was involved in this as due to this revelation she had failed her test before she had started it. The cynic in me wants to say that it was to boost sales of Gotham City Sirens, but I hope that it was because the writer saw some merit in revealing major past indiscretions in this way. Either way the issue really feels like it has been forced into the crossover and doesn’t add much to the overall story.
The story concludes as we return to Batman and we find out what sin has been haunting Dick Grayson throughout this arc (which is apparently why he let the challenges take place). I won’t spoil it for anyone who still wants to read the story, but it involves a forgotten event from his pre-Robin circus days. Dick confronts Azreal and the Crusader, saving the day in what can only be described as an anti-climax. In the aftermath, we are left with the hanging strings of the mastermind behind it all (it’s not really a spoiler to tell you that it wasn’t God that was going to go Old Testament on Gotham).
The problem with this arc is that the main story is quite weak and could easily have been done in two issues. We don’t really get much background on Azreal or the Crusader, so whilst I know that Azreal’s suit of souls is slowly driving him insane, I didn’t really feel that I got enough background on the Crusader or his motivations beyond ‘he’s deluded’. Azreal seems to be led by the Crusader, despite the Crusader claiming to be sent by God to be Azreal’s disciple. Such is madness, I suppose. Obviously due to the nature of comic books, continuity is going to build up quickly, but I shouldn’t have to catch up on everything that has happened in Azreal to fully understand the characters’ motivations in this crossover. Speaking of which, the crossover itself felt forced at times and the story might have been better served by guest-starring the characters within one title. Gotham City Sirens in particular felt like it floundered, trying to understand why it was involved. Of the four issues, the one that stands out is Red Robin, as the creative team made the best of a bad lot by using the overarching story to explore their protagonist in greater detail, rather than adding further backstory through flashbacks.
The good news is that these issues will be collected together and won’t be forced into the collections of your favourite series. If you are interested in one character in particular, then pick up their issue, but unless you are an Azreal fan or a completist, I would avoid this arc (and the inevitable collection) completely.