I've had to make some hard decisions in the last 60 days about comic books.
My ongoing struggle to find work has slowly tightened the noose around the neck of my comic book orders, and April's shipment of books from my supplier will be my last regular shipment until such time as I secure a new career. The result of this was that two months ago, seeing the possibility coming forward, I had to carve out some of my reading list in advance of an absolute cut-off. One of the books I chose to cut was Azrael's new series by Fabian Nicieza (a writer who's work I have enjoyed in the past.)
To understand why this is something a tough choice, you need to appreciate that on average I get my shipment two months after books are released. The process saves me a significant amount of money, but the other side of it is that when I'm ordering my books (which are ordered two months in advance of shipping) I'm often working with a lack of opinion or information on the current quality of a series. That's what happened when I cut off the orders for Azrael based on only having read issue number 1.
Sometimes this process burns me, and I end up scrambling to scoop up a couple of issues to fill in gaps created by the decision, because I realize or discover two months later that the book improved and became a real keeper.
Well I just read Azrael #4 (two months after I canceled my orders for the series in advance of issue #5's solicitation.) Guess what?
Turns out that my gut instinct from two months earlier was spot on, and the series continues to be completely missing the captivating essence of this character's past. When Dennis O'Neil wrote Azrael's first story I was intrigued and stayed with the book for his entire run on it. Fabian, it turns out, doesn't have any clue what makes the character work and demonstrates it every time he sets pen to paper. Issue #4's climax, in which we finally discover the identity of a murder that has haunted the new Azrael's civilian identity for years, is uninspired and flippant, offering us neither actual closure or heightened interest.
The tones of spiritual obsession that ran through the original series are marginalized in the new series, and the new Azrael lacks the depth of character I found so captivating in the original. He isn't the programmed solider or an ancient order, shrouded in mystery and at odds with the modern world, which is a big piece of why the character worked for me in the past. Now he is a police officer who has taken on the duty out of obligation, submitting to the requirements of the uniform.
It may not be too late for Fabian to save the title from complete death, and there may be a bigger picture unfolding in the confession at the end of #4 that 'the devil made me do it,' but if that does turn out to be the case, for me it is too little too late. I tuned in for more deep, dark secrets about an ancient offshoot of the Christian faith sending forth it's soldier to defend their purpose in a world that no longer relates their values. I wanted to find out if the Order of St. Dumas had been cleaned of its corruption, and reborn with a new purpose.
What I'm getting instead is a largely uninspired story about a cop who became Azrael trying to balance his past with his present, all tied neatly into the radius of Gotham City.