Review by Karl Verhoven
Azrael would play a significant part in Batman’s continuity, and his introduction in a separate series without any hint of what was to come was rather a sly move on DC’s part in 1992. Dennis O’Neil and Joe Quesada deliver a powerful four chapter story giving the new hero’s background in which Batman plays a part.
Jean-Paul Valley is a Gotham student who opens his door one night to discover his father, bullet-riddled in a strange costume. Before his father dies he explains his membership of a secret organisation, the Order of St Dumas, and Jean-Paul begins to take the first steps of a new life. “Know that you already know all you must know”, is a sinister introduction to discovering his subconscious has been programmed by his father since he was a child to become the Order’s armoured protector Azrael. Batman’s involvement comes via investigating the death of the previous Azrael.
Although the panels can be too tightly packed, there are other places where Quesada’s visual imagination really flourishes and his intricate machinery draws the eye. There are panels where he’s obviously been looking to Brian Bolland for inspiration, and the Batman costume seems to have an extraordinary slimming effect on someone who wears it, but on the whole the raw talent that so impressed in 1992 can still be seen today.
It becomes a rapid learning process for Azrael as he discovers new and powerful enemies, and for Batman as he learns about the order. At first Jean-Paul seems too passive in accepting and going along with everything that happens, but that could be excused as his programming kicking in, and there’s later reference to Azrael taking over, as if a separate entity. O’Neil teases by ensuring it’s a while before Azrael and Batman meet, but the big bad villain is dull, for which Azrael’s interesting partner Nomoz compensates. An indication of what’s to come in Batman: Knightfall is there when Nomoz claims “Azrael is not decent. Azrael is not humane. Azrael is righteous cruelty”.
When originally released as Batman: Sword of Azrael, Fallen Angel served its purpose, but that purpose was to introduce a new character and the accompanying mythology that would then greatly affect Batman. All these years later it’s lost some of the sparkle through familiarity, while the ending is astonishingly abrupt, predictable and unsatisfying.
For unknown reasons Amazon only provide links to the digital version Fallen Angel, although they’re found on other bookseller sites, so the Amazon purchase links are to the original Sword of Azrael graphic novel.