I know, the idea of a new ongoing series starring a character named Azrael makes my head explode a little bit, too. The last time we had a Batman-identity-usurper get his own title, "Azrael" ran for 100 issues but should have probably ended 75 issues sooner. So while we've got another Batman-identity-usurper now claiming the name of Azrael, I have to give Fabian Nicieza credit that he's been pleasantly surprisingly me on how the character has turned out.
For those who didn't read the "Azrael: Death's Dark Knight" mini-series from earlier this year (or his re-introduction in the "Batman" and "Detective Comics" annuals this month), the new Azrael is Michael Lane, one of the replacement Batmen from Grant Morrison's run on "Batman." A former police officer, he's outfitted with the Suit of Sorrows, a cursed armor that eventually drives its wearer insane. With swords that radiate fire and ice, and a religious cult bankrolling his moves, this Azrael is looking for eye-for-an-eye justice.
The thing is, the world itself isn't that simple, and Nicieza knows that. Lane is already discovering in "Azrael" that finding the bad guys and punishing them isn't such a simple process, and how he deals with the killer in this first issue appears to be a firm step in saying that the book isn't going to take the obvious or traditional solutions. Nicieza also gives the reader a glimpse six months into the future for how Lane is handling the role of Azrael, and sets up a nice cliffhanger that should hopefully keep readers around to find out how Lane gets from his present state into the status quo of the future.
The one big down side to "Azrael" #1, though, is the art. After having Frazer Irving, J. Calafiore, and Tom Mandrake draw Nicieza's Azrael stories up until now, Ramon Bachs was already at a disadvantage. But even without that pedigree of talent having led the way, I think Bachs is still the wrong choice of artist for "Azrael." Bachs's art is blocky and rough, in an almost primitive manner. While I don't mind a rough art style, there's something about Bachs' art that misses what I think "Azrael" needs most. There isn't a dark, gloomy look about the way Bachs draws the book, and it was that special mood that Irving, Calafiore, and Mandrake all evoked quite well. As strange as it sounds, "Azrael" looks a tiny bit too cheerful, despite the grim events it's depicting. "Azrael" could actually be an excellent book, but someone more suited to the scripts than Bachs would have to come on in order for that to happen. Still, the script for "Azrael" #1 was strong enough that I want to read more. That's everything one asks for in a first issue.