Batman debates helping Azrael in his quest to destroy the Order. Jean-Paul gets more confirmation of Azrael's absence from his body, as well as several bruises in the process. Jean-Paul, Brian, Lilhy and Nomoz decide to reintegrate the system into Jean-Paul's psyche. To do this they travel back to the Grey Abbots lab in Africa. When they arrive they are accosted by thugs but are saved by the pilot of the plane they were travelling in, secretly Batman in disguise. When they arrive at the lab Rollo dispatches acolytes dressed as the demon Biis to deal with them. The Acolytes knock Brian Lilhy and Nomoz out but not before Azrael is reawakened.
Almost no captions this issue, no internal monologue. Scene changes were fast quick, painless, and in a satisfying way, bleed together to allow the story to flow smoothly, uninterrupted. Strange, almost surreal look at who Jean-Paul is this issue, Brian remarks surprise at Jean-Paul's compassion, and yet in Sword of Azrael one of the main things that defined him as a character was his compassion for Bruce Wayne, and Harcourt for that matter. Jean-Paul wonders whether Azrael would have enjoyed Lilhy's kiss as much as him, emphasising the almost complete segregation, and possible independence of his personalities.
Interestingly enough there was a good deal of back referencing in caption, something not often seen in Azrael, This is certainly the most that it has been done in an issue so far. The use of the mad Azrael in background to one of those back referenced panels was beautiful, the incredibly fine detail work, and the way it was coloured, all bring a sense of familiarity, of immersion in the story.
Rollo's sequences were highly enlightening, He almost seems to express his failing mental faculties, and his dependence on lilhy. The figurines he examines in those scenes also seem significant, Biis is unmistakable, one looks like Dumas, and the third appears to be a woman, arms outstretched as if to bless. Since two of these figures are central to the dogma of the Order, what does the woman represent? Rollo makes his confused remarks while handling the figurine of the woman, that Rollo then chooses to send acolytes garbed as Biis while looking at the Biis figurine also brings these figurines to the forefront of attention in the readers mind without intruding on the story. The Biis scene also seems reminiscent of Sword of Azrael, where Lehah explains that it is the duty of Biis followers to sow confusion and discord, it seems to imply the Rollo has been possessed by Biis as his new host.
Barry's profile of Jean-Paul on the plane seems to embody the youthfulness that Barry brings to the character, and yet we've seen him bring great maturity as well when the situation called for it. While fullness and depth has recently been brought about more by the colouring than the inking, the are pages that harken back to the early Kitson/Pascoe work that was so phenomenal.
One of the things that really interests me is the matter of the Orders Dogma. How much of it is a matter of a cult of personality and how much is historical fact. This issue seemed to have Biis permeate through it, there's a real sense of presence that's hard to pinpoint. Throughout Sword of Azrael the question of Biis' existence was danced around, and to my way of thinking that really added a few shades of grey and a good deal of depth to the character. I like the way this sort of hints at Biis using a series of host bodies to achieve clandestine goals, it sort of gets around Lehah's mistreatment in issue 13-15, and seems a lot more creepy some how. It also allows Lehah to be a much more powerful, non costumed goon, while giving Azrael another physical foil. Given the Order's break from other more mainstream Christian teachings, could Dumas' conflict with Biis be what drove them apart? Could Dumas have sacrificed himself to prevent possession of his knights by Biis, and thus he was sainted by his followers? It would explain why they were so much at cross purposes to the Vatican given that Biis would hardly fit their Dogma, especially if what Dumas' knights were doing would have negative implications for them politically. I think that with all the un-stated religious artefacts within the DCU this is prime material for a little explanation.
here's my original rant preserved for historiy's sake
I didn't reserve my copy of Azrael #23 so when I went to the comic shop they were sold out, I still try to get my hands on one, but so far I haven't been successful, why didn't I reserve it? Stupidity, of course. Having Lilhy's chest on the cover may have contributed to brisk sales. So there's a lesson folks, make sure you reserve your comics ahead of time.