A man calling himself death dancer, aiming to relieve suffering kills an old man, slitting his throat. Azrael continues his quest to find Nick Scratch, The Joker and Calibax. On his way he finds an old man cast out by his family because they do not have enough to eat, Azrael gives them his last rations so they can feed the old man. Azrael heads to Oracles Lair to pick up supplies and information on the whereabouts of his quarry. As he crosses the Sprang bridge, heading south, he sees a child drowning in the river, and saves him. Taking him north to where the family who abandoned the old man had a fire, Azrael is assaulted by three men, and then the boy, because they were his gang. The boy offers him some food and Azrael agrees to split it. As the two go to get the food they come across the old man, dead, the boy tells Azrael, it's not the first man he's seen with his throat slit. Azrael, angry that the family left the old man out to die has a change of heart when he sees how much the family is suffering. Telling the boy to share his food with the family and warm himself by their fire Azrael sets off to see Oracle again. While Azrael is making his way there Death Dancer claims another victim. Azrael gets a meal and takes Oracle for a walk when they have a heart to heart, Death dancer sees Oracle and decides to end her suffering.
Plotting is real tight this issue, with decent continuity holding the events of the story together. Death Dancer at first appearance seems a lame villain but there may be a decent kernel to the character, a sympathetic hook that all good villains need. It would be a decent plot twist to have Azrael unable to do something about him because people support what he's doing. Euthanasia, Jack Kevorkian, this sort of conflict is too good to pass up.
This issue really focused attention on what Azrael is doing that the rest of NML isn't really dealing with. While ordinary people caught in NML may be focused on occasionally during the main story line usually it's as an interlude. The difference between the main NML story line and that in Azrael is that while the core books have become more concerned with moving the plot along, Azrael has taken a different approach. Focusing on the canvas on which NML is painted Azrael really seems to be concerned with the citizens of NML, taking a real slice/cross section of the lives of these people. The core books on the other hand tend to focus on only one character at a time, when it tries to look at the hapless denizens of NML, for some reason it seems less powerful than Azrael's approach, maybe it's because Azrael's always been a book about sympathy?
Unfortunately while 80% of the issue was decent and well plotted the whole thing fell apart on the last two pages in what must be the worst example of mangled dialogue in Azrael. There are some serious mischaracterizations, ones that make no sense in the greater scheme of things. Those last two pages were the crucial part, the point where it was really important to understand what was being said was clumsily written and unclear, some of the things that were scripted go completely against character archetype, and the social structure that has been developed in Gotham.
Azrael and Oracle cannot and should not have a brother/sister relationship. This idea is seriously flawed on analysis. Dick Grayson and Oracle certainly may have a sibling relationship, this is one reason I'm against that particular plot idea. Babs and Robin, entirely possible Batgirl and Robin seemed in every way to be Batman's archetypal offspring and any generation of those characters will almost certainly have that theme to them. Thrillkiller being the exception because there was no Batman in Thrillkiller until 1962. What can possibly be the basis for establishing this kind of archetypal sibling relationship between two character whose archetypes don't lend themselves to it? Azrael and Oracle had no common experience in teamwork under a father figure archetype, there's no blood relation, no intertwined history with the characters, hell there was hardly any contact until summer 97. It's a wrong-headed ill-conceived idea, things need to internally consistent, and these offending pages are not. These pages mar an otherwise excellent issue.
Robinson's work this issue exhibited several nice touches. His depiction of Jean Paul at points seemed to echo Kitson's youthful portrayal of the boy-man that he is/was. No outrageous Travolta-esque jaws this issue, he kept a fine jaw line rather than the rugged one that seems so heroic on everyone but Azrael. Robinson also used the expressiveness of the mouth extremely well, probably one reason why he designed the new costume the way he did. The use of body language was quite expressive this issue, he did in general, an excellent job of conveying emotion, in subtle and not so subtle ways. His use of silhouettes during the story deftly serves as a cheat, to allow him the freedom to display emotion, and give Azrael a menacing look without being compromised by the half mask, which betrays him as a human being instead of a fear inspiring avenging angel.
Any one guess what really pissed me off? It ain't the villain, he hardly appeared. It was the way Denny chose to resolve the Oracle plot. STUPID, STUPID, STUPID.
I can accept Azrael's being in the dark Re: the flirting , hell I probably would have written it the same way, but the second to last page was just completely incomprehensible.
I'll go through this using logical reasoning Panel 1.Oracle knows That Azrael didn't know she was romantically interested in him (reference previous page, he didn't know she was flirting with him). Thus asks him whether he took what she said seriously. Consequently the reply she gets either tells her that he went out and got a girlfriend because she was giving him advice (he was taking her advice seriously) or that he's Gay (he was not taking her advice seriously, because girls don't "do" it for him).
2. He Says that he did take what she said seriously. Since we already know that he did not know she was romantically interested in him, we are left with only one possible conclusion, that he thought she was giving him advice on going out and finding a girlfriend.
3. She say's that's what she was afraid of. Since Panel four reinforces conclusions in two, logical deductions bring us to the conclusion that she was disappointed that had intended to follow her advice.
4. After this, things become muddled, any conclusions one comes to by reading any panel doesn't make sense when used to interpret another. Does she back track the flirtatious nature because she thinks he already has a girlfriend?
My main conclusion on this page--Editorial meddling. It seems like it had four different writers. Points raised in dialogue and their connotations are further insults to my intelligence.
Besides the things the passage says are the things it implies. 1. Basically what it says is that rather than have Azrael readers drop the title in disgust when an Azrael/NW/Oracle triangle is resolved with NW winning, they decided that just taking him out of the race and putting a flaky cover on it will satisfy those stupid Azrael Fans. 2. Golden Boy Dick Grayson is entitled to everything, whatever it is he'll get it if a writer wants to put it in. 3. They think Azrael Readers are Stupid, They think we'll keep buying the title even when they consistently yank the ball of yarn away and give it to someone else. Piss on my intelligence and I'll knobble your nuts. 'Nuff said?
What can mitigate this travesty of mischaracterization? Two words, Literary Irony. At least one other person I know has caught on to this and agrees with me, This is not the end of An Azrael Oracle romantic relationship. There's too much moving in the undercurrents of the dialogue to just crap on it.