At last we come to the last of the lead-in stories to Knightfall, and one with the most direct hook outside of Venom – the introduction of Azrael.
Batman: Sword of Azrael #1
Written by Denny O’Neil
Pencils by Joe Quesada
Inks by Kevin Nowlan
Letters by Ken Bruzenak
Colors by Lovern Kindzierski
Edited by Bill Kaplan and Archie Goodwin
The DC Universe release of this opens with an introduction by Archie Goodwin, discussing on how the story came to be – and making clear that Knightfall was already in the works when this came out.
The book proper starts with Azrael giving a Justice Speech, which is immediately subverted by him getting shot repeatedly through his body armor. He’s saved from death by slashing his opponent in the eye and bursting through the window.
That said, things go worse from there, as he falls into the middle of the Gotham Founder’s Day parade, where he lands on a horse and (presumably) accidentally tramples two news anchors, killing them, before reaching his son’s apartment, telling him what happened, and dying.
On the way to the Bat-cave, Bruce and Alfred discuss the events of the parade. More, two other pieces of information caught Bruce’s interest – reports of an “angel” falling from the sky – from the penthouse apartment of arms dealer Carlton LeHah, and the “angel” discarding body armor that had been repeatedly shot through.
We shift point of view characters again, as we follow Azrael’s son (as yet unnamed – but he’s Jean-Paul Valley) as he travels to Switzerland – but he is not the narrator. Instead, the narrator is a man named Nomoz, who along with a massive man named Heinreich, will train him in “The System” – to turn him into an assassin like his father.
Back in Gotham, Batman goes looking for Azrael’s sword, and finds it with the seal of the Order of St. Dumas on the pommel. Batman sends this to Oracle to investigate. Meanwhile in Switzerland, Nomoz unlocks Jean-Paul’s hidden knowledge.
In short, the Order of St. Dumas is a splinter group of the Knights Templar who fell out with the main group back in the Crusades, in the process managing to avoid that group’s fate. Of the group – one of their number was appointed to be their enforcer and assassin – Azrael.
Bruce and Alfred head to Switzerland themselves to follow up on this lead, arriving just in time to see LeHah blow up the main building of the compound with a rocket launcher.