Azzarello and Lee Bermejo are undoubtedly a good fit for one and other. Azzarello's dark, jerky script goes great with Bermejo's dark, jerky art. They're obviously coming to the material from the same place.
Their first collaboration on Batman/Deathblow way back in 2002 was excellent. He was inked by Tim Bradstreet (who's also obviously coming from the same place) for most of the book and various inkers stepped in for the last part. The story was a great mystery/spy story jumping backwards and forwards in time (as Deathblow's dead) and coming together to a satisfying conclusion. Recommended!
Their second series/book was Lex Luthor, Man Of Steel. This series was announced at the same time as Azzarello's odd Superman run with Jim Lee and the great Question mini series by Rick Vietch and Tommy Lee Edwards. Lex Luthor actually appeared quite a bit later, coloured by the always impressive Dave Stewart. The series featured a couple of great Lex/Batman/Bruce Wayne moments and was a good look at Lex Luthor from his own point of view, with Superman very much a supporting role. This series debuted Lee Bermejo's new trick of some panels being shot from very finished pencils and the rest inked. More on this in a minute. A good book but a little disappointing after Batman/Deathblow.Around the same time we got Azzarello's run on Batman, with 100 Bullets buddy, Eduardo Risso. This book when serialised, was disjointed and Azzarello's generally lauded, jive talking, noir dialogue was weird stuck on a Gotham City backdrop. When collected, the whole thing reads better but it was definitely a very different Batman to any previous version of the character. Azzarello definitely had a very strong take on Batman, his connection with the city and the tragedy and obsession that drives him. It serves as the best reference point to the Joker HC released a couple of weeks back, more so than the previous work done by the Azzarello and Bermejo.
The Joker, similar to Batman Broken City, stands completely apart from any continuity which is a good thing. Azzarello gets to write his own version of everything, based on core concepts, from Killer Croc being a hard man with a funny diet and bad skin to the Joker being a unpredictable psychotic. We get a gimpy, tatooed Riddler, a genuinely jarring take on Harley Quinn that would likely come as a surprise to Paul Dini and a great Penguin (though inexplicably called Abner. An aside; I looked around thinking I might be missing some hip slang, political reference or old DC continuity but no-one online seems any the wiser...answers on a postcard).
The whole story is told from the point of view of a Joker goon who's trying to make a name for himself but very quickly realises he's out of his depth with no concept of where the Joker will lead him next.
Far and away the strongest point of the book is the depiction of the Joker (fair enough, condidering...). His mood swings, he breaks into tears, he's confident in everything, ambitious and at moments appears suicidal. As such we never no where the story will takes us either, apart from a sense of impending doom for our narrator.
Bermejo's contribution to the book can't be understated and I struggle to imagine the thing drawn by anyone else. His take on the Joker is excellent (also fair enough...) and bears such a striking resemblance to Heath Ledger's vituoso performance in Dark Knight that its difficult to believe no crossover behind the scenes. I think a lot of it comes from the sliced up cheeks that Joker's had in Morrison's Batman, the movie and here. No way that there wasn't some corporate involvement on that element at least. There are also elements of Cesar Romero, sans moustache, but Jack Nicholson is nowhere to be found.
Bermejo's Gotham City is as strong here as it's been in the past, feeling like a real place and not a mish mash of photo ref of New York and Chicago. The downfall for the book, artwise, is the choice to switch, a lot more awkwardly than on the Lex Luthor book, between digitally painted pencils and subtle, borderline flat colours over inked art by the very capable Mick Gray, long time art partner of JH Williams III. The change in style appears to happen with no rhyme or reason, with some whole sequences in digital wash and otherwise random money shot panels in the middle of the inked work. I'd be curious to know the motivation behind the changes, if anyone out there has any insight.
Its a strongly written piece with everything you expect from Azzarello, both good and bad, and solid artwork, despite the above mentioned changes in finish. Definitely a keeper, largely because of a really great Joker, and a really good Gotham. Once again an Azzarello book that underwhelms at first but grows on you as it sits in your head.