Azrael (comics)

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Azrael
Cover to Batman: Sword of Azrael #1 (1992).
Art by Joe Quesada and Kevin Nowlan.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance As Azrael:
Batman: Sword of Azrael #1
(October 1992)
As Batman:
Batman #489 (February 1993)
Created by Denny O'Neil
Joe Quesada
In-story information
Alter ego Jean-Paul Valley Jr.
Michael Washington Lane
Team affiliations Sacred Order of Saint Dumas
Batman Family
Black Lantern Corps
Notable aliases Batman
Abilities Special armored costume
Artificially enhanced physiology, combat skills, and intelligence
Computer expert

Azrael is the name of several fictional superheroes in the DC Comics universe. They are a group of assassins who were created by The Order of St. Dumas to "enforce God's Will." The name is taken from the name for the traditional Angel of Death.

Publication history[edit]

The character first appeared in the series Batman: Sword of Azrael,[1] as Jean-Paul Valley, in 1992.

He then became a supporting character in the monthly Batman titles, eventually taking over the role of Batman[2] through the "Knightfall", "Knightquest", and "KnightsEnd" story arcs. Writer/co-creator Denny O'Neil admitted to difficulty with Azrael's transition from villain to hero: "If I'd known he was to become a monthly character, I might have set him up differently ... The problem is that I had to turn a bad guy into a real hero, not just an anti-hero or lead. It's possible to do that, but it's difficult to retain the original characterization. You almost have to change his personality."[3]

The subsequent Azrael series, chronicling Valley's battles against the Order of St. Dumas, ran for 100 issues between 1995 and 2003. Starting with issue #47, it was retitled Azrael: Agent of the Bat in an attempt to boost sales by tying the series in with the rest of the Batman mythos, including Azrael as part of the team of Batman, Robin, and the new Batgirl (Cassandra Cain).

Michael Lane is the next Azrael introduced as part of the Battle for the Cowl storyline in a three-issue mini-series written by Fabian Nicieza.[4][5]

Fictional character biography[edit]

Jean-Paul Valley[edit]

Jean-Paul Valley, a university graduate student of computer science in Gotham City, is unaware that he is the latest in a line of assassin-enforcers for "The Sacred Order of Saint Dumas", a sinister religious secret society. For most of his life, he has been brainwashed with The System, a deep level of psychological conditioning.

Valley only learns of this upon the death of his father, who was also his predecessor, at which time his conditioning is activated and he is called upon to take up the mantle of Azrael. When he is sent by the Order to kill a weapons dealer, a rogue member of the Order who had turned against the others and killed his father, he crosses paths with Batman, also investigating the death of Valley's father. He works with Alfred Pennyworth to find the weapons dealer after he has captured Bruce Wayne, using the Batman costume to kill the other Order members. As Valley works with Alfred, demonstrating a detective's intuition in tracking Lehah's movements and later risking himself to rescue Bruce despite his traditional mission of vengeance, he is shown the error of his ways and decides to fight alongside Batman against the criminals of Gotham, rejecting his "birthright" and seeking Batman's help in breaking his conditioning to forge his own destiny.

His name is not revealed to Alfred and Bruce until the end of the story, at which point he claims it was his father's name too. However a later storyline in his solo series stated his father's name to be Ludovic Valley.[6]

Valley is given a job as a security guard at WayneTech headquarters, and also becomes an apprentice crimefighter alongside Batman and Robin, learning basic detective work.

Detective Comics #667 (1993). Art by Kelley Jones.

Valley plays a pivotal role in the "Knightfall" story arc (1993–1994), in which he stands in as Batman after Bruce Wayne is defeated and paralyzed at the hands of Bane. He decides that Bruce's tactics as Batman are obsolete and believes that he must fight criminals on their terms which makes him far more brutal and merciless. Against Bruce Wayne's orders, Valley fights and defeats Bane, wearing enhanced battle-armor he designed and built under the influence of the System after he was narrowly defeated by Bane in their first confrontation. His performance as Batman is influenced by his Azrael conditioning. He grows increasingly violent and delusional, allowing the mass murderer Abattoir to fall to his death, thereby also allowing one of Abattoir's still-living hostages to die. Valley also has control problems with Tim Drake's partnership, which climax when Valley almost strangles him to death and bans him from the Batcave. He seals off the Batcave from Wayne Manor and the Drake property, and eschews working with Commissioner Gordon and the Gotham police. Valley also suffers from continuous hallucinations of both his father and St. Dumas who tell him that he is the real Batman and that he must avenge his father's death.

Initially, Wayne is impressed enough with Valley's results to let him remain as Batman, but when Drake tells Wayne of Abattoir's death, he resolves to reclaim the Batman mantle. With his back repaired thanks to the sacrifice of Doctor Shondra Kinsolving, and his fighting instincts rehabilitated after lessons with Lady Shiva, Wayne goes after Valley to reclaim his identity. After a prolonged battle, stretching from a mobster's penthouse to Gotham Bridge before culminating in a final showdown in the Batcave. Bruce tricks Valley into to removing his armor, which somehow snaps him out of his delusional state. He apologizes and asks for his forgiveness, which Bruce accepts, recognising his own role in Valley's descent into madness during his time as Batman, but tells him to leave immediately. Valley subsequently departs Wayne Manor after acknowledging Bruce Wayne as the true Batman.[6]

Valley lives among the homeless population of Gotham for several weeks, befriending an alcoholic former psychiatrist named Brian.

Valley is sought out by Bruce Wayne who feels responsible for his mental breakdown after becoming and losing the mantle of Batman. Bruce grants him a small fortune in money, information on the Order of St. Dumas' whereabouts and resources to explore his origins. Along with Brian, he discovers the evil conspiracies within the order of St. Dumas, and they help a nun named Sister Lilhy escape. With the help of Ra's al Ghul he discovers that he is a genetically engineered test tube baby, and his genes have been spliced with those of animals.

He returns to Gotham for several crossover events, including Underworld Unleashed, Contagion, Legacy, and Cataclysm. He also discovers that his father's killer, Carlton LeHah, is still alive. Valley attempts to regain Batman's trust after the events of KnightsEnd. Batman gives Azrael small missions to carry out to test him and prove himself; but it isn't until Azrael saves the lives of a group of U.S. senators (one of which tries to plead to congress for the funds to rebuild Gotham City after it's devastating earthquake) that Batman begins to fully trust him again. Prior to those events, Batman sent Azrael after Nicholas Scratch who was planning to kill a senator who wanted the federal money to save Gotham City. While pursuing Scratch, Azrael was framed for the senator's murder after he was strangled to death moments before Azrael arrived to save him.

After being framed, Azrael is given a new costume designed by Batman and uses it for a time, especially during the "No Man's Land" storyarc. After foiling Scratch's plan of framing him for murder Azrael returns to his original costume and battles supposed hallucinations that are supposed to represent both his father and St. Dumas himself. Toward the end of the series, Azrael is plagued by apparently supernatural occurrences in the form of possible miracles.

Azrael is seemingly killed in the series' final issue, shot with two specially-coated bullets while battling Scratch and LeHah. Scratch was arrested, and LeHah falls into the river with Azrael. However, Azrael's body is never recovered.[6] His death went unconfirmed for several years. In Booster Gold (vol. 2) #10, a note can be seen written on time traveler Rip Hunter's chalk board reading "Jean-Paul Valley Lives!". In the following issue, another note says "Azrael comes and goes." Azrael appears in Blackest Night #4 (October 2009) as an undead member of the Black Lantern Corps; although at first it had not been confirmed whether it was Jean-Paul Valley or another Azrael (such as Ludovic Valley, who died in Gotham City). However, it was later revealed, in the index section of the Blackest Night tabloid vol.1, that it was in fact Jean-Paul.[7]

Jean-Paul Valley makes a cameo at Batman's funeral service in Neil Gaiman's 2009 story, Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, a story which is metaphysical in nature.

Michael Lane[edit]

In 2009, a mini-series titled Azrael: Death's Dark Knight[8] was produced as a tie-in to the Battle for the Cowl crossover event, with a later regular series.

The new Azrael is the Third "Ghost of Batman" to undergo Doctor Hurt's experiments; an African American ex-cop named Michael Washington Lane. He is approached by the Order of Purity to reclaim the mantle of Azrael after the Order's latest Azrael went mad and killed an undercover police officer. On his first night as Azrael he fights Talia al Ghul with her team of mercenaries led by Merlyn and later encounters Nightwing.[9] After convincing Nightwing that he was not responsible for the murdered police officer, Nightwing persuades Talia to allow Michael to keep the Suit of Sorrows. In Batman And The Outsiders (vol. 2) #14, the character is displayed as a charming man who undergoes various purification rituals, overseen by the Order of Purity.[10]

Ra's al Ghul later attempts to manipulate Lane into destroying Gotham by having him commit suicide and be subsequently resurrected by the Suit, which was dipped in a Lazarus Pit. Lane worked with metahuman Crusader to 'judge' Batman, Catwoman and Red Robin for their past 'sins', and to determine if Gotham should be saved. Batman convinces Lane to use his swords to test himself, revealing Ra's's plan in time for Lane to stop the planned destruction of new metahuman Fireball. Ra's's plan was for Azrael to detonate Fireball and make it appear as though Gotham had been destroyed by terrorists, inciting a wave of violence that would cleanse Earth and allow Ra's to take control.

The New 52[edit]

Azrael has recently appeared in "The New 52" (a reboot of the DC Comics universe). The Michael Lane version of the character was originally featured in Batwoman issue #2 as a cameo, which was written before the relaunch but published after, however the art was edited in order to remove him.[11] Regardless, Michael Lane appeared in issue #10 of Batman, Inc. His absence from Batman's organization is explained by his choosing seclusion and daily prayer as a way of repenting for all that he did as a tool of Ra's Al Ghul and Doctor Hurt, believing himself to hold an important role in the apocalypse.

Other versions[edit]

Valley and Lane are not the only bearers of the name Azrael in the DC Universe:

  • Valley's father (Jean-Paul Ludovic Valley) was the previous Azrael, as seen in Batman: Sword of Azrael (referenced by his son as having the same name) and, with more detail, in Azrael Annual #1 (identified as just Ludovic Valley).
  • A Chinese man, supposedly given the same training as Valley and an identical costume, is briefly under the control of the Order. Also, the position of the order's enforcer has been passed on since medieval times.
  • Earlier on in the Azrael series, another man is supposedly selected and trained in the same way as Valley and the Chinese Azrael to be Valley's replacement. He is defeated by Valley and supposedly falls to his death, only to resurface in Gotham at one point wearing one of Valley's 'Batman' armors and engaging in underground fights.
  • There was a character Azrael who was briefly associated with the Teen Titans and who is otherwise unrelated to the character introduced in the Batman comics.[1]

Powers and abilities[edit]

The source of Azrael's abilities is a post-hypnotic training regimen known as The System. The details of The System are never fully explained, but it is understood that training begins before birth and includes genetic modification, prenatal electric shock, and the use of apes as surrogate mothers. The end result is a human being who is inhumanly strong and fast and has a raging split personality triggered by the donning of the Azrael costume. The split personality is apparently coached to believe it is an actual Biblical angel of vengeance. His weapons include wrist-mounted swords which ignite flames and can also be launched from the gauntlets. Azrael also dons bullet- and flame-proof armor.

It is implied towards the middle of the series that all Azraels have been imparted with some form of The System, but that the training and genetic tampering have been updated and changed significantly in the Order's 500-year history. The System also somehow separates an Azrael's civilian identity from his powers, in that they are only super strong or super fast while in costume. However, towards the end of his life Jean-Paul was able to manifest these abilities while in his normal personality.

Azrael is also an expert with computers. When he was first introduced in Batman: Sword of Azrael #1, it was revealed that Jean-Paul was studying computer programming in college and during Knightquest he frequently dealt with Tim Drake's (then newly appointed as Robin) attempts to hack the Batcave's computer system successfully, once stating that Tim was overconfident in his abilities and that a far more experienced hacker now inhabited the cave.

Jean-Paul also trained as a detective when he was with Batman's team, although he also demonstrated some deductive ability during his early days as Azrael when working with Alfred and Nomez to track down Lehah and the captured Bruce.

Equipment[edit]

Azrael's original costume consists of special red and gold armor. After becoming an "Agent of the Bat", he dons silver and black armor with a red cape and a stylized red bat symbol on the chest. Later on, he dons red armor with golden gauntlets, boots, shoulder pads and a blue cape. He sometimes carries a flaming sword, and also uses two retractable daggers hidden in the gauntlets of his costume. On page 71 of the updated edition of Batman: The Ultimate Guide to the Dark Knight, Scott Beatty implied that Azrael's changing costumes were reflections of the changes in Azrael's life from an agent of St. Dumas to an agent of the Batman to his own man.[6] The gauntlets were taken by Kate Spencer, the current Manhunter, and are used in her outfit.

Collected Editions[edit]

  • Batman: Contagion (Azrael #15)
  • Batman: No Man's Land Vol. 1 (Azrael: Agent of the Bat #51-55)
  • Batman: No Man's Land Vol. 2 (Azrael: Agent of the Bat #56)
  • Batman: No Man's Land Vol. 3 (Azrael: Agent of the Bat #58)
  • Batman: No Man's Land Vol. 4 (Azrael: Agent of the Bat #59-61)

In other media[edit]

Video games[edit]

  • Azrael is a character that can be officially created after obtaining all the mini-kits for the hero chapters of the game in Lego Batman: The Videogame in the character customization feature. The Nintendo DS version also features him and can be unlocked and made available to purchase after all the levels have been completed and True Hero on Batboat Chase.
  • Azrael appears in Batman: Arkham City voiced by Khary Payton. This Azrael wears an amalgamation of Jean-Paul Valley's and Michael Lane's Azrael armors as he has the latter's crusader-esque look and the former's wrist-mounted flaming blade. His character profile states he is the Michael Lane incarnation. His first appearance is at the beginning of the game, standing on a rooftop, watching as Bruce Wayne is being sent into Arkham City. If Batman chooses to pursue him, he leaves symbols in his standing spots that are revealed to be a map leading to the destination of a final symbol. When Batman discovers it, Azrael appears and reveals that he is a member of The Order of St. Dumas and delivers him a cryptic message about the impending dark future of Batman and Gotham City. Furthermore, Batman has apparently never heard of the Order of St. Dumas, even though Bane alluded to Knightfall in the previous game. Azrael gives Batman a message that dark days are coming and that Batman will be the one to close the Gates of Hell. He also states that from the ashes of Arkham, the fires will rage and Gotham will burn alongside Batman. Batman says in response that he "doesn't believe in fairy tales". Nevertheless, stating that the message has been delivered, Azrael leaves stating to Batman that they will meet again, creating a cliffhanger for Batman: Arkham Knight.
  • The PlayStation 3 edition of Batman: Arkham Origins will exclusively feature the Knightfall DLC pack containing an alternate Batman outfit based on Jean-Paul Valley's Batsuit, as well as challenge maps based on Batman: Knightfall.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Manning, Matthew K.; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1990s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. "Azrael, one of the most important characters of the modern Batman mythos, was dropped right under the noses of an unsuspecting reading populace in the debut issue of Batman: Sword of Azrael by esteemed bat-scribe Denny O'Neil, talented young penciler Joe Quesada, and inker extraordinaire Kevin Nowlan." 
  2. ^ Manning "1990s" in Dolan, p. 260: "By Batman #500, the last chapter of the 'Knightfall' saga by writer Doug Moench and artist Jim Aparo and Mike Manley, Azrael was truly his own [version of] Batman."
  3. ^ Shutt, Craig (August 1997). "Villain Turned Hero: Azrael". Wizard (72). p. 39. 
  4. ^ Batman: Battle for the Cowl - Enter Azrael, IGN, December 18, 2008
  5. ^ Fabian Nicieza Unleashes Azrael, Comic Book Resources, December 29, 2008
  6. ^ a b c d Wallace, Dan (2008). "Azrael". In Dougall, Alastair. The DC Comics Encyclopedia. London: Dorling Kindersley. p. 33. ISBN 0-7566-4119-5. 
  7. ^ Johns, Geoff (w). Blackest Night 4 (October 2009), DC Comics
  8. ^ Newsarama.com : Dan DiDio: 20 Answers, 1 Question - Batman and More, Newsarama
  9. ^ Azrael: Death's Dark Knight #1-#3 (May 2009 - July 2009)
  10. ^ Tieri, Frank (w), Benjamin, Ryan (p), Crawford, Saleem (i). "A Family Affair" Batman and the Outsiders v2, 14 (February 2009), DC Comics
  11. ^ Johnston, Rich. "Batwoman #2 Deletes Azrael And Lady Blackhawk From The DC Universe". Bleeding Cool. 
  12. ^ Kubba, Sinan (June 11, 2013). "Batman: Arkham Origins PS3 'Knightfall' content detailed". Joystiq. AOL. Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2013. 

External links[edit]