It doesn’t happen often, but there comes a time in the crime-fighting careers of some super heroes when he or she has to reluctantly throw in the towel and let someone else take the wheel for a spell. In the early '90s, DC Comics unveiled the “Knightfall” story arc, a tale running through the pages of Batman and Detective Comics culminating with Bats having his back broken at the hands (or rather the knee) of big bad Bane. Suffering from spinal trauma, a temporarily incapacitated Bruce Wayne entrusted the costume and legacy of the Batman to a hero he had been training to follow his example: Azrael (Jean-Paul Valley). While he has yet to appear in The New 52, Azrael certainly has the chops to carry an ongoing series of his own!
Who is Azrael?
Jean-Paul Valley lived a rather mundane existence prior to discovering the truth about his family and the greater destiny that awaited him. While studying at Gotham University, Valley found this out for himself when his father arrived at his apartment injured, bloodied and wearing the Azrael suit. Valley’s father revealed to him that he, like so many others in the Valley lineage, belonged to the Order of St. Dumas: A secret sect with origins rooted in the Knights Templar, currently locked in a conflict with Carleton LeHah—a man of immense fortune and evil serving the demon Biis (and the killer of Valley’s father).
Using the money his father had left for him, Valley traveled to Switzerland and swore himself to the Order of St. Dumas and underwent a rigorous training regimen to be at his physical peak. However, due to his having his DNA integrated with that of animals before birth, Valley was a formidable fighter with innate combat skills. Once deemed worthy, Valley became the next in a long bloodline of Azraels. No longer the man he once was, Azrael was now a relentless slayer of the wicked with compassion and justice reserved solely for the righteous... until the day he met Batman.
Investigating the murder of Valley’s father, Batman’s sleuthing led to Switzerland where he had an abrasive meeting with Azrael. But after being rescued from the clutches of LeHah by Azrael, Bats’ erstwhile rival became his pupil, renouncing the violent ways of the Order and requesting that Batman teach him to exert temperance when combating evil. Sadly, Azrael’s years of crime fighting came to an end when in a bitter twist of irony he was murdered by LeHah, the same man who had killed his father.
Why He Deserves His Own Series
The most interesting—and therefore appealing—aspect of Azrael is that he is the diametric opposite of Batman in terms of how to administer justice without the inner demons and negative influences taking over. Essentially, Azrael is Batman if he went off the leash and let irrationality do the thinking for him. With the re-imagined DC Universe of The New 52, it would be great to see how current writers could explore new avenues of storytelling when it comes to Azrael fighting a war not only with Gotham’s criminal element but also the indoctrinated violent tendencies hardwired into his psyche due to his time with the Order. Over the years, titles featuring Batman have only gotten darker, more sophisticated and relish in bringing to light the psychological afflictions that either act as hindrances or driving forces of action in the series’ cast of characters. As such, now is a good a time as any to give Azrael a second lease on life (The New 52 allows for such things, after all) and work to create an engaging, familiar yet fresh take on an undeniable fan favorite.
Another quality that makes Azrael a standout is that his dedication to the elimination of evil is predicated on extreme religious conviction. With a character quality such as this, Azrael’s reconsideration of his tactics not only becomes a moral dilemma, but that of faith.
The New 52 has already presented us with a character similar to Azrael in the form of NoBody—an unrelenting vigilante from Batman and Robin that came gunning for Bats and his morality. While he was a very interesting character, the lack of religious motivation didn’t exactly make him stand out and certainly left a few feeling that it would have been an appearance best occupied by Azrael.
Would you read an Azrael (Jean-Paul Valley) comic series?