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If you are a fan of edgy anti-heroes like myself, this Azrael Batman guide is for you! During the 90s, a surge of increasingly darker themes and characters arrived on the comic book pages. And they skyrocketed in popularity! The Punisher, Wolverine, Spawn, and many others were the new cool. All the while, more established characters like Batman and his no-kill policy started to feel like a thing of the past. And, hey, I’m all for extreme violence and brooding men. But when you have a lot of that without a good explanation, things start to feel quite boring.
Then enters Azrael, a character that seemed to be much of the same but that gave readers so much more. To ride on this new violence wave while also defending the “old ways” of established superheroes, writers Denny O’Neil and Joe Quesada created Azrael. At first, it didn’t seem like much, and I wasn’t impressed with the character in his first story. But things escalated quickly! The drama, the conflict, the arrogance, screaming voices in a character’s head… just about everything I like in a villain. In this crazy ride, Azrael showed readers what a brutal and crazier version of Batman would be like. And though that was the trend at the time, readers’ reactions were unexpected.
My Bottom line up front
Azrael is a complex character that serves as a counterpart to Batman. Through him, we understand that a more violent Batman wouldn’t necessarily be better. Still, anti-heroes are always fun to read about.
- Basic information on Azrael AKA Jean-Paul Valley
- Most important arcs pre and post flashpoint
- Other people who held the Azrael title
- Opinion – Is he awesome or lame?
First of all, I must clear up that Azrael is a name given to a few different characters throughout publication history. For simplification purposes, this article will be referring to the most famous Azrael, Jean-Paul Valley. But that doesn’t mean you won’t know about the other people who held this title. I will be talking about them in the other versions section.
Jean-Paul Valley lived a normal life until his dad died before his eyes and unleashed a chain of events that would forever change this young man’s life. His dad was the vengeful warrior of a secret religious organization called the Order of St. Dumas. Now Jean-Paul would be his successor and hold the Azrael title. The poor guy loses his dad and discovers he’s stuck in a cult. Tough day!
Though he needed training, Jean-Paul was already a perfect candidate for the order because he had been prepared for the role since his birth. His DNA was engineered to give him super-human abilities. He had been receiving subconscious suggestions from his father from an early age, organized in a structure called The System. These suggestions would make him susceptible to the St. Dumas order’s commands. Not much is known about The System or how it works, but throughout the comic book pages, we see that it has the power to make people nutty as a fruitcake.
Jean-Paul is a determined man who sticks to his ideals, whether they’re good or bad. Basically, a normal college kid. In his first story, we see he stands up to the order to follow his vision. But what was an admirable trait soon turns into something terrible as he becomes a brutal and ruthless vigilante who can’t see his own weaknesses. However, he is able to see reason again and become a more efficient and ethical ally to the bat family.
Jean-Paul Valley is a young blonde man that first appears with long hair and then with a shorter haircut. When he first appears in a costume, he wears a white helmet and tunic with gold details. Really medieval style! In his next change, he wears a red outfit with golden details and a black and red mask. When he fills in as Batman, he takes the caped crusader’s costume to an over-the-top level. It’s a very robotic blue suit with golden elements similar to the Azrael costume. In his solo series, Azrael: Agent of the Bat, he wears a few different costumes and even brings back his Batman suit for a while. But the aforementioned suits are the most popular and recognizable.
Noboz: Noboz trained Jean-Paul in the ways of the order of St. Dumas. Although, in the beginning, the young man did pretty much what the dwarf said, later on, Azrael began to question his master’s ways. What was once an amicable relationship turned sour when Jean-Paul decided to ignore his role in the order and train under Batman. A very understandable choice. I would have given up if I were ordered around by a bossy person to forget my life and become an avenging machine for a weird cult.
Batman: Jean-Paul’s mentor and, later on, enemy. It is possible to see that they have a mutual admiration for each other and the Dark Knight even chose Jean-Paul as his successor. But when the student became brutal and violent, the master had to come back and defeat him. And I think this statement is more powerful than it seems at first because Bruce and Jean-Paul are a lot alike. So for Batman, it was like neutralizing an evil version of himself. Writers just love to make Batman go through more trauma!
Robin AKA Tim Drake: Before Jean-Paul succeeded Bruce as Batman, he and Tim Drake had a pretty good relationship and worked well together. But after Jean-Paul became the Dark Knight, their relationship became hostile as the new Batman shut out any attempts of help from Robin. I know Robins can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but the guy didn’t need to be that extreme!
Carlton LeHah: Jean-Paul’s mortal enemy, he killed the young man’s father and proceeded to neutralize all members of the order of St. Dumas. Their relationship is as bad as it gets. However, LeHah is not that memorable. Azrael is already the interesting villain/ antihero. For me, Le Hah is just there to move the plot forward and act as a foil to Azrael’s madness.
Batman: Sword of Azrael
After Jean-Paul Valley discovers the truth about his father and the order of St. Dumas, he travels to Switzerland to train with the dwarf Noboz. He then encounters Batman, who was investigating the events behind the death of Jean’s father. Carlton LeHah is the man responsible for the murder and the ideological opposition to the order of St. Dumas. During the conflict between all these characters, Batman is captured by LeHah, a man naive enough to think he will be able to make Bruce Wayne teach him how to get control over his fortune. No need to say that obviously failed. Better luck next time!
As he wasn’t able to get the billionaire’s money all to himself, LeHah initiates the next part of his plan, killing all the members of the Order of St. Dumas for fun. And to destroy the crazy cult, of course. However, he couldn’t imagine a young college kid would bring his downfall! Jean-Paul, who is now working alongside Alfred, discovers the pattern in which the members are being targeted, stops the attacks and saves Batman. During the last stand, Noboz affirms the importance of following the order’s principles; Azrael doesn’t save; Azrael avenges. But Jean denies all that. Instead, he decides to save the day and train under Batman’s mentorship.
See also: Guide to Image Comics: The Plucky Underdogs
A new villain rises, Bane, with the purpose of defeating Batman and taking Gotham for himself. Batman’s already been suffering for some time with the strain his work has taken into his body and his mind. So when Bane breaks all of the inmates out of Arkham, the Dark Knight is in for one of the most exhausting moments of his crime-fighting career. Though Robin and Jean-Paul offer help, he refuses, stating that he must fight this alone. Typical Batman. He later changes his mind and allows them to help him, but still on a small scale, taking most of the work upon himself.
Batman is exhausted after fighting Joker, Ridler, Poison Ivy, and many others, but the fight is far from over. Bane appears at Wayne Manor. He knows Bruce’s secret, and he is here to break the Bat. The Dark Knight fights with all he’s got, but Bane’s strength serum coupled with Batman’s exhaustion proves to be too much for the hero to handle. And in one of the most iconic moments in the Caped Crusader’s history, Bane breaks Batman’s back and throws him off a building to announce Gotham has a new ruler.
Alfred, Jean-Paul, and Robin rescue Batman and treat him, but he won’t be able to return to his activities any time soon. Therefore, Bruce chooses Jean-Paul as his successor. Jean-Paul’s methods are different from his mentor, and he becomes increasingly violent as The System – the mind control program installed in Jean’s mind by the order of St. Dumas – starts taking control. The new Batman confronts Bane, and they fight. When it seems Jean-Paul is going to cross a line and kill the villain, he stops and delivers him to prison.
Knightfall is one of those stories that shows the humanity behind Batman, and that’s exactly why I love it so much. I don’t think any other story has shown such a broken batman – yeah, pun intended. He is exhausted, and that makes him fail both in his attempt to defeat Bane and choose a suitable successor. As for Azrael, this is just the beginning for him. I love how this story foreshadows what happens in Knight’s quest but doesn’t give us the madness and the chaos yet. It is just a tease, and it works really well to make you want to read more.
In one of his first acts as Batman, Jean-Paul upgrades the bat suit and uses his new vehicle, a sort of bat subway. Yeah, that’s right. Batman needs a whole subway for himself to move faster. But that just raises a lot of questions in my head. How doesn’t it crash with Gotham’s real subway? If there are no stations, how does he get to the surface? Is it more effective than the batcopter? I have no idea, and since this is not the focus of the story, let’s get back to what matters.
The new Batman is even more of a lone wolf than his predecessor, so he decides to work alone and seals the Batcave entrances so Robin can’t enter. I guess he’s just one more person who doesn’t like teenagers. However, like any persistent teenager, the boy wonder is not one to give up and gets in anyway. The two fight, The System kicks in, and Jean-Paul almost hurts the boy badly. He tries to apologize and explains his reasoning for working alone, but Robin disappears.
During his time as Batman, Jean-Paul faces off many of the Dark Knight’s criminals like Catwoman and Joker. He constantly thinks about killing them, but something always holds him back. However, his methods are increasingly violent with each confrontation. When he faces the serial killer, Abattoir, the villain is left hanging for his life. Thorn between saving or leaving him to die, The System kicks in, and he decides to do nothing. I get you, Azrael. I am an indecisive person as well.
Abattoir falls for his death, but Jean feels no remorse. Bruce comes back from his healing retreat and tells Tim he wants to retire, but the boy tells him about Jean’s methods. Bruce then confronts Jean, but the billionaire is not in his prime and isn’t able to defeat the new Batman. He will have to undergo hard training to defeat Azrael. And that is the perfect setup for something everyone likes: a martial arts training story!
Bruce goes training with Lady Shiva to get back to his prime. Meanwhile, Robin and Nightwing observe Jean Paul’s descent into madness. He always appears to be talking alone, but in his mind, the new Batman is arguing with St. Dumas and his late father. After arguing with the voices in his head, Jean Paul decides his main goal is to take down an organization that used to be run by his father’s murderer, Carlton LeHah. Though this organization is now run by someone else, he believes LeHah is behind everything.
Bruce, Nightwing, and Robin follow Jean’s tracks, and they all end up in a fight with the mobster pursued by Azrael. Jean is not able to have his way as the criminals are taken into custody, but he disappears after the explosion of the batmobile almost kills Batman. When Jean arrives at the Batcave, Bruce is already there, and the final confrontation ensues. But instead of engaging in hand-to-hand combat, Bruce takes a more cerebral approach. He escapes through a narrow passage in the cave that makes Jean-Paul remove most of his armor to pursue Bruce.
They reach the cave hole Bruce fell in as a child, and the sunlight reaches Jean’s helmet and briefly blinds him. When the blindness passes, Jean sees his adversary standing triumphant above him, and he realizes at that moment that Bruce is and will always be the real Batman. Jean has failed Gotham and lost himself to violence. Now he must find a new way.
I must say when I first read this story, I wasn’t expecting that at all. But it really makes sense when we think about what makes Batman. It is not just his strength and combat skills, but those things combined with this intelligence and moral code. And when that realization hits at the end of this arc, you can see just what the writers did. They proved that Batman doesn’t need to be edgy – at least not by the 90s comic book standards– to be cool!
Agent of the Bat
After the events of Knight’s end, Azrael started a journey to find his purpose once again. This was depicted in his eponymous solo comic title that ran for 100 issues. In the first storyline of the saga, Jean-Paul investigates his origins and discovers the lab where Azraels are made. The realization that he was a hybrid of several animal genes and that his mother was used only for breeding experiments before being killed made him go insane for a while and destroy the lab. From then on, Azrael resumed his crime-fighting activities while handling The System’s influence on his mind.
Beginning on issue 47, the comic is renamed Azrael: Agent of the Bat to highlight the character’s connection to the Bat family. Azrael focused on destroying the order of St. Dumas and helping Batman while still finding his preferred way to handle his activities. Now in a less violent manner than before. Unfortunately, Azrael is killed by his greatest enemy, LeHah(as the demon Biis), in issue 100, and the series comes to an end. But would this be the last of Azrael?
In issue 4 of Blackest Night, which is DC’s version of a cosmic zombie apocalypse, Azrael appears after being revived by the Black Lantern Corps’ power ring. As with all others under the influence of this ring, he is not quite himself and murders a civilian, proclaiming that he and all the other people didn’t deserve a savior like Azrael. What happened to Azrael’s growth and redemption arc? I guess after the guy died, he forgot everything he learned…
After his death, Jean-Paul Valley remained a long time out of the comic book pages, but that changed with the New 52 Reboot, where he reappeared in Batman & Robin: Eternal. Though there are differences in costume design, this incarnation of Jean-Paul is very similar to the original. He is a vigilante who turns on the Order of St. Dumas and starts working with the Bat family. He also appears in Grayson’s annual issue 3, where he teamed up with Agent 37 to stop the Order of St. Dumas from obtaining a mystical artifact that will advance their plans.
During the Rebirth reboot, Azrael appears once again. Nomoz seeks Azrael’s help because there is an AI killing members of the St. Dumas order. This AI is called Ascalon, the same intelligence present in Azrael’s Suit of Sorrows and responsible for Jean Paul’s mind programming. The encounter between Ascalon and Jean-Paul has dire effects on the latter, and The System starts controlling the young hero once again.
Batwing counters this effect by uploading a new AI into the suit with Batman’s morality code. The same is done with Ascalon, but to finish the reprogramming, they needed something else: magic! Batman and Zatanna hand over the sphere of Gnosis to Ascalon, who reaches a new realization about the human race and becomes a more humanized being.
It’s true the whole part about an AI changing his ways after learning the human perspective is quite cliché, but it is a nice parallel to Azrael’s journey to find his humanity. Even if I think the execution was a bit rushed and not that powerful. But all in all, I believe Rebirth’s version of Azrael is a good example of how to tell a character’s story in a new way without losing its essence.
Michael Lance: A villain whose first appearance is in Batman issue 665. He would only appear as Azrael two years later in Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight #1. Before becoming Azrael, he was subjected to an experiment that aimed to create a replacement for Batman. He was later approached by the Order of Purity and became the vengeful Azrael. Fun fact, Michael’s version of the character is the one that appears in the Arkham saga games. He’s pretty cool, but not as much as Jean-Paul Valley.
Jean-Paul Vallery Sr: Jean-Paul Valley’s father was the Azrael right before him, as is shown in the Batman: Sword of Azrael mini-series. We don’t know much about him, so he’s only the third coolest Azrael in this article.
Awesome or lame?
Azrael is an awesome character for a number of reasons, but I’m going to focus on two. First, he is a complex character with a journey that shows that being an ethical superhero is not an easy feat, especially when you have a weird mind control system afflicting your mind. Jean-Paul’s journey is initially tragic because we see a character that stood up to the order of St Dumas’ twisted codes later transform into everything he despised. The evil of Gotham city and its villains is not easy to face without losing your way. But fortunately, we see the character get on the right track again.
And the second reason Azrael is a great character is that he serves as a commentary on the comic books of the time he was created. Moreover, his characterization proposes an important reflection to the readers. Yes, anti-heroes are cool, but they aren’t necessarily better. The moral codes of heroes like Batman are not obsolete but an urge for us to try to be better human beings. The intent behind Jean Paul’s creation was to state that from the beginning, and it was a very effective way to get the message across. Although anti-heroes were high in popularity during the 90s, readers didn’t like this more violent Batman as much as some would think. In the end, it was the redemption arch that made Azrael a good character instead of his violent approach.
Question: Is Azrael’s Batman good or bad?
Answer: It is hard to define it with a black and white answer. I like to say he is a character with good intentions who was driven to horrible acts. But you could say that during the Knightquest and Knight’s end sagas, he was a bad person. But after that, he became a better one.
Question: Is Azrael a Batman villain?
Answer: Initially no. However, during the Knightquest and Knight’s end sagas, he becomes an antagonist. After that, he goes back to the right path.
Question: What happens if Azrael kills Batman?
Answer: As it didn’t happen, there is not a straight answer to that. But the Dark Multiverse: Batman Knightfall comic presents an alternate timeline where Azrael kills Batman and becomes the ruler of Gotham. Azrael becomes a dictator and keeps Gotham under his control with extreme violence. It is later revealed that Bruce is not actually dead, but that is a story for another time.
Azrael is a complex character made with the best concepts from the 90s, but that also serves as a smart critique of this era’s tropes and shortcomings. Reading his stories is the closest we get to seeing a ruthless Batman. However, when he steps away from the Bat’s shadow, it is just as entertaining to read!