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Saturday, 16 January 2016

Comics Explained: Azrael

On this new series of Gotham the characters have to face the Order of Saint Dumas, a sinister order who vow to protect the city of Gotham by any means necessary. The most famous member of the Order is Azrael. Named after the traditional Angel of Death he is an assassin for the Order to save Gotham and has regularly fought or fought alongside Batman. There have been two Azraels: Jean-Paul Valley and Michael Washington Lane. 

Jean-Paul Valley
Jean-Paul Valley made his first appearance in Batman: Sword of Azrael #1 in 1992. Jean-Paul Valley was a test tube baby whose DNA had been spliced with that of animals to allow his body to do things normally impossible for a human. He was unaware of his destiny of becoming the assassin for the Order. While studying at Gotham University he found out his destiny when his father, the Azrael before him, came in bleeding. Before he died his father gave him money to go to Switzerland to train with the Order. Although it would later transpire that his father had really intended Valley to flee and escape the influence of the order. Valley traveled to Switzerland where he began training with The System: a process where he would become an expert fighter to save Gotham. Unlike Batman though he was trained to kill not only criminals but anyone else who prevented him from doing his duty. His first time donning the Azrael costume he started to investigate the murder of his father which brought him into contact with Batman. It transpired that Valley's father was killed by a renegade Order member who had turned into an arms dealer. Together with Batman they took down the arms dealer but Valley was changed seeing Batman's non-lethal methods. After learning that Bruce Wayne was Batman he went with Wayne and became a member of the Batman family. 

While in Gotham the legacy of The System was still with him. His actions as a crime fighter were far harsher compared to that of Batman and Robin. When Bruce Wayne was briefly out of action he even adopted the mantle of Batman for one night which ended in disaster. He was beaten badly by the villain known as Killer Croc. Following this he placed himself on a rigorous training regime which even caused Tim Drake (the third Robin) to feel uneasy around him. When Bruce Wayne was paralyzed by Bane Valley permanently took over the mantle of Batman.

People ranging from Commissioner Gordon to the Joker could tell that a new person was under the cape as soon as Valley took over. However The System was still partially controlling Valley's mind. His volatile attitude and violent nature alienated Batman's allies including Gordon and Robin. He chose to let innocent people die in order to catch criminals, he let a murderer called Abattoir fall to his death and he renegaded being a detective in favor of simply attacking criminals. When Bruce Wayne recovered he returned to reclaim his mantle from the violent Valley. After a brief fight Wayne beat Valley causing The System to lose its control over Valley. The shy university student returned vowing to redeem himself in Batman's eyes so readopted his Azrael persona. Although when he was in his civilian persona he would often suffer hallucinations caused by the remnants of The System. During the No Man's Land storyline when the US government abandoned Gotham causing it to become one large gangland after an earthquake he aided Batgirl in keeping order. Both raised by violence they worked effectively well with one another. During this time he also managed to end the splinter group of the Order which created him. However in Azrael: Agent of the Bat #100 his adventures would end. When one of his enemies tried to frame him for murder he was shot and died protecting someone. Thus ended the career of Jean-Paul Valley.

Blackest Night
During the Blackest Night storyline Jean-Paul Valley would make a brief return. During this story a new Lantern Corps called the Black Lanterns would resurrect and order them to murder the living despite what they were like in life. Primarily they resurrected deceased heroes and villains. Jean-Paul Valley was resurrected and was seen murdering someone saying 'You don't deserve a savior who sacrificed as much as I did to protect your corrupt and misled lives. You don't deserve Azrael!'. The Black Lanterns could only see through people's emotions but he was unable to see Scarecrow who had become antipathetic to life when he had become immune to his fear toxin. Presumably when the Black Lanterns were defeated he remained dead.

Michael Lane
The Michael Lane Azrael would appear in Batman #665. Lane's life was full of tragedy. He started off as a successful football played after receiving a scholarship from Gotham University and served briefly in the Marine Corps. When he left and became a cop he got married and had a son. Sadly his son was killed in a traffic accident and in grief his wife committed suicide. His siblings were then murdered by a cult which resulted in him having a mental breakdown. Eventually a joint military and GCPD project tasked him in possibly becoming a successor to Batman where he was experimented on improving the capabilities of his body. Soon after a branch of the Order named the Order of Purity chose him to become the new Azrael. After adopting the Azrael moniker he would regularly fight alongside Batman, Robin and other Gotham heroes. Like Valley he would come to blows with Batman. When Robin (the most recent one) was kidnapped with several other children he was chastised by Batman for going after cult members instead of saving the children. He responded by saying that only God could judge him. Where violence had consumed Valley religion had consumed Lane. Recently he was tricked by Ra's al Ghul. Ra's tried to convince Azrael to use two superpowered beings called Crusade and Fireball to destroy Gotham if Batman, Catwoman and Red Robin (Tim Drake) prove to be unworthy. Catwoman convinces Azrael to see what had happened: Ra's al Ghul had manipulated him into almost destroying Gotham and that it was not God's will that Gotham was to be destroyed. 

Fans of the Batman: Arkham games will recognize Azrael. He was briefly seen in Arkham City but had an expanded role in Arkham Knight. Here Michael Lane is Azrael but his and Valley's backstories have been merged. He had been brainwashed by the Order to become Gotham's protector from a young age with a fiery religious fervor. The Order also shows its true colors by wanting Lane to kill Batman...

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this.

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