The DCU's Azrael first debuted with the 4-issue Batman: Sword of Azrael miniseries (October, 1992-January, 1993). Created by writer Denny O'Neil and artist Joe Quesada. The reason Azrael was created was to introduce a replacement for Batman during the Knightfall arc. For more information on the characters that have been Azrael, click here.The original Azrael series was started in February 1995, which featured Jean-Paul Valley trekking around the world as Azrael, funded by Batman, trying to discover his origins with the Sacred Order of St. Dumas. After that, his series kind of flattened out thanks to Jean-Paul being Exiled from Continuityand being turned into a Static Character. After being heavily involved in the Batman: No Man's Land arc, the series (now renamed Azrael: Agent of the Bat) mainly showed Azrael's random adventures. The series eventually fizzled out in an anti-climatic ending at issue #100 (May, 2003) with the death of Jean-Paul. Ironically, Jean-Paul just so happened to die at the same time that the Hush arc over in Batman's corner of the DC Universe was about half-way through, which concerned Batman re-evaluating how he interacted with most of his allies and enemies. Except for Jean-Paul Valley, Azrael.
Michael Lane, the second Azrael
A new Azrael showed up in a three-issue Battle for the Cowl miniseries titled Battle for the Cowl: Azrael: Death's Dark Knight (May-July, 2009). Written by Fabian Nicieza and later David Hine, drawn by Frazier Irving. It starred Michael Lane, formerly the "Bat-Devil" from Three Ghosts of Batman). Then he got his own series, starting in December, 2009, and ending in May 2011 after 18 issues. This was followed by Lane's Azrael appearing in a sort of mini-Bat Family Crossover called Judgement on Gotham.For a while, there was no word on the future of Azrael in the wake of the 2011 DC Relaunch. However, Michael Lane has appeared in Batman Incorporated #10, where he loans Batman the Suit of Sorrows.However, what appears to be an amalgamation of both versions of Azrael has shown up in Batman: Arkham City in a side mission which may lead to a more prominent part in the sequel.
Tropes that apply to this character and their continuity:
Adventure Towns: Ossaville (Population 56 less than 28. Have A Nice Day), the new homebase for Jean-Paul Valley after the Losses arc (73-75), became one of these after ol' Az settled down there.
AzBats was deliberately designed to be a Straw version of Marvel's Punisher and other ultra-violent heroes. The comparison is especially noticeable in a Batman / Punisher crossover published during his tenure.
According to this book, faith is the eighth deadly sin. Which makes no sense at all when you take a look at Hebrews Chapter 11, in The Bible. Yeah, you'd think they'd want to take a look at that thing before going around bashing Christianity.
And the Apocrypha is real; they're defined as the parts of the Bible that existed in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Tanakh as used by Hellenistic Jews) but not in the Masoretic (standard Hebrew text used by Rabbinical Judaism). However, a traditionalist Catholic wouldn't use the term "Apocrypha"; since they're considered inspired scripture in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the proper term is "deuterocanon" (secondary canon). (If you're interested in that sort of thing, an inexpensive copy of the NRSV + Apocrypha should hold the full set.) Needless to say, DC takes liberties...
The Atoner: Jean-Paul Valley after the events of Knightfall, and Michael Lane after his stint as Bat-Devil during Three Ghosts of Batman arc.
Ax-Crazy: Michael Lane, slowly getting even more Ax-Crazy as his series winds down to a close. Jean-Paul Valley's Azrael could get pretty Ax-Crazy too, though he didn't make a habit of regularly killing people.
Canon Discontinuity: Jean-Paul Valley stated at the end of the Batman: Sword of Azrael mini-series that he and his father shared the same name. However, according to Azrael: Year One, his father's name was Ludovic Valley. This could be explained as simply Jean-Paul being mistaken, considering his somewhat strained relationship with his father...
Also, Jean-Paul Valley's first costume had the fleur-di-lis on it, and his second costume had a red bat-symbol.
Christianity Is Catholic: Taken Up to Eleven. Justified in that the Order of St. Dumas was an offshoot of Catholicism and was extremely obscure for centuries. There were only about half a dozen members of the entire religion in the first miniseries.
Church Militant: With the Sacred Order of St. Dumas and Michael Lane's Azrael.
Clueless Chick Magnet: Jean-Paul, you dork. Oracle has a stuffed doll of you next to her computer (Check issue 82 of his series if you don't believe me). Huntress considers your team-ups dates. And you have the balls to wonder why you can't get a girlfriend.
The Knightfall novelization explains that he would really, really like to talk to girls, but he didn't exactly have a normal childhood. Anyone who wasn't part of the Order of Saint Dumas was considered unclean by his father, and as himself, Jean-Paul has a crippling lack of social confidence, even after learning the truth.
Cool Car: Averted for Jean-Paul Valley. Apparently, nothing says "angel" or "agent of the bat" like a navy blue sports car with some slight modifications. According to the "Az you like it" column in the back of Azrael: Agent of the Bat 81, the authors turned down the suggestion that he be given wings (Get it? Wings? Angel?) with the excuse "What? And get rid of his car?"
Costume Porn: Jean-Paul Valley's first costume and Michael Lane's Suit of Sorrows.
Deus Angst Machina / Death by Origin Story: This happened to Michael Lane in a degree that rivals Tim Drake's Deus Angst Machina. His son was hit by a car and died at age three. His wife committed suicide within a year. Only six months after her death, Michael's two siblings (his last living relatives) were murdered by an apparent Satanic cult.
I Have Many Names: The Avenging Angel, The Dark Knight of God, Batman, the Punishing Angel, Agent of the Bat, and Death's Dark Knight.
Keep Circulating the Tapes: Unless you count Batman: Sword of Azrael, only two issues of JPV's main series were collected in a trade paperback (issues 15 and 16 in the fairly rare Batman: Contagion). A few more from the No Man's Land crossover have collected in recent editions. The rest are scattered in issue form.
Downplayed with Michael Lane's series. It got two trades out; the first collected his Death's Dark Knight miniseries and a Batman and Detective Comics annual starring him in a two-part story. The second collected the first six issues. Another trade meant to cover the "Killer of Saints" arc was announced, but later cancelled, and no more were announced after the series was cancelled, unless you count the trade paperback for the agonizingly character-shreddingJudgement On Gothamcrossover.
Knight Templar: The Sacred Order of St. Dumas was actually a splinter group of the original Knights Templar.
Legacy Character: This whole Azrael thing has been going on since the 15th century, apparently, passing from father to son, and ending with Jean-Paul Valley. The same applies for Michael Lane's Azrael, who's is only the most recent incarnation of a line of Azraels who work for Sacred Order of St. Dumas splinter group the Order of Purity. All they need is the Suit of Sorrows and a volunteer. All of the people who wore the Suit of Sorrows were eventually driven insane by it. Heck, it only took six weeks to do the trick for Michael Lane's predecessor.
Limited Wardrobe: Jean-Paul Valley was infamous for only wearing jeans and T-Shirts in most of his civilian appearances.
Mask of Power: After a fashion for Jean-Paul- Only his Azrael persona (see Split Personality entry below) has his Badass combat skills, and he can only activate this persona by putting on his Azrael mask.
Mass "Oh, Crap!": All of the Azrael's are very good at instigating these. Take this example found in Plus #1, were Azrael (Jean-Paul Valley) teams up with The Question:
Azrael: Know that you are evil. Know that you are abominations. Know that you will be punished.
Oblivious to Love: Sister Lilhy just can't take any of Jean-Paul's hints, so the poor guy just gave up.
Offscreen After Life: When Jean-Paul Valley dies in the final issue of his series, he says "It looks just like the earth." And he was sporting his famous smile, so that's a good thing.
Averted for Michael Lane, who briefly went to someplace that was obviously meant to be purgatory.
Oh Crap: Not only are the Azraels good at instigating these, but it occasionally happens to them too. For instance, Jean-Paul is going about in a run-down part of town as Azrael in issue 32 of his series. He's just been fixed up by this old woman, when he realises that he left his car unattended. His sudden realization and reaction to this are priceless.
Overshadowed by Awesome: Jean-Paul Valley, thanks to "the System," is an incredible fighter, but he lacks the experience and finesse of Batman, making him inferior to him. However, the Caped Crusader has acknowledged that if Jean-Paul could just get his head screwed on straight, he would have the potential to become an even better fighter than him.
Outdated Outfit: After a fashion. Ludovic Valley's decidedly more crusader-esque costume was one of the factors that contributed to his death.
Our Angels Are Different: Apparently, the residents of the DC Universe's idea of an angel is either someone dressed up in crusader armor or someone dressed up, well, like in the picture at the top of this page.
Powered Armor: The final version of the Azbatsuit was this. Can't say much for Jean-Paul's taste in color schemes though. Also, Michael Lane wears a suit of crusader armor called the Suit of Sorrows, which is made from the fragments of the armor of 100 crusaders slain in battle. It gives him enhanced speed, strength, and stamina. The only drawback is that it will eventually drive him insane, as has happened to all of the people who wore the suit before him.
Power Trio: Jean-Paul Valley, Brian Bryan, and Sister Lilhy.
Also, Michael Lane's Suit of Sorrows. Although it gives the wearer enhanced strength, speed, and agility, and protects the wearer from all harm, it will eventually drive the wearer insane. Not only that, but in Real Life, mail armor would be ineffective against bullets, which would make any shots taken worse.
Servile Snarker: Adrian Paratino, Michael Lane's assistant, is very snarky.
Split Personality: Jean-Paul Valley again. His Azrael persona is significantly different from his civilian identity of Jean-Paul Valley. As the sect that trained him was a largely medieval organization, he would often take a course of action would could have been more easily accomplished using modern technology. For example, during the Contagion arc, when a deadly plague was spreading through Gotham City, Azrael had to get the recipe for a cure to the hospitals. His solution to this was a mad rush across military lines, and though he succeeded, he discovered upon arriving at his destination that his allies had already sent the cure recipe to the hospitals by email. This is contradictory to the mindset of Jean-Paul Valley, who, being a student of programing, would be completely aware of such a solution.
A third though less developed personality is Batman. This personality manifested during Jean-Paul's stint at the Caped Crusader, and remanifested near the end of his series. It combined the intellect of Jean-Paul Valley and the bloodlust of Azrael, but lacked the compassion of Jean-Paul.
Weak, but Skilled: Jean-Paul Valley started out at this back in Batman: Sword of Azrael. He had all the training thanks to the system, but his body was described by Nomoz as "soft and flabby." The remedy for this? A month or two of constant mountain climbing.