Azrael is is the name of the fictional character in the DC Comics universe. Azrael is a member of a group of assassins who were created by The Sacred Order of Saint Dumas to "enforce God's Will". The name is taken from the name for the traditional Angel of Death.
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 learned of this upon the death of his father, who was also his predecessor, at which time his conditioning was activated and he was called upon to take up the mantle of Azrael. When he was sent by the Order to kill a weapons dealer, a rogue member of the Order had turned against the others and killed his father, he crossed paths with Batman, who had been investigating the death of Valley's father. He worked with Alfred Pennyworth to find the weapons dealer after he had captured Bruce Wayne, using the Batman costume to kill the other Order members. As Valley worked 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 was shown the error of his ways and decided 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.
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.
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, often even showing little regard for innocent bystanders. 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 removing his armor, excluding his helmet (with night-vision lenses engaged), and then exposes him to bright sunlight - the shock snaps Valley out of his delusional state. He apologizes and asks for his forgiveness, which Bruce accepts, recognizing 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.
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 attaining 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, who feels responsible for Valley, especially after realizing that he gave him very little training and support decides to give Azrael missions to carry out to test him and prove himself. The first of these missions is to defeat a resurfaced Bane, but it is not 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 its 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 another 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. Azrael helps Batman maintain a chaotic Gotham City, often with the assistance of the new Batgirl and protects Leslie Thompkins' medical clinic inside of No Man's Land. 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. 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.
Jean-Paul Valley makes a cameo at Batman's funeral service in Neil Gaiman's 2009 story, Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, he is seen stepping up to deliver his own version of Batman's death as a background event, however his story is unseen and he has no lines. The story is also metaphysical in nature, meaning that it did not affect the overall status of the canon or Azrael's fate. In The New 52 (a reboot of the DC Comics universe), Jean-Paul Valley reappeared as Azrael in an arc of Batman & Robin: Eternal. His design was updated, with his main weapon being his sword rather than gauntlets, although he was later shown to still possess the gauntlet blades. His character, however, was essentially the same, working as an enforcer for the Order of St. Dumas. In the comic, he defeated Bane and eventually turned on his handler and the order to assist Red Hood and Tim Drake. This marked the first proper appearance of a living Jean-Paul Valley in the DCU in over a dozen years, with previous appearances relegated to either minimal cameos or the aforementioned Black Lantern revival of the character.
Powers and Abilities
As Azrael, Jean-Paul, has enhanced physical abilities. He has been shown to be able to still fight at heightened levels even when fatigued. This fact is exemplified when Azrael was able to defeat Bane when he was suffering from both extreme exhaustion and Venom withdrawal. He has also been shown to be able to resist an even more potent version of the Venom drug, having been able to break its vast addiction in only one night. Azrael is also a superior fighter. Although he lacks technique and style in his fighting moves he makes up for it with his inhuman speed, reflexes and agility. Azrael has been able to match Deathstroke in a sword duel and has even defeated Batman in hand-to-hand combat. This is not only due to his martial arts skills, but also due to his inhuman physical abilities.
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.
The original Azrael costume worn by Jean-Paul Valley 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 that can be charged with thermal energy to increase their destructive power. 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. The gauntlets were taken by Kate Spencer, the current Manhunter, and are used in her outfit. The New 52 version of Jean-Paul wears a similar costume and his weapon is a flaming knight sword called Murasame. However, he also possesses the familiar gauntlet blades as well.