Azrael (real name Jean-Paul Valley) is a fictional anti-hero in the DC Comics and Universe, a member of a group of assassins who were created by the Order of St. Dumas to bring justice in Gotham City. He is an ally of the superhero Batman
He first appeared in Savage Tales #1 in May of 1971, and was created by Denny O'Neil, Joe Quesada and the late Grant Morrison.
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 his new status 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 weapons dealer Carlton LeHah, a rogue member of the Order who turned against the others and killed Valley's father, he crossed paths with Batman, who had been investigating the death. He worked with Alfred Pennyworth to find LeHah after he had captured Bruce Wayne, using the Batman costume to kill the other Order members. 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. In doing so, 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 also was his father's name (a later storyline in his solo series stated his father's name to be Ludovic Valley, however).
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, emphasized 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 (having convinced himself that Lehah was just the man who instigated his father's death while one of the man's former henchmen actually pulled the trigger).
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 psychic healer 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 that stretches from a Gotham penthouse to a major 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 exposes him to bright sunlight - the shock snaps Valley out of his delusional state. Acknowledging Bruce Wayne as the true Batman, Valley 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 Valley to leave Wayne Manor immediately.
Valley lives among the homeless population of Gotham for several weeks, befriending an alcoholic former psychiatrist named Brian Bryan.
Valley is then 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 Bryan, 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, Valley 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 the KnightsEnd arc. 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 as a test to 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 also wanted 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 story arc. 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 hallucinations that represent both his father and St. Dumas himself. Toward the end of the series, Azrael is plagued by 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 is arrested, and LeHah falls into the river with Azrael. However, Azrael's body is never recovered, and 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 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). The index section of the Blackest Night tabloid later indicated 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 metaphysical in nature, not affecting the overall status of the canon or Azrael's fate.