Jean-Paul Valley is the first vigilante in publication to go by the name of Azrael. He is a genetically-augmented assassin and murderous vigilante for the secretive catholic extremist group, the Order of St. Dumas.
While originally an ally and even apprentice of Batman, Azrael was the one to adopt the Batman moniker following the Dark Knight's crippling defeat at the hands of Bane. Following this he revealed his true colors as a mad zealot in his blind massacres of criminals and those in his way, making him an enemy of Batman.
A test-tube baby from his conception, Jean-Paul's genetic structure was altered by scientists with Animal DNA, engineering him to be capable of feats beyond those of a normal human. He grew up oblivious to his intended larger purpose, and became a student of Programming at Gotham University. He learned of his family's legacy when his father, the previous Azrael, crawled bleeding to his apartment one night in costume, having been mortally wounded by LeHah. Before requesting that his body be dumped somewhere where the family secrets wouldn't be uncovered, his father supplied him with money, and the means to travel to Switzerland and meet with the Order of St. Dumas who would supply him with his training. It was later revealed that his father had actually been attempting to supply Jean-Paul with the means to escape the Order's influences, but his intentions were misread. In the Swiss Alps, a dwarf named Nomoz taught Valley of the responsibilities of Azrael, and revealed that despite believing himself to be rather mild-mannered, he was in reality already a more-than-capable fighter requiring no additional training, having been already unknowingly suitably conditioned. His conditioning is the result of a process referred to as " The System ", the full implications on the human psyche of which have never been fully explained. His first time donning his costume, Azrael meets Batman (Bruce Wayne), accompanied by his butler Alfred, who had traveled to Switzerland investigating the mystery behind Azrael's father's death. Although at first they are at odds with each other, Azrael is eventually forced to rescue Bruce from Biis (LeHah), and ends up rejecting the Order's violent and uncaring methods in favor of the more humanitarian efforts Batman encourages. Already being aware of Wayne's secret identity, he travels back to Gotham and begins working with the Batman Family.
Bruce quickly began to train Azrael as a replacement Batman, to protect Gotham City in the event that an emergency should prevent him from doing it himself. Valley is called up to active duty under the cowl sooner than expected, when the supervillain Bane breaks Bruce Wayne's spine, crippling him and forcing him into a wheelchair. Although initially effective in his role, the effect of The System on Valley's mind led him to becoming a much more cold and violent Caped Crusader, alienating many of Batman's former friends and allies, notably Commissioner Gordon and Robin. For a period, Jean-Paul went insane. Utilizing skills implanted deeply within his mind, he modified the Bat-suit to a much more technologically advanced version capable of inflicting more damage. While as intended, it was initially difficult to discern that a new man was underneath the suit, several close to Batman on both sides of the law were immediately able to tell that it was someone new, most notably Catwoman and the Joker. However, as Valley grew more involved in his role, it quickly became apparent that he was of a different breed. He allowed the mass murderer Abbatoir to fall to his death, and let several other innocent people to die as indirect results of his actions, preferring to punish criminals rather than save lives. He found detective work to be boring, and concentrated much more on the physical aspects of crimefighting. His adventures as Batman would also not infrequently take him outside of Gotham City, functioning in Batman's role along with other heroes even in large battles such as the Bloodbath mission launched by Amanda Waller against the Taker.
Although Valley appeared to be doing a good job of cleaning up crime in Gotham, it was quickly brought to the attention of Bruce Wayne that his methods were both violent and irresponsible. However, he was also able to defeat Bane in single combat, albeit using the innovations of his new suit. Although Jean-Paul, in his mentally-altered state, believed himself to be a superior Batman, and a logical permanent successor, after Wayne's recovery, he was forcibly ejected from the position through physical combat when he refused to relinquish it. Feeling shamed, Valley returned to his identity as Azrael and sought to redeem himself in Batman's eyes.
Agent of the Bat
Azrael would eventually evolve from being focused on his role as a member of the Order, to being strictly obedient to Batman, to finally becoming more his own independent crimefighter. He would make several costume changes throughout his life as Azrael reflecting his internal changes. Azrael assisted the Bat-family regularly, acting as a major force during the Contagion fiasco, and as a large player in the No Man's Land crisis when Gotham City was abandoned by the United States government after an earthquake, becoming an impoverished gang-ruled battlezone. He regularly fought the forces of Biis as well, and worked actively to bring about the downfall of the Order of St. Dumas, a task in which he mostly succeeded. Jean-Paul, even in his civilian identity, is continually plagued by hallucinations presumably brought up by The System, manifesting both his own father and St. Dumas himself. His struggles with insanity are a recurring problem for him, although he is usually able to fight through them.
Death and Legacy
Azrael was eventually presumably killed in a fight with his two greatest enemies, Biis and Scratch. He was shot through his armor by multiple teflon-coated bullets, and then tumbled off of a balcony with LeHah. Although his costume was recovered, his corpse was not. He is presumed dead. Five years later, the Order of Purity, a splinter sect of the Sacred Order of St. Dumas creates a new Azrael for Gotham City in ex-police officer Michael Lane.
Azrael appears in Blackest Night #4.
Powers and Abilities
- 'Genetic Enhancement': Removed to a test tube after conception and subjected as a fetus to genetic modification and electro-shock, Jean-Paul's physiology allows him enhanced strength, speed and reflexes. His augmented metabolism regenerates his healthy cells, several times faster than ordinary humans.
- Hand-to-Hand Combat (Advanced): Mental programming from The System has led Azrael to become a vastly above-average hand-to-hand fighter. While not on the same skill-level as Batman, he has proven himself more than capable of handling most physical threats. He has been shown to fight and gain advantages over the combined forces of Red Robin, Red Hood and Bane.
- Computer Operation: Jean-Paul Valley studied Computer Programming at Gotham University.
- Peak Human
- Mental Illness: The Sacred Order of St. Dumas purposefully built an almost split-personality into Jean-Paul Valley. While his normal persona has no seeming irregularities, the Azrael persona is much more ragingly violent, and believes itself to be the manifestation of an actual biblical angel of vengeance. Originally, he was also only able to manifest his superhuman abilities while in the Azrael costume and mindset. Later in his career, although he was still plagued by inner demons, and often even hallucinations, he gained better control over his two conflicting personalities, including the ability to utilize Azrael's abilities while acting as Jean-Paul.
- Kevlar Body-Armor
- Flaming Sword
- Projectile Blades
- As the sect that conditioned him was a largely medieval organization, other members of the Batman Family would notice that occasionally Azrael's solutions to problems would ignore easier actions he could've taken using modern technology. For example, during the events of "Contagion" where he had to deliver an antidote recipe into the quarantined Gotham City, he attempted a mad rush of the surrounding fences past the military, and did succeed; but meanwhile his accomplices simply e-mailed it to the hospitals. This is contradictory to his mindset as Jean-Paul, who would normally, as a student of programming, been very aware of the possibility of such a solution.
In Other Media
- While the Michael Lane version of Azrael is featured in Batman: Arkham City, he also has similar weaponry, armor, and a similar origin to the Jean-Paul Valley version of Azrael.
Jean-Paul Valley appears in the DCAU tie-in comics, having been released in the Batman: The Adventures Continue series made to connect with figurines released of characters previously unfeatured in Batman: The Animated Series.
In it we learn that Jean-Paul Valley trained alongside Bruce Wayne in the Order of St. Dumas of which they were both members. Upon seeing footage of Batman, Jean-Paul designed his costume to resemble it while recognizing his old ally.
He comes to Gotham in-search of the stolen Abrahamic relic, The Shawl of Magdalene after it is stolen. Batman and Azrael team up for this mission with Alfred and Batman modifying Jean-Paul's suit to be a modified Bat-suit. Together they track the shawl down to the ownership of the Penguin after it was stolen by Catwoman.
- The gauntlets used by Valley during his time as the Batman are now used by the Manhunter (Kate Spencer).
- Prior to the return of Azrael in 2008, several minor events around the DC Universe foreshadowed his comeback. Notes on the Chalkboard of time traveler Rip Hunter proclaim "Jean Paul Valley Lives!" and later "Azrael comes and goes". There's also a minor behind the scenes cameo that can be seen during Gotham Underground. However, rather than Jean-Paul Valley as the chalkboard claimed, it is actually a different man underneath Azrael's hood.