Detective Comics #962 (DC Comics)
Wow. Azrael. Okay. This is a big one. Here we go.
The nineties were a dark time for western culture, both in terms of real life and media. In the real world, we were beginning to see the fallout of the selfish seventies and greed-wrought eighties, and the storytelling from that era reflected an increase in violence and so-called realism, a virulent taint that continues to haunt us to this day.
Back then, there were a number of people that looked at the operatic DCU, with its focus on hope and making the world a better place, and started howling about how DC was unrealistic. They wanted blood, they wanted death. They didn’t believe in Superman and the wanted a Batman that would kill…
… so DC Comics killed Superman and gave us a murderous Batman.
We’re going to focus on the latter right now. No one outside of Tim Burton ever thought that Bruce Wayne would become a killer, so they needed a new Batman and they introduced two characters to make that happen: Bane, to take Bruce out of action, and Jean-Paul Valley, to replace him.
Those same people that wanted a murderous Batman hated what they got and demanded that Bruce come back. I don’t think they ever realized the genius of what DC had done: by giving those people what they wanted, DC Comics was able to criticize the trends of the industry and return to form with an operatic climax that was an amazing bit of storytelling.
Bane survived intact and went on to be one the one person that Bruce genuinely worries about, the one guy Bruce is never sure if he can beat. Azrael – Jean-Paul Valley – didn’t fare so well. A large part of the fanbase hated him for being the representative of what they said they’d wanted, never understanding the larger cultural commentary the character represented.
He got his own series for a bit that meandered between good and terrible, often within the same issue. He was then largely forgotten until more recently, where he’s been a part of the commentary Detective Comics is doing on the Bat-family as a whole: the Robins, Catwoman, Spoiler, Batwoman, both Pennyworths, Black Bat, et al.
See, Jean-Paul Valley is interesting. He’s the latest in a long line of engineered assassins that are created by a religious order and then allowed to live somewhat normal lives until they’re activated by something called the System – a doctrine that is implanted via hypnosis and other means into the subconscious of the victim. There are certain circumstances in which the System takes over and makes use of the genetic modifications that the religious order created in their assassin, but Jean-Paul himself cannot make use of them outside of those circumstances.
Or so we thought.
Luke Fox is Batwing, a recent recruit of Bruce into his crusade and the son of Lucius Fox, who was played by Morgan Freeman in the Nolan movies. He’s a tech genius and wunderkind, a better adjusted African-American version of Tony Stark who works with Bruce and recently stepped into Batman’s world. He’s also working with hacking algorithms and techniques created by himself, Tim Drake, and Harper – and he thinks he can hack into the System itself.
Part of the System is recognition of appearance: in Jean-Paul Valley’s case, the clothes make the angel. He can only be Azrael and access his powers when he’s in a special suit. Luke has built an alternative suit for him, one that we nineties kids will remember, one that destroyed Jean-Paul before but might save him and everyone around him.
And if that isn’t proof of how much James Tynion IV loves the Bat-comics and the quality of his writing, I don’t know what is. He’s literally taken something that many are, at best, iffy about, and made it into a crowning moment of awesome and we get to read it in this very issue. You’d be worthy of being an Arkham inmate if you think that’s anything less than an amazing accomplishment.
DC Comics believes in him, and you can tell by the artists on this project: the expressive and fine lines of Alvaro Martinez, deft inks of Raul Fernandez, and deep colors of Brad Anderson combine in a way that makes their already excellent work more than the sum of its parts and brings James’ writing to life. This is among the best run of comics DC Comics has ever published, and everyone involved should be proud of the work they’ve done.