Wait! Wait! I know what you're thinking, no this is not another "Batman is awesome" post. It's no secret that as of late, Batman has outshined many of his teammates in the JLA, most stating that he cannot be beat and can even go toe to toe with the man of steel (Brains against Bronze). Now I'm not here to dispute that argument, instead I'm here to bring to the surface a character long since forgotten, and most likely dead in the DC universe.
One of the best, if not my favorite, characters in DC Azrael is a diamond in the rough of the DC lineup. The original "Jean Paul Valley" Azrael was (imo) one of the most interesting, and exciting characters during the Dark age of comics era. When he was created by Denny O'Neil and Joe Quesada, it was planned for him to be one of batman's many foe's and as he started off that's exactly what he was. But his popularity grew and with it the need for more story, and given time soon Azrael would not just become a member of the bat family but take the mantel as the batman himself.
There are not many able to defeat the dark knight in hand to hand combat, you can probably list them on one hand. There's Lady Shiva, Cassandra Cain, and Bane have all bested the Bat in physical skill and or strength, some completely out class him. But also on that list is Azrael. Jean Paul Valley, a genetically enhanced human (like deathstroke) has faced one on one with the bat, and in a fair fight has beaten him without question. in Azrael: Agent of the Bat-Last Respects, Batman and Azrael face of in a forest in the middle of winter. Both understanding that only one can walk away, and this will decide whether or not Azrael, who's mental state and vigilante tactics are teetering towards unstable and villainous fields can rise up out of the bats shadow. In this issue Azrael out matches batman's strength and skill using the tools that the dark knight himself taught him to become his own man and do things his own way.
Of course prior to this he went insane, taking the name Batman for himself during Bruce's recovery after being broken by Bane in the Knightfall arc where he called Bruce's Tactics "Too Soft" becoming a merciless and brutal vigilante. Mind you during his time as batman, he nearly killed Robin (Dick Grayson), Sealed the Batcave off from Wayne manor, and as Batman cut ties with Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD and began to rule Gotham as the true vigilante. Agent of the bat was after he had relinquished the cowl after being outwitted by Batman, and once again became a member of the bat family and at the same time an outcast. The cause of his mental illness were hallucinations, side effects of the St. Dumas Church (the organization that altered him) reconditioning him and that somehow they were related to the costumes he would wear, each suit allowing him to assume a new personality. Jean Paul was killed in the final arc of agent of the bat, while fighting scratch (his main arch villain who framed him for murder) where he was then shot twice and fell into a river while fighting one of scratches partners. However, Jean Pauls body was never found, only his costume which lead many readers including myself wondering when the knight of vengeance would re-emerge. We would be rewarded in blackest night when Azrael was reincarnated by the black power rings controlled by black hand, of the Black Lantern core.
Since, the title of Azrael has been passed to the Charater Michael Lane, a former GCPD officer who is approached by "The Order of Purity" where he is given the suit of sorrows (the new azrael costume) and trained. The suit drives him insane and he kills the entire order, this brings him to the attention of Ras'h Al Ghul sending him down the road to fight batman, and talia. But in my opinion, Jean Paul Valley has a much more interesting personality(ties) and greater character Depth than Michael Lane. Given the convenience of the "New 52" I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to reincarnate a legend, who knows there may even be room for him in the theatrical future of DC Entertainment seeing how good The CW's "Arrow" is doing.
What do you think? Does Azrael get your Jolly's rocking? Or is he just another bat-fake? Please leave your point of views below.