sword of azrael tagged posts

CBR Interview with Kyle Higgins

CBR
Dark Multiverse: Knightfall’s Kyle Higgins Talks Batman and a New Crisis
October 15th, 2019

An Interview with Kyle Higgins
Interview by L.D. Nolan

Running from 1993 until 1994, “Knightfall” remains one of the the most iconic tales in Batman’s long history. After sustaining a backbreaking injury at the hands of Bane, Bruce Wayne gives up the mantle of Batman to Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael for a time. However, Valley proves too brutal. Wayne eventually has to return and defeat his former protege in order to protect others and once again become the Dark Knight. However, Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins and Javier Fernandez’s Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman — Knightfall #1 imagines a world in which Valley beat Wayne and remained Batman.

Announced earlier this year, Tales from the Dark Multiverse is a set of one-shots set in the worst-case-scenario universe first introduced during the Dark Nights: Metal event. The book picks up 30 years after Wayne fails to take his mantle back from Azrael and explores the dystopian world resulting from such a cataclysmic change, as well as the new Batman’s extreme methods.

CBR caught up with co-writer, Kyle Higgins to talk about the new “Crisis” teased in the book, why Azrael fails as Batman, writing fascism, and world-building for the newest world in the Dark Multiverse.

CBR: My first question for you is about something right towards the start of this issue in the preview that CBR ran. Tempus Fuginaut, who’s heavily involved with Flash Forward teases a new Crisis. What can you tell me about that and how it fits into these one-shots?

Kyle Higgins: I really kind of started my career at DC. I started at Marvel, but my big breaks came at DC, and those were in conjunction with Scott Snyder, working on Gates of Gotham. And then I transitioned for the New 52 to Nightwing and Scott transitioned to Batman. Anyone who remembers that era probably would remember that we often interlinked arcs. So there’s a natural fit here as to why he and I decided to do this initial one-shot to kick off all the Dark Multiverse one-shots that are forthcoming.

And that particular point that you just keyed on about the tease of a new Crisis, perhaps the biggest yet, is absolutely a component of that… I can’t say anything specific about it, but what I can say is that it’s there for a reason, and it’s not a coincidence that Scott and I did this issue together.

Azrael really struggled with being a hero when he first took over for Batman during the original “Knightfall.” Why do you feel that he fails at being Batman?

There’s kind of two components to that. The first is that he was really kind of designed and set up to fail. From a narrative standpoint, if you look at the era that that story was built during, and you look at old interviews that Denny O’Neil gave, he talks about this kind of proliferation of antiheroes. Whether it be Lobo, Punisher, Wolverine, the popularity of these antiheroes of that era is what really sparked this idea for the Bat office, which was “okay well let’s explore this and let’s show people what a Batman that kills looks like, ultimately as a cautionary tale as to why it’s so significant that the Batman as we know him, Bruce Wayne, Batman does not.” So that was kind of the initial set up for what became the “Knightfall” event in the comics.

As far as in-story reasons, I just don’t think Jean-Paul was really equipped for the task at hand. And if you look at a lot of his conditioning under the Order of St. Dumas and his background, he did the best he could with the wiring that he had. But I think that as the pressure mounted and what it means to try to be Batman in a city like Gotham, some people are kind of cut out for that and others aren’t.

I mean, you look at quarterbacks in the NFL, and the ones that come in with immense talent and are playing off of that talent purely for a period of time. They might have success early on, but eventually, there’s enough tape on them, that opposing defensive coordinators figure out how to scheme away a lot of that natural ability, and they’re forced to actually figure out how to play at a higher level within a scheme and that’s where you see careers go off the rails, or you see them rise above… I just don’t think Jean-Paul Valley had the fundamentals. He didn’t have a strong enough foundation that would have made him the type of Batman that could have risen to the challenge.

So, going off of that: your Knightfall picks up a long time after Azrael defeats Batman. Were there any stories from that time that were kind of floating around in your head that you didn’t get to tell. Maybe of successes, maybe of failures? Because as you said, he wasn’t quite equipped for that role.

To me, because of the answer I just gave, I was only interested in exploring this era that was. I think it’s in the solicit. It’s about 30 years after he became Batman. When someone’s not equipped for it, but is either enabled, or, well, I don’t want to get into how and why he was able to, in our version here within the Dark Multiverse, stay as Batman, but to me looking at what that kind of darkest timeline with a Jean-Paul Valley who does not have the right foundation and perhaps moral compass to rise to the mantle that he’s taking on… showing the extreme of that after a significant amount of time [had] passed was the best way to explore it. I wasn’t as interested in jumping in and looking at a few months after the point of divergence and what that would look like.

To me, looking at how the city would have changed, how his support structure would have changed how the very idea of Batman would have changed some 30 years later, that started getting exciting for me.

A lot of that change is that Azrael is kind of running an almost pseudo-theocracy. And in your previous work — I’m thinking specifically of Nightwing: The New Order, which dealt a lot with fascism — what draws you to these stories about authoritarians misusing their power?

Without getting political or anything, I think they’re very timely right now. I think they often make for really compelling cautionary tales. In something like Nightwing: The New Order, or even my Power Rangers work with Lord Drakkon, the idea of someone, for the greater good, doing what is necessary, but ultimately what is necessary undercuts why they got into the work in the first place, that to me is always, like I said, a fascinating kind of cautionary tale.

And in the case of Jean-Paul Valley and the setup of this story, it was pretty ripe for that exploration. Like I said, this is someone who has not equipped morally or mentally for the task at hand, and when left to his own devices, this is a story of how things can go incredibly wrong.

I guess I hadn’t really thought of that before, that I have explored some of those kind of authoritarian tendencies in past work. But, again, I do think that there’s something very — we write about what we’re afraid of. At least I do. And there are definitely things in the world that we live in right now that, again, without getting political, echo some of those fears.

How do you view Azrael’s relationship in Knightfall with the rest of the DC Universe? What’s his relationship to all the other characters who are kind of floating around. Superman? Nightwing?

I don’t want to spoil too much here, but that was something that Scott and I talked quite a bit about. What does the outside world look like? And the idea of cutting Gotham off from the rest of the world as a result of what has happened in the rest of the world… Azrael definitely believes that the ends justify the means, and that he has kept Gotham standing, and he has turned this city into a paragon of virtue that the rest of the world could only ever dream of becoming through strong moral conviction and willpower. But so much of what the rest of the world has become, you could argue, is actually a direct result of Azrael cutting Gotham off from it. So, there’s a little bit of a chicken and egg kind of question at the core of this story.

There are little hints throughout the issue as to what things look like. Whether outside of Gotham, whether it be other heroes or other threats, different types of plagues. Even just kind of the status of Lazarus Pits in the larger DC Universe. To me, that wasn’t the core of the story. And this a story with a pretty limited amount of space. I mean, larger than most one-shots, but still, to build out an entirely new status quo, you have to really kind of pick your battles as far as where you decide to focus your page real estate for world-building. So again, we kept things pretty tight on what Gotham looks like in this world. But I think eagle-eyed readers will see hints about the fate of different characters throughout.

You have worked on a lot of alternate worlds and continuities or things that give you more room for play. When you’re writing something like Tales from the Dark Multiverse, what storytelling possibilities does that open up for you?

Well, I definitely pride myself on finding the most interesting through lines within a kind of higher concept. And a lot of alternate timeline stuff really allows for that, because at their core there tends to be a point of divergence or a higher concept that, for lack of a better term, a quote unquote “elevator pitch,” right? This is a story of where it’s this but in this era, where this happened and then that naturally leads to questions. Well, how did that come about? What is this person? As you just said, what happened to Superman? What happened to these people, and then it allows for really interesting world-building opportunities.

I kind of really spend a lot of time figuring out the world- building and in the most efficient and, hopefully, emotionally resonant way. It’s kind of like a tumbler lock, where each pin is a different possibility within a concept, and you have to get them all to kind of lineup right for the lock to open. I just really enjoy that challenge. And the “what if?” of it all, to me, is always a lot of fun to play around with. You can take it to an extreme that you couldn’t in standard continuity and use that extreme and the exploration of that extreme status quo to ultimately make whatever kind of emotional or thematic point interested you in the story in the first place.

Is there anything else you’d like to add just as we finish up?

It’s always fun to come back to Gotham, and I’m really proud of the issue and really happy to be working with Scott again and hopefully people will pick it up, give it a chance. The other Tales from the Dark Multiverse stories are all very exciting. And I think this is a really cool line that’s coming up and hopefully people won’t sleep on it.

DC Nation interview with Sean Murphy

Justice League Odyssey
September 2019
Issue #11

What can you tell us about the story?
If you think Jack Napier was unhinged in Batman: White Knight, that’s nothing compared to what Joker does with Azrael in Batman: Curse of the White Knight. As Bruce struggles with the idea of telling the identity of Batman, Joker threatens to expose a hidden truth about the Wayne family. Something that Bruce isn’t even aware of. Something that goes all the way to the founding of Gotham Village in 1685.

Why are you excited about this project?
I’m interested in going deep into the past about the Wayne family and how they’ve come into power in Modern-day Gotham. Batman: White Knight focused a lot on the present, Batman: Curse of the White Knight will focus more on the deep past. And if there is a third series, my plan is to focus on the future of Batman.

What’s it like to be both the artist and the writer of the series (along with your collaboration with Matt Hollingsworth)?
It’s a lot of work, but it’s the most satisfying way for me to make comics. Writing the scripts is also a great way to make sure that the artwork is the best that I can make it. I always put 100 perfect into my books, but being a writer makes me strive for 110%.

How does this tie into the current DC Universe?
This book is set aside from the current DCU. It’s marketed like a Batman movie: a familiar Batman with a different spin. One that doesn’t require the reader to be fluent in 80 years of Batman comics.

Why should fans check this out?
Readers should check this out because it’s slightly different to what they’re used to reading about Batman. And there aren’t many ‘single vision’ mainstream books these days (meaning the writing and art are handled by the same person).

Describe the series in seven words or fewer
If you miss this, you’ll regret it.

What should first time readers know before picking this up?
Nothing! You can come into this series without ever reading a comic.

DC Interview with Sean Gordon Murphy

 

Knightquest – The Crusade

detective667coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 667 – October 1993
Wild, Wild East
It’s official, Jean Paul is now the Batman and taking to the mean streets of Gotham. However, getting bored with common criminals, he starts to tweak his suit and uncovers one of Harold’s creations, the subway rocket! This new vehicle uses long abandoned Gotham City sudway roads that date back to a literal underground railroad connected throughout the city.  Meanwhile the Trigger Twins come to town and join a local mob ring.

 

 

 

 

 

detective668coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 668 – November 1993
Runaway
Still new to the subway rocket, JPV almost gets into a head-on collision with an actual train while trying to stop the Trigger Twins from robbing a money train! Due to his father’s condition, Tim is able to receive his license early and heads down to the batcave to pick up a car that was promised to him by Bruce. Showing up in his Robin uniform he has an altercation with Jean Paul who informs him that this Batman does not need a partner. Almost strangled to death, Robin escapes Jean Paul and is locked out of the cave.

 

 

 

 

 

shadowbat19coverBatman: Shadow of the Bat
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 19 – October 1993
The Tally Man: Part One
After handling some routing street crime, Batman sees a building with isolation chambers and decides to try one out, wondering if it may help him discover more about himself. Across town the Tally Man is collecting life debts. One of his trails leads him to the warehouse district Batman is at and decides he may as well take out the new dark Knight as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

shadowbat20coverBatman: Shadow of the Bat
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 20 – November 1993
The Tally Man: Part Two
With both Batman and the Tally Man dealing with the effects of the isolation chamber, they  attle their minds and each other. Thanks to a falling water tower and the system kicking in, Batman is able to take down the Tally Man, beating him inches away from death before leaving him for the police to take over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman501coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 501 – November 1993
Codename: Mekros
Batman gets a vision from St Dumas, telling him he must continue his crusade as Gotham’s dark angel. After breaking up a mob meeting, the bosses get together and hire a former government agent to down Batman. After a meeting Commissioner Gordon notices that something is very different about Batman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman502coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 502 – December 1993
Phoenix In Chaos
Batman survives his first formidable encounter and defeats both Mekros, as well as anothet hisman who was hired to take out Mekros. Batman goes on to form an unlikely alliance with Mayor Krol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective669coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 669 – December 1993
Town Tamer
The Trigger Twins are back again, this time they have hijacked the Public Transit Authority System’s train that collects all money from public transportation. Batman chases down the stolen train and brings them in to justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective670coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade (Mislabeled as part of ‘The Search’
Issue No 670 – January 1994
Cold Cases
The body of Mr. Freeze washes up on shore from his last encounter with the Joker. He is brought into the Gotham City morgue by Bullock and Montoya when it is thawed out, temporarily bringing Freeze back to life. Batman and Montoya take down Freeze, but she is left shaken after witnessing the brutality of Batman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

catwoman6coverCatwoman
Knightquest – The Crusade (Mislabeled as part of ‘The Search’
Issue No 6 – January 1994
Animal Rites
Catwoman and a group of animal rights activists set out to stop a group of corporate developers who have developed a neurotoxin to be rid of protected species. The notes for this toxin are stolen and must be acquired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman503coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 503 – January 1994
Night Becomes Woman
Believing that Catwoman is the thief of the Xylon-C neurotoxin, he tracks down and encounters her, only to find that she can very easily tell via pheromone that he is not the Batman she has faced all these years. While in the Batcave, Jean Paul researches her through the files Bruce kept in the batcomputer, trying to figure out why she has gone free all these years. He also wrestles with ‘thoughts’ of her.

 

 

 

 

 

batman504coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 504 – February 1994
Dark Dance
Jean Paul has another vision of St. Dumas while he chases Catwoman. The Gotham PD find Catwoman with the canister of the Xylon-C neurotoxin, believing her to be involved in terrorism as the docks catch fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

catwoman7coverCatwoman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 7 – February 1994
Body Chemistry
Catwoman escapes the police and displays that what she has is in fact a decor. With Batman’s help, they rescue the scientist who initially concocted the toxin and save the attendees of an international conference from being poisoned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective671coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 671 – February 1994
The Cutting Room Floor
The Joker forces Hollywood big wigs to fund his movie, ‘The Death of Batman,’ and begins to stage crimes to get footage of Batman in action. While checking on a mugging victim, Batman witnesses her falling to her demise from a window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective672coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 672 – March 1994
Smash Cut
Batman moves into  save Robin who turns out to be the mugging victim he saved the previous night dressed up as Robin as part of one of his staged acts for his film. Captured by the Joker, the Gotham PD decide to step in after receiving a poster for Joker’s film in progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

detective673coverDetective Comics
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 673 – April 1994
Losing The Light
Chained into a situation he can’t quite get his way out of, Batman wrestles with himself and the demons of the system. Watching batman’s actions, the Joker is infuriated when he comes to the realization that this is not the Batman he has faced all of these years. Once Batman breaks free it takes the Gotham PD to stop him from permanently taking the Joker out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman505coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 505 – March 1994
Blood Kin
Jean Paul begins to embrace the detective side of Batman as he investigates a murder scene and begins to have a vision of St. Dumas and his father battling over the direction of his life. The murderer Abattoir kills five members of his family and is now going after his cousin and a bus full of children. This encounter sees Jean Paul redesigning his cape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

shadowbat26coverBatman: Shadow of the Bat
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 26 – April 1994
Creatures of Clay – Diary of a Lover
While checking in on the survivors of Abattoir’s school bus attack, Batman is attacked by Lady Clayface who begrudgingly wants to kill him. Meanwhile, Clayface III kidnaps Abattoirs cousin, Graham Etchison, who is being counseled by Leslie Thompkins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sotb27coverBatman: Shadow of the Bat
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 27 – May 1994
Creatures of Clay – Child’s Play
After being defeated by Batman, Lady Clayface reveals that she is only going to these measures because Abbatoir has kidnapped her and her lover’s child. Batman instead meets at the rendezvous point to save the baby and brings Clayface III to justice. Abbatoir however escapes and straps Graham Etchison to the death machine while Batman wonders if this baby will turn out as its parents did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman506Batman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 506 – April 1994
Malevolent Maniax
Batman joins Ballistic who comes into town under contract to kill Abbatoir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

batman507coverBatman
Knightquest – The Crusade
Issue No 507  – May 1994
Ballistic
Also in town on contract to take down Abbatoir, Batman and Ballistic take down the Maniaxe in a Gotham city nightclub. After taking out the lawyer who set the contract in motion, Ballistic collects his fee and leaves town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previews Interview with Joe Quesada

Previews Magazine
June 1993
Volume III, No 6

Bat Man-O-War
Artist Joe Quesada discusses the Dark Knight’s New Suit of Armor
Interview by Michael Smith

Back in 1964, when then editor Julius Schwartz decided to, ‘Shake up,’ the new Batman titles, the Caped Crusader’s ‘New Look,’ amounted to little more than the addition of a bright yellow oval around his traditional, bat-like chest emblem. Years later, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams completely overhauled the character, returning him to his gothic – expressionistic roots. They lengthened Batman’s cape and ears, altered his color scheme (more blacks and greys then blues), darkened his environment, and gave him a sleek, super-stylized Corvette in place of a more traditional Batmobile.
Since then, Batman’s appearance and accessories have changed very little. With the possible exception of the Battle armor found in post-apocryphal stories – The Dark Knight Returns and Batman Vs Predator – the Batman’s costume remains much as it did when it first appeared over 50 years ago.

Of course, that’s all going to change in Batman #500.

Here is what artist Joe Quesada had to say about the enviable – or perhaps unenviable task of re-creating Batman’s image for a new generation of readers.

How did you become Batman’s new costume designer?
It all began with Sword of Azrael. At that time, the whole ‘Knightfall’ saga had been in the works for some time. When the Azrael proposal came across my drawing board, and Dennis [O’Neil] described what they had in store for the character, and that what I would be doing would have a major impact on the Batman mythos…well, I just said, “Absolutely, count me in.”

Is the new costume a logical successor to Azrael’s battle armor?
Definitely. It’s sort of a hybrid between Batman’s costume and Azrael’s armor. In fact, it begins as a fairly simple costume design, and then evolves into something really nasty! As a knight for the Order of St. Dumas, Azrael was trained to be a finely-tuned super-soldier…a sort of ‘vengeance machine.’ In many ways, his conditioning was similar to Bruce Wayne’s, so he’s sympathetic to Batman’s mission and some of his methods. But he also targets some weaknesses in Batman’s costume, and decides to improve it. Basically, he adapts the Bat-costume to reflect his unique crime-fighting methods.

Does Azrael construct the costume himself?
I’m not really sure. That’s an editorial decision, so you’ll probably have to ask Dennis.

If the purpose of Batman’s original costume was to, ‘strike fear into the hearts of evil-doers,’ how would you describe the purpose of his new costume?
To make them go in their pants! It also represents a more ‘hands-off’ approach to crime-fighting, which I think is something of a departure for Batman. In designing the costume, I tried to think like Azrael. I mean, he would probably look at Batman’s utility belt and say something like, “Nice idea, but I could probably improve it a little bit, because it takes too much time to fumble for the right gadget, flip the compartment open, push the right button, etc.” So what I did was computerize the armor and make it a little bit more, ‘hi-tech.’ Now, Batman doesn’t have to reach for anything. Everything he needs is at his immediate disposal.

So this thing is loaded with bells and whistles…
You bet. As far as I’m concerned, the gadgets have always been part of Batman’s appeal. Sure, he’s the world’s greatest detective, and a superb physical specimen and athlete, but he’s also a technological marvel. I mean, how many times have you read a Batman story and thought to yourself, “Hey, where did the grappling hook come from anyway?” Batman has always had plenty of gismos stuffed into his utility belt. Now, they’re just a little bit more realistic, simply because we’ve built them into a more technologically sophisticated suit of armor. It’s all part of the fun.

Meaning that Batman is now a ‘Knight,’ in the more traditional sense of the word…
You got it. That’s the point.

Was your costume design at all influenced by any of Batman’s other battle suits, particularly as seen in The Dark Knight Returns or Batman Vs Predator?
Not really. I’ve seen them all of course. I mean, The Dark Knight Returns is like a creative bible to me. But I didn’t want to look at that stuff because I was really looking for a fresh approach. Those were both great designs, but they just wouldn’t have been appropriate to Azrael’s character or purpose.

What guidelines were you given by the Batman editorial team?
They just said, “Go for it.”

It looks like you’ve eliminated Batman’s traditional insignia. What’s the story behind that?
Well, depending on how the costume is drawn, Batman’s body and cape form its own Bat signal. You’ll notice that the peak of the insignia runs down into his chest cavity, so that if the cape is drawn properly, he looks like his old chest emblem, particularly when seen from a distance. We’ve also given him a spotlight (situated just below his cowl), which, when lit, projects its own Bat-signal. Great for scaring the bejeebers out of bad guys!

What other goodies have you built into this thing?
For starters, the cape will be VERY unusual. It’s probably his most deadly weapon. If nothing else, it’s a very dramatic costume element, so artists who enjoyed playing with the cape before can still have fun with it now. Of course, Batman’s cape has always been part of the ongoing artistic battle…you know, the whole question of, “how can he wear a twenty-foot-long cape and not get tangled up in it?” Anyways, I wanted to give artists a nasty looking cape that was open to interpretation. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy drawing his costume as much as they did the old one.

Can Batman fly in this new get-up?
Probably not. He might be able to get some lift out of his cape, and sort of hang-glide a bit, but I don’t think that its cut out for aerial action.

How does it feel to be the guy who helped re-envision the Batman?
Absolutely wonderful! Batman has always been one of my all-time favorite characters. He inspired me to do comics, particularly after I read Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Luckily, I landed the Azrael project, and I’ve had a ball ever since. Still, I have to say this: There’s simply no way to really improve on Batman’s original costume, ‘cause it remains one of the greatest superhero outfits ever designed. But the way I look at it…well, it’s sort of like ‘old Coke; new Coke,’ you know? Some people are gonna say, “Hey, you can’t do that.” I just hope that most readers will be pleased with the new look, and I can honestly say that I’m happy with what I’ve done. I’m just honored to be a part-if only a small part-of Batman history.

Previews Interview with Dennis O’Neil

Previews Magazine
October 1994
Volume IV, No 10

DC’s Killer Angel

Dennis O’Neil is doing monthly comics again after doing them for over 25 years. As usual, he’s handing the editorial chores over to long-time friend and co-worker Archie Goodwin, and teaming with artist Barry Kitson on Azrael – a new ongoing monthly that will shed plenty of light on yet another dark and fascinating corner of the Batman mythos.

Interview by Michael R. Smith

“If man’s an angel,” ruminates a character in The Killer Angel, Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning account of the battle of Gettysburg, “Then sure, he’s a murderin’ angel.” What Shaara applied metaphorically to the whole human race is literally true for Azrael, the avenging angel of the Order of St. Dumas, first introduced two years ago in DC’s Sword of Azrael miniseries. Then, he was a brutal and remorseless assassin conditioned from birth to serve as the Order’s defender and all-around hitman. At the time, DC couldn’t reveal just how important Azrael would be to the future of everyone’s favorite Dark Knight detective, but the book was a sensation, anyway, due in large part to the strength and execution of the story and the exceptional artwork of Joe Quesada and Kevin Nowlan.

As with that project, reader’s will once again find Dennis O’Neil’s name on the splash page of Azrael, an all-new, ongoing monthly that DC will add to its Batman family of titles this December. O’Neil – THE MAN when it comes to any and all things Batman, is bringing plenty of things to the project: an understanding of the mythological underpinnings of superhero comics; an abiding love for rough-and-tumble action scenes; and the enduring command of narrative craft that can only emerge from three decades in the comic book business. He’s been described as ‘Heavy’ by his co-workers-which is ironic for a slight, introspective man with a deep commitment to pacifism and vegetarianism. But like most comic book writers, he strikes an agreeable balance between intellect and instinct; between the desire to bring depth to a work, and the action-intensive requirements of the form. Azrael clearly demands both.

Last June, we spoke about Denny about “Knightfall,” the landmark storyline that re-introduced readers to Jean Paul Valley: the bland, slightly befuddled young man who would later become the heir to Batman’s mantle as protector of Gotham City. Since then, Bruce and Jean Paul have endured the worst-and Denny has been there every step of the way. In a recent telephone conversation, he shared with us his plans for Azrael – what he’s calling the “grandest paranoid dream” ever attempted in comics. Coming from the man who created Ras Al Ghul, we tend to believe it.

Looking back, was Knightfall a success, in whatever way you define that word?
Definitely. In fact, I think it was more of a success than it’s being given credit for. It was, without a question, a commercial success. But we also tried to do some fairly difficult things with the story, and I am not aware of any failures. I mean, nobody has written me a letter shooting the whole thing full of holes. There is one criticism that really irks me though, which I’ve seen twice in print. Basically, it says that Azrael was a ‘trial balloon,’ to see whether or not the audience would accept a tougher, meaner Batman. Of course, if you simply read the stories and have some working knowledge of how things are put together – that is of how far ahead we have to plan…well, I think it’s pretty clear that Azrael could never have been created for that purpose. The whole thing had been plotted out well in advance. In the end, it was precisely what we wanted it to be: a 70+ grand, graphic novel that explored the theme of what a hero is in the ‘90’s.
So, no regrets but neither do I want to do something like it again any time in the near future. Professionally, it was the toughest two years of my life. I’m delighted that we tried it. I also feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted because the other editors and I have been living in fear that we’d somehow missed something – some crucial flaw that would deconstruct the whole damn thing. So far, that hasn’t happened.

How would you characterize the fundamental differences between Batman and Azrael, or between Bruce and Jean Paul if that makes a difference? Bruce is very aware of what he is and how that contributes to what he does. He is not moved by internal or external forces that he doesn’t already understand. Jean Paul on the other hand, has virtually no idea who he really is. He is, in the worst possible way, ignorant. Think about it: he had a rotten childhood he can barely remember; conversely, Bruce remembers his childhood, which was, up until that one critical moment, a very happy and privileged one – all too well. So they are at extremely opposite ends of the psychological spectrum.
Some critics and writers have accused Batman of being insane. But I’ve never seen it that way, precisely because of that element of self-awareness. He’s a guy who’s made a choice to let the results of a severe childhood trauma govern his life. But in our reading of the mythos, he could, and probably will, stop at some time. The difference of course, is that someone who is compulsive has no control over his actions. Batman is not deranged. Jean Paul may very well be, on some level. We also saw him manifest some classic symptoms of mental imbalance: hearing voices and seeing things that aren’t there. If anything, he’s delusional.

You’ve said that your working model for this new series is Arthurian lore, particularly the quests. Is that what Azrael is looking for: himself?
Precisely.  That is his grail. In our first Azrael story arc, Jean Paul will discover the truth about himself. Then, with his identity firmly established in his own mind, we’ll see about getting him some control over his powers. He’ll finally be able to use those powers; right now, they’re using him. I expect that the initial arc will run six or seven issues.

But if nearly all of the living members of the Order of St. Dumas were killed by Biis in Sword of Azrael, how is Jean Paull going to learn anything about it or his relationship to it?
Well, for one thing, don’t be sure that Biis wiped out the Order. As we’ll learn in the new series, the Order of St. Dumas is a VERY secret organization. There’s much more to it than what was revealed in Sword of Azrael, and learning those secrets is part of Jean Paul’s mission. In Sword of Azrael, the Order was more of a plot device than anything else. But in the new series, I’m exploring it more thoroughly. It turns out that the Order is more powerful than anyone imagined because it has been able to manipulate history. Take science for example: In Azrael we’ll learn that alchemy actually works, but that the Order suppressed that information some time during the 16th century so that only they could use it.

Did you base the Order on any historical antecedent?
Very loosely. The Knights Templar – a 14th century group of celibate warriors who became very rich during the Crusades is about as close as you’ll get. The Knights Templar provided Dashiell Hammett with the Maltese Falcon: it was supposed to have been a bird that the Templars created to send to the Pope. In our reading of the story we’ll also use the Knights as a point of departure. The Order of St. Dumas is, for us, a splinter group of the Knights Templar, which is led by a raving lunatic called Dumas. At one point he declares himself a Saint. The Pope gently reminds Dumas, by way of emissaries, that he can’t be a Saint, if for no other reason than that Saints are customarily dead. So Dumas kills the messengers. At that point he really goes off the deep end and splits violently with any existing religious order or church. He sets up his own church, and it’s one fundamental tenant is absolute secrecy. That’s why Azrael exists: it’s a hereditary position dedicated to killing anybody who may betray the existence of the Order. Still, in the course of six centuries information has escaped. Certain people know or suspect something about it.

Sounds more like the Illuminati than a group of monks.
Good analogy. The Illuminati is in the back of my mind, in fact in one of the early issues of Azrael, a character refers to the fact that the Illuminati was yet another blind alley created by the Order to divert attention away from themselves. In a sense, the Order is the ultimate secret society.

How do Bruce, Alfred, and Tim factor into all of this?
Bruce functions as the herald. In the first story, he realizes that his treatment of Jean Paul after the whole Knightfall affair was a monumental blunder. At the end of Legends of the Dark Knight issue 63, Bruce just sends this hapless, mixed up kid on his own merry way. I wrote it that way for maximum drama. But logically, it was pretty rotten of Bruce to treat him so cavalierly. So in Azrael, Bruce tries to make good with Jean Paul by equipping him for the quest. What he says is, “Look, Jean Paul, I’m Bruce Wayne, one of the richest men in the world, and the world’s greatest detective. I’ve learned some things about the Order of St. Dumas. Here’s where I think they’re headquartered, and here’s a couple of million bucks to get you started.”
In other words, Azrael is a Batman continuity book in the same way that Robin and Catwoman are. Our first story begins in Gotham, where we find that Jean Paul is a lost, wondering soul without hope or direction. Occasionally, he’ll black out, and when he comes out of it he discovers that he’s beaten up three muggers. He can do spectacular things, but he can barely remember that he was Batman.

In the Sword of Azrael miniseries, you seemed to be playing with the relationship between fate and providence; between rationalism (everything has a natural, scientific explanation) and the life of faith (it is the will of God). In what ways will the new Azrael series explore these same kinds of theological questions?
The semantics of this are tricky, because I am not a lampooning, satirizing, or in any way criticizing religion. After all, my wife teaches religion in Catholic school; one of my assistants is a devout Jew, and the other two are devout Catholics. So yes, there is a religious dimension to Azrael, if by religion you mean things like rituals, traditions, and those kinds of things. I see no reason not incorporate some of that into the comic book. But I’m not in the business of insulting people, and if I were to mount a screed against some faith or aspect of what religion has become, I probably wouldn’t do it in a comic book. Instead, what I do is use some elements of traditional religion as story components. Hopefully, I’ll succeed in sending signals to my readers that this book is not about Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Mohammedanism, or any specific faith. What will emerge in the stories are things that are common to most religions. Grail mythology, which is closely tied to religion is my starting point, but I would also like to work something in about angels into the mix because Azrael is, in two near eastern religions, an avenging angel.

So there is a historical analog for Azrael’s name?
Sure. Look it up in any dictionary of mythology. He’s an avenging angel in Mohammedanism and Judaism. After all, he was created to be the ‘anti-Batman.’ With that in mind, I set out to find a natural adversary for the bat in the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, there aren’t many. Bats are actually very benevolent creatures. All I could come up with two: Owls (but there had already been an Owl-Man, and Owls had the wrong vibe anyways) and man (but ‘Man-Man’ just doesn’t sing as a superhero). Finally, I came across Azrael-maybe in Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia of mythology. It was, in the end, precisely what we were looking for.

There seems to be a tendency in popular fiction-comics or non- to fall into the same old traps when treating theological/supernatural material: corrupt priests, impure nuns, greedy televangelists, etc…
Lately, that does seem to be true. Back in the early seventies, it was true that by putting a clerical character into a story you were taking a great chance. I guess that comics back then were still very much under the influence of fifties era editorial policies. Any authority figure of any stripe was automatically a cross between Mahatma Gandhi, the Buddha, and Jesus Christ. Now; and this may be my age speaking, the pendulum does seem to have swung too far into the other direction. I’ve been as guilty of it as anybody. Protestant ministers have approached me at conventions and said, “Well, if you find a Protestant Minister in your comics these days you know who the bad guys are going to be.” Some stuff that I’ve read recently seems to be taking gratuitous shots at the Catholic clergy. The negatives of organized religion; the evil that it has done, as well as the good, is a topic that I will willingly discuss at any time, and at length, with anyone who is interested. My wife and I have had hundreds of discussions about it over the years, but that’s an entirely different thing than taking cheap shots in comic books. That’s not my style.

Still, John Ostrander seems to avoid it in the Spectre, and you in Sword of Azrael. What’s the secret?
Maybe it’s because John and I co-teach the same comics writing class.  John and I vibrate in synch and agree on all sorts of things, which is why we’re teaching the course at SVA (the School of Visual Arts on 23rd Street in Manhattan: Will Eisner, Walt Simonson, Carmine Infantino, and Claus Janson, among others, all teach courses there).

Speaking of your colleagues: how would you describe your working relationship with Archie Goodwin who is editing the new series? Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you both ‘come up’ together?
Archie’s been in this racket a year or two longer than I have. I’m very grateful for his presence at this company, because without him, I’d be the oldest editor at DC Comics. Our working relationship is about as good as it gets. I trust him unequivocally-but that doesn’t mean that he gets away with murder. On at least one recent project, he demanded more re-writing then I am used to doing, and thank God for it. He’s an incredible backstop for the creative people, and that’s what great editors do: curb our excesses, catch our mistakes, and provide a sounding board.
I’d been in the business about five years before I met Archie. We were both at Marvel during the mid-sixties. Years later I was a superhero editor at Marvel while Archie was in charge of their Epic line. Still, we weren’t quite colleagues. But since we’ve both come back to DC we’ve had this reciprocal arrangement. Sometimes I’ll edit Archie’s work, and vice-versa. I have unqualified respect for Archie and his skills. He’s one of the best, and I’m glad that he’s here to moderate some of my more radical ideas in Azrael.

What powers, beyond those we’ve already seen in Knightfall, will Azrael manifest in the new series?
Think of the ultimate Hong Kong martial arts hero-you know, the guys in the Jackie Chan action movies or in movies like Once Upon A Time In China, who do stuff that even Batman can’t do. That’s what we’re shooting for with Azrael’s powers: the extreme, upper-most level of what is possible for a human being. He’s not super-human, but in a way, he’s close.

So all of this talk about theology and medieval history aside, Azrael is still a kick ass action book.
That’s why people read superhero comics! After all these years I can still respond to that stuff. As I said in the afterword to the Knightfall Graphic Novel, I don’t feel at all demeaned by writing action-oriented superhero comic books. It’s good, solid entertainment, and not the easiest thing in the world to do well. There’s a phrase of James Agee’s that I keep coming back to: the very difficult job of being ‘merely entertaining.” I do need to emphasize, because we sometimes sound very intellectual when we have these discussions, that that’s all that I’m interested in doing. Insofar as I use mythology and theology, I use it to better tell the most entertaining stories that I can.

Of all that you’ve written, which is your favorite Batman story?
That’s a tough one. As a job of story construction, I think that, ‘A Vow from the Grave,’ drawn by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, from Detective Comics, was one of my best. It’s the only time that I’ve ever been satisfied with a detective story written by me for a Batman comic book. It plays absolutely fair with the reader. All he clues are there, and if you pay attention you can solve the mystery. I think on that one I solved the technical problems of a 15-page detective tale, and delivered a pretty good story at the same time. As a longer work, I think ‘Venom,’ from Legends of the Dark Knight worked very well. ‘Birth of the Demon,’ the Graphic novel I did with Norm Breyfogle, is also one of my favorites, but it never sold particularly well.

Does it ever bother you that a creative success may not necessarily translate into a financial one?
Sometimes. You can never predict it ahead of time. The perceived quality of a work in the end may have no bearing on its commercial success. Bu that’s just the nature of most popular art forms. Good novels go unread; good movies unseen. It’s frustrating, because I know that the kinds of things that have made me the most money are a long, long way from my best work. So in that sense, you sort of feel like a fraud. Of course, the whole collector-speculator explosion really skewed the whole economics of the entire comic book business. Fortunately, at least the speculator factor in that equation appears to be dead. I heard that the last three QVC shows actually lost money.

Did you appear in any of those?
No, that was very much against company policy for DC editors. They offered me a great deal of money to do it, but Paul Levitz feels that it’s not a great idea for a DC editor, and I don’t disagree. If nothing else, you could be put into the awkward position of appearing to endorse a competitors product, or coming across a churl.
Right now, the business is in a re-trenching mode. But when the dust finally settles, were going to be left with readers who enjoy comics as entertainment, and not as commodities. Ultimately, that is going to be very good for the long-term health of the comic book business.

Batman: Sword of Azrael (Motion Comic Video)

News

Instead of copy/pasting the original News section into here I just thought I would archive it here.
Read below all ‘new’ News!

March 16th, 2016
JPV is on the cover of this weeks issue of Batman and Robin Eternal! That’s right, Azrael is in issue #24…however he is only on pages 13 & 14. Still though, having the cover of the issue must mean that he is sure to have more face time in the next issues!

February 15th, 2016
In stores now (if you can find them) is the ‘Knightfall Batman’ 3.75″ figure of Jean Paul Valley as Batman from the Batman Arkham Origins series of figures from the Multiverse line put out by Mattel. If you can’t find the figure in stores (I’ve been searching since early December when they started shipping) you can pick one up off of Amazon. The figure he highly detailed and dare I say ALMOST as good as the Hasbro DC Super heroes figure released in 1999. You can check out a pic of the figure in its package that I posted on Instagram here.

February 13th, 2015
If you follow us on Instagram (if you don’t why not!) then you saw the images I posted today of Theo Galavan on Gotham as Azrael! His suit looks very similar to the one that JPV is currently wearing…coincidence? This also looks like a very clever marketing move on DC’s part to help build even more interest in Azrael with the official trade paperback of the original Azrael solo series due out next month and Azrael’s introduction into the current ‘New 52’ continuity. Only time will tell as the series continues on the 28th of this month!

January 20th, 2016
You seriously need to pick up issue #16 of Batman and Robin Eternal – awesome team-up of JPV, Red Robin and Red Hood! The plot thickens and you won’t believe the turn of events.

January 13th, 2016
The new year brings JPV back in this weeks issue of Batman and Robin Eternal. This issue has a bit more background on the Order of St. Dumas, as well as the person who currently sits as figurehead. A really warped last page as well. Issue #15 is out now!

December 9th, 2015
This weeks issue of Batman and Robin Eternal gives us a bit more insight on Jean Paul Valley as Azrael. He’s also sporting a very ’90’s era haircut as he uses some interesting new powers to not only mess with Bane, but Red Robin as well. Check out all the insanity in issue #10 out now!

December 2nd, 2015
It’s official! It’s finally happened! This week’s issue of Batman and Robin Eternal marks the official debut of Jean Paul Valley, the REAL Azrael in the ‘New 52!’ This is pretty much the best news that could possibly be announced this winter as far as I’m concerned, so go out and pick up issue #9 now to see that insane pic of JPV on Pg 20!

November 17th, 2015
Last night’s episode of Gotham – did you see those member of the Order of St Dumas marching into Gotham? Something tells me we may be seeing an Azrael. If we are though it definitly will not be Jean Paul Valley as he is about 10 years younger then Bruce. However, that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t see his father Ludovac as Azrael!

October 20th, 2015
Did you catch last night’s episode of Gotham? The real ring leader of the whole ‘Rise of the Villains’ that the show is taking this season just revealed that Theo Galavan actually coms from a family called ‘St Dumas’ and an Order of families that controlled Gotham city. Could this be the beginning of seeing the Order of St Dumas and possibly even an Azrael on the show?

Knightsaga

Prelude to Knightfall
Sword of Azrael
Vengeance of Bane

Knightfall
The Broken Bat
Who Rules the Night

Knightquest
The Crusade
The Search

Knightsend
The Story
Aftermath

knightfall_logosmall

Interviews

From the Mouths and Hands of the Creators!

Please note, all of these interviews have been personally transcribed by myself (Matthew, the webmaster of this site) so please don’t copy and paste elsewhere.

Previews Magazine Interview with Dennis O’Neil – Read

Previews Magazine Interview with Joe Quesada – Read

Comic Talk Magazine Interview with Denny O’Neil – Read

Comic Talk Magazine Interview with Doug Moench –  Read

Comic Talk Magazine Interview with Graham Nolan – Read

Comic Talk Magazine Interview with Mike Manley – Read

Previews Magazine Interview with Dennis O’Neil – Read

DC Comics Forwarding with Dennis O’Neil – Read

AOL Fan Interview with Joe Quesada & Archie Goodwin – Read

An Interview with Dennis O’Neill – Read

An Interview with Joe Quesada – Read

CVM Feature on Knightfall – Read

A Interview with Sergio Cariello –  Read

Overstreet’s Fan Magazine Interview with Joe Quesada- Read

DC Nation Interview with Sean Gordon Murphy – Read

The Hollywood Reporter Interview with Sean Gordon Murphy – Read

JoBlo Interview with Sean Gordon Murphy – Read

CBR Interview with Kyle Higgins – Read

Screen Rant Interview with Scott Snyder & Kyle Higgins – Read