Note: For the second Azrael, Michael Lane, go here.
Several centuries ago, the Templar knight Dumas left his group to found his own Order of Saint Dumas. They pillaged villages for their wealth, and came upon the fabled treasure of King Solomon. Using this capital, the secret society began collecting information for its agenda and developing technology to advance it beyond the rest of the world. To guard this, The Order created Azrael, a legacy-type agent coached to believe he is the Biblical angel of vengeance as was his father before him.
Major Story Arcs
Jean-Paul Valley, a university student in Gotham City, is unaware that he is the latest in a line of assassin-enforcers for the sinister secret society of The Sacred Order of St. Dumas, and had received training and mental conditioning to prepare him for his role since before he was born. He is a test tube baby, and his genes have been spliced with those of animals. After Ludovic Valley impregnated a woman, the Order of St. Dumas retrieved the fetus to develop it on its own. This would grow to become Jean-Paul Valley. For most of his life, he has been brainwashed with "The System," a deep level of psychological conditioning.
The details of The System are never fully explained, but it is understood that training begins before birth and includes genetic modification, prenatal electric shock, and the use of gorillas as surrogate mothers. When he is sent by the Order to kill the weapons dealer who had killed his father (the last Azrael). Carlton LeHah believes himself to be the idealistic opposite to Saint Dumas, his path then crosses with Batman's. After saving Wayne from an explosion set up by LeHah, Valley is shown the error of his ways, and he decides to fight with Batman against the criminals of Gotham, rejecting his "birthright" and seeking Batman's help in breaking his conditioning to forge a new destiny of his own choice.
A Darker Dark Knight
Valley plays a pivotal role in the epic "Knightfall" story (1992-1994), in which he stood in as Batman after Batman was defeated and paralyzed at the hands of Bane. Against Batman's orders, Valley fights and defeats Bane, but his performance as Batman is influenced by his Azrael conditioning; he grows increasingly violent, allowing the villain known as Abattoir to fall to his death, thereby also allowing one of Abattoir's still-living victims to die. Valley also refuses to recognize Robin as his partner. Upon his return to fitness, Bruce Wayne is forced to fight the technologically-enhanced Valley to reclaim his Batman identity. After a prolonged battle on Gotham Bridge, in which Azrael nearly kills Nightwing, he is defeated when Batman tricks Valley into removing his Bat Armor. Due to Valley's psychosis, once he removed his helmet, he also "removed" his version of the Batman identity he had built.
Angel of Death again
Following this, Valley becomes a homeless drifter in the streets of Gotham, unaware or unwilling to adopt his identity as Azrael once again. After being contacted by Bruce Wayne, Valley soon dons his Azrael costume once again and searches for clues to his past in the Order of St. Dumas, the ancient organization which had engineered Azraels throughout ages, passed from father to son. This was done through the use of deep hypnosis and genetic experiments. Upon discovering The Order in Europe, Valley finds he has been replaced by another man claiming to be Azrael, who is quickly defeated by Valley. He had multiple contacts with soldiers and high priests of the organization and the impostor Azrael, Ra's Al Ghul and eventually develops a relationship with a former priestess of the Order, Lihly.
Valley is then able to largely destroy the Order. During the No Man's Land saga, Azrael assists Batman in the earthquake-torn Gotham and eventually attempts to contact a U.S. Senator who is key to federal funding for Gotham.
Redemption and Death
The Senator is killed by a man known as Nicholas Scratch, a rock star who is also involved with many terrorist organizations and attacks. Scratch is eventually involved in the apparent death of Valley when he disguises himself as Azrael and is confronted by Valley. LeHah reappears and fires on Valley with an armor-piercing bullet. LeHah and Valley topple over a balcony. LeHah survives and Scratch is arrested, but Azrael's body is never found. A panel of the comic showing Batman holding an image of Azrael, sans mask, is meant to lead readers to believe he is dead.
Note: While this happening, in a Booster Gold comic, a message can be seen on Rip Hunter's Blackboard. As Rip Hunter and Booster Gold talk, A message on his blackboard reads "Jean Paul Valley Lives! but that's not him!", and a later issue says "Azrael comes and goes".
Return as a Black Lantern in Blackest Night
The alleged death of Jean-Paul Valley is confirmed as the Blackest Night sweeps over Earth. He rises as a member of the Black Lantern Corps and rampages through Gotham City, harvesting the hearts of the living. Scarecrow crosses his path and lives because he is no longer able to feel the fear he so craves. With no emotional response to him, Jean-Paul ignores the Scarecrow's presence and moves on to other victims.
Jean-Paul Valley makes a few appearances throughout the New 52.
Detective Comics: Rebirth
Jean-Paul Valley meets a member of The Colony, a group of Batman themed soldiers, when they attack him in a church. Before the soldier is able to kill him, Batman arrives. After he drives them away, he gets Jean-Paul medical help. After recovering, Azrael decides to join the new vigilante team Batman has assembled.
Skills and Abilities
As a result of genetic engineering, he has greater strength than a normal peak level human; he is known to hurl large stones, steel altars, and other heavy objects estimated to weigh one or two tons. This enhanced strength is at first only available to Azrael and not Jean Paul.
At first his costume was a necessary trigger for "The System" to impart him with his enhanced strength, reflexes and speed. Right at the end of his solo series however, his strength, speed and reflexes went into meta human levels and he no longer needed his costume to access "The System." At this time, he is able to lift tree trunks and large boulders weighing an estimated 7-8 tons.
As a computer science post-graduate student, his knowledge and expertise with computers surpasses those of Tim Drake's and is closer in range to those of Oracle, the former Batgirl. He is often described as being an instinctive genius, though he is neither as smart nor as quick as Bruce Wayne. In addition, he has a rather limited knowledge base with which to apply what would or could be a considerable intelligence.
The skills granted to him by "The System" are considerable, giving him access to acrobatic and martial arts skill rare for the most seasoned athlete. This makes him a highly skilled combatant. In addition to these talents, his skills were honed by training with Bruce Wayne and thus possibly as skilled as Batman, although his lack of experience and finesse would make him the weaker of the two. However due to his physical capabilities in junction with his skill has allowed him to defeat Batman, Bane, Nightwing, and even be offered being the leader of the League of Assassins by Ra's al Ghul.
All of Azrael's Lego pieces can be unlocked for creating him in the character creation in the console versions of LEGO Batman: The Video Game, while he is an unlockable character in the DS version.
Azrael makes an appearance in the online game DC Universe Online.
Batman: Arkham City
The Michael Lane version of Azrael appears in the game, however his character seems to be an amalgamation of Jean-Paul and Lane's, as is his costume. As part of the Order of St. Dumas, he warns Batman of impeding doom for Gotham.
Jean-Paul's Batman suit is available as an extra skin for Batman.