Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Azrael?”
I’ll take a wild guess that your answers were roughly split between “Gargamel’s cat” and “Gotham City’s least favorite over-accessorized Vatican assassin.” If you thought “this guy”…
…then you have my sympathies, dearest reader.
Years before Jean-Paul Valley dragged the Bat-franchise kicking and screaming into the Terrible ’90s, the folks at DC unleashed another irritating Azrael upon the reading public. The character made his debut in the New Teen Titans as one of the first bumps on the downhill trajectory the series took following the (modest) high-water mark of the “Judas Contact” storyline.
The mysterious winged entity — who sported a mane worthy of Brian May and duds copped from a prog rock album cover — was discovered by a team of S.T.A.R. Labs scientists during the exploration of an ancient, ice-bound spaceship. In violation of the proper protocols for the treatment and handling of potentially toxic cast additions, the scientists hauled their find back to S.T.A.R.’s Manhattan headquarters for further subplot research.
The being was awoken from his cryogenic slumber by the arrival of Lilith, a forgotten footnote of Titans history who had recently rejoined the team in preparation for a pair of upcoming story arcs. The amorous pseudo-seraphim developed a raging love jones for Lilith, which he saw fit to express by kidnapping the semi-consenting telepath and indulging in an obligatory “get to know you” dust-up with her teammates.
(All I know about pitching woo I learned from the New Teen Titans…which is why my front room is wallpapered in restraining orders.)
Az’s bufuddling role with the Titans mainly consisted of him making goo-goo eyes at the object of affection, indulging in angsty monologues about the strength of his devotion, and — when all else failed — copiously weeping.
The brief Who’s Who entry on Azrael doesn’t mention the character’s prodigious sobbing skills in its “powers & abilities” section. I assume that was due to an editorial mistake because if there’s one thing that distinguished Azrael as a character, it was his facility at turning on the waterworks at the slightest provocation.
Things only got worse after Lilith used her ascension to godhood as a quite reasonable excuse for breaking off her lopsided relationship with the clingy, passive-aggressive, winged emo-casualty. After an expected display of tears — followed by some extreme angstification – followed by even more tears, Azrael difted into the orbit of Brother Blood, a Titans’ arch-nemesis as silly as he was enduring.
(Even at the age of ten I had a difficult time accepting the Brother Blood concept, which essentially reworked Dr. Doom into a charismatic televangelist who dressed like a member of KISS. I am well aware of the depths of the masses’ gullibility for spiritual hokum, but the notion that dolling yourself up like the pastor of the First Church of King Diamond wouldn’t raise a shitload of red flags for potential converts was a bridge too far for me.)
As a member of Blood’s retinue, Azrael did… Well, he… I guess he kinda, sorta…
Okay, so he didn’t do much of anything besides ask stupid questions (or as they’re known in the biz, “exposition triggers”) and hover around with a slackjawed expression on his face while Blood regaled the faithful with motivational sermons so histrionic they’d make Cobra Commander blush with embarrassment. Following Blood’s “final” defeat by the Titans, Azrael spirited the catatonic arch-baddie away to a monastery to spend his days tending sheep while Az spun lazy circles in the air above.
Although Az has made a handful of minor appearances since then, I like to imagine he’s still circling the meadow, the water from his tears pooling in the lowlands below and providing the basis for a new salt water lake. (I hear that’s how the Dead Sea formed.)
Titans scribe Marv Wolfman was once asked by the fan press about his unrealized intentions in regard to Azrael’s purpose and origins. His response can be summarized as “I can’t really remember, but it was going to be REALLY COOL.” Yep. Even Azrael’s creator can’t recall the reason for the character’s existence.
Weepy, creepy, and bereft of any narrative hook or purpose, the sobbing seraphim known as Azrael was a easy choice for this week’s lachrimose installment of Nobody’s Favorites.