The new Azrael?
Guest-starring Robin, Nightwing, Talia and the League of Assassins, this miniseries runs alongside BATTLE FOR THE COWL and features the dramatic presence of a strangely familiar, troubled hero with two things on his mind: crazed vengeance for the wrongs he has suffered and salvation for the sins he continues to commit!
On sale March 18 • 1 of 3 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US
Definitely looks good... i think this set will definitely be going on my pull list...
"i'm not actually 100% convinced it is Jean-Paul.... from the description, i believe it may be a new character taking on the Azrael mantle...Yeah, the husband, father, and cop part threw me off. Wasn't sure if there was something I missed. I was going on the "dark knight" part. Someone new could be good. Or it could just seem like a way to cash in on Azrael's name, not that he's the most popular character these days. I'd be surprised if the newer readers even knew who he was.
and here's the full interview from IGN...
2008 was a crazy year for Batman and Gotham City, but from the looks of DC March's solicitations, 2009 might be even crazier. Earlier this week, fans got their first glimpse at a number of new projects slated to accompany Tony Daniel's highly anticipated Battle for the Cowl series, including writer Fabian Nicieza's three-part Azrael miniseries and his two-part Gotham Gazette.
Being the highly skilled detectives that we are, the IGN Comics team decided to track down Nicieza and get the lowdown on Azrael's return to the DCU, his exploration of a Gotham City without Batman and the creative process behind one of these major line-wide events. The veteran scribe was kind enough to answer all of our annoying questions, with only one minor stipulation: we never, ever again refer to him as a "veteran scribe." [Editor's Note: Last time, Fabian! We swear!]
So read on for some fascinating insight into what's in store for Batman's city in the months to come!
IGN Comics: Let's start with Azrael. I realize the project is still three months away, but can you give fans a general idea of what to expect from the three-issue mini-series?
Fabian Nicieza: In a broad sense, DC wanted to do something different with Azrael. Editor Mike Marts had been thinking about it for a while, and hadn't been able to come up with the right package, as it were. And as Robin was winding down, Mike wanted to keep working with me, and I wanted to keep working with Mike, and he said, "What do you think about Azrael?" And I said, "That's Denny O'Neil, not me! That's a hundred-plus issues of Denny!" And he said, "We know that, but the concept is great. We want to do something with the concept, but not necessarily with Jean Paul Valley or even Azrael as you know him." I had to think about it for a while, because it's a minefield to walk into - almost a no-win when you step into those situations.
So I thought about it, and one of the main questions became, "Who's in the armor?" I had a great lunch with Mike and Michael Siglain, and we bounced ideas around as to who could be in the armor. We had lots of varied and valid ideas, but we just hooked on one thing that we thought would really work. I don't want to say who it is yet. He's known and not really known, but it's a character that spins out of his introduction to the Bat-books in a very interesting way. Wearing this armor and the responsibility it brings – and what he hopes it means for him – all become part of a very logical process . The three-issue mini-series really serves as an introduction to the man and as a launching pad for the character's future.
The new approach is very similar in many regards to the original concept. A splinter group from the order of St. Dumas called the Order of Purity, which was introduced in Detective Comics #842 from last year, is looking for an avenging angel of justice to serve their calling. They possess a suit of armor called the Suit of Sorrows, which very well may have some magical properties to it, but it also combines with tech-related aspects to create a formidable weapon.
The suit has historically driven whoever has worn it mad, because no one is pure enough to be able to bear the burden. And even if you are pure enough going in, the minute you start acting as Azrael, you become impure as a result of your actions. So we have a character that desperately seeks redemption, has a lot of sins to atone for and had great wrongs done to him for which he seeks justice, but not just for himself, also for others who have suffered as he has suffered.
In essence he's been given, as far as urban warfare is concerned, the keys to an atom bomb. And he's been told to ride it like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove and "good luck to you!"
It's early in the ballgame as far as writing goes, but there're some very cool, interesting things with this character that are well worth exploring. The Suit of Sorrows is a very interesting concept whose very existence creates great character conflict. There's a lot of potential to develop a very unique kind of hero. I wouldn't exactly call him a good guy, but I wouldn't call him a bad guy either.
IGN Comics: When you mention the name Azrael, depending on their age and their nostalgic connection to the 1990s, I think most fans either cringe or cheer wildly. What do you think makes the Azrael concept an important element of the DCU? What made you guys want to bring him back into the fold?
Nicieza: I think the visual sparked the interest first and foremost, because it's just a very uniquely designed character. I think that part of it was the visual uniqueness that Joe Quesada and Barry Kitson brought to it. Joe is just a fantastic artist that tends to draw and design things that really only Joe can draw. And Barry is maybe one of the few artists on the planet that could handle that kind of stuff. Then the introduction to the character of Jean Paul Valley as someone who is very reluctantly given a mantle and a burden by a secret society that has religious implications and an international global perspective – I think all that stuff is always really fascinating and fun.
I think he always pushed readers' buttons since he was first introduced as an ultra bat-crazy villain. Then when he went on to have his own comic series, it became 100 issues of him trying to kind of redeem his initial introduction. Our character in some ways has some of those same flaws and problems, but he's a very different character than Jean Paul. It's not the same approach at all in terms of who's wearing the armor. The trappings are all there. It's not "Azrael 1994", but the concept of Azreal as a man in search of his identity, redemption and salvation are all in this character and his story.
I respect the high holy crap out of Danny O'Neil's run on the original character, but I felt it would be disrespectful to him and the audience who read this book for me to write the same character. Jean Paul Valley was uniquely an expression of Denny's style, which I could never hope to match. The beauty of the original concept is that inherent to its inception, it assumed the passage of Azrael as a legacy. So starting our series the same way feels appropriate to the roots of the concept.
But there are differences. The tone and style is a little more rooted in reality. One of the things I asked Mike and his assistant, Janelle Siegel, was, "no hover crafts, please." That threw me originally as a reader, this ultra-secret religious cabal with a centuries old monastery that happens to have sleek gold hovercrafts hiding in an underground jet bay. I really wanted it to have more of a seedier, darker Da Vinci Code/Bourne Ultimatum feel to it.
IGN Comics: Did bringing back the Azrael character come about because Batman's current status quo called for it, or is this something Mike Marts wanted to do for a while now?
Nicieza: The way you look at things editorially, which I think Mike has done very well here, is if "A" happens, then what happens next? And you have to look at that two ways as an editor. You have to look at that both from the pure story standpoint, but you also have to look at it from a pure publishing standpoint. It's a business, and you have to create a business plan and a publishing program. And in this particular case, since I got brought into this madness back in the summer with Robin, they've had a very solid business plan and story plan in the works. It wasn't so set in stone that things couldn't evolve as they developed, but the ideas you're starting to see happen now with March's solicitations and Grant's last issue of RIP are pretty much holding to the blueprint that was laid down before me back in June when they asked me to come on with Robin.
And it's smart, because if Batman is missing – dead or gone, whichever the case may be – then what happens in Gotham City? You just knock over the dominoes and create stories based on that simple question. From that same standpoint, from a publishing standpoint and business plan standpoint, if Batman is missing and these other things are happening to these other characters, then what happens next? Whoever takes over the cowl, knock that domino over, because it affects that character and the characters around him. And you go from there. What happens to Commissioner Gordon? What happens to Barbara Gordon? Is this a good time to bring back Azrael as a concept, because there's a void there that could be filled? The fact that the Suit of Sorrows has ties to Talia and Ra's Al Ghul, and if they have ties to Batman, and now Batman is missing, and now Damian is Batman's son… all of a sudden it's this bubbling jambalaya, and you just have to mix the stew and see what you get out of it. In that regard, I think they've done a very good job planning and preparing for that.
IGN Comics: As a veteran of the comics industry, you've worked on plenty of these crossovers, events, line-wide storylines, or whatever you'd like to call them, so I'm assuming you're used to having multiple cooks in the kitchen. Have you discovered a formula or secret for writing a strong, entertaining and worthwhile tie-in issue/series for one of these big projects?
Nicieza: First of all, before I answer the question, I just want to note for the record that when you say the word veteran you're politely saying old. And I take offense to that.
IGN Comics: [laughs]
Nicieza: I'm older, but I'm not old. I feel, emotionally, I'm still an incredibly immature man. It really balances itself out with my physical age. [laughs] So you young whippersnappers remember that. [laughs]
Having gotten past that, the truth of the matter is, honestly – and I've said it before – every one of these projects is different. They really are. Some are writer driven by one writer. Some are writer driven by a couple of writers who manage or are caretakers of multiple books, and then other people get brought in under the umbrella. Others are editorially driven, where editors have a blueprint of a story they want to tell. I've been involved in all of those, from all different standpoints.
So in each and every individual case it is very different. In one year alone, the storytelling plans for "Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul" is very different than the storytelling plans for the RIP stuff. One was editorially driven in terms of the idea that we would have this happening here, and we want it to affect other titles. How can we make it a bigger story? That turned into literally "Part 1, Part 2, Part 3."
Then RIP is writer-driven. One writer is doing such a big thing, that it has to impact other books. What should we do with the other books? The writer started driving down that road, and then the editors said we have to follow along. We have to take our other cars and follow along, because this story is too big to ignore. You can't win with the readers, either, quite frankly. You know that. If you ignore the story you're accused of having no continuity, and your characters don't exist in the same universe. If you address the story and tie into it, you're accused of being war-mongering publishers who just want to steal money and rape and pillage towns.
Neither one is fair, but it's inevitably what you're going to get out of this no matter what. The truth of the matter is, if Grant Morrison, with his credentials, comes in and says, "I want to do this," and DC as a company says, "Let's do it!" then you're going to get sucked up in that wake. Because that's a powerful, powerful engine, so you better be smart and get caught up in it for the right reasons and in good ways.
IGN Comics: So how would you describe the process that you're currently involved in with Azrael and Gotham Gazette?
Nicieza: Well I'm working a little bit in a vacuum on it – or at least in my own little corner - which is okay, because Gotham City is a big city, and there's a lot going on. And my characters in both of these books – I guess luckily for me in a lot of ways – are in isolated pockets of a lot of what's going on. Azrael has his own short story to tell. It's going to clearly be happening at the same time as other stuff that's going on in Battle for the Cowl, but it still is its own story. If you read it as part of the whole, you will see where it is and if you read it as just a mini-series, that will be clear to you in its own right.
Gotham Gazette is a vignette book. It's two one-shots. One is called Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead and the second is called Gotham Gazette: Batman Alive. We're following four characters, all of whom have clear and strong ties to the Bat-family, as they're involved in this transitional state with Batman missing. It's a little bit of a quieter book in that it studies these people and what the ramifications of a missing Batman or a new Batman would have on their lives. Each of them are in a place where this can be a good thing or a bad thing.
In essence, Gotham Gazette is four ten-page short stories, and it's broken down in each one-shot as four five-page chapters for each character. Those stories don't continue into each other. In many cases, those characters might not even come face to face with each other. But they're all operating in the same locale. So for example, if Bullock is on the street at a crime scene, Spoiler might be up on a rooftop behind him involved in her own thing. And even though he's involved in his own thing, you can clearly see that it's all happening at the same time.
There are a couple of driving catalysts to the whole story which I wont give away yet, but one is in the solicitations, and it involves Vicky Vale suspecting that if Bruce Wayne has gone missing, and Batman has gone missing, then two plus two equals four.
IGN Comics: Before we get into the four characters, I noticed the art is credited to "various." How will the art be broken down?
Nicieza: Different artists will handle different chapters, probably. Mike hasn't informed me yet what that detail is going to be. But the plan is there will be multiple artists on it. Whether it's four different artists on each issue, I'm not sure yet.
IGN Comics: So let's hit on some of these characters. Vicky Vale was the first name that jumped out at me from the solicits, just because it's been a while since we've seen her in any significant capacity in recent continuity. What can you tell us about where Vicky Vale is in life since the last time we saw her?
Nicieza: Last we saw her she was co-host of a View-like TV show. We're saying she got fired or the show got cancelled. She's almost starting at rock bottom in a way. She actually appears in Azrael #1, and it's almost a throwaway little cameo. Because when you're a sad, lonely old writer – I mean veteran writer, I'm sorry – you create your own little sad, pathetic universe. [laughs] I get to have characters crossover in my own little sad, pathetic corner of the Bat-universe. [laughs] But she's back working as a photojournalist for the Gotham Gazette, which to her is both an incredible humiliation, humbling and angering, but at the same time is a little bit exciting. There's a rawness there, an edge to doing what she was doing that she had lost. So she's starting to get that edge back.
Battle for the Cowl #1
IGN Comics: Leslie Thompkins. Fans were a little irked with her actions involving Stephanie Brown, with many feeling it was out of character. This changed a little when Chuck Dixon went back and explained her actions a tad more, but suffice to say Leslie still has to win back some fans. From the solicitation text, it sounds like you'll be dealing with the idea of her redemption in this story?
Nicieza: Well, if Stephanie made her way back, we always imagined that Leslie would too. When I first took over Robin, I asked some of the questions regarding where Chuck had left things, where this had been building and percolating, and if he had planned to bring Leslie back at a specific point. We discussed all those things, and I just felt that she was too good a character, too important and too longstanding a character to just leave in Africa. I mean, it's so far away, right? And she doesn't even have a Justice League teleporter.
I also wanted to follow up on Spoiler, because when I originally came on to Robin, I knew the book was going to end, but we were never sure what issue it was going to be. As a result, one of the few things that got shortchanged for me and my hopes for my tenure on the book was to have a little bit more of a set-up for Spoiler's role in the future as I thought it might work. So having lost that in Robin, I end her tenure in Robin with a real question mark about what she's going to choose to do. Gotham Gazette allows me to get her a little further down the road towards making that choice.
I figure part of my job with Gotham Gazette is to set a table for other people, and if they want to eat off those plates, that's their choice. There are all these interesting, integral characters floating around Gotham, and what this Gotham Gazette mini-series will do is leave them in a place where they are available should other writers want to work with them.
IGN Comics: How about Harvey Bullock? Even though James Robinson brought him back in his "One Year Later" arc and many fans were excited about that, we haven't really seen much of him since. What here is Harvey at in life and his career when Gotham Gazette begins?
Nicieza: I was glad when James brought him back in that "Face the Face" storyline. He got dropped from "the rotation," I think, because most writers either thought he was old news or weren't going in the direction of cop stories.
Writing comics is a funky thing when you have a family of titles. You stake claim to your own characters, you get to do things with them and you get to create long running subplots with a character like Harvey Bullock, let's say. But then what do you do as a writer when a book like Gotham Central comes along, which is all about the cops and is so freaking good? You don't feel right stealing any of their characters back for your book, and you feel almost useless doing anything with your own cop character because fans will just ask, "Well, why wasn't he in Gotham Central?" So I think they almost lost focus on the cops for quite a while in the Bat books.
With 'One Year Later', they were trying to reset the button with the status quo, and I thought James did a really good job of that. I had been doing a lot with the GCPD in Robin, especially developing Officer Jamie Harper (also from the Face the Face story) into a strong presence in the book, so focusing on Bullock (who will likely deal with Harper as well in Gazette) seemed like a smooth transition. And like I said earlier, as a writer in comics, sometimes you cook the meal and you can only hope other writers will eat.
I was looking around for a cop to use and the different opportunities available to me through the Gotham Central characters. Then I chickened out because I figured I'd never write them anywhere near as well as Rucka or Brubaker did. Why step on that third rail? [laughs] It was easier for me to use Harvey. And the more I thought about it, it was more than just easy to use Harvey, it worked for the mood and sensibility of the book. He's been marginalized in the force after he came back. He's a pariah. He's a low rent detective now. With Batman missing and the whole city falling apart, he senses an opportunity. What does he do?
IGN Comics: Seeing as Gotham Gazette is serving as bookends for Tony Daniel's three-part Cowl mini-series, how are you planning on working with or commenting on his plot?
Nicieza: You know, they're not bookends in that Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead? comes out and then flows right into the first issue of Battle for the Cowl. It's more about the ambiance and the feeling of uncertainty in the city. It starts with a lack of hope, and it ends with a glimmer of hope. So the two one-shots, the way I'm approaching them, is that they're not necessarily dependent on the details of Battle for the Cowl, but they couldn't exist without that story.
IGN Comics: How about the Azrael mini-series – will that take place behind the scenes or in the crevasses of Tony's plot?
Nicieza: Yes. The events that are happening in Azrael are happening at the same time as Cowl. In Cowl there are a lot of things that are going on that necessitate the focused attention of Nightwing and Robin. The events and participants in Azrael work to stretch that attention span even further. They don't know if they have an ally or an enemy in their cause, but if he is an enemy, they might not have the time to address his presence. There will be certain lines or scenes where attentive readers will see how the pieces fit together, but you don't have to read Cowl to understand Azrael and, of course, vice versa.
IGN Comics: Thanks for taking the time, Fabian. I really look forward to both projects.
Nicieza: My pleasure, Dan. I hope everyone enjoys reading these projects as much as I am writing them!
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