So after Azrael goes mad with power, almost strangles Robin, and assaults Batman while Azrael’s dressed like a robot, he gets put on a probation by Batman. As in, the Dark Knight doesn’t trust him, like him, or want to be around him. And after Azrael screws up an undercover police job, it’s time for Bruce Wayne to let Azrael know the bitter truth — he’s a sucky vigilante. In Azrael #36-40, written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Roger Robinson, our dear Jean-Paul Valley has one last chance to prove himself by taking down the biggest, scariest, most powerful supervillain in Batman’s rogue gallery.
Seriously, conversing with Batman is like talking to your dad when he’s not angry, just disappointed. As usual in a crimefighter’s life, everything goes bonkers at once and Azrael misses his deadline. Also, love interests and stuff, but that’s off topic. And let’s be fair to Azrael, he’s mentally ill trying desperately to impress another mentally ill man who may be legitimately impossible to impress. Batman can’t even meet his own standards — what chance does the Batfamily have? But the stakes remain the same: Jean-Paul brings in Bane or Batman’ll punch Azrael out of crimefighting forever.
Here’s how you know Azrael’s on Batman’s bad side: he makes Azrael fly coach. Even Robin has his own plane. For those not in the know (including me about two weeks ago), Nomoz helped train Jean-Paul into Azrael way back in his origin comic. He’s the sidekick for this arc so Azrael doesn’t have to talk to himself the whole time.
There is a greater theme here spread throughout the pages. Jean-Paul’s constantly conflicted between his identity as Azrael and himself. He can’t fight crime without becoming Azrael, but he hates Azrael’s cruelty and violence. It’s a schizophrenia shaped by his dead father. Oh, and check out that the dude’s back in his “default” costume. Of the six Azrael articles I’ve done so far, he’s had three different outfits.
Need further proof that Azrael’s the most ’90s superhero that ever existed? He has fire coming out of claws. And the claws are attached to giant golem hands. You can’t get more extreme ‘tude than that. And the cape’s not even practical — it’s looks like it’s made out of ribbons pieced together from a Hobby Lobby shopping spree.
I’m no historian, but after the super gritty, dark, realistic comics of the late 1980s, the medium compensated with brighter, supernatural, “extreme” adventures. The 2000s reacted to that by making comics dark again. Nowadays, we’re in a resurgence of comics written with a lighter touch. In five or six years, we’ll repeat the infinite cycle — after all, the 1980s came as a response to the trippy, magical LSD-fueled journeys of 1970s superheroes. For reference, you’re currently watching Azrael kick henchmen butt in 1997.
Remember how Azrael beat Bane the first time? He took out Bane’s venom supply causing the supervillain to freak out enough for the lucid Azrael to knock him out. Bane’s off venom now. Our poor protagonist has to fight Bane in his purest, non-addicted state. That’s pretty much why he gets his butt handed to him. Plus, we have three issues left in our arc. Sadly, Bane only spares Azrael’s life to give him a greater pain: prison justice.
Venom’s beyond addictive and no rehab center exists for this sort of ailment. See what it’s doing to Bird? If you need more evidence, Batman once succumbed so horribly to venom addiction that it took him a month locked in the batcave of sheer willpower and crazy hallucinations to break it. Actually, we’ll cover that story next because it’s really good and serves as a prelude to Knightfall. And Azrael’s withdrawal? That comes soon, but first, they have to inevitably escape from being tied up and make a terrible situation much worse.
On Friday, we get our exciting conclusion, and by that I mean several pages of Azrael sweating and crying.
As the Batman family rushes to capture Joker as the year-long Batman event No Man’s Land concludes, each team member gets assigned a super important mission that pertains to their strengths and abilities. I’m kidding — Azrael and Batgirl have to tell people to leave the town. We’re talking Azrael, a man dressed like Fabio on the cover of a King Arthur-themed romance novel, and Batgirl, a girl who can’t speak to the point of just covering up the mouth part of the costume. Good luck to these two in Azrael #60, written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Roger Robinson.
Look, we assume we only get the highlights of Batman’s nightly patrols. I bet 90% of the night is spent on top of gargoyles, singing songs to himself or trying to see if he can batarang sewer rats. Batman only gets, like, one supervillain attack a week? Maybe two? The rest of his time he does nothing but listen for sirens or pedestrian screams. I doubt he even lets Robin bring his iPod. So let’s take a glimpse into the non-fistfighting world of superhero-ing:
I understand the nature of comics: it’s a business first. If we watched the two of them spend the issue telling people to scram, sales would probably be a bit lower than if Azrael and Batgirl punch their way through a horde of henchmen. Well, fear not. Because in the fictional world of comic books, it’s mandatory for superheroes to break the face of at least one bad guy every twenty pages. I didn’t make these rules up. So how about a group of clowns? And while we’re at it, let’s add the Joker.
I know, I get it. Azrael is the least funny person in the DC universe — don’t get upset, it’s part of his personality. And it’s even worse when he makes a joke directed to the second least funny person in the DC universe. But you saw that kid they all forgot about a few pages up — she gets rescued by the Joker. And by rescued I mean almost certainly a forsaken causality in whatever drives Joker’s amusement at the moment. You crave an exciting series of kicking and punching panels, but you don’t get it here. First, Batman doesn’t want anyone but him hurting his one true love, but also, Azrael’s far too naive. He’s not the detective that Batman or the Robins are. He goes by instinct mainly, and his horribly wrong instinct saves the day. Because y’know, despite being a psychopathic killer, the Joker still has feelings.
Next time, Azrael versus Bane for the second time! Get ready for tropical islands, inward character development, and all the drama you’d expect from a well-meaning crazy person and the his luchador arch-enemy. And full disclosure, I read everything Bane says as if Tom Hardy spoke it in The Dark Knight Rises. I don’t care if Bane’s South American, I love that voice.
We jump back a few years from last time’s article to the post-apocalyptic earthquake-destroyed ruins of Gotham City that took place during the Batman event No Man’s Land. Gone is the crazy, unstable Azrael. We get to enjoy today a kinder, friendlier, still-schizophrenic Azrael — a man who just wants to do some good while dressed as a medieval crusader. We’ll focus on one more Azrael Christmas adventure (no dodging punches from Batman) in Azrael #61, written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Roger Robinson.
So No Man’s Land is over. Lex Luthor’s company stepped in to rebuild the city and the Gotham police force/Batman and friends have regained their hold over most of Gotham City. All that’s left is the Joker and his devious plot to kidnap dozens of babies. But that’s for later on. Azrael (real name Jean-Paul Valley) grew up religious, but more in a brainwashing cult than anything established like Christianity. Ever want to hear an old woman describe Christmas to a grown man who looks like Thor? Of course you do.
The metaphor given to baby Jesus pretty much applies to every superhero who ever existed. Except maybe the Punisher. Did you know I once received an angry comment from someone in a previous article because I assumed the Punisher to be super smelly? I refuse to back down. The Punisher doesn’t bathe. Axe Body Spray doesn’t come in Vengeance. Frank Castle reeks like weeks-old gunpowder, trench coat sweat, and chunks of mobster brains. There. Bring it, buddy.
Back to our story, we’re in the infancy days of Cassandra Cain’s Batgirl role. She hasn’t learned to talk yet. Also, like Azrael, she grew up in an assassin’s clutches without all the warm fuzzies we love and experience during those loving Christmas years (or at least the first eight or so for Bruce Wayne). Fighting crime isn’t the only hobby for superheroes — sometimes it’s appreciating a sandal-wearing bearded Superman who came back from the dead to forgive all our sins or whatever.
I want you to appreciate this moment when Oracle taught Azrael and Batgirl what presents are. Now, we know bonding time can’t be fully complete without applying our superheroes’ new knowledge. While neither of our protagonists have any extra cash or apparently ever heard of the idea of giving other people goods or services, the two have to improvise. Batgirl first.
So remember last article where Batman realized Azrael may have fallen off the deep end because cameras caught him beating up a Santa Claus? I just want you to remember that, because if superhero comics have taught me anything (and I already learned about gifts a few years ago), Santas only bring trouble. Especially the Santas wielding axes with thick henchmen-esque accents.
Here’s how Azrael works: if his mask is off, he’s the lovable, clueless Jean-Paul who solves his problems with smiles and hugs. When the mask goes on, we get the powerful, butt-kicking Azrael who solves his problems by crushing the bones of all those who cross his path. But today’s a Christmas story (that I’m writing in mid-September). You know who hates Christmas? Spoiler alert: Joker.
Moral of the story? Besides babies make terrible Christmas ornaments? It’s about the spirit of giving. Like giving yourself up as a flame shield to protect two ladies from a tree explosion. And the girl in the chauffeur outfit is Mercy Graces — Lex Luthor’s personal assistant/bodyguard. Azrael may have suffered injuries saving Batgirl and Mercy, but look, Luthor’s limo isn’t going to drive itself. Oh, and a delightfully happy ending:
I know, I’m touched too. On Monday, Azrael and Batgirl team up one more time against the Joker!
Tim Drake came from a rare origin story in which both his parents were alive when he took over the Robin identity. And then they weren’t. So newly orphaned, the teenager can’t just be swinging across the rooftops before returning to his box under the bridge overpass in the morning. Apparently, things like “laws” prevent minors from doing whatever they please however they want and whenever they want to do it. But Batman has an idea. A very heart-felt idea. Let’s explore Tim Drake’s future/living situation today in the following issues:
Robin #134, written by Bill Willingham and drawn by Damion Scott
Robin #136, written by Willingham and drawn by Pop Mhan
Robin #138, written by Willingham and drawn by Scott
Robin #139, written by Willingham and drawn by Scott McDaniel
Batman #654, written by James Robinson and Don Kramer
First up, Batman’s plan (and part of today’s article title).
I’m no expert on adoptions, and I’m sure the state wouldn’t be pleased by a man in a bat costume raising Drake, but random men can only claim kids as their own as long as no other possible options exist (I assume). I mean, surely Robin can take care of himself — he’s had a solo series for since the early ’90s after all, but when it comes to laws Batman’ll break (like trespassing, assault, illegal wiretapping, etc.), he follows adoption procedures to the letter.
Well, no more Tim Wayne for Tim Drake. Bring the world adventuring uncle back home and Tim’ll get a proper house and other problems he’ll have to lie about to his new family member. Look, it’s not as if this is anything new to poor Robin. All he wants is the freedom to not attend school, patrol by himself, and do all those great adult things Batman, Nightwing, Batgirl, and the others get to do. Even Batman would make Robin sit through classes and complete his homework before giving permission to jump kick bad guys. Such is the life of a 15 (or 16?) year-old kid.
How sweet, right? Edward Drake looks like a cool dude, like that uncle who lets you smoke a cigarette once in a while as long as you bring your female friends around for him casually leer at. Maybe he won’t mind his nephew fighting crime. Maybe he’ll use his doctoring skills to aid Robin. Maybe he leaves loving hand-written notes in Robin’s lunch bag every morning. Or maybe he’s a great big fraud. Probably the last one.
It’s not bad that Robin lied to Batman. It’s bad that he lied to the person with the most powerful, comprehensive computer in the entire world along with the single greatest problem-solving mind hidden behind any mask in the DC universe. Batman makes up for his lack of super strength by being superhuman at everything else. Like being super scary.
Drake even gets a half-smile from Batman, the largest grin possible from his brooding mentor. As for dear Uncle Eddie, he appears in one more scene after this and then never again. He doesn’t die or anything — a girl shows up at the apartment, Robin asks for some alone time, Eddie leaves, and we never see or hear from him again. Much like the parents of many other superheroes. It’s simply an unsolved plot line dangling eternally in the bowels of comic book history.
A year later (in both comic book time and real life time), Batman asks Drake once more if he’d do the honor of being adopted. It goes exactly as you expect: heart-warmingly.
And a monster fight. I wouldn’t post an article between these two behemoths without some punching involved. Today, they get some extra therapy in a philosophical conversation between the only two people on Earth who understand what the other is going through. Mainly being hideous monsters who just want do some good, be left in peace, and not let the self-loathing become overwhelming. As happy as these two superheroes can eventually be, everything’s always covered in a thin layer of sadness over their unwanted transformation. Sure, super strength’s nice, but being a Frankenstein-esque/rock creature isn’t. In Fantastic Four #533-535, written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Mike McKone, our two protagonists bond just a little bit more — in between the fistfight anyway.
Oh, also the government is trying to take away the Fantastic Four’s kids, but I’m ignoring that part.
Rampaging, out-of-control Hulk lists among the top five worst possible disasters in the Marvel universe (number one is Norman Osborn’s hair — cue rimshot). Bullets bounce off Hulk, he only gets stronger the longer he fights, and the Hulk could level entire military bases with one good jump. So time to knock some orange rocky sense into the green monster.
I don’t know why this Hulk’s grey. He can talk too. The color and intelligence level of the Hulk varies practically every other issue. For now, the gamma bomb explosion made him grey and smart. I do apologize, because the fight lasts a good issue and a half, but I’m going to skip most of that too. I’m not a total jerk: here’s a small taste.
Ben Grimm brings up our theme today: monsters. No matter how good the intentions, no matter how noble the actions, the Thing and Hulk will always leave some sort of destructive mess in their path. That’s just part of the price of being super strong brawlers. But as the gamma bomb makes the Hulk hallucinate green thoughts, we get a deep look at the inner pain our poor Hulk goes through.
Brilliant writing. Of all the people in the universe that the Hulk hates, of course he hates himself the most. Can any superhero compete with the Hulk in sheer number of accidental civilian deaths? With the Thing, we all agree that he’s making the best of a terrible situation, but with the Hulk, a genuine question needs to be asked: has the Hulk been a force of more good or bad in his life? Not the genius scientist Bruce Banner, I’m talking about the Hulk. That green rage monster that wipes out towns whenever someone bullies meek Banner in a diner. The Avengers nowadays mostly just point Hulk in the right direction, using him as a weapon to toss at tough opponents rather than a valued ally and component of the team. I mean, I’m generalizing here, but it’s an interesting question to ponder.
One question we do know the answer to though? Nothing can kill the Hulk. Part of the Hulk’s pain and major appeal is the doomed-to-walk-the-Earth-forever thingie because of his almost-invulnerability. Yet I admire those who try anyway.
The day I stop reading comics is the day I’m no longer delighted by a giant full-page fire blast. Spoiler alert: never. Y’see, today the Hulk learns acceptance. And that’s something the Thing learned a long time ago. One can’t walk around for a decade as the Thing without understanding how to live daily life as an ugly, dangerous, clumsy, frightening, frustrated rock monster. The Hulk can’t die and the Thing can’t be cured. They simply learn how to adapt. When they’re not saving the world.
I guess the article title’s misleading, as their conversation only takes place in the last three pages of the arc. It’s still important, so read it twice. I had trouble getting the nuances of it the first time around.
On an interesting note, this issue was published the exact same month Planet Hulk started (the whole shoot Hulk into space to be someone else’s problem solution). It’s a fun little meta joke. On Friday, we return to Cosmic Marvel once more for a Nova versus Nova fight!
As we concluded our first part, She-Hulk and her Skrull bounty hunting partner Jazinda had kidnapped a major Skrull religious leader in an attempt to halt the Skrull invasion of Earth. From Skrulls. While the plan went off magnificently (with some involvement from X-Factor), only one more obstacle stands in the way of our two green heroines: Jazinda’s daddy. Jazinda betrayed the Skrull people, and unfortunately, Papa Jazinda must be the one to murder her to save all that pesky honor and whatnot. Today, we’ll read the conclusion of She-Hulk and Jazinda versus the Super Skrull. Has Kl’rt learned anything from these past few years of war and trauma? Has the Annihilation Wave and his time with Nova taught him anything? Is he still a remorseless supervillain who’ll stop at nothing to massacre his only remaining family? I mean, I already know the answer, but I like to build suspense.
Indulge me while I talk about myself for a moment. I’ll hit my 400th article next Friday, and besides the writing experience, I’m most proud of how much appreciation I’ve gained for the slew of B- and C-list characters I’ve learned and read about. Like Ursa Major, Amadeus Cho, Jack Flag, Moon Knight, Taskmaster, Black Mask, Lady Shiva, Wildcat, and even Hawkman. I adore these character who two years ago I wouldn’t have recognized if you forced me at gunpoint to memorized their entire Wikipedia entries. Now I add Super-Skrull to that list. His minor supervillain status hasn’t changed. He still gets treated as a joke in the Marvel Universe. His name will always be silly. But I’m a fan — forever. If today’s article hasn’t convinced you yet about the Super-Skrull, then go be a Negative Nancy somewhere else. I’m biased now.
I know She-Hulk’s getting dressed in the first two panels below, but she wears jeans, not spandex.
She-Hulk takes the Thing’s place on the Fantastic Four roster whenever he quits or stomps off on his own for a while. Same basic powers (super-strength/super-durability). Unfortunately, the Super-Skrull has the Thing’s powers along with the other three members, so it’s not so much a fight between She-Hulk and Super-Skrull as a frantic search for She-Hulk to hold out until Jazinda’s safe. Spoiler alert: there’s a snag in that plan — turns out spaceships aren’t great boats.
I’m skipping the flashback of Jazinda’s treachery, but I’ll give you a brief summary. Jazinda and her team broke into a Kree base to steal back a precious Skrull artifact. Faced against odds that would have surely killed her, she swallowed this Skrull gem, rendering herself immortal. The mission failure, eating the gem, and fleeing the judgment of the Skrulls — those all pretty much doomed Jazinda to be a fugitive for the rest of her life. And it’ll be a very long life, being immortal and all.
The Super-Skrull and She-Hulk battle each other as comics demand, but every great fight demands a philosophical discussion between punches. By the way, She-Hulk is mean. Like movie-lawyer-about-to-play-the-trump-card mean.
Of course She-Hulk makes some great points (and maybe sprung a tear from poor Super-Skrull), but she’s wrong about that age-old dilemma of duty versus family. That’s not why he has to kill Jazinda. It’s always been about legacy — the theme that started our two weeks of articles and ends it today. His son was supposed to be the torchbearer of Kl’rt’s family. The kid rocked. But with his death, only the daughter is left — a daughter that oozes betrayal and deceit into the bowels of the Super-Skrull’s proud legacy. His name and heroic actions will live on in Skrull history books, but so will Jazinda. Only by making things right (brutal murder) will his legacy’s honor be restored and his heroism remain untainted. So in summary: it’s an uphill battle for She-Hulk.
And She-Hulk’s psychological assessment of Super-Skrull nailed the other major theme of the past two weeks: failure. The Super-Skrull’s a supervillain. The definition of that word ensures that he loses battles far more often than he wins them. His reputation caught up to him. He knows full well what the Marvel universe thinks of him. He failed in saving his son and the millions living on that planet. He failed when he trusted the wrong Skrull as his protégé and solider-in-arms. He failed as he watched his empire become a horde of religious zealots. As the most powerful Skrull in the galaxy, all the Super-Skrull seems to do is lose. But with Jazinda, finally he can win. She-Hulk can’t stop him. He and the Skrull Talisman will kill his daughter and the Super-Skrull leaves Earth victorious. But you know how this goes. At what price?
At the cost of his legacy and his continued existence as a failure, he gained something much more important: redemption. I know, that was cheesy. I’m sorry. But wasn’t that a satisfying ending? This was six years in the making, five brilliant writers, seven gorgeous artists, and everything came back around in a perfect full circle. We saw the Super-Skrull evolve into a character rich with layers and complexity — it’s beautiful. All I hope is that the next time you see him grace the comic book pages, you have a newfound appreciation for this angry green Fantastic Four-ripoff. I do, but I already told you I was biased.
While the Super-Skrull doesn’t arrive on Earth until Secret Invasion, we’re going to go back about a year before the Marvel event took place to follow whatever She-Hulk’s (real name Jennifer Walters) up to during that time. It’s bounty hunting. I know she’s a lawyer by trade, a lawyer in the first twenty issues of the volume we’re reading today, and a lawyer currently in her ongoing series. But she’s taking a break — mainly due to her being disbarred. Long story. Anyway, using the following issues, we’re going to tell our final piece of that beautiful Super-Skrull puzzle we’ve been putting together the past two weeks.
She-Hulk #24, written by Peter David and drawn by Shawn Moll
She-Hulk #26, written by David and drawn by Moll & Val Semeiks
She-Hulk #27, written by David and drawn by Semeiks
She-Hulk #32, written by David and drawn by Vincenzo Cucca
She-Hulk #33, written by David and drawn by Cucca
Like all Hulks, She-Hulk can transform from her human to green form at will. Unlike her bigger, angrier cousin, she retains all her intelligence and doesn’t need any certain emotions to trigger the transformation. She definitely got the better Hulk deal — and she saves majorly on the cost of pants.
Allow me to introduce Jazinda, a Skrull hiding out on Earth away from the prying eyes of all governments and space empires. During Secret Invasion, Mr. Fantastic (of course) invented technology to detect Skrulls when shape-changed, but currently Jazinda can’t be found out unless she shows off her pointy ears and bumpy chin in public. Also, I’m not certain, but Jazinda may be the only Skrull to have an actual head of hair. Remember Super-Skrull’s wife? That woman could only keep her head warm with those sexy tentacles of hers. In summary, I have no idea what Skrulls find attractive about other Skrulls.
You’ve noticed that She-Hulk’s comics come across with a radically different tone than her cousin’s comics. It’s not to say that She-Hulk’s not filled with all the self-loathing and psychological nightmares that make Marvel superheroes so great (my goodness, is she a mess), but She-Hulk allows herself to have more fun than most other superheroes. Most likely due to her being seven feet tall, practically invincible, and without the constant worrying of her supporting cast that plagues so many of her fellow superheroes. But Jazinda’s our focus today, and trust me, if anyone can understand Roz’s daddy issues, it’s Jazinda.
In a morally suspicious plan, she gets Roz’s dad to care about his daughter again. It’s an uncomfortable scene, but much like her father (who c’mon, you’ve figured out by now) her morality borders on that very thin line between total selfishness and the greater good. Still, we trust She-Hulk’s judge of character, and Jazinda’s intentions definitely mean well. Y’know, good intentions through trauma infliction.
You wonder why the Super-Skrull never mentioned his daughter when he tried so valiantly to save his son? Well, one’s his legacy that will immortalize and inherit all the spoils and glories of the Super-Skrull’s triumphs. The other’s a dirty Skrull Benedict Arnold who shall only receive an impalement from her father instead of that hug she so obviously needs. Why is she a traitor, you ask? It has to do with this confession in the next few pages. Not the bear stuff. I just wanted to show you She-Hulk’s opponent chuck a bear at her.
Allow me to briefly cover the She-Hulk/Iron Man feud. First, it’s bitterness over the aftermath of the Civil War. Second, they slept together, and he briefly took away all her superpowers. Well, he’s sorry, okay? More importantly, I like to think that Jazinda was so unable to handle real emotional talk from She-Hulk that she had no choice but to interrupt the conversation with a discussion-changing secret. The real reason probably lies in She-Hulk admitting she trusts Jazinda and the poor Skrull realizing she hasn’t been totally honest with her friend about her immortality, but either theory works. Personally, I’ve always been partial to stunted emotional failings in my characters.
Okay, let’s jump to Secret Invasion. Y’know, when the Skrulls invaded Earth and Jazinda knew about the invasion ahead of time and didn’t tell She-Hulk about it. So in an effort to strike a blow at the Skrull army, She-Hulk and Jazinda capture one of the Skrull’s major religious figures. For morale-busting purposes.
That may be the only time history that the head of a major empire-consuming religion has been tied up in a trailer home. Also, She-Hulk and Jazinda wear the same outfit now. But I know what you’ve been looking forward to: the daddy and daughter reunion. That’s for next time, though good news to end with today — our supervillain has arrived to reunite with his sole remaining child. Well, to kill her. He did mention that in the hologram message thingie earlier. On Monday, we wrap a bow on our Super-Skrull saga once and for all.