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DC Direct Batman Reborn
by yo go re

Once a comic company introduces a character, they'll do anything to keep that character around, just in case he ever starts to pay off. The masses weren't clamoring for Azrael's return, but in order to keep their copyright alive, DC introduced a new version of the character and gave him his own book.

Death's Dark Knight. Ex-police officer Michael Lane is drafted by the Order of Purity to become their new Avenging Angel of Justice, taking on the mantle of Azrael and donning the Suit of Sorrows. In his quest for redemption, Azrael becomes Gotham City's new protector in the midst of chaos and madness. But is he the answer the citizens seek?

Michael Lane was one of the three "replacement Batmen" cultivated by the Gotham City Police Department in case the real Batman should ever fall. The psychiatrist who suggested the program, Dr. Simon Hurt, decided that since Batman was powered by rage and sorrow, any replacement would need the same sort of tragic past (a story beat used a few years prior in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Epilogue"), and so set about to create unique tragedies for each of his subjects. Lane's son was hit by a car, his wife killed herself a year later, and six months after that, his brother and sister were seemingly murdered by a Satanic cult. Sucks to be him!

The new Azrael wears the Suit of Sorrows, an armor created in 1190 and worn by a Crusader, Sir Geoffrey De Cantonna. Batman was given the suit by Talia al Ghul, but he just stashed it in the Batcave until Lane got ahold of it. The suit is basically a mail shirt under a white tunic, with hooked bracers of the sort Batman usually wears. He's wearing some fairly high-end boots, but they seem to be tied on with ropes. Guh? The figure was sculpted by Paul Harding, and it had to be a bit crazy: the shirt is actual chainmail, not the usual scale mail that everybody calls chainmail; you know, like Captain America wears. Rather, this is just a ton of tiny, interlinked rings - according to Harding, he cut short sections of real chain and wrapped them around the work-in-progress arms to get the proper look. Clever!

Comparing this costume to the traditional Azrael garb, the only things that really match up are the "cape streamers" (which are plastered against his back in the packaging, but look better if you spread them out a little), and the hood/mask combo. The hood is black and the mask is white, but the red pattern over his mouth and nose are the same, which ties the two versions of the character together.

Azrael's current colorscheme is overwhelmingly white and silver - he looks right at home with Altair or the other Assassin's Creed figures. And yes, that's accurate to the way he looks in the comics, but if you look at Eddie Wires' original paint master for the figure, it just looks so much better! With all the white, this one ends up looking flat; the original had gray pants, brown boots and gloves, and a tan sash worn behind the belt. It's up to you which version you prefer, but the one we got is true to the comics. It's not an awful look, but it lacks variety: it stands out from other figures, but not from itself. Maybe the original design will show up in a box set down the road.

Like most of the figures in this series, Azrael gets a bit more articulation than what we've all come to know as the DCD standard: in other words, he has a waist. Granted, he's not as well-endowed as Batgirl or Jason Todd, but he does get swivels at the tops of his boots, so he's not awful. His accessories include the Sword of Sin (not the first time an Azrael has used a flaming sword) and its sister, the Sword of Salvation. Both are molded from translucent plastic - fiery red for Sin, icy blue for Salvation - but for a supposed matched set, they sure are different. A viking sword and a katana? What is this, Deadliest Warrior? There are two clips on the back of Az's belt that are perfectly sized to hold the hilts, but that still leaves the blades poking out awkwardly.

Azrael is a good figure, and it's certainly not a design we've seen before. Other than the (totally understandable) paint changes, there's nothing to complain about here - even the articulation is above average. Rather than a pointless summary of what you've already read, we'll leave you with this random thought: both Azraels, Jean Paul Valley and Michael Lane, have names that sound like places.

-- 09/11/10

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