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DC Superheroes
by yo go re

The premiere Batman crossover event of the '90s was easily the "Knightfall" saga, and it all started with two overlooked little releases. There was the one-shot Vengeance of Bane in 1993, which quietly introduced the guy who would break Batman's back. But a year before that, we got the four-issue The Sword of Azrael miniseries, which gave us the star of the show.

When his father died, college student Jean-Paul Valley discovered a secret legacy: he was the last defender of the secret Order of St. Dumas, a religious sect that split from the Knights Templar during the Crusades. When he donned his special costume and gave in to the System, the psychological conditioning program he had been subjected to since an infant, he became Azrael, the avenging angel. Batman chose him to use his skills in support of the war on crime, but when he went too far, it led to a confrontation between Batman and his replacement.

The miniseries was decent, if unremarkable, but Azrael was created and introduced with "Knightfall" in mind. It was always the intention to have him replace Bruce and go nuts before getting his butt kicked. The entire arc was conceived to remind fans why Batman didn't need a kewl '90s makeover - it's the New Coke Solution in action.

Despite his prominent place in Bat-history, Azrael has been wildly under-represented in action figure form. He had one figure in an obscure, oversized line that was heavy with action features, so we really needed a nice, plain figure. Mattel came through [boy, that's a phrase you never hear --ed.] with Series 3 of their DC Superheroes line.

Azrael was originally designed by Joe Quesada, and the Four Horsemen did a great job of mixing his style with their own. He's a bit skinny, but his armor adds a huge amount of bulk. The banded metal around his chest and waist is delineated well, and his shoulder pads are almost bigger than his head. But for sheer size, nothing beats his gloves. The hands are thick and padded, while the wrists have technological details and pouches. His cape is just as crazy as it was in the comics, and his face looks stern, even concealed by a full-face mask. The folded cloth on his chest is held in place by a nicely detailed medallion.

The only complaint is his pose - despite all his articulation, Azrael has a definite stance, with one leg trailing out to the side and all his weight resting on the other - that means if you put them straight, his right leg is ¼" longer than his left, but it's really not a major detraction. Azrael is just over 6½" tall, and moves at the ankles, knees, thighs, hips, waist, chest, wrists, elbows, biceps, shoulders and neck.

Unfortunately, he's plagued by a common problem of this line: he's designed in such a way that he's constantly looking down. His head is a balljoint, but the hood and cape keep it from looking straight ahead. Even the paint is good, from the crisp detailing on the tech of his gloves to the subtle black wash on his legs.

Azrael has no accessories - his weapons are permanently attached. Though the previous Azraels all used a sword, Jean-Paul built new wrist-mounted fire blades, which are molded here from translucent orange plastic. As if that wasn't enough, they also have a small tongue of fire trailing off the back. It's really well done, even if it did have to be a non-removable piece. It's soft, so you won't poke your eye out.

Rather than comics, Series 3 of DC Superheroes comes with cardboard backdrops - taking yet another cue from Marvel Legends. The image, an oddly angular skyline, is decent, but it does have one annoying flaw: all four figures in this series have the exact same scene. Wow, cheap!

Until now, if you wanted a figure of the man who filled in for the injured Batman, you were out of luck. Well, DC Direct released a version of him in his bat-suit ("AzBats," as the kids say), but Mattel gave us the classic version, and they did it really well.

-- 10/16/06

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