While it hasn’t enjoyed the same level of fan and critical support that’s greeted other DC Comics TV shows like Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl, Fox’s Gotham has earned a devoted fanbase of its own and remains active well into its second season. Originally pitched as a police thriller centered on James Gordon in the years between the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne and Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, the series has evolved into a more traditional superhero series which has found Gordon battling early-model versions of future Batman foes like Penguin, Mr. Freeze and Hugo Strange – a major continuity upheaval that has divided some fans.
That divide may widen with the reveal of the series’ latest early-arriving Bat-nemesis, Azrael – a key figure in some of Batman’s most controversial adventures.
In a long (for a TV trailer) introduction to the character, audience’s are brought up to speed on the various plot threads now coming together to give life to the character – Bruce confronting his parents’ killer, Gordon killing Theo Galavan, a secret Wayne-funded project to re-engineer human physical potential, the sinister experiments of Hugo Strange, Galavan’s resurrection – before the big reveal: Galavan, reborn with superhuman strength and seemingly under Strange’s control, is now Gotham’s Azrael, a cloaked figure in heavy armor wielding a symbolic sword.
The full-blown supervillain transformation may have come as a surprise to some viewers, but many longtime DC Comics fans have likely suspected a development along these lines once The Order of St. Dumas plot thread became part of Gotham’s continuity. In the Batman comics’ universe, that same order is an ancient heretical offshoot of the Knights Templar whose assassins adopt the identity of Azrael (named after the Biblical incarnation of the Angel of Death) to carry out murders using a flaming sword. The first Azrael encountered by Batman, Jean-Paul Valley, appears to turn to the side of good and becomes a confidant of Batman and a major player in the landmark “Knightfall” story arc.
Traditionally depicted in red and gold (or, more recently, silver and gray) armor in the comics, Gotham’s Azrael shares the same high-tech/medieval hybrid look but in the grimier black/gray hues more in line with the series’ prevailing aesthetic. Eagle-eyed DC fans were no doubt more intrigued by his mask being painted half black and half red – a design traditionally associated with another DC villain, Deathstroke The Terminator. While that character has appeared on Arrow, Azrael’s mask could be the first (oblique) reference to a version of him possibly existing in the Gotham universe.
Interestingly, the trailer’s brief look at Azrael in action goes out of his way to make him look (particularly in silhouette) more like Batman than anything yet seen in the series – and even includes a shot implying that at least one of his appearances is witnessed by the young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), potentially setting up Azrael as an inspiration for his eventual creation of the Batman identity. If so, it would be an amusing inversion of the character’s role in “Knightfall”: In that storyline, Jean-Paul Valley is chosen by Bruce Wayne to temporarily become Batman after he is crippled by Bane. Valley’s disturbed mental state drives him to remake Batman as an armor-clad psychopath (intended as a satire of ’90s superhero design trends) that has to be taken down by the original.
Gotham season 2 will continue with ‘”Azrael” next Monday at 8 pm on FOX.