Az You Like It: Fabian Nicieza on Azrael

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Fabian Nicieza has had a long career in comics, with such hits as X-Men, New Warriors, and Thunderbolts under his belt. In recent times, he’s done more and more work at DC, frequently under the auspices of former X-Men editor and current Batman editor Mike Marts.

In October, Nicieza gets his own ongoing series as part of the Bat-family, as a character with a familiar name makes his return in Azrael. But as Nicieza explains, there is another man under the mask this time.

BROKEN FRONTIER: You've been known for years as a Marvel guy, and recently made the switch to DC, becoming exclusive with them. What prompted the switch, and what's the experience been like?
FABIAN NICIEZA: What prompted the switch is that DC offered me work when Marvel wasn't. Pretty basic survival, right? I don't feel like it's been "recent," but then again, I guess working on a weekly book can alter your perception of publishing time.
I have been an incredibly happy camper working with DC. In a couple of years I've gotten to write my three of my favorite characters on the planet, Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Superman and Hawkman. I've gotten to work in Metropolis and Gotham City, I've been involved in a major character evolution for Tim Drake/Robin and now I'm getting to establish a foundation for an all-new Azrael.
Since comics are only a part of my overall workload nowadays, I really like to "escape" when I do get to write comics, and working in the DC Universe has been an invigorating, enjoyable challenge.
BF: For readers who haven't been following the Batman books, who is this character?
Michael Lane was introduced as the "Third Batman" during Grant Morrisson's recent run on Batman. He was a Gotham cop who participated in a secret military/GCPD program run by uber-bad guy, Dr. Hurt, to create a "replacement Batman" should the city need to fill the void left in Batman's passing. That involved all kinds of post-hypnotic programming, along with intensive physical training. Lane was an excellent college athlete and a former soldier, so he had a good foundation for the physical part of the job. His brother and sister were killed by a Satanic cult and Lane was given leave from his job. That's around the time Hurt triggered his post-hypnotic suggestion and "activated" the three final candidates in the program.
Lane was the sole survivor of this group and with Hurt's disappearance, the programming faded (for now?) and he was recruited by the Order of Purity, a splinter sect of the original Order of St. Dumas from the Azrael book, to serve as their own version of Azrael. He wears an ancient, perhaps cursed, armor called the Suit of Sorrows, and wields two ancient alchemical weapons, the swords of Sin and Salvation, which spit "fire" and "ice" and can serve as regular blades or create a neurological "kickback" in a target.
Apparently, anyone who has worn the Suit of Sorrows has also eventually been driven crazy by the haunted "ghosts" that reside in the armor. Whether that's myth or magic remains to be seen. Then again, if your main character might already be a little crazy, how would anyone tell...?
BF: What made him put on a costume and what are his goals?
Well, he was asked. The Order of Purity asked him to serve as their "soldier for God" and he said, "yes," with no questions asked. Pretty scary and certainly worth exploration.
As for his goals, Lane wants to mete out "God's justice" to the guilty of Gotham. How one defines that term is an on-going source of frustration for him and creative exploration for us.
BF: Were you familiar with Azrael before starting this? What made you want to take him on?
I definitely was, though I didn't read the entire run of the series. I have the original miniseries by Denny O'Neil and Joe Quesada, and I read the first two years of the series.
I agreed to write the book because I have a real curiosity to the whole "violence perpetrated in the name of faith" aspect of life on our little mudball planet. I find humanity's need for spiritual faith a source of constant introspection and exploration, so the thought of this particular character with this particular mandate seemed like a very different book to work on.


So far, so good. It's not a barrel of laughs like Cable and Deadpool, but these are some of the most thought-provoking, conflicted stories I've had a chance to write since I worked on Nomad many years ago.
It is a book with a real adult sensibility to it, and by that I don't mean blood and boobies, which might be the usual adult standard of our culture, but rather questions of right and wrong, justice and truth, innocence and guilt permeate the stories. I find myself not providing answers to these issues, merely presenting them and letting the character decide for himself, and in turn, letting the readers decide if they agree with the choices being made.
BF: What's it like working with Ramon Bachs?
He's been a real pleasure to work with so far. His storytelling is very clear, his art style is very crisp. He is a professional through and through. John Stanisci's inks help darken the tone of the book to the appropriate degree necessary for Gotham City and Jock's covers have been, as they usually are, gorgeous works of art.
BF: What will this book have to appeal to longtime fans of Azrael?
Moral conflict that goes right alongside the physical conflict. A character questioning his place in the greater scheme of things, who doesn't always make the right choices, who sometimes is willing to do something wrong by man's law if he feels it is something right by God's.
The book has a solid cast of supporting characters, some juicy conflict for many of them in regards to their feelings for Lane, and in the very first issue, we stake a big flag in the ground for where our book will be at the end of the first year that will certainly intrigue our readers.

BF: How does Michael Washington Lane differ from Jean-Paul Valley?
I don't know if I'm qualified to answer that, since I didn't read the entire 100 issue run of Azrael. I would have, of course, if Jean-Paul were our lead character, but he's not, so I am devoting my creative energy towards making Michael Lane as interested, conflicted and curious as possible.
I'll leave it to the readers to compare and contrast if they want to.
BF: What's Lane's state of mind going into this? Is he sane?
Uhm... kind of... sort of... Well, let's put it this way, he's not INsane by any means, but anyone who has the recent life experiences he has and agrees to wear a suit of armor to go out into the city and kick high Holy ass can't necessary be considered normal either, right?
I think the evolution (devolution?) of the character is one of the most interesting aspects of writing the book. From the very concept of the Suit of Sorrows to the flashforward at the end of our first issue, there is a clear indicator that things might not go so well for Michael Lane during his possibly brief tenure as Azrael. Seeing how that all unfolds will hopefully be part of the morbid fun!
BF: Beyond the use of Michael Washington Lane, will this book have any other connections to the Grant Morrison run? Will Doctor Hurt play a role, given his connection with Lane?
Dr. Hurt is Grant's character to play with in the longterm. I'll avoid aspects of that unless I know I wouldn't be stepping on his toes. I have plenty of story material to occupy Lane's time without addressing that particular aspect of his background.
BF: Any teases about what you have in store for the book?
Our first six issues are self-contained stories with on-going subplots. I can boil down each issue to a pithy sentence:

A killer who might be serving God's will. A choice between saving one of two kidnap victims where the obvious choice might be the wrong one. A soldier whose current crimes can't be stopped otherwise older crimes would be revealed. Batman with information that if revealed could force Azrael to serve justice on a loved one. Ragman's tattered cape of souls taking an interest in Azrael's battered suit of sorrows. A tale of times past wherein we might see a much anticipated Azrael vs. Azrael battle.
BF: What other projects do you have coming up?
I'll be co-writing the Justice League/99 crossover between DC and Teshkeel with Stuart Moore over the next few months, other than that, nothing else in comics right now. I have a lot going on in my non-comics life, so for now, and coming off the weekly Trinity series, the lighter workload is just fine. But that doesn't mean DC's editors should stop asking. Please, it's always nice to be asked... [Laughs]

Azrael #1 goes on sale October 21.

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