My favorite superhero is Azrael. Period.
Azrael, real name Jean-Paul Valley, was a graduate student at Gotham University when one night, his father stumbled into his room, bleeding. Before he died, he gave Jean-Paul instructions about what to do after his death, to contact the Order of St. Dumas. Jean-Paul's father was the previous Azrael, who worked as an enforcer for the Order of St. Dumas. Jean-Paul traveled to Switzerland, where he met with Nomoz, a member of the Order of St. Dumas. Nomoz told Jean-Paul that his father had used a combination of hypnosis and subliminal messages, known as "the system", to ingrain in Jean-Paul fighting moves, assassination techniques, and other information. Nomoz taught Jean-Paul how to utilize "the system" to become the assassin Azrael.
Meanwhile, Batman had been investigating the death of Jean-Paul's father, and had tracked the sigil on the elder Valley's sword to Nomoz's chalet in Switzerland. Unfortunately, Carlton Lehah, the man who had killed Jean-Paul's father, tracked down the chalet as well. After Lehah blew up the Chalet, and a brief altercation took place between Batman and Azrael, not to mention a little globe trotting trying to track down Lehah, the two decided to team up to stop Lehah. Lehah had embarked on a plan to kill various members of the Order of St. Dumas. Finally, in a climactic battle in a Houston oil refinery, Azrael broke free of "the system" to rescue Batman from a blazing inferno. He went with Batman back to Gotham City to become his apprentice.
Later, during the Knightfall event, Jean-Paul was given the mantle of Batman by Bruce Wayne, after the original Batman's back had been broken by Bane. Driven by "the system", Jean-Paul became a more violent and brutal dark knight, viciously attacking any and all criminals. Bruce Wayne eventually came back to take the mantle of the Batman back from Jean-Paul, who was reduced to living in the streets as a homeless person. Batman had pity on Jean-Paul, and gave him money and resources to find out about his past, and about the Order of St. Dumas. Azrael, with the aid of Brian Bryan, Nomoz, and Sister Lilhy, went on to destroy the Order, and eventually returned to Gotham City to become a trusted agent of the Bat.
He was was a valuable player during the No Man's Land event, battling his new enemy, Nick Scratch, and befriending Cassandra Cain, the new Batgirl. After No Man's Land, Azrael had many adventures, both in the service of the Bat and as his own independent crime fighter. But all good things must come to an end, for in his final battle against his two greatest enemies, Byss (Carlton Lehah) and Nick Scratch, Azrael was shot and killed by his enemies, and plunged into the Gotham river. His body was never found, though he reappeared as a Black Lantern during the Blackest Night crossover event.
A new man later took on the mantle of Azrael, Michael Lane. This Azrael wore a cursed suit of armor which gave him enhanced speed and strength. He wielded dual flaming swords which could reveal sin and truth in whoever they were plunged into. I don't like this Azrael much, mainly because the title didn't give a terribly flattering view of Christianity. He was in the Judgement on Gotham Bat-family crossover, which I gave a negative review of at Primary Ignition.
The reason I like Jean-Paul Valley's Azrael so much is mainly because he's a pretty decent guy. He has all these problems that make you want to put a blanket over him and give him some hot soup, and he's just that sympathetic. He's basically a superhero with dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder for you non-psychology buffs), and it's really interesting to watch how he tries to deal with it. I really can't wait to start reading the new No Man's Land collections, which include the issues of Azrael from that cross over for the first time. It's going to be awesome.
Image courtesy wikipedia.org