There’s no reason to think that Batman creators aren’t self-aware. They know very well that Batman has a definite reputation at this point. Rather, he’s got a set of reputations, from the campy days of the 1960s to the darkly cartoonish world of the 1990s, to the more realistic (if no less silly) world of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. Writers, artists, and anyone else creating within the Bat-universe have to contend with at least one of these understandings of the Batman character.
In 1994, that was definitely the growing grimdark trend. Under this umbrella, Batman stories became increasingly violent. Bruce Wayne and friends were subject to plenty of disturbing situations and bloodthirsty villains. Hence, the Knightfall crossover, where newly-minted villain Bane methodically torments Batman before breaking the Dark Knight’s back.
With one incredibly messed-up spine, it’s clear that Bruce Wayne is not going out to fight crime any time soon. However, the character and spirit of Batman has grown beyond him. Certainly, it’s not as if criminals in Gotham are going to stop anytime soon. Therefore, a new Batman was needed.
Luckily — well, sort of — Wayne had been working with one Jean-Paul Valley, a severely traumatized former assassin. Jean-Paul takes over and manages to defeat Bane. He’s not done, though. Next, Jean-Paul determines that the Bat-suit needs some improvements, including better armor, rocket launchers, and a flamethrower. He also takes on a new moniker: Azrael.
To be fair, editor Denny O’Neill wanted this Batman (known as “Az-Bats”) to be so over-the-top as to be embarrassing. Jean-Paul’s grim posturing was supposed to show just how good original Batman was compared to every other bleak superhero. Still, Az-Bats himself was a seriously strange moment in the history of Batman, intentional or not.