Warren Kenneth Worthington III, aka, Angel, has been a mainstay character of the X-Men series since its inception. The spoiled rich kid who was used to getting everything he wanted fleshed out the original five X-Men nicely, not only sharing witticisms and wisecracks with the Beast and Iceman but creating the first love triangle between Jean Grey and Cyclops.
Although there have been many changes to his character over the years, including moving onto other comic adventures in The Defenders and The Champions, it is the reunion of the original X-Men team in X-Factor that changed Warren the most; turning him from jovial playboy to a brooding harbinger of death.
So with the return of this dark personality in the pages of the new X-Force, lets go back to that first life changing episode and understand the depth of Warren’s struggle as The Archangel.
The Mile High Club
“How can I explain to any earthbound being… even a mutant the indescribable joy of flying? This is why I was born to soar… to feel the air racing by my wings!” (X-Men #26)
The original X-Factor series brought together the first students of Xavier’s School to continue the Professor’s dream of helping mutants to control their powers for the betterment of society. The setup was disingenuous, though, as the team posed as a mutant hunting organization while in reality locating new gifted youngsters and taking them under their wing. The entire project was funded by Worthington, with long-time friend Cameron Hodge serving as publicist and lover Candy Southern as financier.
When the Marauders began to massacre the misshapen mutants known as the Morlocks in the sewers beneath Manhattan, X-Factor sprung into action to save their fellow homo superiors. Tragically, Angel’s wings are savagely pinned to the sewer wall by the energized harpoons of the dully named Harpoon. Warren is eventually saved and returned to X-Factor by Thor who recognizes Angel from his days as an X-man. The ordeal leaves Warren in St. Vincent’s hospital on his deathbed.
Suddenly, Warren’s world begins to fall apart around him. His financing of X-Factor Investigations, the supposed mutant bounty hunters, is openly revealed which raises questions of why a mutant would fund such an organization and launches a government investigation into possible fraud of Worthington Industries shareholders and the public. The only person able to save his business and investments from going under leaves him. And most tragic of all, the only way to save his life is to amputate his gangrenous wings.
“No! I’m the Angel– now and forever! I’d rather die than lose my wings!” Warren replies. Unlike other homo superiors whose powers reside internally and covert to most, the Angel’s mutation are external appendages that exist extraneously from his body. To sever his wings is to cut off his mutant identity. Integral to his ability to be an X-Man and moreover a superhero is the ability to use those wings. To be without them is a kind of poverty, a personal lack of value and ability to recover from it. He is useless and ashamed, and suddenly what he was born to do is no longer a possibility. Therefore, for Warren it is better to die than never feel the airs race beneath his wings.
Furthermore, amongst superheroes flight is a rather unremarkable attribute and more to the point unattributed to any particular appendage. Would Superman fly without his feet? Or the Sentry? Certainly Iron Man or any other technology based superhero could not fly without their devices, but such things can be repaired. Flesh and bone not so much.
Unfortunately, Warren’s supposed friend Cameron Hodge gets a court order to undergo the operation against his will. The surgery leaves Warren emotionally scarred beyond his own comprehension. Trying to recapture that “indescribable” joy of flying, Warren jumps on his personal jet and takes off into the sky… only to blow up in mid-air.
To the Brink of the Apocalypse
“It’s all in your self-image. Just because your wings were surgically removed and Apocalypse regrew them into the blades of death is no reason to spend the rest of your life sulking.” (Uncanny X-Men #289)
Thanks to Apocalypse, Warren survived the explosion, orchestrated by Hodge to kill him and make it look like a suicide. The technologically advanced Social Darwinist rebuilds Worthington into his last horseman, Death, and gives him the precious gift of flight once more. But this doesn’t come free and Warren serves as Apocalypses high-flying hand of doom. From his new metal wings he can rain down barrages of blades at his enemies and fly at speeds never reached before.
But he is no longer the heroic figure he once was: inside him burns a seething rage and thirst for blood that is manipulated by the hand of Apocalypse. Together with the other horsemen, Warren will build a new world out of the strong who survive the Pestilence, the War, the Famine, and Death!
That is, until Warren seemingly kills Iceman, breaking free of the evil social architect’s control. Warren takes flight from his friends to regain his senses. Although he escaped Apocalypse’s brainwashing, he cannot escape his rage and seeks vengeance on Hodge who has now kidnapped Candy Southern.
Long ago, Warren walked into a East Village club in New York City to get his mind off of Jean Grey when from behind a pair of hands covered his eyes. “Guess who, Warren!” a voice coys. “Candy Sothern,” he replies, ” the light of my misspent youth!” (X-Men #31). The two catch up on old times and get up to dance when suddenly Warren is called into action by the Professor. He promised her a second date and the two remained friends, business partners, and lovers from that day forward.
As Warren swoops into save Candy, Hodge murders her. Overcome with feelings of betrayal, hatred, loss, disgust, and most of all, helplessness, Angel uses his new metal wings to slice off Cameron Hodge’s head. The entire ordeal leaves Angel more distressed than ever and it is sometime before he returns to the X-Men at Beast’s provocation.
He has hard time dealing his powers (i.e. deadly wings that act out of his subconscious and a lust for death) his public notoriety because of the X-Factor mess, and the inhuman color of his blue skin. Yet Warren moves on and tries to be the X-Man he was under the new codename– Archangel.
Feathers Stick Together
Although Warren regained his “Angel” persona sometime ago, the return of “Archangel” marks a chilling reminder of what has already traversed:
“What follows can be described only as wanton destruction. And for the source of this horror there is the blank oblivion of unconsciousness. The X-Man known as Archangel sees nothing of the carnage he has wrought. Or more correctly the carnage wrought without his direction by his wings themselves” (Uncanny X-Men #285).
In X-Force Vol. 2, # 4 and 5, Wolfsbane, under the control of the religious mutant-hating Purifiers, rips off Warren’s wings to recover Apocalypse’s technology that will build an army of metal-winged crusaders. The trauma causes Apocalypse’s tech to activate and transform Angel once more into his bloodthirsty alter ego.
What will come of Warren Worthington III now? Will he remain the tragic harbinger of death? Or is there hope that he can regain his angelic persona once more?
Check Out X-Force #6 August 26 to find out.
And check out the classic adventures of the winged wonder in Essential Classic X-Men Vol 1 & 2, Essential X-Factor Vol. 1 & 2, and issues of 285 to 300 of Uncanny X-Men.
– Steven Bari