Welcome to Comics Are My Religion, a look at theology through the lens of comic books. There are some basic ground rules about engaging in respectful dialog about religion in this column. The column below may have spoilers for books you might not have read, so be warned!
Holy Scriptures are full of redemption stories. We all love to see a bad guy make the right choice in the end and turn into a good guy. St. Paul, King David, and even the Buddha all started out pretty rough until they gained a bit of enlightenment. But what about the folks who go in the other direction? We tend to call them “Fallen Angels” after the legend of the ultimate baddy, Lucifer, who was an angel of God, decided he could do his own thing and took a bunch of buddies with him. There’s also the tale of Judas Iscariot, whose name is synonymous with betrayal for starting out as one of the twelve disciples of Jesus until he chose to sell Jesus out to the Jewish authorities. That guy ends up hanging himself (or having his guts spilled out in a field…depends on which Gospel you read).
Can anyone be redeemed? Is there any kind of evil from which we can never return? Comics are full of “fallen angels,” especially over at Marvel.* I will make one plug of a book I recently read from Image called Bedlam by Nick Spencer and Riley Rossmo, which plays with this idea with one helluva nasty character named Madder Red. Check that out. Marvel’s got quite a stable of heels who were once pinnacles of virtue. But with the laundry list of dirty deeds these former good guys have done, can they be redeemed? Comics have taught me that few, if any, are truly irredeemable, as God’s love is wide enough to include even the most heinous crimes (for example, look at Magneto or even Hal Jordan). I would argue that God’s justice and our justice are two different things, but with a little bit of imagination, I think even the most evil characters can be redeemed.
Let’s take a look at who I think are the top 5 Marvel “Fallen Angels” along with their sins and how to redeem them at this point:
Sin: There’s no doubt that Flint Marko, aka the Sandman, is one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains. He’s virtually unstoppable in his sand form, causing Spidey to often use his brains rather than his powers to capture the thug. But Sandman hasn’t always been a villain, at least in the truest sense. Flint has a long rap sheet, but over the years has gone back and forth on whether or not he should be a villain. He’s often been the victim of blackmail to perform his crimes by other villains like Doctor Octopus. But underneath all that sand is the heart of someone who really wants to be a good guy. For a while, he ditched the villainy and joined the Avengers as a reserve member. He’s helped Spidey almost as much as he’s hurt him. But the one thing that will always make someone make terrible decisions is desperation and protection of loved ones. Recently, Sandman rejoined the Sinister Six to help Doc Ock blackmail the world, because Ock promised to pay him enough to gain custody of his daughter. His love blinds him and he ends up getting defeated by Spider-Man, Silver Sable, and Black Widow.
Redemption: Flint has been pardoned by the President before for his actions, mainly because he’s rarely responsible for his actions completely. It seems that if he can live out his prison terms, he could easily start over from scratch. Maybe starting up a sandblasting business while doing some undercover operations for the Avengers by using his sand-form, he could possibly become a responsible citizen again and perhaps get custody of his daughter without resorting to criminal means.
Sin: Simon Williams has a long career in show business and as an Avenger. His origins have some dark spots on them, however. He embezzled money from his family’s company early on at the insistence of his brother. During that time, he also served on the Masters of Evil, which led to him gaining super powers. He was a double-agent for Baron Zemo, after he staged a battle against the Masters of Evil, but eventually came to appreciate the Avengers’ kindness to him and betrayed Zemo and the Masters. More recently, Simon decided he had enough with the Avengers being at the center of every disaster on Earth, and finally quit the team after they had been “disassembled.” But then he returned with a team of “Revengers,” to make sure the Avengers stayed kaput; he seemed to really stab Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the backs. In the latest issue of Avengers, Simon returns and apologizes, wanting to return to the team, but it is yet-to-be-revealed what his true motives are, and if the Avengers can ever trust him again. Oh, and that “Member’s Only” jacket should be considered a sin, as well.
Redemption: Simon needs to let go of the Avengers. The more his iconic butt gets involved with them, the worse his life tends to be. My advice to Wonder Man would be to go back to acting for a while. A sitcom, reality show, or even a public service announcement for the Avengers might be the best way to get back into their good graces.
Sin: Lucas Bishop showed up mysteriously as a cop from the future on the heels of a villain named Fitzroy. He got stuck in the present day and was reluctantly invited to join the X-Men despite his harsh methods. Eventually he came to prove himself as a loyal follower of Xavier, even though his past, or the X-Men’s future, was clouded in mystery. All was revealed in “Messiah Complex” when Bishop cast himself as the savior of the future of mutantkind by trying to kill an innocent new mutant baby named Hope. In his future, Hope’s birth signaled the beginning of the end of the mutant race, and Bishop began a journey through time to destroy the girl. Along the way, he accidentally shot his mentor and idol Charles Xavier (which is somewhat of a theme in this article, see below), and pretty much went crazy trying to hunt Hope and her protector, Cable.
Redemption: Bishop is slated to show up in the new Uncanny X-Force coming out soon, and the only way for him to be redeemed is to come to the conclusion that Hope is not the impending doom that he once thought she was. He might need a trip to the future to see what Hope is up to, but overall, the guy might need some psychiatric help. The least he could do is write an apology letter to Hope and Cable. “Sorry I tried to kill you all those times…luckily I paused to say something important just before I pulled the trigger.”
Sin: You think this guy would be #1, right? Scott Summers was the “golden boy” of the X-Men. He was Charles Xavier’s most faithful student and heir apparent. Longtime field leader of the X-Men, Cyclops was always the boy scout to rival Wolverine’s bad-boy image. Even when Xavier stepped out of the spotlight of mutant leadership, Scott was right there to take command, becoming the ultimate general the X-Men have ever seen. But when the mutant race was decimated by Scarlet Witch, Scott began to take his role much more seriously. When he became imbued with the power of the Phoenix, he decided at first to use that power for good. When he was pushed by the Avengers to relinquish the Phoenix Force, the proverbial poop hit the fan, and he began to hunt the Avengers down. The one person who might have the power to take him down was Charles Xavier himself, but Scott became angry that everyone was against him, and he killed Xavier and became the Dark Phoenix.
Redemption: It’s going to take some time for Cyclops to be redeemed. When you’ve murdered your own mentor and the progenitor of your team, you’re not going to be welcomed by your team for some time. Sure, Cyclops’s actions ended up restarting the mutant gene, which is some grace, but Scott is really going to have to answer for his crimes. He currently seems repentant for Xavier’s death, but not for the actions which led him there, so he’s got some issues to work on with Leonard Samson. The only way I see him finding redemption is sacrificing himself so that Xavier might live again, or for some other cause for mutantkind and humanity alike.
Sin: Why Namor? Because I happen to think his actions are much more reprehensible than Cyclops’s. Namor has always walked the line of hero/villain. He has frequently been at odds with the surface world about as much as he’s defended it as an Avenger, Invader, Defender, or X-Man. Namor’s problem is pride. He has always seen himself as superior to everyone, even his fellow Atlanteans. He doesn’t mind stealing women from their husbands or boyfriends. He frequently lets his anger get the best of him. But perhaps the worst thing he has done was most recently in Avengers vs. X-Men when was empowered by the Phoenix Force. Not happy with the reaction of the Avengers to all the good he and his fellow Phoenix Five were doing, he struck out on his own and used his power to drown the country of Wakanda, where the Avengers were hiding. Thousands of innocent people died, inciting war between Wakanda and Atlantis. We currently don’t know where Namor is after his defeat by the Avengers, but he’s got a lot of explaining to do.
Redemption: At this point, Namor can only give himself up to Black Panther and the Wakandan government, but he’ll never do it. Until Namor swallows his pride and realizes the magnitude of his actions, he may never find peace or redemption. Perhaps he could spend his time in helping to rebuild Wakanda, but as was shown in AvX: Consequences, no mutants are welcome in Wakanda. It’s easier to be redeemed if you’re a two-bit thug, if you’ve betrayed your friends, if you went a little crazy, or if there was some redeeming quality to your actions, but straight-up genocide is a toughy.
So there you have it, Marvel’s Top 5 Fallen Angels. Some honorable mentions would include Cyclops and Namor’s Phoenix Five teammates Emma Frost, Colossus, and Magik, the cast of Thunderbolts, and Emperor Vulcan, who is the brother of Cyclops. Perhaps you can add to the list and find ways to redeem these characters.
I’ll reiterate that I believe no one is fully irredeemable. That’s how much I believe in the expansive grace of God. The history of comics teaches us and shows us the hundreds of characters that have done horrible things, but have found that they can always choose to do the right thing, even when all seems lost, and find grace. This is an example of our stories as well, where we, too, can experience redemption and lay to rest the label of “Fallen Angel.”
*I tried really hard to include more than just Marvel characters here, but for some reason Marvel has an abundance of these characters, while DC doesn’t.