Archangel: Phantom Wings

Issue Date: 
February 1996
Story Title: 
Phantom Wings

Peter Milligan (writer), Leonardo Manco (artist), Jonathan Babcock (letterer), Mark Powers (editor), Bob Harras (Editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

After Sabretooth’s attack, Archangel still has trouble accepting the wings given to him by Apocalypse. When his girlfriend Psylocke tries to help, he shuts her out. Later, as he flies away over New York, he is suddenly attacked psychically. He ends up unconscious in the trap of a fortress-like building and becomes the prisoner of a young woman, who is deathly afraid of attacking birds. The woman, Tuesday, keeps him prisoner, while Betsy and Jean are searching for him. When he seems to be asleep, Tuesday cares for his damaged wings and slowly coaxes out feeling from them. Eventually, he leans her story. How she killed her abusive husband, also inadvertently killing birds and how they seem to attack her ever since. Warren soon figures out she has a power and asks her to let go of her guilt. He defends her against the birds and she seems to let go. He flies them out, but finds himself alone. Tuesday died a long time ago in the plane crash with her husband. Back with the X-Men, Warren is more open and accepting of his metal wings. Betsy, however, doesn’t know how to feel about the fact that another woman – a ghost – got through to him when she didn’t.

Full Summary: 

A plane flies, spirals downward, loses control. This is how life ends. Falling from the sky. Falling away from yourself. Blood pounding.

It is surrounded by a flock of back birds.

The engine, the birds, the world, everything… everything shrieking. Beaks and wings. Tiny bird bones. Beady bird eyes. Cracked glass. Burnt metal. This is how death begins.

An elegant restaurant. Betsy Braddock and Warren Worthington III. Weeks ago, Sabretooth severely injured both of them. Time will heal all wounds, but some scars go deeper than others.

Betsy tells Warren all of this isn’t necessary. She’d have settled for a sandwich and somewhere she can scratch herself without a waiter running up to do it for her… especially if it would mean he’d open up to her and tell her what happened between him and Creed. He obviously did more than slash Warren’s wings. He got in his head. What did that psychopath say? She wouldn’t understand. Betsy gets angry, calling him a self-pitying pain in the--

Warren unfolds his wings and coldly announces that maybe she was right. He shouldn’t have brought her here. Maybe he is a self-pitying pain whatever part of the anatomy she was suggesting. Maybe they were crazy to think that this could work out. With a “I’m sorry,” he flies off, telling them to hold the check for him.

Betsy desperately shouts that everything’s great. The chicken is swell. Self-pity is sexy! Why does he have to be that touchy, she sighs.

Going higher and faster, trying to get away from the pain, he wonders why he couldn’t tell her of all people. No one knows his pain. No one knows what he lost when this real wings – the ones he was born with – were butchered from his back … amputated and replaced with these monstrosities by the madman known as Apocalypse. So he still flies… but at what price? Sometimes he can still smell them, dangling in gangrenous lumps from his scapulae. A familiar stench that hits his nostrils right… now?

Surprised, he suddenly sees his old wings on his back. Rotten – then there’s only heat and more pain as he shrieks in agony.

Below an odd room filled with strange technology. It’s a place unknown, barricaded against the world of the living. An alarm bell screams and warning lights throb with all the joyous abandonment of a brain hemorrhage. They are being attacked again. Her defenses have been breached. But though the danger is acute, the movements have a weary mechanical edge. A strangely armored figure races to the machinery and fends of the attacking birds. Maybe it’s not only the defenses that are breached. Maybe something else is crumbling. The will to survive? The strength to fight?

A lever activates the rotating blades wreathed with the gutted corpses of dead crows. They cause the birds to flee in panic, save for Archangel, entangled in the web. Hallucinating, he asks what’s wrong with all the birds and asks for help. The figure hits him and he passes out.

Elsewhere, Jean Grey violently falls down from her levitating mediation pose as she hits a psychic barrier in her efforts to locate Archangel. She tells Psylocke she can’t reach him either. Something very strong and very weird is creating a psychic barrier. She can’t locate him. But she senses something from Betsy. Is it about what Sabretooth did to them? Betsy starts explaining, but suddenly pushes Jean away. Behind her she sees something very odd.

Within the fortress, Archangel awakes. He is chained to the ground and cannot move his wings. They are scorched, soldered, useless and soulless. Now, their dull rattle seems to scoff right back at him. Suddenly, the wall buckles as though hit by a plane or a bomb. He is thrown as far as the old chains will let him. It can’t be real! he mutters, seeing a monsters shaped of birds outside.

“Call them off!” a person in a protection suit orders him. How is he supposed to do that? Warren snaps. He’s a birdman, comes the reply. They’ll listen to him. Just because he has wings, Warren replies hesitantly, doesn’t make him a “birdman.” Where is this?

Somewhere in America, comes the unhelpful reply. Warren orders him to get the chains off. The other person apologizes. Warren is hurt, but he is unable to take chances. Addressing the other person as “Mister,” Warren shouts the warning that as soon as his wings start working again, the other person will know the meaning of pain. But until I know better, you’ll stay here, the other person replies and takes off the helmet to reveal a woman of fragile, exotic beauty. Mister.

Again, Warren warns her. She snaps that she is not going to be bullied by him. Belying her attitude, she gives him some hot food and orders him to eat it while it’s hot. She’s not going to be bullied by him? he scoffs. If he’s good, she’ll bring him some wine afterwards, she promises. If he’s good? he repeats. That’s it! he explodes. He’s had just about enough of this! He doesn’t know how he got here. He doesn’t care how he got here! He doesn’t care how much it hurts him; he’s going to open his…

Fused segments of blistered wings quiver for a moment. Tiny fissures form in a patina of synthetic nerve-rich scar tissue. And he screams to high bloody heaven.

She threatens him with her energy lance. Try that again, she warns and she’ll kill him! Warren tries to reason. He doesn’t want to hurt her. He doesn’t know any more how he got here than she does. He doesn’t know what’s happening, but maybe he can help. He asks her to remember. Where they are and what’s happening with the birds.

The birds? She tries to recall. The birds have been after her since… No! She breaks off. He’s trying to trick her into trusting him. She knows how men operate and it won’t work! She tells him to eat the food and watch out for the bones and leaves.

That night, the fever comes. One minute freezing, the next on fire; Warren is covered with a glossy coat of sweat. He keeps hearing Sabretooth’s taunts over and over in his head. The homicidal mutant had implied that the blood flowing through his wings was not real. Meaningless insults from a twisted mind which nonetheless cut through Warren’s psyche like a blade. At one point, he looks down and almost retches, imagining the rotting phantom wings hanging from his back.

When sleep comes, it is a release, but full of flying, desiccated birds with stinking wings. And then, breaking through the nightmare, he sees the image of Jean Grey. Once, when they were both students at Xavier’s Institute, he had loved her. He was just a boy then. Free and alive. He wants to call out to Jean, to grasp that feeling once more. But before he can speak to her, he is awoken.

He sighs… the crazy woman is bathing his wings, softly washing the blisters. He can almost feel them… the hardened prosthetic things almost come alive. They’re beautiful, she says to herself, to no one. She doesn’t see him watching her, so she lifts her hand to her face, a look of pain coming over those lovely features. She doesn’t see him watch her as she leaves his lonely cell…

In the morning, she comes back in her suit. Time for his birdbath, she announces.

If she’s trying to act tough, he warns her, after facing the likes of Magneto and Apocalypse, he’s not easily impressed. No talking! she orders as she pushes the chained Warren past a table where he secretly slips a fork outside.

He watches her, sensing there’s something wrong with her, a deep sadness a gaping wound. He decides to play it her way. Then she cleans him with a hose of water.

Later, she chains him back to the wall of his cell. How long is she planning to keep him locked up? Archangel demands. Until she decides what to do with him, she replies.

Again he tries moving his wings when she is gone. It’s still no good. A thought hits him now. He hates these wings. Resents them. What if it’s not the burns that are stopping him from moving them? What if some part of him doesn’t want to use them?

He tries to open the lock by fumbling with the fork, not noticing that she snuck up on him. Nice try, she remarks sarcastically. How come she’s so quiet? he asks. It’s easy to be quiet on a five-thousand dollar shagpile carpet. Her husband only bought the best. Husband? Where is he? Warren asks. She stammers. He asks for her name. None of his business? she snarls. Try this again and she’ll blow his brains out! She almost flees as he cries after her that she is no killer.

Frustrated, Warren tentatively reaches out with his mind, telepathically summoning the one person to whom he’s entrusted himself. The one’s he’s pushed away. Betsy Braddock.

Betsy and Jean enter a bar, led there by their feelings and they are annoyed by each other. Jean feels Betsy isn’t doing her share, while the British PSI replies she isn’t exactly in top shape after tangling with Sabretooth… Jean interrupts. Betsy could help by stopping talking and letting her concentrate.

Betsy looks at a model airplane. She thinks it’s relevant. Only thing relevant is if they are gonna actually order anything or just stand there, the annoyed barkeeper suggests. Suddenly, the model airplane explodes. Both women sense something else. They look at a calendar on the wall: The date says May 1st, Tuesday…

Tuesday? Warren asks his host. That’s her name, she admits, and a dumb one at that. Three guesses which day of the week she was born on.

Tuesday clearly feels safer around him as she no longer wears the protection suit. Where was she born? he asks. Where are her parents? She can’t talk, she replies nervously. She needs to repair the defenses. The birds might attack soon.

Why are the birds attacking? Warren insists. She’s got to tell him now! What the heck is going on? She can’t really remember, she admits. After the accident… What accident? No! She’s said too much! She tells him to eat his food.

He knows what she does at night, Warren tells her. He knows what she does to his wings. She thought he was asleep, she stammers. For the last few nights, she’s caressed them. She’s treated them with oils and ointments. Gently. Tenderly. Why does she do it? Because… Because, since she’s been here, everything birdlike has been horrible and out for revenge. But then she saw him… Do it now, he asks her. But this time do it in the light!

And she does. She moves slowly. The oil is rich and thick and lightly scented. As her fingers gently caress his wings… something happens. Something stirs. He can feel them. Her fingers are coaxing his brittle artificial wings to life. The warmth of her hands, her breath, her body… he feels dizzy. They both do.

Then she touches that part of him. That part where his real wings were hacked from his body. He flinches as though stabbed. How did he get those scars? she asks. It doesn’t matter, he replies evasively. Something he can never have back. She asks him to tell her.

All right. There once was a man. A young man. He was blessed… he had everything. He even had wings. And what wings! It wasn’t just that they allowed him to fly. They gave him a world of feeling. They were alive… shockingly sensitive… sublimely sensuous.

He made sacrifices… was injured. The wings were amputated. He wanted them back so badly. He doesn’t like talking about this. He touches her face. Now it’s her turn to flinch. This is crazy, he thinks. This is wrong. So why does it feel so right? She no longer flinches at his touch.

Suddenly, the alert goes off. They’re attacking. She wants to run to the defenses. Warren shouts at her to come back and let him help. She grabs her lance. She can hear him calling her. Telling her to trust him. If only he knew the truth, she thinks. Would he be so eager to help then?

Nighttime… Warren lies in his cell. They usually don’t attack at night. So he waits. Time passes but she does not come. Why does he allow himself to be shackled? Is he hiding as much as she is? Did they go too far last time? Did they both reveal too much? Outside there is only blackness. But then the blackness moves. Black birds! He calls for Tuesday.

Tuesday’s been sleeping and chides herself for her stupidity. Defenses needed repairing. They can never be too strong. And she’d been thinking about him too much. She puts on the helmet, wondering whether it will be too late. Maybe this time the birds will win. They attack.

Warren can hear it from his cell. Her screams. The birds in the house. It’s time to grow up, he thinks. Time to remember who he is. To forget the pain. To forget the scabby film crumbling from his wings.

Tuesday battles. Wings beat a mad tattoo on her fragile frame. Wicked beaks tear and stab. Claws snatch and rake. The air is full of feathers and a shrieking so loud and inhuman, it might wake the dead. She cries out in pain. They swarm over her. They sense her defeat, her resignation. They coagulate above her, ready for the killing blow, but it does not come. Seconds pass. She dares to open her eyes. To see Warren standing in front of her, spreading his wings. Now it’s his turn, he tells her and them.

He moves furiously, his bio-organic wings slashing and cutting the crazed flock. Perhaps, he thinks, if he can save the woman, cleanse her soul, he can do the same for his own. And it feels so exquisite, so outrageously fine to be moving like this again, that for several moments Warren forgets that he, a mutant, an X-Man, is doing nothing more than pulverize an inexplicable throng of crazy birds.

He turns to the lying Tuesday, asking if she is okay.

At the Xavier Institute, in a room that houses some of the most advanced computers and mutant-tracking technology in the world, Betsy and Jean are trying to figure things out with the info they have. Tuesday. Airplane. Birds. Jean announces she’s checked all the plane crashes that happened on a Tuesday for the last twenty years. Nothing.

Betsy suggests a random cross-reference of the three words. Jean does that. Oh, my…! she exclaims a moment later.

Tuesday slowly comes to. Is she still alive? she asks. Warren cradles her close and assures her that of course she is. She has a few cuts and bruises. He cleaned them up. She begs him not to let the birds hurt her again. He won’t. But he wants some answers. She agrees. It was terrible, she tells him. The whole thing was like a nightmare. And she’s still in it. When is she going to wake up?

The Xavier Institute. Jean reads what they learn. A few years back, a woman called Tuesday was in a plane crash with her husband in his private jet. It made headlines because he was the biggest stock market raider of the eighties. His name was Donald Bird and he was a ruthless man.

Elsewhere, Tuesday has told Warren part of the story. So her husband died, he repeats. But what about the birds? And how did she end up here? Wherever here is?

When they crashed, Tuesday begins, snuggling closer to him, the plane nose-dived through a flock of bird. She saw them smash against the window. Their vicious vengeful beaks breaking against the glass. A tear falls from her eye. It lands on his wings and he feels it. Its weight. Its shape. But… vengeful? Why vengeful beaks?

At Xavier’s:
Seems as well as being a hawk in the boardroom, the Birdman was an animal at home, Jean continues. Three counts of domestic violence. Put her in the hospital for five days once.

He hurt her so much, Tuesday admits. For so long, she didn’t feel human anymore. She couldn’t take it any longer, so she killed him. Is he satisfied now? She hit him with a wrench as he piloted the plane. She thought she’d die with him. She wanted to die.

Suddenly, the birds flock around them. He’s coming back! Tuesday shouts. To punish her again! Donald was always punishing her for something.

Warren protects her with his wings, explaining he has seen how powerful the human mind is. Some of his friends have powers… she is like them. Somehow her guilt is making the birds attack her. But she has nothing to be guilty about. He can’t hurt her anymore. Nor can the birds.

Really? Tuesday asks. Sometimes she thinks it’s the only emotion she has. Everything else… is empty. Does he understand? Yes, but she didn’t ask him to beat her up. Let go. See, he tells her, the birds are flying away if they ever were truly here. Come on, it’s over.

He wraps her in part of his wings and flies off. It’s time they both let go of the past, he tells her, and allowed themselves to live again, instead of merely existing. He asks her not to worry. He won’t let her fall. Thanks to her his wings are… are….

My God! Warren exclaims a moment later. Look where they are! In the middle of the city. They were in the middle of the city all along (namely Bird Tower)! Does she hear that? He looks at his wing and finds it empty. Gone. Like a spirit that has found its release.

She’d drawn him to her, using some kind of psionic power or something beyond hat. He’d answered her call… and in time she’d answered his. What does he feel? He cannot say. But he feels. He really feels.

Jean and Betsy finish reading the article. No survivors. What a sad story.

Later, on the grounds of the Xavier Institute, Warren tells Betsy the story. She wanted him to be more open with her; she wanted to get under his skin. Well, that’s the why it happened. She should be happy for him. His wings feel… so much better. He thinks he’s accepted them at long last. More than that, he’s embraced them.

Betsy turns away. She has to think about this. About what? he asks. She was a mutant or a ghost. One that’s earned her freedom. A ghost that touched him more than she could, she replies bitterly. Betsy that’s… he begins to protest, then looks at a bird that shortly lands on his shoulder, then flies away. He gets up and follows her. He understands her hurt but still his heart is glad. He’ll catch up to her. After all, he has wings.

Characters Involved: 

Archangel, Phoenix IV, Psylocke (all X-Men)



Story Notes: 

Archangel lost his original wings in X-Factor (1st series) #14.

They were replaced with his current ones by Apocalypse in X-Factor (1st series) #18-19.

Archangel and Psylocke were injured by Sabretooth in Uncanny X-Men #328 and Sabretooth: the Red Zone #1 respectively.

Afterwards, Psylocke lay between life and death until Archangel and Wolverine cured her with the Crimson Dawn (Uncanny X-Men #329-331). Which means this one-shot doesn’t fit properly anywhere in continuity.

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