“A big guy with wings”
Zauriel was meant to be Hawkman or at least that was Grant Morrison’s plan when he took over the reigns of the 1990s Justice League. DC would not let Morrison use Katar Hol, the previous Hawkman, as that character had become the poster-child for continuity-hell and it was felt that the name should be left fallow for a few years. Yet Morrison still wanted “a big guy with wings” in the Justice League so Zauriel descended upon the world in JLA #6 (June 1997) with full-blown theological back story and epic possibilities.
In an online chat (archived at Cosmic Teams) Grant Morrison recalled that Zauriel was “just a name I made up based on the angelic language channelled by John Dee and Ed Kelley in the 16th century.” Coincidentally, the name Zauriel is close to a corruption of the Hebrew name Zuriel, which means “god is my rock” or “foundation” depending on the translation.
Morrison outlined his inspiration behind the new DC theology in Wizard JLA Special (1997):
What we’ve done is kind of create a completely new version of Heaven, which could theoretically fit into continuity. I just kind of wanted to open something up a bit — a whole new set of characters in a whole new location. I think of it in the same way that in Fantastic Four, Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] used to introduce things like the Inhumans, and there’d be whole, big concepts, characters and background, but they’d only be there as villains or co-stars in the book. And in JLA, we’re trying to do something like that, to widen the DC Universe a bit more and introduce more places — like Marvel’s Savage Land or whatever. So this is a whole new kind of Heaven, which we can spin off more stories from.”
When Zauriel first appeared it was explained that he’d become mortal so that he can find a woman he’s fallen in love with. A number of reviewers have pointed out that this is the plot of the German film Wings of Desire (1987). The Nicolas Cage film City of Angels (1998), which premiered after Zauriel’s first appeared, is also based on Wings of Desire.
Zauriel’s first appearance also introduced the Pax Dei, in Latin the “Pease of God,” the Army of Heaven. It is likely that it is named after the Pax Romana (the Pease of Rome) a time from around 27AD to 180 AD when there was a period of relative peace within the Roman Empire. The Pax Dei was also a grass-roots Christian movement which existed in France around 1000AD. The Pax Dei in the comics is composed of four hosts – Lion, Bull, Eagle, and Man. In Ezekiel’s vision he describes the cherubim (the cultural prototype of our modern angels and the attendants of God) as having four faces, “One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.” This imagery is heavily influenced, as much of the early Bible is, by Babylonian mythology.
Zauriel’s backstory was fleshed out in the three-part JLA: Paradise Lost mini-series written by Mark Millar. Its conclusion featured Zauriel’s induction into the Justice League and he stayed for the rest of Morrison’s tenure. The character wasn’t picked up by his successors, but has become a fixture around the DCU and gets rolled out whenever anybody needs an angel or to go to Heaven. He played an important role in the Days of Judgement crossover and then settled into the background.
Zauriel’s next big outing, Helmet of Fate: Zauriel, was his first headlining solo adventure. It was written by Steve Gerber for the Helmet of Fate sequence of titles – a loose collection of one-shots featuring DC’s mystical characters – which preceded the relaunch of a new Doctor Fate in Countdown to Mystery (also by Gerber). On his blog Gerber explained that he was initially hesitant to write about a character whose premise is diametrically opposed to his own.
I was saying that the first time someone told me about Zauriel, back when he debuted in JLA, I thought it was just about the worst idea for a character I’d ever heard. One of my reasons would probably have occurred to you immediately. I’m an agnostic. [...]
Ever since Zauriel appeared on the scene, every single person in the DCU has known beyond all doubt that the God of Abraham exists and that His angels are watching over us. And, while the intricacies of the system have been left a bit fuzzy, every single person in the DCU knows that there’s a Heaven and a Hell. Not “believes” — knows!
However, it was Grant Morrison’s comment on the Lee/Kirby-ness of Zauriel (show above) that really opened the character up for Gerber:
In the course of said poking, I came across an interview with Zauriel’s creator — in this context, Grant Morrison, not God — in which he explained what he had in mind when he conceived the character. According to Grant, Zauriel was an attempt to use Judeo-Christian lore as the basis for a superhero in the same way that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby drew upon Norse mythology in the creation of Thor.
For me, that was the key. Now I understood how I could get to know this character.
There was a very famous early-1960s issue of Thor that opened with the god of thunder sitting in a Manhattan malt shop, sipping a milkshake and conversing congenially with the other, mostly teenage, patrons.
Zauriel’s mission on Earth is to proclaim God’s existence and demonstrate His love for humankind in a more tangible, more visible way. If Zauriel took that mission seriously, it would bring him into constant contact with ordinary human beings — indeed, he would actively seek out opportunities for such contact.
What I needed for the opening of this story was Zauriel’s equivalent of Thor in the malt shop.
Gerber turned that scene on its head and instead of the lead character being reinforced by public adulation he has Zauriel flustered by the barrage of questions he receives from a high school religious studies class. He commented that:
Writing that scene, I discovered as well that Zauriel works best for me as a vehicle for raising questions, not for handing down answers. He’s unique in that he can simultaneously discomfit non-believers and the devout, while still somehow remaining lovable to both. His very existence is a mild affront to non-believers. His commentary on humans and their beliefs can convey supreme reverence, sublime innocence, and playful heresy (from the narrow human, not the broader angelic, perspective), all in the same sentence, confounding the faithful.
Tragically Steve Gerber died after completing the Zauriel one-shot, but before completing his Doctor Fate mini-series.
On Grant Morrison’s website a reader once asked him where Zauriel was. Grant responded that he didn’t think Zauriel should be written as such a high achiever and that he thought that Zauriel should just be “a f**king superhero with wings and a circuitry-encrusted glass helmet, who protects the oddball citizens of Los Angeles from Anton LaVey/David Lynch/Kenneth Anger-style weirdness”.
The Pax Dei
In the beginning there was the Presence, creator of the Silver City (Heaven) and the Earthly plane. Heaven was home to the servants of the Presence – the Angelic Hosts – overseen by the mighty Archangels, and the brightest of them all: Lucifer Morningstar. What happened next is known across the face of creation: the Morningstar and his supporters tried to stage a rebellion against the Presence, but they where beaten back by the Pax Dei, the Army of Heaven, and cast out into the wastelands. The army is made is made up of four hosts (Bull, Eagle, Lion, and Man) each ruled by a King-Angel. From their ranks come the Guardian Angels who defend each of us from demonic possession.
Zauriel was one of the most faithful of the Guardian Angels of the Eagle Host. For a million years he had protected luminaries including Cleopatra, Mona Lisa and Joan of Arc from demonic interference, yet he was forbidden from taking action on the material plane. It would have continued that way until judgement day had he not been assigned to protect a sales assistance from San Francisco called Shannon Coyne. Zauriel became smitten with a form of mortal love that few Angels ever experienced.
Zauriel petitioned Heraphon, King Angel of the Eagle Host, for permission to renounce his immortality so that he could fall to Earth to be with Shannon. His request was questioned, but was granted by the Death-Angel of the Third Heaven. Zauriel was transformed into mortal flesh and made Earth fall in San Francisco Bay.
Before he fell Zauriel somehow learnt that Asmodel, King Angel of the Bull Host, was planning to ally himself with the demon Neron and the fallen hosts of Hell. Together they would stage a second rebellion in Heaven and claim the Throne of Light for themselves. The Justice League were pulled into Zauriel battle with a trio of Asmodel’s Bull Angels and their interference forced Asmodel to intervene directly. He orchestrated an anomaly on the fringe of creation to distract the Presence and sealed San Francisco off from the outside world. He personally manifested on the streets of San Francisco and demanded that the League hand over Zauriel. Superman wrestled Asmodel to a deadlock, giving Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and the Flash III enough time to disrupt the Bull Host’s angelic vibrations and forcibly eject them from the Earth plane (JLA #6-7 (June-July 1997)).
Asmodel would have then been quite happy to leave Zauriel to rot on Earth had it not been for the words of his co-conspirator Neron. He pointed out that once Asmodel had achieved his victory others would see his failure to deal with Zauriel as a serious flaw. Asmodel sent Etrigan to pursue Zauriel, but the Angel managed to persuade the Demon to leave him alone. Asmodel was again forced to take a personal hand in the matter and incarnated on the Earth plane in the “form of child” using a Flesh Suit. He hunted Zauriel to ground and killed the Martian Manhunter. Zauriel barely managed to destroy Asmodel’s Flesh Suit, but he was too slow to stop him capturing Shannon. Azmodel gave her Neron to seal their infernal bargain.
Content that they had taken their revenge on Zauriel, Asmodel and Neron launched their attack on Heaven. The conspirators found their way blocked by the spirit of the Martian Manhunter and the three remaining Hosts of the Pax Dei. Back on Earth Zauriel allowed Jerry, Shannon’s nurse boyfriend, to stop his heart. This gave him a near-death experience that allowed his spirit to briefly leave the Earth plane and search for Shannon. Zauriel and the Manhunter managed to hold the front line until the resuscitation efforts of the JLA pulled J’onn’s spirit back to the Earth plane. Asmodel capitalised on the opening and broke through the lines of the Pax Dei. He surged forward to the Palace of the Seventh Heaven, but found it empty.
Zauriel confronted Asmodel and pointed out the flaw in his reasoning. The Presence was not a physical Lord that sat upon a throne, but was a vast and mysterious intelligence that permeated every part of Earth, Heaven, and Hell. It had never been in any danger from Asmodel, or even the Morningstar. The Courts of Light court marshalled Asmodel and consigned him to the depths of Hell as Neron’s prisoner. Neron also restored Shannon to the Earth-plane – just to torment Asmodel that little bit more.
Heaven’s Representative on Earth
Shannon returned to Jerry as Zauriel acknowledged that she didn’t love him or even know him. Zauriel was ecstatic at the love he felt between the two humans and was content knowing that Shannon was happy and well. However, there was still the question of his station — he had taken mortal form, yet he had stood on the front lines in the defence of Heaven. With the permission of his superiors Zauriel took up a new role. He would become a superhero, a beacon of hope, and Heaven’s official ambassador to the Earth-plane. They backed him whole heartedly and provided him with a headquarters and a specially constructed suit of armour (“more nineties according to Saint Peter”) (JLA: Paradise Lost #1-3 (Jan-March 1998)).
Aquaman sponsored Zauriel for League membership and he was inducted into the team shortly after the Worlogog incident. Life with the League came easily to a former Guardian Angel and he became a steadfast member of the team. Surprisingly Zauriel befriended Plastic Man – somebody else who just enjoyed being alive – and he took it upon himself to become the custodian of the Justice League’s Trophy Room (JLA Secret Files #2 (August 1998), JLA #16 (March 1998)).
One of Zauriel’s unspoken tasks from Heaven was to help the League prepare for the onslaught of Mageddon. A Mageddon inspired attack on the original JLA Watchtower by the Injustice Gang left a large number of booby-trapped atomic warheads scattered through the base. Zauriel stayed to disarm they, but he was killed in the blast. At the time Zauriel wasn’t sure if he could disarm them, but knew that his death would at least allow him to plead humanity’s case with Heaven. Zauriel was dismayed to find that the Hosts of Heaven were already working on a design for a new reality and had given up on the Earth. The authorities offered Zauriel the chance to return to Earth alone and stand by his friends. He made an impassioned plea to the rank and file Pax Dei to help humanity and scores of angels renouncing their immortality to stand with him. They arrived at a critical moment and held the crazed leaders of Earth hostage to stop them unleashing a nuclear Armageddon while the Armies of Man fought the drones of Mageddon (“World War Three”, JLA #36-41 (Dec 1999 – May 2000)).
After the defeat of Mageddon most of the angels returned to Heaven, but Zauriel remained on Earth. He did not rejoin the JLA and appears to still wears mortal flesh – as mortal as you can get for a guy that has “died” twice – and seems to still act as Heaven’s agent at large. He was indispensable during the “Day of Judgement” event when Asmodel tried to usurp control of the Spectre force (Day of Judgment #1-5 (Nov 1999)). He has also sought out those souls in torment and in need of his very special attention. He helped guide Hal Jordan at critical early moments during his time as the Spectre (Legends of the DC Universe #33-36 (Oct 2000 – Jan 2001)).
Zauriel also seems to have had a soft spot for helping mortal superheroines. He helped Supergirl (Linda Danvers) fight demons in Hollywood (Supergirl (vol. 4) #38 (Nov 1999)), revealed Hawkgirl’s place in the cycle of rebirth (JSA #21-22 (April-May 2001) , and even helped Wonder Woman stop an attempt to used the Pantheons of lesser gods to assault the gates of Heaven (Wonder Woman (vol. 2) #141 (Feb 1999)). However, Zauriel does not forget his station and he was on hand to minister and give reassurance to the assembled superhero community during the events of the Infinite Crisis (Infinite Crisis #5 (April 2006)).
Heaven had left Zauriel to his own devices, but a succession of Heavenly Powers requested/ordered his direct intervention in delicate situations. The messenger Malachy announced that Zauriel’s remit had been widened beyond just the Earth. He was dispatched to the planet Alstair in the Antares star-system. The Helmet of Fate had fallen into the hands of the Okeontis, a necrotizing-fungal hive-mind, which had used it to power the transformation a local group of freedom fighters into fungoid zombies. To reach Alstair Zauriel was given a sentient “trans-continuum chariot” called Ezekiel El-777. He was briefly detained by Hyathis, plant Queen of Alstair, but he convinced her to let him fight their common enemy. Zauriel incinerating Okeontis with his flaming sword Zauriel and then left Alstair unaware that he was carrying a plant spore (Helmet of Fate: Zauriel #1 (April 2007)).
It is probable that Steve Gerber was planning to follow up the Okenotis plant spore plot in his Doctor Fate series, but it was not a story he got to write before his untimely death.
Zauriel was given another, more disturbing assignment by the messenger Abariel. A superhero called the Blue Devil had been tricked into making a selfish-pact with Hell and had been resurrected as a true demon. He sought to atone for his sins by fighting evil alongside the Shadowpact, but his fame meant that more and more of his misguided fans were trying to sell their own souls. Heaven could not let this pass and ordered Zauriel to slay the Blue Devil. He found the Devil at the Oblivion Bar, but held back from instantly killing him. Zauriel instead explained the situation to the Devil who took the twenty-first century approach of staging a press conference to confess his sins and then signing a contract lawyer to fight his bargain.
Nightmaster, the Shadowpact’s leader, agreed to the Blue Devil’s leave of absence, but insisted that Zauriel take his place in the team. Abrariel also agreed that Zauriel should join the Shadowpact and be a more visible symbol of Heaven’s power. He was then forced to give up his trusty flaming sword in favor of Archangel Michael’s own Battle Staff. Soon after Zauriel joined the Shadowpact they became involved with the volcano of the sorcerer Doctor Gotham and in freeing the Nightshade Dimension. He also joined Shadowpacts from different eras of history to defeat Doctor Gotham and the Sun King (Shadowpact #13-25 (July 2007)).
Powers and Abilities
Zauriel renounced his immortality when he resigned from the Pax Dei. The exact abilities of his new form have not been fully tested, but he does appear to be far faster and stronger than most metahumans. He also retains the mighty wings that mark him as an angel and he can fly at incredible speeds. He has been allowed to retain a number of the tricks and talents that Earth incarnated angels normally possess. These include an Eagle like screech/sonic flash, the ability to part water (the “old Dead Sea trick”), and the ability to communicate with animals in an angelic language.
Zauriel’s body may have been converted to flesh, but his angelic mind remains intact. This “Over Mind” allows him to perceive patterns and plans that are oblivious to normal mortals. He can sense when a soul is in pain or if true evil is nearby. Zauriel normally reigns in this aspect of himself when interacting with mortals as he finds it easier to communicate with them when he deliberately limits himself to their level of conciseness. On rare occasions when acting directly under the command of the Presence or one of the celestial powers Zauriel can shed his material form and allow another spirit to witness his undimmed magnificence – he has only been Chronicled doing this when interacting with the Spectre (Hal Jordan).
Zauriel retains his Flaming Sword – a memento of his time with the Pax Dei. He has also been given a suit of armour designed by the finest smiths in Heaven. Its exact abilities are unknown, but it does seem to be proof against most physical and energy based attacks. The Eagle Host has constructed a magnificent headquarters for Zauriel called the Aerie that floats high above Los Angeles, again the exact configuration and contents of the fortress are unknown (JLA: Paradise Lost).
More recently the Hosts have given Zauriel a telepathic sentient space craft (“trans-continuum chariot”) called Ezekiel El-777 to facilitate his journey to the planet Alstair (Helmet of Fate: Zauriel #1) and the Battle Staff of the Archangel Michael to replace his standard issue flaming sword (Shadowpact).