Empath was the son of an impoverished noble Castillian who could trace their lineage back to the ancient Romans. De la Rocha was one of the few Hellions, along with James Proudstar, Amara Magma Aquilla, and Angelica Jones to survive an attack by time-traveling villain Trevor Fitzroy (although Empath's former teammate, Tarot would eventually be resurrected). Empath provided unwanted assistance to Thunderbird I in his attack on the X-Men, using his powers on Firestar in the process. Enraged, the White Queen temporarily deprived Empath of his powers. In revenge for his defeat by the X-Men, Empath arranged for the kidnapping of New Mutants Magma and Sunspot by the Gladiators.
Empath was created by Chris Claremont and Sal Buscema in 1984. He made his first appearance in New Mutants #16.
In New Mutants (1st series) # 31 includes two pin-ups by Bill Sienkiewicz plus excerpts from the private Journal of Professor Xavier as well as a student evaluation by Emma Frost. Xavier notes in his Journal that power wise this particular member of the Hellions is precisely what his name implies: someone who can manipulate emotions of sentient beings in his vicinity. The effect seems transitory and it is unknown whether he can wreak a permanent change. Regrettably, Xavier notes, Manuel enjoys utilizing his talent. People are no more than servants or toys to him. There is no kindness or generosity in him. If there is a living definition of evil, it may well be he.
Mayor Story Arcs
Empath used his connections with the Hellfire Club to contact a mysterious being. He handed over the dossiers on Sunspot and Magma. The mysterious being accepted the information that Empath had to offer and used the information to kidnap the two New Mutants. Since they were both extremely dangerous mutants with physical powers, Sunspot and Magma were kidnapped when they least suspected it, while they were playing in the swimming pool. Once unconscious, they were flown to Los Angeles, stripped, re-dressed in the modern equivalent of gladiatorial armor and drugged to prevent them from fighting their way to freedom. In LA they were greeted by the holographic image of a man known as Alexander Flynn. Flynn informed the two New Mutants that they would fight in his arena as Gladiators. Although initially resistant, Sunspot and Magma were blackmailed into co-operating. Alexander Flynn made it clear that his men had been kidnapping runaway children. If either Sunspot or Magma refused to fight as Gladiators then the innocent and powerless children would take their place in the arena.
Although normally outraged by such acts, Magma regretfully accepted the position she was in and helped to calm Sunspot's anger. Later, Shadowcat phased into their cell and revealed that there weren't any children being held hostage. They fought their way back, and in the chaos that followed they discovered that Alexander Flynn was a false identity to hide the real owner of the Gladiators; the first New Mutant, Karma. Karma had been possessed by the Shadow King, who in turn used her to possess the New Mutants. Only Magik and Warlock were immune to psychic attacks, and were therefore able to defeat the Shadow King. In an ironic twist of fate, Empath's actions reunited all the New Mutants.
After Xavier entrusted the New Mutants care to Magneto, School life continued. One day when Mirage created a vision of a couple of boys they had been dancing with the night before, Magma commented that she didn't think they were particularly attractive. So Mirage latched onto Magma's mind to reveal the image of Magma's ideal man. To their great shock and horror, the New Mutants were faced with an image of Empath. Magma tried to remain calm, and accused Mirage of having confused her greatest desire with her greatest fear. However, she was visibly shaken and left the kitchen. Magma's confused feelings for Empath and the Hellions came to ahead during a battle with the Hellions. Thunderbird sought to pick Mirage off the floor, but Magma threatened to attack him if he didn't leave her team-mate alone because she still harbored negative feelings against Moonstar for revealing her desire. Thunderbird ordered Empath to control Magma. At first she succumb to his command to love her, but her own conflicted feelings allowed her to resist and fight back. Empath then changed his approach, and used his powers on Thunderbird to release Mirage. Although Thunderbird had only been trying to help, he soon let her go. When the New Mutants returned home, Magma made the announcement that she was going to leave Xavier's School for the Gifted. She had chosen to transfer schools, and was going to attend the White Queen's Massachusetts Academy. Magma was going to become a Hellion so that she could be close to Manuel de la Rocha, Empath.
Merging the New Mutants and the Hellions
Empath's powers proved to be of good use to Emma Frost when she wanted to combine the New Mutant and Hellion teams. Taking advantage of damage done by the Inhuman Beyonder, she laid out a plan for Empath to manipulate the New Mutants to her ends. Sometime during the course of this plan, he came into contact with Sharon Friedlander and Tom Corsi. He used his emotional powers on them, enlarging their mutual attraction into a full scale sexual relationship, something that mentally scarred both of them. After the merge with the Hellions, Empath began to grow close to Magma.
Moving to Nova Roma
Getting to known Magma better, he fell in love with her, and she returned his feelings, even leaving her team to join his. He, in turn, followed her to her home in Nova Roma and accompanied her on a journey through the jungle.
Amara and Empath found themselves being drawn closer together during their trek through the wilderness, without Empath even having to use his powers. Amara was wounded while saving Empath from a jaguar. He soon realized that Amara hoped that they would not be found by her father, because of the marriage plans her father had in store for her. Empath, knowing her wound was getting infected and fearing the worst, used his powers to upset her so that she caused an earth tremor and raised a small volcano. A few days later, they were found by her father, who had located them due to her earth tremors.
Soon after, while Amara and Empath were still in Nova Roma, Amara was captured by agents of the criminal geneticist High Evolutionary.The agents teleported them to a secret base, planning to remove Amara's powers permanently. The New Mutants teleported to the base before Magneto and the others, hoping to rescue Amara and Empath themselves. They arrived in time to rescue Amara before her powers were taken from her, and they then defeated the High Evolutionary's agents. With all the New Mutants safe and sound, Magik teleported Magma back home to Nova Roma.
While living in Nova Roma, Magma continued to write to the New Mutants. However, after time they lost contact with their friends, and the city did not have modern technology to ease communications with the outside world. Time passed quickly, and yet Magma was still not married to her betrothed. It was fortunate that neither Magma nor Empath returned to the Massachusetts Academy as the remaining Hellions were murdered by Trevor Fitzroy, the felon who had fled incarceration in the future and was chased into the present day by Bishop. To pass on news of the tragic slaughter of their former team-mates, Cannonball, Firestar and Warpath made the long arduous trek through the South American jungle to reach Nova Roma. At first Magma greeted her friends, but they were suspicious of her distant nature. She seemed dreamy, that she wasn't quite in her own mind.
Empath had been controlling Magma and the whole of Nova Roma. When the others arrived he could control Cannonball and Warpath, but Firestar's own mutant power made her immune to Empath's manipulation. She used her microwave powers to flood the city and release all of it's citizens from Empath's influence. Magma was furious that she had been manipulated by someone she loved and demanded an explanation. Nova Roma had not founded by a group of Roman explorers, but had been created and populated by innocent people who had been kidnapped and brainwashed by Selene. When Selene left the city her spells began to fade. Empath had fallen in love with the city and therefore used his own powers to prolong the scenario. Despite his best intentions to try and help the people of Nova Roma live happily in South America, he had hurt the one person he loved. Magma was still furious. Her life had been a lie, and he had kept the truth from her. In an attempt to make amends Empath revealed Magma's true identity. Her name was Alison Crestmere, and she had been kidnapped from her British family when she was still a child. Magma reluctantly accepted his apologies, and stayed with Empath in Nova Roma to help the rest of the population adapt to life in modern society.
Life After Nova Roma
Not long after, both Empath & Magma were attacked by Andrea and Andreas Strucker. The Fenris twins were members of the Upstarts. They had embarked on a new game, and would gain more points for collecting former members of the Hellions and New Mutants. Magma and Empath were soon delivered to the Gamesmaster, and held in a telepathic sleep until they were used as puppets to attack X-Force and the New Warriors. Thanks to both super hero teams Magma was freed. However, she was tired of being manipulated, and placed a lot of the blame on Empath. She left him, and didn't return to Nova Roma.
Later, Empath joined X-Corporation, where he became the Communications Director for the Corporation's Los Angeles chapter along with his former love Magma. However, after M-Day, Cyclops ordered the closure of the X-Corporation headquarters to better focus all available resources on protecting their members and allies. Empath was one of the few mutants to retain their powers in the wake of House of M.
After M-Day, Emma Frost used Empath immediately to reel in Magma who, in her devastation over the death of her boyfriend because of the decimation, had been wreaking havoc a South American village with geothermal disasters. Empath is stayed at the Xavier Institute along with some of the other 198, however his shared history with Magma has her suspicious that he is still toying with her emotions. Later, when Johnny Dee uses his powers to control Magma and Leech and make them kill Mr.M, Amara becomes aware that someone was controlling her, and, thinking it is Empath, blames him.
After Messiah Complex, Empath is seen leading a new group of humans who hate mutants and used to be mutants in San Francisco. They call themselves the Hellfire Cult and conduct vicious attacks on powered and depowered mutants, namely Pixie. A member of the Hellfire Cult comes to talk to him from the group, telling Empath someone said he was part of a mutant group and that he is a mutant. Empath asks who told him and told him how mad he was at him for telling him that. The boy ran off yelling his name. Empath then goes into a back room and take off his shirt, and it is seen that he has scars all over his body. He tells Madelyne Pryor, posing as the Red Queen of the Hellfire Cult, how their team is doing. He is restrained and in the next issue she asks him about Emma Frost and then telepathically makes herself appear as Emma Frost as she sexually dominates Empath. His interactions with Madelyne have altered and enhanced his powers. His emotion control is much more powerful but requires visual concentration and/or eye-contact.
When the X-Men discover the Hellfire Cults base, she flees leaving Empath behind. Empath makes a run for it and his powers seem to be going out of control. While being chased by various X-Men, he takes them down one-by-one until Pixie teleports to him and beats him savagely. She then stabs him in the head with her Souldagger, neutralizing his powers and blinding him. He is then imprisoned in the brig of the new X-Men Headquarters, Graymalkin Industries.
However, his capture is revealed to be a part of Madelyne Pryor's plan. Broadcasting her magics and psionics through Empath in the brig, Madelyne Pryor was able to bypass all defenses. The Sisterhood then commences a surprise raid on the X-Men's base quickly neutralizing several of the main X-members. Recovering from the initial attacks after Pixie once again stabbed Empath in the head with her Souldagger, the X-Men force the Sisterhood (now including a brainwashed Psylocke) to retreat; but the entire battle is only a distraction to steal a lock of Jean Grey's hair. Empath is once again left behind by Madelyne Pryor.
Powers and Abilities
Manuel is a powerful empath. He can psionically sense the emotions of others and control one emotion at a time, affecting many targets in the same area during that time or controlling the emotional states of multiple victims one at a time. He can change the amount of control her exerts over his victims, such as a simple emotional push or complete emotionless zombies bow to his every whim.
His interactions with Madelyne Pryor appeared to have altered and enhanced his abilities. His emotion control is much more powerful but requires visual concentration and/or eye-contact. He also uses words to focus his powers. His eyes have always glowed with psionic energy when he uses his powers. Since being stabbed by Pixie's Souldagger, Manuel is now blind and unable to access his empathic powers.
Earth-295 (Age of Apocalypse)
In this timeline Empath is being held hostage by Mikhail Rasputin in his massive Mothership barely kept alive, using his powers to control the entire Eurasian population. By strapping Empath to a computer system, which greatly enhances his powers. In the end Empath is killed out of sympathy and pity by AOA's version of Daredevil, who accidentally touches one of his fingers and feels his suffering.