Monday, August 29, 2011

She led me on like a two-bit tramp, told me I was her man---then quit me!

Pyramids, high adventure, and bittersweet romance!

DEATH OF A SWORDSMAN!


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So, Mantis, the mystic martial arts mistress, has turned to the Vision, the cerebral synthezoid heart of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers. She suggests their situations are exactly alike: they each have questions about the truth of their natures, and almost complete control and attunement with their bodies. While hex casting mutant the Scarlet Witch secretly battles for her life under the tutelage of Agatha Harkness, Mantis tells Vision they both have lovers that have "grown weak...quarrelsome...unworthy of the love we offer!" and moves in for the kiss that'll never come. While Mantis has just broken up with the Swordsman, the adventurer with the tainted past, Vision stands true, offering friendship, but unswayed by "Wanda's irritability of late," which he should logically understand right about now! Before anything else, there's a glowing star above the Avengers Mansion---a signal to their futuristic foe, Kang the Conqueror. He's here to claim a bride---who he believes is destined to birth the most powerful man on Earth! He's here to win...leaving behind only the pitiable Swordsman, beneath his respect.

Bid Tomorrow Goodbye.

Kang's Macrobots absorb and turn each attack back onto the Avengers themselves. Swordsman is hot on the heels of an offensive by the Norse Thunder God, Mighty Thor, whose "vibrant cry thunders into the skyscrapers above them. Behind him, the Swordsman squints, trying to focus on battle and forget that his woman has left him. It is all in vain."

The Vision tries to disrupt the molecular structure of one Macrobot; he can't hold back, or freeze up, as he has done twice in the recent past with no explanation. But he's the one disrupted, fallen. Mantis redoubles her speed, snaps her body into a devastating kick; Scarlet Witch, Wanda observes the negated effort. "Is it an technique born of reason, or emotion over a loved one's pain; she fears it is the latter." Drained as she is from battling Necrodamus, she manages a hex nonetheless---reversed, it knocks out both Mantis and Scarlet Witch.

The police, even Jarvis the Butler, fall as Kang explains how his robots work, and how he's returned for a signal promising the approaching time of birth of the Celestial Child, which he intends to father. The mother, as yet, is unaware, but he's now captured these three women (including Harkness), one of whom will be revealed in time...then drops an insult for the Swordsman, who he leaves behind screaming angrily. Fortunately, Harkness contacts him through his mind: they are in the pyramid of Rama-tut in Egypt. The rejected, humiliated Swordsman's resolved to surprise them all.




Origin of Kang


Somebody Up There Likes Me

Swordsman’s problem is that he still knows what rotten things he’s done, in his rude, self-assuring, dog-eat-dogmas. Every time he revisits these experiences without a proper spiritual grounding, such as he found in Mantis, he feeds the emotional pathos. Not all of his heroism can resolve this, coming so late in life—but he’s known the bottom, had nothing to lose! Apparently, losing Mantis was the only way to complete his descent into the depths, “the belly of the whale” so to speak. Even as he strives to save her life, to win her back, his only chance of winning is to rely on himself. He gets one more break, in that Agatha Harkness secretly shares with him the location, and, in her crone-like wisdom, encourages him, even though Kang discovers her actions and punishes her, at the end of “origin speech.”

(The idea that a Sphinx-like time machine landed in ancient Egypt is pure Lee/ Kirby; happy birthday, btw, Jack!)


He's Just a Mess Without His Little China Girl


My Mantis! MY Mantis! Even now, she’s almost all I can think of! The way she cut me off cold, without a backward glance!

Swordsman takes a minute to ascertain Jarvis is alright.
“Does Kang want her, too, like I still do?” he wonders, as he charges off to fly, not, this time, in revenge, but to the rescue. “With all the mystery surrounding her past, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s tied in, too! But how can a---a Celestial Madonna, for cryin’ out loud!---how can someone like that have a known background as cheap as hers? She led me on like a two-bit tramp, told me I was her man---then quit me!”

At this point, I realize, the Swordsman, for all his conquests, may have never really loved anyone else before. Maybe he thinks some “skill” scored him booty before, but he knows he was truly down when Mantis came into his life, seeming to fill up the void where he couldn’t believe in himself, for all the bridges burned before his conscience. He’s lived a boy’s fantasy of all the bad you can get away with, with a sword and an attitude. But he’s maybe not so different---none of these adult characters are---than the young person inexperienced in true love, raptly reading. Maybe there’s only one person the reader thinks they’ve ever loved, and all these travails hit closer to home than they can say.

The brooding Swordsman finds himself, again, invading someone’s airspace in an Avengers Quinjet. The jets strike him from the sky, as if to inscribe his fall as an Avenger upon his troubled mind. He wonders, bemusedly, why can’t the Avengers use a teleportation device like Kang’s so he wouldn’t have to fight his way in? This levity helps him bring the Quinjet down without exploding in flames. Goes to show, being shot down is not the end---how you land matters!


With breaking and entering an Egyptian pyramid we’re right in Swordsman’s territory (his name is Jacques, by the way, but no one seems to know that). It’s man versus pyramid. Psychology major and Avengers writer Steve Englehart may’ve word associated pyramid with “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” pyramid, as he thought about the Swordsman’s struggle for self-actualization. He has, in fact, demonstrated how, when one has shelter, nourishment, and love, then morality, creativity, and achievement are supported, even attractive, as the thought of achieving one’s potential opens new challenges. He digs away at the stone with his sword, while Kang scoffs at his monitor.


I love the use of mirrors to take light from the surface of the pyramid to the inside levels, so that the ancient workers could see and dig without the use of torches. Torches would just eat up the oxygen and smother the occupants, much as Swordsman’s torch for Mantis is nearly smothering HIM! What he needs is inner light, instead.






He fights bravely against a vampire left within the pyramid by an earlier incarnation of Kang himself, stirred by the Robert E. Howard barbarian adventures of his youth. The intervention of the security force is a break he has to take, as the winged vampire turns on them, instead. By sheer luck, daring, bumbling, he opens a passage while his heart is hammering and continues the mirror-lit path. The sword is a metaphor for discernment; it is a type of mirror, by which one examines the self and cleaves apart one’s undesired characteristics. It’s archetypal entertainment for all ages.



He fights bravely against a vampire left within the pyramid by an earlier incarnation of Kang himself, stirred by the Robert E. Howard barbarian adventures of his youth. The intervention of the security force is a break he has to take, as the winged vampire turns on them, instead. By sheer luck, daring, bumbling, he opens a passage while his heart is hammering and continues the mirror-lit path. The sword is a metaphor for discernment; it is a type of mirror, by which one examines the self and cleaves apart one’s undesired characteristics. It’s archetypal entertainment for all ages.



With a final high adventure flourish, all on his own, the Swordsman has fought to the belly of the beast. While it’s hardly a feel-good maneuver to zap the Conqueror from behind, the Swordsman will take it without hesitation. And then, a hand bids him hold, and he is face-to-face with another incarnation of Kang---one who has rejected war, to become guardian of the timeways---Immortus.



The story leads into GIANT SIZE AVENGERS #2 from 1974, and reveals Mantis as the prophesied Celestial Madonna. Her destiny, however, does not lie with Kang. While many were the Avengers---Thor, Iron Man, Vision, even Captain America---who could’ve safely deflected the savage bolt of energy directed at Mantis, it is the Swordsman who rashly gives all---who gives his love in the only way his impulsive mind can fathom—and shields her with his body, at the cost of his life.


For all his sincere intentions, one’s most noble sacrifice is not to simply die for others, but to live with the lifelong mission of redeeming others. Yet, for his critical, heartfelt error, I recall nonetheless how a man ones declared “there is no greater love than this, that a man may lay down his life for his friends.”

So I guess you could say I honestly found I identified more closely with this forgotten character than I would’ve thought. I even used to day dream about sacrificing my life or well-being for some girl I knew hardly acknowledged I existed sometimes in, say, math, much as does the Swordsman in his last moment on Earth---about which we will say something, after first walking into the picture at his side, then following his steps through the losing end of a love quadrangle. All the while, he attempts to grasp the right thing, but he never learns not to be rash---and this wastes his courage. In impatience, I, too, am the Swordsman.


However, as his body is laid to rest, he begins to mysteriously appear to Mantis---over the course of her discovery of secrets of the universe, with the help of Immortus, who grants the same boon of self-revelation to the Vision. Therein lies our fifth act!


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