Friday, September 2, 2011

Celestial the Queen: Mantis, Englehart, Marvel Comics Avengers 130-135





The mystery woman known only as Mantis traces the steps to places in her memories, asking questions and attempting to find people she remembers, throughout the Vietnamese capitol of Saigon. To her increasing despair, she is told she could not have been at one house when she thought; it was built but two years ago. No one in her past can be found. What future, then, awaits this woman, if everything before her now-deceased lover was a lie?




Hawkeye the Archer asks the Vision about her story even while helping Thor and Iron Man in their support of her quest. He tells of the finely-attuned, mystically-aware, aloof adventuress who came here, swearing angrily that the Libra of the Zodiac crime-lords is not her father, while he told her of the Priests of Pama, who he found while blindly staggering away with her in his arms after her mother’s murder by her uncle.


The mystery of the Star Stalker and the arrival of Kang the Conqueror both further suggest she is someone she does not yet realize. To himself, as a gentleman, the Vision keeps her repeated advances and interest, which he cannot reciprocate to her demand, as he loves Wanda.


Viet Nam, in 1974, was a politically intriguing place to depict in stories, though the war itself is not discussed so much as the world around it. Being Marvel, the three Communist super-villains are rounded up by writer Englehart and turned into an opposing set of super-heroes on their new home turf! A criminal named the Slasher uses them for refuge, the action subplot of the issue, #130, which is truly focused on the Mantis.

I really rushed over the mystery of what's going on behind that door with Agatha Harkness and her pupil, the Scarlet Witch. I'm pondering why it is she came out and initiated combat with the visiting Moondragon, who considers herself a Titan-trained goddess of human origin. Harkness approves. Wanda sorta doesn't seem herself---and what's happening, the time Jarvis tries to reach them with some food and hears a man's voice, breaks in and finds no one there? I will have to write at some future date about the story possibilities one gets with Harkness and her secret training, but I will say it is apparently to the good for the confidence of her charge. Hmm.


Celestial the Queen


The mystery woman known only as Mantis traces the steps to places in her memories, asking questions and attempting to find people she remembers, throughout the Vietnamese capitol of Saigon. To her increasing despair, she is told she could not have been at one house when she thought; it was built but two years ago. No one in her past can be found. What future, then, awaits this woman, if everything before her now-deceased lover was a lie?



Hawkeye the Archer asks the Vision about her story even while helping Thor and Iron Man in their support of her quest. He tells of the finely-attuned, mystically-aware, aloof adventuress who came here, swearing angrily that the Libra of the Zodiac crime-lords is not her father, while he told her of the Priests of Pama, who he found while blindly staggering away with her in his arms after her mother’s murder by her uncle. The mystery of the Star Stalker and the arrival of Kang the Conqueror both further suggest she is someone she does not yet realize. To himself, as a gentleman, the Vision keeps her repeated advances and interest, which he cannot reciprocate to her demand, as he loves Wanda.

Viet Nam, in 1974, was a politically intriguing place to depict in stories, though the war itself is not discussed so much as the world around it. Being Marvel, the three Communist super-villains are rounded up by writer Englehart and turned into an opposing set of super-heroes on their new home turf! A criminal named the Slasher uses them for refuge, the action subplot of the issue, #130, which is truly focused on Mantis.


In fact, in the middle of that skirmish, a hooded man drops in to kick the armor-plated Crimson Dynamo off balance---unseen by the Avengers, who will recognize him as Libra, the father of Mantis, just a couple of stories from now.



So everywhere she goes, Mantis finds a different story: bargirl, Madonna...or myth? Thor prompts her to courage, as her sadness is most unlike her; the riddle will be unraveled. She asks the Vision to accept an apology from her, too; it’s not her way to go after someone else’s man. She feels an end coming to all she has been and known---which is a death of sorts. He wants to ease her---he’s amazed to have experienced the human emotion of flattery---and if he, the android, can do this, what new feelings must await her in this changing life? But that’s just is. She was happy as she was.



Temporarily aligned with Immortus, Kang operates within Limbo, a timeless dimension that touches and exists all of time. Here, he plucks his Legion of the Unliving: Frankenstein’s Monster, the formerly deceased Wonder Man, the original Human Torch, Baron Zemo, and a fascinating pirate guy I never saw before or sense. Now, he snatches away the Avengers, trapped in this castle within Limbo. Separated, they wander the castle, embattled, for all of #132, which ends with Iron Man’s death at the super-heated hands of the Torch! The Vision, too, seems ready to perish; ironically, he battles Wonder Man, whose brain patterns as Simon Williams are the basis for his mind...and as he will discover, the Torch, the 1940’s android original, was the first to live in the body Vision now calls his own!


This next part’s hard to tell without the Giant Size issues, but the themes, I can relate.


The Avengers get Immortus on their side and win out over Kang, who slinks back to the future to again return one last time in the next year of Englehart’s run. Immortus gives Mantis and Vision a boon as thanks to the Avengers: two sticks that guide them through the mystery missing pieces of their lives, complete with narration.



In the case of Mantis, who learns about friendship in the company of Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Thor, she sees the cosmic history of the Kree people, after contact by the Skrulls. She also learns about the Cotati people, the plants who shared the first Kree world, Hala, how they built a garden to please the Skrulls, just as the Kree used the technology to build a city. She learns of the pacifist Kree, their self-defense system, their oppression at the hands of the majority, and the eventual settlement of one sect on Earth, where they became the Priests of Pama. Hawkeye muses the advent of martial arts on Earth may well have begun with these aliens! He also interjects an important idea to the increasingly worried and confused Mantis: levity. She gets a glimpse of why one may have a sense of humor in dealing with the unusual.

This galactic history intersects with her life, she discovers. The Priests have long guarded the surviving, evolving Cotati people...and she is to bear their special child, if she is willing. Upon the reappearance of Libra, the mysterious Swordsman sightings after his death is explained: the Cotati have animated a new form of his body, to ease the transition, the strange destiny, of Mantis. She leaves Earth, but her story will follow Englehart across different comics companies, and one day, she returns to a new life alongside the Silver Surfer and Fantastic Four, under his pen.


The Vision’s journey, alone, takes him through the creation and many lives of the original Human Torch; here he sees how his body gained phobias which resulted in his “freezing up” three times in battle. This is not a new surprise; in #93, Neal Adams drew Ant-Man discovering a mystery inside the Vision’s body, now revealed to be evidence of his previous android existence. For that matter, Thomas dropped a hint, too, when the Sentinel who analyzes Vision in #105 declares his body “of three decades’ vintage.”



On his first trip out in the world, the Torch is imprisoned within a swimming pool that belongs to a crime boss---echoed during the poolside last stand of Cornelius Van Lunt, whose story began this visit of mine weeks ago. He now realizes, too, he is not simply a creation “sprung fully-formed from the head of Ultron-5!” In fact, he was a popular and famous superhero, who was occasionally buried (when his powers began to build out of control) and revived (as when the Mad Thinker, “master of androids,” set the first android against the Fantastic Four. He sees his struggle against Ultron-5 while he still had the mind of the Torch, saying, while my creation was by Man and not God, who knows by what mystery one becomes alive? Has he not known something akin to experience and existence? Still unaware of his new abilities in this Vision body (re-fitted with the help of Dr. Phineas T. Horton, the original creator, at the coercion of Ultron), he is defeated, mind-wiped, and started again using Simon Williams’ patterns as a basis. So he was originally created for profit; he became a focus of Horton’s care, eventually, and respected by the great heroes of World War II. So he is somewhat beyond the conventional definitions of life and death; so he has been fundamentally re-created: in a September, as a matter of fact. Has he not found experiences of his own? Has he not known...true love?



And so, the fifth act ends: in a double wedding, between the resurrected Swordsman and Mantis, and also, between the Vision and Scarlet Witch. Wanda has dug deep, uncovered a witch’s affinity for natural fibers, understood the flow of her hex powers in a new way. Most importantly, she felt uncertain of herself, as a woman and superhero. Her tutelage under Agatha Harkness changed this---but the strength was ever her own. So, in the tradition of the comedy, after the tragedy of the fourth act, this story draws to a close with celebration and marriage. Only in the confines of fiction is that an ending---and years more of Avengers comics will depict this most unusual husband-wife team, as their adventure continues. Perhaps, when the time is right, a writer moved by their struggle to become who they were will be inspired to return them to the center of the Marvel Universe.



-----Cecil Disharoon



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