Wednesday, August 31, 2011

4-sided cosmic romance, Act V: Origins and Avengers

ACT FIVE: Origins and journeys outside time! Original Vision

The Swordsman is dead...soon to be buried. The woman he loved, martial arts mistress Mantis, questions her decisions, regretfully, and asks to take his body to Viet Nam for burial. The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, kindly, supportively join her. While the Scarlet Witch needs to stay and study with her mentor, Thor asks her love, the synthezoid known as the Vision---to her dismay; “no, Vision, please don’t go with that man-trap---no matter HOW sorry she seems!” she thinks. He declines; three times now, including their recent battle with Kang the Conqueror, he has frozen in battle and is “no longer a credit to the Avengers.” On this account, however, Iron Man and the rest insist he is wrong. Thor points out Wanda will be sequestered; he will be alone. In solidarity with his team mates, he reluctantly agrees, without realizing his love Wanda’s fears.

The Swordsman’s funeral is held in the gardens of the Priests of Pama, whose story still mysteriously ties to that of Mantis. In fact, Vision alludes to this, asking if she has any returning memories that compel her there---a sensitive subject, as she suspects her memories as an urchin in Viet Nam---her life---may be a shadow planted by an outside force...that her knowledge of things in the temple and more suggests she is someone entirely else.

On this peaceful occasion, unspoken are the thoughts of Hawkeye, who first became an archer with the Swordsman’s training. “We were two of a kind...but somehow, I got the breaks, and you didn’t...I gave you grief, and now I hope you know I'm sorry.” Mantis laments, chanting, infused with memories of both good times and bad. Then she asks Thor, as a god, to say a few reverential words, for the man “they will miss more than they knew.” Writer Englehart says it simply, and well: “(h)e was a born loser from start to finish, but he did his the end, what more can be asked?”

The adventure that continues here begins a new phase, as told across AVENGERS #131-135 and the next Giant Sized edition, which will reveal the secret history of the Kree and Skrull empires---how the Skrulls first came to offer technology to a primitive people with an intriguing contest---and the true nature of Mantis, who is indeed central to the plans of the peaceful Priests. Her friendship with the Vision also plays a further act.

The Vision’s story will follow a parallel path, through the secrets of his own construction---and the reason behind his mysterious freeze-ups will tell him how he came to be, in a depth unexplored before, threading back to the first Marvel Comics superhero, the original Human Torch. He will see how exactly he was created by the nihilistic robot Ultron-5...and the story of the four-way romance will resolve with a most human decision.

(The study of that story will help me and my friend Ed Pettis put together a nice pitch at next summer's Comic Con---and maybe we'll share that, someday!)

More later, okay?
The Vision discovers the true nature of his identity, in AVENGERS #58. But it didn't end there!

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!


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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!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

4-sided romance, Act IV: On their own 1974 Marvel Comics' Avengers

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Act the Fourth: Death of a Swordsman

by Lue Lyron

By AVENGERS #128, it’s apparent that everyone feels they need someone else.

Scarlet Witch: needs this new teacher to take over her life, risk her life, challenge her powers and her fundamental doubts in her abilities to recharge between hexes more quickly, and establish a relationship with nature (at the same time that her science spawned boyfriend seems to flake).

Vision: this android---this man---needs to tell Scarlet Witch, Wanda, he loves her, and needs to tell Mantis he admires her, and needs some assurance from inside himself that he is not having some kind of hardware crash---especially when he’s needed most. So, as with each of them, he really needs something inside himself---but he’s got a person he reaches for, they each do, on their journey. At least, he needs to tell her for her own sake, as well as his own. Unlike...

Swordsman: needs Mantis, who dumps him this very night. Needs so badly he insanely picks a fight with Iron Man and resists Thor, unable to contain how much of his ego has fled with this one. He needs to tell her he loves her for HIS sake.
And Mantis...ah, Mantis.

Mantis needs the Vision. He, perhaps, will understand...and he is so perfect, so attuned, surely he will see the logic...he is the reasonable choice to be her man.

She’s dodging the lightning at the beginning, pointing out again how martial arts discipline gives one command of destiny (similar to the Swordsman’s typical sword-first style of introduction). You would become intangible, she says aloud to the Vision, but you must of course protect the Scarlet Witch.” We find out the lightning’s an attack on Agatha Harkness, the one who in the end knows the words to bring it to an end. The lips of the Mantis are also engaged in an attack of sorts; she’s got it in mind that Scarlet Witch is frail...too pathetic, even quarrelsome, to be with the Vision. This fits the Thing’s observation earlier of how openly Mantis is thinking of the Vision; one reads between the panels to find her eyes wondering towards him at every opportunity.

Shame, really, for Mantis came but to stay by the side of “her man” the Swordsman, someone with whom Wanda hoped to talk, share sisterhood, though she came to the team not wishing to join. There was the flaw of intention: the lack of team spirit that goes into indulging herself in what seems to be a logical desire for the suitable man. She seems to have a Darwinian, unromantic style of sexuality.

In this the Swordsman was correct: appearing weak before her was the beginning of losing her, but as he feels more and more weakened, he loses more composure, even while his desire grows, as always it must, for what he wishes to seize. That’s too bad; remember, he won the sponsorship of none other than Thor himself, who’s been known to speak for questionable mortals (such as Spider-Man, in Avengers Annual #3, 1967) in whom he saw merit. The Thunder God expressed his astonishment for Swordsman’s skill. All of this, he throws away because it is not the crucial element he sees in his rehabilitation: Mantis.

Mantis ---who doesn’t have any other known name, apparently, like her man---believed she had built herself, her awareness, from a defenseless urchin survivor to a martial artist who can achieve more than most think is humanly possible. You see, imagine you think you are that. Now imagine, in her words, “I fear I might be a pawn” in the plans of unknown others who may have implanted her very sense of self, and erased their handiwork in her formation. This may or may not have anything to do with her sexual identity as well. If she believes she survived at times as a prostitute, then she believes she’s trained herself to behave sexually without an emotional attachment. She may not have a good sense of what an emotional relationship is, based on that identity. This would explain why the true love of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch seems to completely evade “this one’s awareness.”

But as to why she would be given an identity capable of sexuality without emotional attachment: who would that benefit? Aside from reflecting the realities of 1970s Viet Nam, which saw people surviving any way they could, who would want her to think of herself that way, to what purpose?

The why’s and wherefores of her possibly implanted identity will at least come with a face, very soon, but now the immediate problem is that she did not attempt to turn to Wanda for emotional support and assistance, or no one at the moment, if she was completely honest with herself, rather than throw herself at a man, even the incomparable Vision. (Besides, it’s not fair to compare a man to someone who was made “perfect”---perhaps the new mystery of who honed her own perfection makes inaction and contemplation menacing, and besides, this one’s senses detect too perfect a match. So, yes, it’s her, not the Swordsman, and he’s only now trying to make it about her, but every time they talk, he keeps taking her, trying to take her, emotional hostage with pity.

Now she ignores the crying Swordsman’s screams on her way to the Vision’s room. I honestly don’t know what she was thinking except she didn’t care what anyone thought about it, there is one anchor she’d like to drop in her building tempest. Her face rather looks like she might eat him, when she announces her veiled intentions. It’s true, she does believe he is the only one who might help, who might understand, but she does not see the Avengers as a whole, and objectively, he may not be the only one who can help.

As for himself, Vision suggests his two recent malfunctions---which could cost he and his friends everything one day---these freeze-ups make him unsuitable for advice. But, in this, he is right: together, they might compare notes on their paths and share. She may know more about lovers than he could ever know, but the Vision knows who are his friends, and who is his best friend, and knows they require loyalty to bring fruit.

Isn’t it interesting that she accuses the Scarlet Witch and Swordsman of being weak, yet, in seeking to share the emotional burden of her identity crisis, isn’t that what she wants to be, isn’t that what she’s choosing, in turning to another man to wash away the disturbance of her problems, someone whose logical mind, whose empathy over being programmed, will help her most? Or is it simply her mistake to turn to anyone right now? Or perhaps, to expect so much from the Vision is to not understand what she seeks, at all.

It could be that Wanda---who for the first time, really, isn’t “Smurfette” anymore---could’ve made more overtures, been less jealous towards her new friend. But she has been put in her place, oh so many times, starting with her brother, mostly, that she’s become suggestible to being told what to do, and Mantis actually has a pretty open shot, from the psychological point of view. But she chooses to get angry, because she’s really mad at herself for still being vulnerable to being pushed around. True, she does turn to yet another person to tell her what to do, but in a different way: how to fish, not simply how to cook, or as it’s said in the script, “a witch more in name than poetry.” The first lesson, which has a very Carlos Castaneda vibe to it, is to face the greatest power of fear, and decide between the void and assertion of one’s pure motive, which is one’s only hope of harnessing the circumstances of the universe against our ever impending physical doom, with a soul of immortal life.

The star plot of the issue is the Scarlet Witch, as the last line of defense against a vengeful Harkness enemy in Necrodamus, isolated from everyone else in the mansion. This also points to Englehart’s knowledge that Mantis, too, must face her own perils in contemplation, just as the Vision is doing when she enters his room, just as the Swordsman really, really needs to do right now.

I mean, he IS the Swordsman, he is only the Swordsman, and he is the Swordsman the Avenger, he lies to himself, because of Mantis, who, remember, is not an Avenger, who was only ever there for him. You see, he forgot that, himself. If he had not abandoned belief in their love, but instead learned to love himself and what it is to be an Avenger, and a regular Joe. He’s going to really hate himself, this night, and he can only address that as, “I love Mantis.” After all, as long as there is an outer enemy, the Swordsman can figure out the upperhand, even if the chaos of battle should snatch it away. But rather than addressing himself as who he is from the ground of silence up---which may have occurred to him given time---ah, but there is no time. There is only a blinding light at the window.

The Scarlet Witch’s self as a power being and her romance are being attacked at the same time, and the panels are illustrated running alongside each other, as the reader experiences both threads simultaneously---a wonderful advantage of comic book storytelling. Wanda fights well, but three hexes and she is out, while he, Necrodamus, is in a physically exalted form, of the kind he apparently can only assume during some particular alignment of the stars, with which he has fought no less than the Hulk and Namor together! Meanwhile, the battle of her heart lies in the decisions of the Vision, without any further assistance from her for now, and in this, he is on his own. We see all these characters reaching out, and in the end, their lives rely on their decisions alone.

So, in the guest female chambers of Avengers Mansion, surrounded by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Scarlet Witch may die here without anyone knowing in time, and Necrodamus has just “generously” shared that his box will steal the souls of her and Agatha Harkness, confounded and consumed for all time by the darkness within. The cat---who was never born---stares into the slack features of the Scarlet Witch, and a fire to win overcomes Wanda’s fear. From her boundaries of depletion she draws, in this room alone, the power to hex reality one more time, and Necrodamus becomes a victim of his own box.

Agatha Harkness now appears, and Wanda feels as though her sorceress mentor spoke truly, that she had power all along, and asks if Agatha set up the whole battle herself? “But it was you who overcame who summoned your unconscious reserves of inner could I have planned these things?”
“Huh! Well, I can see it won’t be dull having you around!”

You know, jealousy, I’m told by my wife, was only there because on some level, in not being able to trust in herself, she could not trust in her love, in the Vision. It would be a really good time for them to talk about this...but Wanda sees a brilliant light through the windows, even from the magically sealed room. That brilliant light on the front lawn is the invasion of Kang the Conqueror, 41st century tyrant, with cool confidence in the robot soldiers with which he expects to easily overcome the Avengers. They cannot know yet, but he will soon tell them: the light outside, the burning star, is his signal from afar, to initiate the time of the Celestial Madonna---his intended bride.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

4-sided cosmic romance, Engleharts' Marvel Avengers, Act iii

When he joins the call for ‘every Avenger that ever was’ in the anniversary #100, before he returns with Mantis in AVENGERS #114, the Swordsman is still openly considered a criminal. Captain America asks, “last I heard, weren’t you in prison?” “A technicality.” He admits how he got call, along with his typical bluster: he stole one of their planes, he says, and overheard the call on the radio. Nonetheless, Thor invites him to fight for Earth, anyway.

Since the beginning, there’s been a similarity to his student Hawkeye, the Archer, in skill set with a weapon and proving himself to others. Hawkeye learned the bow and arrow at the Swordsman’s side, and was the first to find out he was a rotten crook, stealing the box office for their carnival and then cutting a tightrope with Hawkeye on it, escaping, leaving him to fall. In fact, we find out Hawkeye’s real name, Clint Barton, in AVENGERS #65, when his brother returns---so ashamed is he of the crimes committed in the family name. From Avengers #65, Gene Colan, 1969.

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The parallels are so close---and the rivalry so predictable---that Englehart engineers Hawkeye’s resignation in #109, the catalyst to Mantis anticipating the coming months when the Swordsman proves himself, first alongside Thor as a provisional member, and then along with Mantis against the Lion God. The Swordsman never reveals his real name; he fights, dedicated wholeheartedly to being a hero---most of all for the admiration of Mantis.

Now we run into the problem that comes when one cannot find the strength within one’s self...when one depends on an outside source. We may find strength in others to get us through, but if our stepping stone’s not reliable, we may find our crossing leaves us all wet.

Of course, things started falling apart in the middle of real danger! In the long view of these characters, this is Act 3 of 5. Here, the set-up brings intra-personal conflict...

In #125, we have a crossover with Captain Marvel and his enemy from the moon of Titan, Thanos. With Cap at the controls, the four core Avengers—The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Mantis, and the Swordsman—prepare to face an intergalactic fleet. How are they able, then, to communicate with one another? For that matter, how will the Avengers? Vision tells Swordy to snap out of his “own little world” where he’s been since being hospitalized (and tortured!). “You need a LOT of things!” he retorts; “like your woman AND mine! Oh, you tell me you admire Mantis for her mind...but we both know what you REALLY mean, don’t we?!?” Vision may say he’s not going to dignify this with a reply, but Mantis---who’s had Vision on her mind since his amazing rescue of her in #122---asks: “what is he saying, Vision? Have you praised this one to him, also? (“this one” is her egoless verbal tick). Wanda’s face IS worth a thousand words.

art by Buscema/ Cockrum...mostly Cockrum finishing John's breakdowns.

Vision snaps the crew to attention; in his naiveté, he thinks this is nothing. Wanda breaks out a hex, making a point as to her own usefulness...soon comparing her next attack favorably to “a mere karate chop!” --- another dig at martial arts mistress Mantis. Wanda also addresses an alien who’s firing on her and comparing her to her “sister” by pointing out: “for the record---Mantis is NOT my sister!!” Rather than descend to parody, they pull together and win, by destroying a box, which they each read in their native tongue, marked “Universal Translator Device.” The aliens turn on one another. Englehart’s point about cooperation’s need for understand the same language is not lost!

I love how Stainless Steve (the writer) keeps using the Avengers Death Traps of the Month to generate the tension needed to pop each nicely-developed character’s reactions and development out to the fore, rather than only using quiet, talking head moments. He dives in again with #126; as a side note, the reader’s invited in passing to write in with why Solarr and Klaw, Master of Sound, are working together. It’s really tertiary to the stew of resentment. The day starts with Swordsman ably demolishing some training robots while thinking about the Vision; judging from her wandering eye in mid-kiss, so is Mantis. Vision, meanwhile, still wonders why he has completely frozen in battle three times, and if he is losing his ever-lovin’ android mind. Scarlet, meanwhile, has a long look in the mirror, and decides “An Avenger fights for what they want.”

The villains create an inescapable sphere “of solid sound” to trap the two couples and Black Panther, along with a bigoted ambassador named “Ronald Pershing” who’s come for help from T'Challa, King of the Wakandas. Scarlet’s powers have at least some negligible effect; she prides herself in her growing strength, when Solarr makes things hot for them—too hot for Ambassador Pershing, who Wanda heals in part with a hex.
Mantis makes a calculated attempt to shatter the barrier, not Thor, Iron Man, Swordsman or Vision effect it a wit. Mantis senses Wanda’s effort will do nothing, and points this out in sad frustration. “Neither will your attempts to psyche me out, Mantis,” she replies---but she was right. Vision casually points out it’s too soon after her last hex, for which she curls his collar with a withering accusation that he didn’t criticize anyone else’s attempts. The big three, meanwhile, go on a goose chase: they fight Klaw’s sound-made constructs but find no hint of the villain.

Ambassador Pershing rails against the Black Panther: if he but ceded his mantle as monarch, Klaw would let them live, and now, he will have to die for a black man. Vision tells him to stop raving, then turns to Scarlet Witch and says he must talk with T’Challa (the Panther, naturally) and alleviate his burden. With eight minutes left to live, Wanda’s not down with it: if she’s going to die, she’s got to know the truth about the Vision and Mantis!!! Vision tries the aloof, high-road protestation, but plays right into the argument. She’s been thinking about this: Mantis, the “cool, collected one” is actually just Vision’s “type,” to which he pleads innocence. How would he know he has a “type” of woman he likes? Emotion’s still a rare thing to him, “love, most of all.” She points out this is the way of men, and Vision wants nothing more than to be a real man, right? They table it...because Panther realizes the reason they can’t find Klaw is he’s right there, disguised as this phoney ambassador by an illusion made of sound! This turns the tide.

Believe it or not, there’s a reference to the indignities suffered by Klaw “as a red man” because of prejudice, and Cap, in a sub-plot, ponders whether or not he’s finished as Captain America, after the mind-blowing events in his everywhere you turn...

We get a blast from the past from Quicksilver next in #127, in a crossover with Fantastic Four #150, featuring his marriage to Crystal, the prettiest of the Inhumans. Her cousin Gorgon arrives to escort them to the wedding, to which bonehead has yet to invite them! They go to the Inhumans’ Hidden Land in the Himalayas, anyway, after a super-scuffle. Pietro’s still giving his poor sister grief for shacking up with the android. After a night of celebration (superheroes performing like circus stars) the Swordsman tries to get Mantis to “talk about us” ---reversing the stereotype torment, and not for the first time in the first way---and she bluntly tells him she does not even know which is her real past, who messed with her mind (hey, maybe him), nor what plan is at work already with her fate in the balance. So, he is going to have to be a stronger man than he has been, because the answer is : I don’t know!

Now, we're one setting away from events that push us into the next act.

#128 sees the Avengers and FF return to Manhattan amidst a strange energy storm, beyond even Thor's call. It's magic, surrounding Agatha Harkness, the witch governess of Franklin Richards. She offers to make Scarlet Witch a true witch, and fulfill a need she senses, to tap into her full potential. This is going to take her on a separate, solitary path---starting this very night, at Agatha's insistence. The Vision stands at a shut door, desires unfulfilled, wishing to tell her he loves her..."what could be more important than that?" Never has he ever been left wanting so; never has Wanda chosen anyone else's wishes over his, and they have not spoken since the quarrels of late. This so happens to be the very night Mantis dumps the Swordsman...and however much Johnny Storm may protest "it's the Scarlet Witch that loves the Vision," Ben Grimm's eyes were spot on, regarding Mantis and the Vision, as they depart in the opening scene. "Too bad---you clock the way she called me 'Benjamin'?"

This night, an enemy named Nicodemus attacks Agatha, her unique black cat, and her new pupil, while they are locked by magic into her room to battle to the finish. Every single one of our quartet are pushed past their limits in some way. That will be where we pick up our next installment!!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Interlude: Englehart's Avengers in five act play form (like Edward DeVerres)

I'll have a new piece together quickly, but in this space, I'm going to simply say
I came to see Englehart's romantic quadrangle storyline in the form of a five act play.

The first act begins with the Human Bombs attempting to assassinate the Vision, inflaming Wanda's mistrust of human kind and increasing her sense of isolation and identification with the Vision. Then the Swordsman and Mantis are introduced through the next scenes, earning their place in the Avengers.

The second act centers around Mantis' identity mystery and sets up the rupture in existing relationships and possibility of a new one.

The third act embodies the conflict as it rears its head. Wanda also begins a new, deep, and isolated relationship: with her new mentor, Agatha Harkness. This is where my next piece picks up.

The fourth act features a tragedy.

The fifth act resolves like a traditional comedy: with marriage!

After these next three pieces, I'll be lucky to keep this up weekly: we've got a lot of pages to draw, and some original writing, not to mention beaucoup music. So pass the spirit of summer with me enjoying a good story. Float on. Best, Lue

Friday, August 19, 2011

Act ii, Four-sided romance: Thinking outside the box with Marvel's Avengers and Steve Englehart

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4-way Street

So, as the team returns in #119 from a battle they had almost no chance to win (see Scarlet Witch’s post, Avengers/ Defenders War), Mantis senses Swordsman’s pain, but he makes light of it with bluster. Black Panther’s questions about Mantis turn out to be based on his respect for her training, but she says her past is nothing of note. Suddenly she pitches forward—her “Mantis Sense”?---warning of mystic vibrations of great danger in Rutland, Vermont. So quickly, the team is off to what becomes a costumed parade/ party / battle with the alien Elder of the Universe called the Collector.

In this adventure, we see Scarlet become less tolerant of humans in a very open way, even using her powers to make the curious step off. The Vision recognizes this is out of proportion with the human reactions---to him, it’s bigotry--- but for her it’s cumulative effect, and you know how that can make a person unreasonably banish others. She thinks the Vision should understand and empathize.

Meanwhile, we get a romantic walk in the woods between Swordie and Mantis, as he asks nervously “ and T’Challa make a good team?” (After all, he was cool with her hunch to pair off with Black Panther during the hunt for the Evil Eye.) His skills and her senses worked well, “and we are both warriors. All the Avengers are fine men ---except for the Scarlet Witch, of course---even the Vision, though I sensed his deepest fear when he froze, for no reason I could discern--”

Swordsman interrupts this” “let’s not talk about the Vision---I’m sure he and Scarlet Witch are doing that---let’s talk about us!” which means “let’s get fresh here in the woods and make Rutland live up to its name!” What he says, though, is “I want to talk about how much your concern and faith have meant to my recovery ---how I never knew I could depend on someone so much!” Then a muffled groan interrupts, and as Swordsman points out, “I’ve heard enough gagged moans in dark places to know!” So take that how you will. They find the ambushed host of the parade, and the Avengers begin cracking Collector’s plan.

At least he gave a rip

AVENGERS #120 (feb 1974) My post on the Zodiac scheme mentioned the infiltration of the Avengers Mansion by the mind-controlled Gemini twin. Mantis senses something’s wrong, and when Swordsman keeps his eye out during a distracting moment ---the team’s concern over Wanda’s new found reverse bigotry---he sees Gemini pawing through a (marked) secret weapons file. He makes a move to stop him, and spectacularly falls over. Not the dashing image Swordsman wants you to have, but what can he do: it turns out he’s suffering from an infection dating back to that South American adventure with the Evil Eye in #117. He does rip open the cop’s uniform, to reveal his twin’s foolish decision to put on the costume beneath! After Thor lays a mighty smack down upon Gemini, the Swordsman’s illness becomes front and center, as Mantis attends him. The Bolivians knew him as a criminal, so the unconscious Avenger ended up in jail. Before a doctor examined him, Captain America retrieved the macho bladesman, for an extra-dimensional free-for all, and afterwards, nothing was said.

Ironically, as he points out, it’s now Cap that’s the accused criminal (in his own title). His weakness in the coming days undermines him psychologically. Meanwhile, Zodiac takes out the Avengers, with Mantis making the last stand against them all. (That could’ve been a cool page in Frank Miller’s hands!) Their survival surprises them, and shows a dismaying amount of Zodiac confidence, but they figure out, from a recorded taunt divulging their scheme, where Zodiac’s using their murderous star weapon.

This fight hangs over the cliff to the next issue, where the Vision bluffs Zodiac to do away with their hostage, while Scarlet Witch prepares, behind him, to fire her line-of-sight hex sphere. During Zodiac’s escape, the Vision makes a daring rescue of Mantis, diving after her and using his density powers and the side of the building, while the Avengers quickly repair the side of World Trade Center ripped by his clawing hand. Her amazement with his strategy, calm, and control lingers as ...intrigue. Vision had noted her in battle for the first time, himself, greatly impressed.

Scarlet is the first one by Mantis’ side. “She’s only shaken,” Wanda says. “It’s amazing!” “No, “ Mantis replies, “it is fate that a being of such skill and power should be here to help.” (Ha, I thought she was talking about herself at first, but she is, in fact, looking at the Vision.) In Thor’s civilian alter ego as Dr. Donald Blake, he discovers she’s actually healing herself, rapidly---a mystery to he and Iron Man. The Swordsman comes in to find Scarlet and Vision standing by her bedside.

Now, Swordsman’s asked about Mantis---but he confesses he knows little more than they do. He recounts her finding him by the waterfront during his days working for a warlord, Monsieur Khrull, and talking to him about starting a different life. In wake of his eventual serious injury during a drive-by shooting, she nurses him...but he spends the entire time he’s awake confessing his own life, learning little about hers. This brings us back to his eventual return to the Avengers.

Before the team leaves, Black Panther arrives to point out, "one does not need to be a doctor to see" Swordsman's illness. Action time. Iron Man says, “let’s go, Vihz.”
“In a moment,” he replies, and turns to the Swordsman in his wheelchair, and says:
“This is quite a woman. Her control of mind and body approach perfection.”
“Why, yes, I’m aware of that.”
“I know you are. Goodbye.”
With fearful eyes, Swordsman begins to wonder what was meant by that.

If you’ve been with us this far, you know the wrap-up of the Zodiac caper, and how Libra then reveals his past with Mantis and the murder of her mother by her uncle, this same Monsieur Khrull. This leads Swordsman, still not completely healed, to fly off in the one remaining Quinjet to get revenge for her ---and attempt to redeem his life working for Khrull---without the team.

How did he get that Quinjet away with no one noticing? Libra’s story makes Mantis flip out! She creates an impressive hassle for the Avengers. In fact, using “leverage taught to us by the Priests of Pama” he pins her down on her back with one hand. She still believes he is a lying criminal, but you have to imagine the true disturbance is the feeling he’s right---and if he’s right, why has she been comfortably living with a completely fabricated past, growing up in the streets of Saigon?


Not only is Swordsman defeated, but he’s tortured, and this leads him to give up the secret of the Priests of Pama---concluding with their deaths at the hands of Monsiuer Khrull enforcers, garbed in ethnically-inspired costumes.

Libra's bigoted brother-in-law lies sliced to ribbons upon the altar---the first victim of the Moonstalker. The creature defeats Thor, Black Panther, Iron Man---the Mantis sees no chance, but as she thinks: "this one feels compelled to attack!" (I've been remiss to leave out her habit of referring to and thinking of herself as "this one"---as though approaching her own being from a kind of witness self, rather than identifying with the ego and using "I.")

The Moonstalker obliges them first with his history of battles with the priests across the stars themselves---for these were Kree exiles, and he identifies Mantis’ techniques as Kree in nature. She bluffs the creature that she does know its secret, which has been thrust as a deliberate puzzle into the hands of the Avengers before Moonstalker destroys the world.

Mantis figures out how to save the day with the Vision’s help, for suns, and solar power, are the Moonstalker’s weakness. She reasoned the creature’s story involved threatening the priests, who were exiled to planets without mineral, water and vegetable resources...and without light. This also explains why Moonstalker hides in the jungle during the day and only comes out at night.

(I'm going to include more material below, added later, and also include it in the next post for those who have moved on.

Our characters developed uniquely here in the Avengers title are now moving towards a greater realization on behalf of all four of these characters, as to who they ultimately are, a new level of definition, actualization.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Sword of Discernment: Act i, Classic Englehart Avengers, 1974

Who goes from the dregs of society to the Earth's Mightiest Heroes? Fundamentally, if the leap is made, a man can raise his spirit even in poverty, but if he is a cynic along the lines of Jacques DuFresne, a.k.a. the Swordsman, the leap just seems like a never-ending fall.

I probably found myself discussing these lesser-known characters because of curiosity to finally read Steve Englehart's entire Avengers run, and because blogger Colin Smith captured the pathos of the desperate Swordsman that runs almost too quietly through the outrageous fortunes and cosmic entanglements that become the saga of the Celestial Madonna.

Sword of Discernment

Let’s prepare to dispense with the comic books themselves to tell you how uncomfortably life-like is the Swordsman, under the pen of Steve Englehart. See, in comic book terms, this character---never given a real name until some writer thought about it, after the character meets his doom---would make an excellent enemy of Conan, who of course is a masculine daydream of skills at sword fighting, horseback riding, thievery. They would’ve made a terrific team up, as well, were he of that aged world. But what we get, when he arrives, is a real person’s struggles, when great skill and bravado no longer drown out the screams and cries of the innocent who suffer along the way, while he turns his mercenary buck. He begins to realize what a hateful person he is, compared to what a brash and ruthless man he has been---all this made possible by his brush with actually being someone who makes a difference.

It could be the story of a Wall Street trader---or even a wimpy pre-pubescent, reading stories to be close to heroes but never brave enough to stand up and say, “don’t call that girl names and treat her like she’s inhuman” or “stop calling that boy a fag” or any of a number of truths. But you, as a human, can be a pessimist, can be eaten with doubt, can be very afraid, indeed---and still strive to give the most of yourself and make a single situation better (not unlike Marc Spector, the mercenary of a previous post who became Moon Knight). We may hear ourselves, or a voice very much disguised as our own, saying we will never stand like true heroes, but we can take responsibility for raising up one worthy person.

So, having impatiently leapt to my theme first, let’s edit a bit and proceed to examine his character, within the structure of Englehart’s cast, while applying some discernment in cleaving illusions.

The Hero Who is Probably You

It was really Colin Smith, whose “Too Busy Thinking About My Comics” blog is a genuine gift to fans new and old, whose post on the mistakenly-overlooked swashbuckler made me realize I wanted to focus on Englehart's multi-layered, character-driven construction and its four primary building blocks: the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Mantis, and the Swordsman. He put the ideas about how credibly Swordy really captures the actual identification point, standing beside these heroes with a lethal skill with very socially unacceptable consequences, standing in Hawkeye’s traditional place on the team for the heart and soul fighter trying to prove himself among the powerful, but tormented by a much longer wayward path and the colossal guilt of all he has betrayed. It’s a factor in his final screw-up and his final act of heroism. What can we learn?

AVENGERS #113 packs in a second prelude to the coming of Mantis, while continuing to give shadowy cover to the returning Swordsman, a character unlikely to have many diehard fans excited by the reveal. In fact, to expect him to generate little excitement is a boon to the writer, who then plays upon the fear---no, the certainty---of failure, of this man who wants to win the respect and love of the most amazing woman he’s ever known, and one whose compassion for him feels undeserved. It’s really Mantis, appearing in full daylight but without her special bar maid super heroine native costume, who is the true mystery. It’s funny how her emergence as a much-buzzed character reflects the eclipse felt by the Swordsman within the narrative, as well.

Could’ve all been different you know: Mantis first arrives to fight a bigot hassling the Witch, and when they go back to the mansion together, Wanda is the main proponent for the new membership. She’s the first person the newly-accepted Mantis hugs. Marc Kane, the soap opera fan, points out the liberal smattering of kisses Mantis gives out is NOT just a cute scene, but the beginning of sowing the rivalry with Wanda.

The Swordsman, meanwhile, appears with a hint of his familiar haughtiness and entitlement, offering his services while pointing out the team’s previous snub of him (in the #100 anniversary issue). Captain America remembers his treachery from the very first attempt to join the Avengers (in #19) and subsequent attacks (as with the Lethal Legion in #79, where he helps capture Avengers for a cash prize). Scarlet Witch, both strengthened and disturbed by the bigotry against her love of the Vision---while not entirely surprised, bitterly disappointed---goes to bat, not for Swordy, but tolerance and trust. One almost begins wondering what’s happened to make Thor and Iron Man concur so readily against Cap’s wishes, but soon they are pitching in side by side.

When a ghost, the Lion God from a couple issues previous, invades, Swordsman and Mantis call it forth, relying on her enhanced awareness. They appear to work with the god to fell the Avengers, surprising us with slight Mantis and her ability to stun any physical opponent, even Thor. Then, they turn the tables on our expectations again and hypnotize and defeat the Lion God with a mesmerizing display of their skills and captured glints of light. Swordsman has now lived down to the longtime readers’ expectations AND turned a corner in one story, while Mantis becomes even more enigmatic.

AVENGERS 116 During the confusion that is the Avengers/ Defenders melee, Swordsman draws the Norse Valkyrie as his opponent, in a transplanted German castle in South America. He proves his eye for detail and illumines us to his endless self-doubt all at a go, mocking the stone-by-stone recreation as “ridiculous and out-of-place” as he is, a scoundrel in league with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Soon the Swordsman’s Avengers-issue Quinjet is clipped by Valkyrie, astride her winged steed Aragorn. He executes a gutsy landing that is one grounded wing away from a fireball in the jungle.

He actually wins a duel that would please Errol Flynn himself, only to be zapped by the host, who wishes to keep the Eye of Evil piece to himself, as he does the location of his purloined Nazi treasure. Swordy puts the stick on ‘im before collapsing, however. Valkyrie does a sword salute to her strange but noble foe; “were he conscious, I think he’d like that.”

We’ll see Swordsman’s never really around to hear his praises, and maybe we learn what difference an encouraging word makes in a person’s development. We’re coming back now to where this conversation began, so with all our players introduced, tomorrow we can watch the fireworks fly.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Conan and the Barbarians of the Dome

The original movie (1980)
adaptation was co-written by Roy Thomas, the associate editor and writer who convinced Marvel to secure publishing rights to Robert E. Howard's works, for the purpose of creating sword and sorcery comics. Fantasy characters were not selling nearly as well as the psuedo-scientific super heroes and their modern trappings. The fantasy characters were written into the Marvel and DC Universes, but it had been years since titles set in archaic times had sold well.

English teacher Thomas took the attractive mood and poetry of the stories into the comic book idiom. His partner was a somewhat untried British artist of 19, Barry Smith, whose adventures related to his visa were as trying as those of his comic book cohort---with less swordplay, of course.

Thomas was soon to leave Marvel after working on that script. After taking the baton from Stan Lee and caretaking Marvel Comics Group, the creative end of the company, and adapting Conan to great applause for a decade, he had gone Hollywood---at least a while---and been on the end of moving Conan from paperback reprints to comic books. Now, he would help ferry the Cimmerian across the waters to a new medium, movies, where he returns, today. Since then, artist Cary Nord and Dark Horse Comics have returned Conan the comic book character, now with writing handled by Tim Truman.

It's not unfair to say Frank Frazetta's paperback covers for Lancer and the Marvel Comics did more to bring Conan back in the late 20th century than even its source material could, while at the same time invoking a resurgence in a talented, if turgid, writer, Robert E. Howard of Crossplains, Texas, a frustrated Romantic poet writing two-fisted tales. He wrote, in 1936, to Sir Ashton Clark Smith:

“It may sound fantastic to link the term 'realism' with Conan; but as a matter of fact - his supernatural adventures aside - he is the most realistic character I ever evolved. He is simply a combination of a number of men I have known, and I think that's why he seemed to step full-grown into my consciousness when I wrote the first yarn of the series. Some mechanism in my sub-consciousness took the dominant characteristics of various prize-fighters, gunmen, bootleggers, oil field bullies, gamblers, and honest workmen I had come in contact with, and combining them all, produced the amalgamation I call Conan the Cimmerian".

He was a man who saw the direction of civilization becoming more constricting, and sadly, his world became too alone. But his call to throw off the weakness and lies that so hounded his mind echoes even today.
My personal encounter with the savage life

It was the Dome Tribe summer I'll remember best, 2001, when there were the most lights and hopes and friendship amongst our ever-changing cohort of collegians and free spirits. Dome Tribe was a nickname, a term of affection, for the loosely -confederated group of friends who would come by this very special private home, and if there was such a thing as a homecoming anniversary for this, it was Memorial Day Weekend, each year.

I remember spending a large early chunk of the full weekend Discordian party Chris hosted with his best friends some miles outside Tuscaloosa, Alabama, chattering away with my good pal Johann about a character near and dear to his heart, Conan the Barbarian. Johann arrived with my sweetheart, Delta Dawn, and others who had carpooled out to this modest little paradise of campers and long weekend creatures. No jealousy, no cruelty, no lies, and much dancing; you couldn't help but wish the cajun gumbo and pretty people to meet would last forever beside the fire, for which we all gathered kindling, lighting the early morning until the sun's arrival.

Did I mention I sat holding hands with a lovely topless friend, sitting gracefully under the canopy of trees beside the Dome house? Yes, there are lots of nice ways to share energy in this world. I felt called by the pagan and bohemian way of disregarding a few unnecessary hang ups. To be a little free of civilization is to remember the relative place in history for all these things that seem to jam the hours with advertising and images not our own.

While sitting out under the canopy of trees, surrounded by my friend's friends and my friends, too, we listened to the music pumping out of the geodesic Dome hidden in the woods, and talked about what made a barbarian a unique being from the types of characters who thought of themselves as heroes, for whatever reason.

I'll never forget: I'd started earlier that week with CONAN THE BARBARIAN #131,All covers copyright Marvel Entertainment Group. This one's drawn by Gil Kane. purchased in an antique store downtown, and getting broadsided by that early '80s Marvel Magic. The infernal ring and Gil Kane art bonded me to Conan reading for at least the next month or so, which in turn encouraged me to write a female scout/ translator's journey, within caverns inspired by the subterranean formations in New Mexico, in the spirit of the biographies I read about Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. Then, inspired by our friend Rachel's adventures translating a native language on the island of Aruba in the coming weeks, our heroine became both scout and translator, and the maguffin became dependent upon a larger story based on discovering languages. We were students of three foreign languages at the time, so the power of translation seemed a prime candidate to become a source for heavenly powers. Along with that scholastically-flavored bent, I became personally attached to this style of hero and story, with its wish to be a lyric in the grimness of the world.

It was unbeatable, just being ourselves, well-rounded enough now that a passion for some old pulp character was an easily-accepted eccentricity.

I was reminded of playing as a child, rushing about attacking enemies and destroying them with utmost imaginary effort.

I carried the fun I had from that conversation home with me to explore the rest of the box of Conan comics, read a few feet from the air conditioner on humid June days on the second floor of Merrimac Arms, a block away from a University parking lot. My interest in fantasy to that point was practically nil, but here well into adulthood's first steps, after testing my mind and curiosity with four years of college, my urge to write, my proclivity to search for romance, and my inspiration set me loose to try the biggest story I had ever written, basing each chapter off the seven chakras.

I can't tell you here about all the discoveries that came that summer, but it was sweet, exciting, a glimpse into some other way to look at love and risk and the networks people build for strength and inspiration, which can still never protect us too much from what we must find the strength to do alone, or only with our closest companions. Like Conan, whose god Crom requires no prayer and offers no special guidance, we are asked to rely on ourselves for decisions, and we can turn to some inner light for guidance, but we will only be as strong as we decide we need, to survive. If we expect the strength of others, we will find bitter disappointment sometimes. You can only hope, like some Spartacus freeing the slaves, to make your stand and remember this may bring out the best in others.

It's funny that the world of a marauding warrior would be a part of this, but it's that spirit of adventure, magic, and places outside the modern world, in nature and beauty, free of the comforts that sometimes rob of us of chances we might otherwise take, memories we might otherwise create. To see the inner self as agile and courageous is to fill one's self with energy and joy.

I think, in leaving my home, I identified with Conan, who was presented as lusting for other cultures, battles, and tests and treasures and outright mysteries. It's become part of the lore from the first Conan the Barbarian movie to have Conan avenge the slaying of his people, but it's sheer wanderlust that drives the restless would-be king to so many lands, so many stations in life. Conan in 3D
Rose McGowan Jason Momoa, Ron Pearlman

Jason Momoa as Conan
Leo Howard as Young Conan

Rachel Nichols as Tamara: A beautiful and studious novitiate of a monastery trained to be the Queen’s servant, bodyguard and best friend, Conan's love interest.

Stephen Lang as Khalar Zym: A ruthless empire-building warlord. The character was originally going to be called Khalar Singh[7]

Rose McGowan as Marique: Khalar Zym's daughter and a powerful witch.

Bob Sapp as Ukafa: Leader of Kushite Tribemen from the savannahs of Kush. Khalar Zym's lieutenant; he is "jealous that Zym’s daughter, Marigue, will one day be warlord. He obeys his leader but plots the overthrow of his daughter.
Steven O'Donnell as Lucius: Leader of Khalar Zym's "Legion of Aquilonian Mercenaries" he is disfigured in an early fight with Conan.
Diana Lubenova as Cheren: A blind archer who leads a similar band of blind archers in Khalar Zym's mercenary army.

Ron Perlman as Corin: A blacksmith, a leader of the Cimmerians and Conan's father.

Nonso Anozie as Artus: A Zamoran pirate and friend of Conan.

Saïd Taghmaoui as Ela-Shan

Milton Welsh as Remo: A "mysterious warrior of dark magic."
Raad Rawi as Fassir: An "elder monk and leader of the monastery charged with the care and education of the queen, Ilira.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Season of the Scarlet Witch 1973 Star Crossed love

Drawn by Neal Adams

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the very first issue of the X-Men in 1963, the Scarlet Witch and her protective older brother Quicksilver found themselves dealing with the margins of society. Perhaps they owe their lives and direction to the older, persuasive Magneto, but upon recurring encounters we find actual malicious harm is not to their tastes, and after a few stories they recant their orthodoxy as his minions.

Surprisingly, they reappear shortly afterwards---now, along with reformed adventurer Hawkeye the Marksman, these three, all of whom were introduced as pawns in battle with heroes, join the legendary Captain America to become the core of Marvel's answer to the Justice League. Where Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man and the Wasp had gathered, stars from early Marvel's other strips, now the Avengers was the story of revived Captain America forging these other misfits into team. They learn so much about each other and overcome distinct prejudices that all proceed from their characters, as they grow and develop. By the time Stan Lee hands over the Avengers to Roy Thomas for the next six years, many major foes of future stories were introduced and the rocky dynamics of the individuals thrown together became the template for their compelling Silver Age exploits.

Scarlet Witch, a.k.a. Wanda (later Maximoff), begins her reluctant career dallying with a forbidden relationship of sorts, participating in criminal acts as part of the mutant activism underscored by Magneto---like the front line of Greenpeace for Mutants, which I guess, to avoid confusion with the Hulk's never ending quest to be left alone, we'll call "Genepeace." That would've been much more clever public relations for Magneto; as the X-Men are misunderstood as outlaws, I believe their stories get much better, if not darker.

But that's later, and this is about Wanda, who continues a life sheltered from all but the absolute chaos of Avengers' battles against time tyrants and manipulative space aliens. Her brother wants to mean well, but the speedster stunts his and her growth by harping on the mutants' outcast place in humanity and overall pessimism one might not expect from superheroes of earlier times---more the attitude of the anti-heroes to come. They are an inseparable pair, and she occupies herself for some time with a crush on Captain America, while fourth member Hawkeye arrogantly wants it all for himself, learning the hard way why he is on this team.

Wanda's life doesn't change much for a very long time, from my sampling of the stories afterwards. Her commentaries on prejudice don't actually involve very much getting out in the streets and learning to empathize with regular people, who need her heart and humanity, for all their misunderstanding and fear. Still, for this to give her a bit of a chip on her shoulder to deal with is very realistic; more than one public servant has found themselves wrestling with judging those they protect as too corrupt and incompetent to manage society properly. It's a rather counter-cultural point of view, nurtured by Roy Thomas, if perhaps undermined somewhat by the need for her to become a hostage every so often---which happened to male superheroes, also, but was almost formula for the females!

Then, she realizes, after working with the Vision sometime, she relates to his lonely, one-of-a-kind existence in the world. Like a beautiful nerd love story, he begins to take her peril personally, thus developing the somewhat endearing flaw of losing his temper when anything threatens Wanda. Aw!

Their dance comes gradually, surviving the initial silent jealousy and disappointment of Hawkeye and Quicksilver as they begin to blossom as individuals. Though three decades or so ahead of its time, I'm sure creators were tempted to create a more low-key vehicle for telling the conversation attempted by these unique lovers to challenge notions of tolerance and self-concepts of humanity, though, without the need for constant fantasy violence, could've been an eloquent trip through the Marvel Universe, indeed. With such a clinical personality, however, the Vision, since he is being published as a super-hero, does well to have a compliment of differing personalities around him.

Fortunately female roles are expanding in superhero comics, because the Scarlet Witch changes more in these two years of stories than in her previous decade of life. Lord knows, first time she goes out in something really cute, she gets kidnapped by the returned robot mutant hunters, the Sentinels.

A great help in this expansion comes from bringing in other females such as the Black Widow on occasion, but we learn much more about her, I think, when her unaccented primacy as the chief female mainstay of this super-boy's club is challenged by a far less staid character, one more worldly in her ways and physical in her demeanor: Mantis. She and her shadowed companion set out to join the Avengers between the scenes even as human paranoia over the new romance sparks an insane, deadly response. This leads to Wanda's feeling that her love is besieged by one kind of attack after the other, as we'll see.

All covers copyright Marvel Entertainment.

Statue of Liberty gets repairs courtesy of the Avengers. (It’s been damaged from a rampage in a Marvel monster book, Astonishing Tales #18 or some such, on sale that month. Wasn’t continuity keen?) The Vision and Scarlet Witch take such joy in one another's company. I feel good just looking at those first pages. I love the way these writers/ artists would include the media, as when these people in the street segments are depicted as news footage. It's a glamorous romance between two New Yorkers who have really contributed in a major way to their city, say a young man, then a young woman, both of whom seem themselves to have something for which to live. The gripe that they are neither of them human is scrawled across the inscrutable, angry face of a man marching towards old age (no, I didn't say he was white, but yes he is). “Edit this guy out, Bob” comes the off-camera word balloon. This man’s negative opinion doesn’t fit the acceptable fairy tale being sold by the media; they want to build, not tear down, the popularity of this couple. Maybe there’s a bit of human heart at work in editing out the curmudgeon. Perhaps there’s some liberal media bias at work? As we see, editing out the angry does not mean their voice will never be heard, however unpleasant.

The awful decision of some outraged humans to sacrifice themselves as living bombs is jarringly prescient of the suicide bombings to come in real life. The sickening loss of life as they attempt to take the Avengers with them is grim, and this is exactly the opposite of what the Vision and Scarlet Witch mean to each other.

It's strange in that the super-people, the beings beyond normal, are the ones being oppressed by the ordinary, as was observed in the letters page. I am not entirely sure Steve Englehart knew what he would get out of going to this place but I am reasonably it felt wrong and twisted in a way the various schemes of the Grim Reaper and company are not. It's stuff that could really happen, an uncomfortable reminder of a lack of superheroes on hand to stop these things from happening...but that's never meant to be, and even if it were, it would be of no use until those who deem life worthy of such a conclusion of violence are disabused, not in an open confrontation, but in the fabric of their lives. We all have our rebellious needs, and only some sanctity for life gives them voices of creation, rather than destruction. At any rate, these characters are regular people who decide to die in non-strategic deployment as suicide bombers, sufficiently armed to kill an Avenger.

That anyone would want their life to end as a statement of hatred and nihilism is an abuse of freedom and civilization, a crime against the self, and baffling. Fanaticism is never uglier than in this never-repeated choice of antagonists.

When one considers the degree of nihilism present in the results of much of the world economy today, one cannot help but feel like Scarlet Witch: the thing that makes her and her lover most different, it seems to her, is that they love, they forgive, they protect. The psychic poison, as much as the Vision's severe wounds, are of such venomous hatred of a love, born between two noble people trying only to be themselves and harm none, hardens Wanda, in a way she did not anticipate. The point that they do not understand Vision well enough to kill him does not erase from her mind the fact that someone tried.

See, previously Wanda's always played the apologist in comparison to her brother Pietro's impatience and elitism regarding humanity, and now that she has everything to lose, now that her life's been rocked by such hatred, it will be her struggle to recover. I would gladly trade the space to depict more of that recovery, but we see so little of these people, month by month, and there's just time to expose this poisoned flower in the bosom of Scarlet Witch. The pain of a mixed race couple, a gay couple, anyone whose simple aims drew unthinking hatred, is not so different, as they, too, represent a change from the patterns taken so for granted.

One thing about California in 2011: I never lived anywhere with more freedom for people to love who they want, and whatever you may think of that, I am glad all of these people are free to explore the friendships and romances of their choice, and if you are a lover of freedom, how could that not be, to you, a sign of progress? It is, after all, no new thing. A story about intolerance could arise anywhere, but to be drawn and written in America's largest city is a tribute to live and let live---a principle next to "love your neighbor, as you should yourself."

Walking in after this episode blithely unaware of this terrible tragedy are the Swordsman, rescued addict, adventurer, and reality tv show candidate. He's here to rejoin the Avengers after a most checkered history, and neither he nor his girlfriend are particularly committed to bourgeosie values, such Vision and Witch have embodied.

This means, living in the moment, Mantis thinks about what feels right without regard for the past. She doesn't consider Wanda part of the deal she would have to understand, nor does she approach her in an inclusive manner. Her Oriental mystique and very then-trendy kung fu skills and ...flexibility...were perfect for getting up the Eastern European maid's somewhat demurely Silver Age gypsy nose.

But this all follows on a misunderstanding that plays on the worst in the superheroes, who are not perfect, but seem especially unreasonable in this instance, which to readers is the Avengers/ Defenders War. The two comics came out, one a piece each month like usual, only the story threaded them together by way of the time-lost Black Knight and a device of great power broken into six pieces, the Evil Eye. This mysterious totem first appeared during one of Johnny Storm's side journeys with Wyatt Wingfoot, to find Crystal and her fellow Inhumans' stronghold, and was guarded by a mystical champion called Prester John. Now, however, it's the key component to an extra-dimensional conquerer's spell to circumvent his exile from our world (courtesy Dr. Strange). Accidental danger for Wanda again causes an over-heated Vision (well, it WAS the body of the original Human Torch, so...) to believe the worst of Silver Surfer (who he battles for a piece of the eye inside a volcano in Polynesia) and the Defenders, mistaken already for Black Knight's kidnappers.

Both teams strut their stuff in some very interesting match-ups: Dr. Strange versus the Black Panther and Mantis, a duel of heightened senses, is very good, and Hawkeye gets one back on Iron Man that makes you cheer despite yourself. Besides, the Defenders have been informed assembling the Eye is the way to retrieve Black Knight, who's actually been turned into a smashed stone statue! You know Captain America versus his old WW II ally Namor was a great writer's choice, and the turning point in the quarrel. The funny part is, everyone makes nice before they remember none other than the Incredible Hulk and the Mighty Thor are locked in a stand still grip in downtown Los Angeles! Madre de Dios!

Though in fact that the Avengers knew suspicion of the Defenders had come through the warning of Loki...presently, poor blinded Loki, who Thor knows to be God of Lies!!...anyway, the teams have a social. Then, the Marvel world as we know it goes to war with Dormammu's invasion: panels for everyone from Spider-Man to Dracula depict the spreading demon-transformation plague, as the end of the world visits New York City and many places besides. Dormy's stolen the re-assembled Eye, and with it, he is easily a match and more, in raw power, for both teams, even the Hulk, Namor, Thor, Iron Man, and more, all present. In fact, Thor and Iron Man are transformed into their helpless mortal identities of Dr. Don Blake and Tony Stark, industrialist, as the opening shot.

I don't want to spoil Avengers #117 for you, and I don't know that I could, but you'll never guess who saves the day against the would-be lord of two worlds?

I can tell you this: it's not the Vision. When the team's given the perception of quicksand all around them, Vision attempts to ignore the illusion and alter his mass and slip through. But---he freezes! At this critical juncture! No reason known! It will not, alas, be the last time, and he has much to ponder, and something, now, beyond his control, that may bring down his super hero career.

Mantis is as Mantis does

Mantis would become Wanda's rival without giving it a self-conscious thought. One can't help but wonder if there was not a more copacetic solution, but sheltered Wanda's fairy tale romance, because of the all-or-nothing nature of the expected monogamy, is in for a real test, and everyone in the quadrangle (along with the forgotten Swordsman) will have to come to grips with home truths.

I am glad we are on the subject of these two women and their crossing affections for this man who is, well, not really a man as we typically define them, right? It's raising much more interesting questions than how space races and their invasions and kidnappings fit in, when you're a bit longer in the tooth. That said, the next invasion's coming already...and the origin of the enmity between those aforementioned space races, the Kree (blue-skinned folk) and Skrulls (reptile-chin green shape changers) is going to shape up into a very unique history that is so beautifully 1970's, I will relate that, too.

After all---it's all going to flow right along with the rest of the origin of Mantis and Vision, with the rebirth of the Scarlet Witch and the Swordsman, told in between, advancing the story arc for each one of them.