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 book...so 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!!!

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