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.

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