Issue(s): Avengers #120, Avengers #121, Avengers #122, Avengers #123, Avengers #124
However, i had never read this story before, and i guess i sort of get it. Don't get me wrong; they are still a silly looking bunch, and if i never saw them again i would not complain, if only so i can stop sorting through whether this is Aries I, II, III or beyond, etc.. But this story, which deals as much with the politics and infighting of the group...
...as much as it does a conflict with the Avengers, managed to keep my interest for a change.
These issues also confirm that the Link brothers we saw in Astonishing Tales are in fact the Zodiac's Gemini (i mean of course they were, but Marvel was coy about it in the Astonishing Tales lettercol)...
...and reveals that Cornelius van Lunt is Taurus.
Now, i still have my doubts. These Zodiac guys are supposed to be twelve crime-bosses that get together to coordinate and pull off massive crimes...
...but their plot here is to kill everyone in the city born under the sign of Gemini. That's a "mad super-villain" scheme, not something crime-bosses would be interested in. Previously the Zodiac tried to ransom the city; even that doesn't sound like something crime-bosses would do, but at least there's a financial upside.
Especially disappointing for the same arc that reveals that van Lunt, a ruthless corrupt businessman, is running the group.
There's also the fact that the factions within the group are based on the zodiac signs themselves, with the "water signs" siding with the new Aries against Taurus. And Libra remains neutral because that sign represents balance.
Surely these guys don't actually believe in all that horoscope stuff, right?
Anyway, the Zodiac's scheme is shut down pretty quickly by the Avengers. The only drama is when Mantis, because of her empathy, is vulnerable to the "Star Blazer" device even though she, like the other Avengers, isn't a Gemini (they checked before going to battle).
The Zodiac story blends into an origin story for Mantis. We learn that the Swordsman met her while working for a Vietnamese crime lord called Monsieur Khruul.
Then, during the course of the fight with the Zodiac, the Avengers and the rebel faction of the Zodiac get themselves launched into space by Taurus, and they are rescued by Libra, who reveals that he is Mantis' father. Mantis, however, denies it. So Libra tells a story where he was a German soldier of fortune fighting for the French in Vietnam, and he eventually fell in love with a local that was related to Khruul, who didn't like the mixed race couple. So Libra fled with his daughter, was blinded in an attack from Khruul, and eventually found his way to a temple run by the Priests of Pama.
The Avengers head to Vietnam to see if there is any truth to Libra's story, and they find that the Priests of Pama, as well as Monsieur Khruul, have all been killed. Who could have done it? Who? Look up, Avengers! Maybe it was the giant dragon?! GIANT DRAGON!
But they don't actually see it yet and have to stumble around the temple a bit more. The Avengers are completely unable to hurt the dragon, but it doesn't mind talking to them, so they learn that it is a creature from "beyond the stars" called the Star-Stalker and reveals that the Priests of Pama were descendants of a group of pacifist Kree that encountered the Stalker on their prison planet and defeated it.
So now it hunts down the Priests, who scattered after driving off the Stalker and failing to get aid from the Supreme Intelligence...
...with some of them settling on Earth.
The Dragon had been stuck here for some time, but the Swordsman got himself captured by Monsieur Khruul during this arc and revealed what he knew about Mantis' origins, so Khruul and his soldiers came to the Temple, killing the Priests and freeing the dragon. Then the Star-Stalker killed Khruul.
The Avengers come up with the cool idea to try to attack the Star-Stalker with the Zodiac's Star-Blaster device...
...but that turns out to be a bust as well, and it's Mantis who, first, is able to hurt the dragon and, second, deduces that the creature is vulnerable to sunlight, including the Vision's solar rays.
The attempt to build up Mantis as a cool character is done very obviously, with the Black Panther wishing he was as cool as her in issue #122 (his thought bubbles also appear to be out of order)..
...and then Mantis defeating the Avengers, including Thor, in issue #123, when she doesn't want to hear any more of Libra's version of her origins.
The Vision/Mantis attraction also continues to develop, with the Vision complimenting Mantis' brain, and powers of deduction on a few occasions. She's also revealed to have a slow-working healing power that allows her to recover from internal injuries by going into a trance. She's still not convinced that Libra has her origin right.
There's a funny scene while the Avengers are trapped on the rocket with Aries' half of Zodiac. Thor throws his hammer at a window that turns out to be a forcefield that allows his hammer to pass through it, leaving it stuck in space, and Thor has to hide behind some crates before he turns back to Blake in front of the Zodiac.
But what did he think would happen if he did manage to break the window? Everyone would have been sucked into the vacuum of space.
There's also the questionable notion of Iron Man retrieving the hammer.
Add Libra to the "blind but i can see and fight just fine" group.
The Vision finds himself unable to rescue Taurus at the end of the fight with the Zodiac. We'll later learn that this is due to an aversion to water thanks to his not-yet-revealed Human Torch origins.
Art in these issues is mixed. Bob Brown's art seems to be dependent on the inker, and even John Buscema's art in issue #121 is ruined by Don Heck's finishes. Brown's art is better in #122 when inked by Esposito, and the Buscema/Cockrum collaboration in #124 is decent, too. But it's an interesting story; in addition to what i think is the best use of the Zodiac, Mantis' origin, tying her in with these pacifist Kree Priests of Pama, is pretty cool.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: These issues are concurrent with the goings-on in Captain America #169-175, which i inconveniently have all in one trade. The issue starts while Cap is in prison for the death of the Tumbler, and he briefly appears in Avengers #121 after he escaped from jail and is trying to clear his name. The MCP has Avengers #121 taking place during Captain America #171. The Black Panther is similarly in that series providing Falcon his new costume before returning to this arc. Additionally, due to my Captain Marvel trade, these 1974 issues are stuck at a choke point in 1973 due to the fact that the next issue, #125, ties in with the Thanos War. Part of the lesson here is stay away from trades if you want to read your Marvel comics the "right" way, but it's fair to say that a lot of major stuff was going on around this time in the Marvel Universe regardless of how the issues are collected.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (11): show
Most of the Germans fighting in Vietnam were members of the French Foreign Legion that signed up while the French occupied parts of Germany after World War II. If Libra was one of them, I'm not sure if I'm comfortable calling him a "soldier of fortune", even if that was Englehart's terminology.
Posted by: Michael | April 16, 2013 10:00 PM
I don't think Roy Thomas intended van Lunt to be Taurus when he created both characters, but I could be wrong. I find the idea of old, fat van Lunt being as ripped and physical as his costumed identity weirdly implausible, despite all the other impossibilities of superhero comics. But that's me.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | April 16, 2013 10:32 PM
@Michael - Libra describes himself as a "mercenary soldier with the French forces in Viet Nam -- because that is what I wanted to be." I take that to be in contrast to his zen-like post-Priests of Pama training. "Soldier of fortune" was my phrase; i just meant it as a synonym for mercenary. Is it offensive?
@Walter - i assume he's wearing an exoskeleton as Taurus. it's unclear to me how many of the Zodiac members have actual super-powers.
Posted by: fnord12 | April 17, 2013 9:10 AM
No, "soldier of fortune" is not offensive. I'm just not comfortable with calling the Germans in the Foreign Legion mercenaries. Aside from the general question of whether it's fair to call the Foreign Legion mercenaries, the Germans were recruited while the French were occupying part of their country, the economy was in shambles and their country had no army of their own. I guess that technically they were mercenaries but still...
Posted by: Michael | April 17, 2013 8:10 PM
Yeah, even in real life there are fat suits and rubber muscle suits that can disguise a person's physique. I think I find van Lunt implausible, though, for character reasons as much as physical ones. He doesn't seem like a guy who'd be into ramming things with his head, even wearing an exoskeleton.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | April 17, 2013 11:37 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | June 20, 2013 1:38 PM
Avengers #122 was one of my 1st ever store bought comics when I began collecting them. And this Zodiac series was one of my favorites. How dare you give it a C+! It was well written with a great story.
I happen to love the Zodiac group, and hated when they were made into robots in a later Defenders issue. I quit collecting comics about that time. Anyway this 3-comic story line stays in my collection as one of the best... an A+!
I'm going to have to see what you thought of the FF-Overmind story line, which to me was also one of Marvel's best ever. They didn't call this the golden age for nothing. This era was pure gold!
Posted by: Mike | June 15, 2014 7:02 PM
I'm gonna side with fnord over Mike on this one. I think a C+ is awfully generous. This arc makes me glad that I was never able to complete the Avengers run before I sold all my comics.
Though, even though I don't particularly like Mantis, I do love that panel of her flinging aside Thor and Wanda. I know I've seen it before. Perhaps it was on her Marvel Universe page?
Posted by: Erik Beck | March 2, 2015 5:53 PM
I think the ZODIAC concept might have served it's purpose better by having a more ethereal and interdimensional conquest element. The concept needed to go from Ambitions that most current Global leaders/Bankers share to one of interdimensional conquest. Vision once again gets the hot heroines interest. Uncanny!
Posted by: Rocknrollguitarplayer | April 5, 2016 12:33 AM
Rick Hoberg has a letter in #122.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 28, 2017 11:16 AM
@Mark Drummond: Yeah, it's fun to look through the letters pages of Silver Age and Bronze Age comic books to see how many future comic book creators started out as letterhacks.
Posted by: Ben Herman | February 28, 2017 11:52 AM
Why does Cornelius Van Lunt own a swimming pool if he can't swim ?
Posted by: Mike Teague | November 21, 2017 10:35 PM
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