Avengers #129-135, Giant-Size Avengers #2-4
Issue(s): Avengers #129, Giant-Size Avengers #2, Avengers #130, Avengers #131, Avengers #132, Giant-Size Avengers #3, Avengers #133, Avengers #134, Avengers #135, Giant-Size Avengers #4
...and captures all the Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Mantis, Agatha Harkness), but doesn't bother to take the Swordsman. Harkness mystically guides the Swordman to their place of captivity in an Egyptian pyramid, but he fails to accomplish anything, although he does find Rama-Tut, which is confusing because Kang is supposed to be Rama. Kang was mainly after Mantis or the Scarlet Witch, since a Star of David style light over the Avengers' Mansion indicated that one of them is destined to be the Celestial Madonna. He doesn't know what that means, but the legends say that the Madonna's mate is destined to be the most powerful man in the universe, and Kang wants to be that man. He also puts the three boys into big robot-shells that force them to do his bidding.
Hawkeye returns to the Avengers in Giant-Size Avengers #2, which has some of the earliest pencils by Dave Cockrum at Marvel (Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story says that Steve Englehart felt that Cockrum's art didn't follow the plot he wrote, so he cut up the art and re-arranged the panels).
Jarvis lets him know what's been going on. He meets up with the Swordsman and Rama-Tut and assesses the situation as (closely paraphrasing) 'the two weakest Avengers besides the Wasp and some old guy in a mushroom hat'.
Kang sends his Vision-bot on a rampage at the UN, and Hawkeye, Swordsman, and Rama-Tut go after him. Hawkeye stops the bot by blocking its head, which prevents the Vision from recharging its energy. We learn that Rama-Tut is an old Kang - in his 60th year - that became a softie, first going back in time to rule the Egyptians and then put himself in suspended animation so he could prevent his past self from doing whatever Kang is attempting now.
With the Vision now on their side, the free heroes have an easier time stopping Kang's Iron Man-bot when he is sent to attack the Chinese government. Meanwhile, stuck in their test tubes, Mantis and the Scarlet Witch fight over the Vision.
Kang sends the Thor-bot after the free heroes, but he makes the mistake of getting too close to the action, and Vision frees Mantis and the Scarlet Witch.
The combined team is able to free Thor.
Then Kang and Rama-Tut face each other, and there's a bit of a cosmic conundrum in which we see a number of Kang related flashbacks...
...and find out that it's Mantis, not the Scarlet Witch, that is the Celestial Madonna. Kang attempts to kill Mantis in an "if i can't have her no one will" fit, but the Swordsman jumps in the path and dies instead.
Kang and Rama-Tut disappear.
Iron Man is still in his "nose" phase in these stories.
At this point Stark Industries is not taking military contracts and Iron Man talks about regretting the military contracts it has taken in the past. He's become a real softie.
The Avengers fly to Vietnam to bury the Swordsman and learn more about Mantis' past. The Scarlet Witch stays behind to continue her study of witchcraft.
In Saigon, a loser whose power is that he's covered in razors robs the diamond exchange. This scene features the worst colored Asian people yet, as all the bank employees are a pea-soup green in my Celestial Madonna trade paperback (they're a pale gold in the GIT Corp PDFs i get my scans from).
There's a little confusion over the name of this villain. In the above panel, and on the cover of this issue, he's referred to as Slasher. But one panel calls him Buzzsaw.
Much later he settles on the name Razorblade, so that's the name i use in the Characters Appearing.
Now, Mantis up until this point has had two conflicting origins. In one she was a Vietnamese street prostitute. In the other she was trained by Kree pacifists called the Priests of Pama. The Avengers take the Swordsman's corpse to be buried in the Pama temple. Mantis asks Thor to preside over the funeral, since he's a god.
Soon after the funeral, the Avengers respond to cries of help and find a man accused of the murder of his wife being chased by the Titanium Man, the Crymson Dynamo, and the Radioactive Man. They have allied themselves with the Viet Cong and formed the Titanic Three.
Thor and Iron Man get into a fight over whether or not they can attack the commie group. Thor says thee nay...
...but Slasher subsequently engineers a fight between the two groups while the Avengers are wandering the city trying to help Mantis sort out her origins. In the course of the fight the Titanic Three figure out that they've been duped and break it off.
Steve Rogers shows up in his Nomad persona. He was in the Pacific at a Roxxon oil rig fighting the Serpent Squad and he stopped off to see the Avengers while he's waiting for the Viper and Cobra to resurface after their escape. His arrival triggers Hawkeye to think about how much the Avengers have changed and doubt his own power levels again.
Meanwhile, we return to Kang and Rama-Tut, who have been brought to Limbo by Immortus.
Immortus suggests to Kang that they become allies against the Avengers. They summon a Legion of the Unliving, a combination of dead (Wonder Man, GA Human Torch, Midnight, Baron Zemo) and undead (the Frankenstein Monster, the Flying Dutchman) characters.
Back on Earth, the Avengers try to contact Captain Mar-vell to get his take on the Kree Priests of Pama, but he's not available. Nomad agrees to rejoin the Avengers after the Serpent Squad case is settled, and in a very funny set of panels, the Vision tries to get advice on the ladies from Iron Man, since his boss Tony Stark is such a playboy. All the while, Mantis is seeing things, first a hooded man that will turn out to be Libra, and then a ghostly version of the Swordsman.
Cap returns to his own book when a radio report indicates that the Serpent Squad is in LA. Then the Avengers are teleported to Limbo to fight the Legion of the Unliving in a big maze.
The battle is won, in part because the Frankenstein Monster and the Human Torch switch sides, but the Vision is bady damaged in the fight. Kang flees when Thor engages him.
The Torch helps to repair the Vision, and they discover that the Vision was built out of the Human Torch's body. I'll let Dean Mullaney, future Editor of Eclipse Comics, explain why that's ridiculous (from his letter in issue #139):
I could buy Vish being connected with Ultron-5, with Wonder Man, and even with Hank Pym. Yet, connecting him with something else stretches its believability too much. His history is varied and interesting enough as it is, and by adding one more complicated layer to it, you have exceeded your literary license and all but ruined the excellent intricacies. The same holds true for the original Torch. His career has been very involved (too much so, I feel), and this latest addition seems ludicrous.
The response is that this has been in the works since Avengers #93, and that they even once let the cat out of the bag, in the lettercol for issue #115. In that issue, "in a PS not to be printed", a letter writer referred to an interview with Neal Adams in Gallery where the intention to tie the characters together was mentioned.
Continuing with the revelations, Immortus reveals that he is actually another future version of Kang, and he's actually been working to prevent Kang from messing with the Celestial Madonna situation. With Kang out of the picture for the time being, Immortus offers to send the Avengers back in time to learn what this Celestial Madonna business is all about. Separately, he sends the Vision back in time to learn about his origin in more detail. They are given Synchro-Staffs that basically act as Tour Guides to the Past. Immortus tells them to grasp the staff to hear the relevant info. Hawkeye says "I tried grasping the staff once at the Playboy Club...". After much internal debate, i decided to google that phrase to see if it could possibly mean anything other than what it clearly seems to and... no, no, it doesn't.
The Vision figures out that the times he froze up are due to claustrophobia that the original Human Torch developed when trapped under a swimming pool's glass winter cover. The Torch's claustrophobia was reinforced when he was buried in the desert by mobsters in 1949. He was revived by a nuclear bomb blast, and then in 1957 he found out that the radiation was causing him to lose control of his metabolism, so he self-destructed by going nova in the desert. Later the Mad Thinker finds the Torch's corpse and re-activates it, using it to attack the Fantastic Four. After that episode, Ultron contacts the Thinker, demanding an android. The Thinker gives the Torch android to Ultron, and Ultron modifies it to create the Vision.
Or more accurately, forced the Human Torch's original creator, Phineas Horton (who was living in Stamford, CT as a TV repairman), to create the Vision, but it was Ultron who installed Simon William's brain patterns.
Meanwhile the other Avengers travel back to the Kree homeworld of Hala, where we see the Kree, as primitive barbarians (there's a mistake in the panel below, as acknowledged in the lettercol for issue #139. The original Kree were supposed to have blue skin), and a race of plant men called the Cotati. The Skrulls, highly advanced but peaceful merchants at this time, arrive at the planet...
...and arrange a bizarre contest between the two races of Hala, where representatives of each race are brought to an abandoned planetoid and given a year to build something. It's not clear why the Skrulls couldn't trade with and teach both races, but this is the story. The Kree representatives happen to be taken to the Earth's moon, and this is where the Blue Area of the Moon and the Watcher's home come from. Despite the Kree's impressive accomplishment, the Cotati representatives win the contest by converting their planetoid into a beautiful garden. Angered, the Kree slaughter the Cotati and the Skrull merchants...
...and use the Skrull technology to quickly advance their warlike capabilities. However, some pacifist Kree, together with an underground group of surviving Cotati, form a resistance movement. They are banished to a barren planet by the Supreme Intelligence.
The next point in the Kree pacifist timeline involves the Star-Stalker, a story that was conveyed in Avengers #124. The Star -Stalker seems to have prompted the Kree to travel in pairs of two to various planets, including Earth, where they landed in Vietnam, established their temple, and apparently introduced kung fu to the world. Cotati were secretly buried in that temple as well. The Avengers realize that the temple is the same one where they buried the Swordsman. With this revelation, they are sent back to modern times, where they find the Swordsman's "ghost" and Libra.
While the Avengers were traveling through time, Moondragon keeps picking up their request for Captain Marvel. Since he won't pick up, she decides to respond. She shows up at the Avengers Mansion to find the Scarlet Witch talking in villain-ese. Attempting a mental probe, she gets knocked out by powerful witchcraft.
We begin to delve into the origins of the Vision.
Moondragon next shows up at the Pama temple, and explains her origin, which is basically a companion to Mantis'. She was orphaned at an early age by Thanos and brought to the moon of Titan by Thanos' father Mentor.
She was basically trained the same way that Mantis was.
With this revelation, Immortus shows up. The revelations continue. Moondragon and Mantis were both trained to become the Celestial Madonna, but Mantis was deemed worthy of the title while Moondragon was not. The memory of the trials were wiped from both of their minds.
The last two (giant-size) issues of this arc are drawn by George Tuska and Don Heck respectively, and they suffer for it.
The Vision gets lost in the space time-continuum and winds up in the Dark Dimension, where Dormammu and Umar have taken the Scarlet Witch and Agatha Harkness. Dormammu has already defeated Clea and captured Gaea, the earth spirit and now he's possessed Wanda in retaliation for his defeat in the Avengers/Defenders war.
He makes Wanda attack the Vision, but her love for him overcomes his mental domination. Wanda frees Agatha and the three threaten Dormammu.
He agrees to let them go, free Gaea, and abandon his planned conquest of Earth, but thought balloons reveal that he is lying. Vision and the Scarlet Witch decide to get married.
Also while the Celestial revelations are going on, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and Thor discover that the Titanic Three have been defeated by Kang, and they go out looking for him. Hawkeye starts giving orders and Iron Man jokes that Hawkeye may be campaigning for the Avengers chairmanship, which has been held by Thor (!) since Captain America quit the team. Hawkeye thinks that he might like the idea of being the leader. The three split up, and each one faces a version of Kang.
OK, deep breath, we're almost done. The Swordsman ghost reveals that Mantis is the perfect human, and she must now marry the perfect plant. He points to a tree in the temple, but then says that as a wedding gift, the tree - a Cotati - has deigned to re-animate the corpse of the Swordsman for her. Sweet. After touching her head to the tree's forehead, Mantis agrees with this insanity. Recalling that Mantis was never an official member of the team, the Avengers decide to make her a member now, presumably to ensure that all of this insanity can be recorded in the official Avengers scrapbook.
Then Kang shows up and tries one last time to push his way into the prophesy, but he grabs a decoy Mantis created by Immortus instead. It's actually the Space Phantom. What's worse, sleeping with a plant-animated corpse, or the Space Phantom?
Mantis and Plant-Swordsman are getting ready to "mingle" when the Vision and the Scarlet Witch show up, and Wanda has the unfortunate line of "If there's any mingling going on, the Vision and I want in on it!". Now we're getting somewhere! The Vision, humorless and sexless, spoils the fun with "Yes, for we have also decided to marry." Immortus agrees and marries the two couples.
Then Mantis and her corpse float off into the heavens.
Never, anywhere in all this insanity, is it ever explained what the Celestial Madonna is, or why it's so important that she breed with the plant man. We take it for granted that it's a good thing, and not some insane rape scheme by this race of plant people (or Immortus, for whom rape schemes run in the family, as we already learned with Kang's forced marriage attempts on Ravonna and Mantis, and will learn later with Marcus and Ms. Marvel).
Even setting aside that gaping plot hole, this arc reads more like a rambling history book than an actual story. For most of the book, the characters are standing around listening to exposition. There's a few attempts at adding some action to the arc through the Titanic Three and Dormammu, but these feel more like interruptions than parts of the story. Some of the history is interesting, but a lot of it seems unnecessary. Why make the Vision a rebuilt Human Torch? It's an odd revision that clutters him up with irrelevant baggage and diminishes Ultron's sinister genius. The whole Rama-Tut -> Kang -> Rama-Tut again sequence overcomplicates Kang/Immortus' already confusing chronology (and where does the Scarlet Centurion fit in?).
On the plus side, the first Skrull/Kree contact was interesting and it was a nice twist to see the Skrulls as non-violent in their ancient history. Tying Moondragon's origin to Mantis was also cool, and having Moondragon find out that she was not the chosen one is an idea that will lead to some interesting character development for her. But even these good ideas are executed poorly.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 188,084. Single issue closest to filing date = 203,048.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Occurs concurrently to Captain America #177-186. For what it's worth, the Legion of the Unliving seem to have been plucked from time prior to their deaths, and they are returned to those moments in time after their defeats. The Frankenstein Monster was stomping around in the present at this point, but a narration box says that this version was pulled from 1898, so i am not listing him as a character appearing. A later revelation will suggest that the Human Torch appearing with the Legion here is really Toro, but that revelation itself is suspect, and in any event it's not a good idea to believe that the Legion of the Unliving characters are legit. Dormammu and Gaea's appearance here is between Doctor Strange #7-8.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Avengers: The Celestial Madonna TPB
Inbound References (46): show
Many of the story elements here were revised or reversed in Avengers Forever. The AF trade paperback collection shows that the art is excellent and the story intelligent, but try reading it in one go and your head will explode.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 10, 2011 5:41 AM
The original cover to Giant-Size Avengers #2 also depicted Dr. Doom.
Roy Thomas wanted to veto the Human Torch's involvement in the maze story, claiming it would confuse readers also seeing him in The Invaders. I think Englehart bribed him by letting him dialogue that sequence.
After injuring the Vision, the Ghost/Dutchman vanishes and nobody comments on it.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 20, 2011 1:07 PM
Roger Slifer later stated that Joe Staton was intentionally limited strictly to inking as Marvel decided that his penciling, based on seeing his previous Charlton work, was just too cartoony.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 15, 2012 6:47 PM
A Mantis mini-series written By Denny O'Neil was announced in late 1982, but nothing came of it.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | October 27, 2012 7:56 PM
The letter writer (who mentioned the Neal Adams interview in Gallery) was the late Duffy Vohland,who at some point worked for Marvel. He may even have been on staff in 1973 (when his appeared in Avengers #115);from what I have read, letter-writing was a part of the Marvel interns/apprentices' duties.
Posted by: Shar | November 27, 2012 8:38 PM
Prior to the O'Neil proposed mini, a Bill Mantlo-written Mantis miniseries was announced in a March 1981 Marvel press conference, titled at that point as "Celestial Madonna".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 24, 2012 4:43 PM
When he says "grasping the staff at the playboy club," Do you think hawk-eye meant the "staff" as in the waitresses or the staff as in his own "staff"? somehow I think the former.
Posted by: kveto from prague | January 17, 2013 5:19 PM
The character that you refer to as Razorblade/Razorfist in #130 was called the Slasher. Perhaps the name has been changed in your TPB edition, but I don't know why. (Razorfist is of course the name of a Shang-Chi villain.)
Posted by: Dan Spector | February 3, 2013 4:30 AM
He's alluding to the fact that the Slasher uses the name Razorblade years later when he reappears in a Captain America issue.
Posted by: Michael | February 3, 2013 9:00 AM
I've added some clarity around the name of the Slasher character (and fixed where i was calling him Razorfist. Thanks guys.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 3, 2013 1:13 PM
A Vision/Scarlet Witch wedding parody by Tony Isabella, Paty Cockrum, Duffy Vohland and Alan & Paul Kupperberg appeared in FOOM#6.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 10, 2013 6:26 PM
FOOM#7 announced a new costume for the Scarlet Witch in #132, but I guess there was no room for it.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 10, 2013 6:39 PM
Jo Duffy has a letter in #132.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 25, 2013 6:19 PM
I guess nobody cared for Mantis, so this epic story was made up to get rid of her. Wanda bringing down the meteor was a great moment for her. Too bad GSA4 was drawn by Don Heck.
Posted by: Steven Printz | August 4, 2013 11:03 PM
Was Cockrum originally planned to draw GS Avengers #4 ? As he had drawn GS #2 and #3, would he have done #4 had GS X-Men #1 not been scheduled for the same month ? This may explain why Don Heck's work looks so rushed as it was a last minute job.
Posted by: Mike Teague | December 13, 2013 8:29 PM
I'm with kvetko on that. The "staff" Hawkeye (and the writers) was referring to would have been the young ladies working at the Playboy Club. You have a very naughty mind. I approve.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | May 28, 2014 2:07 PM
I thought this story was pretty alright, I appreciated that they tried to tell an epic comic book tale. Even though a lot of the history takes some liberties it was neat learning some more about the Vision and how he feels like he has a past at long last. I'd say the Kree and Skrull history lesson was the best part.
Posted by: davidbanes | September 26, 2014 9:23 PM
David, the creepy part was that the Priests felt Mantis needed more experience with humanity, so they erased her memory, dumped her in the middle of a civil war and left her to become a hooker. And after that, she still married the Cotati.
Posted by: Michael | September 26, 2014 9:43 PM
Hey I didn't say it didn't have parts of that were messed up. I mean having to be a prostitute in a civil war just to learn humanity is way more messed up than the wedding the Cotati bit.
By liberties I meant the Golden Age Human Torch bit. I had no idea of that character's fate short of a FF annual so to a casual on Golden Age Marvel it worked for me.
Posted by: davidbanes | September 26, 2014 11:50 PM
Oh man, this is a convoluted mess to try to understand and I used to own it. How ridiculous is a storyline that it takes three Giant-Size issues to wrap it all up.
There are some very interesting things (I agree with fnord - the early stuff with the Skrulls and the Kree is fascinating). There are also some really just idiotic things (we basically have four versions of Kang running around in this storyline).
But to me the main problem will be a continuing problem and I will quote a future line of the Beast's: "Again? But that never works." Here I am referring to the Legion of the Unliving. Because Marvel is so bad at keeping characters dead, it seems every time they do one of these at least one of the characters from the previous time has been brought back to life, usually revealing that they were never dead in the first place, so it looks dumb every time. Granted, this is the first time, but still.
Posted by: Erik Beck | March 6, 2015 8:31 PM
At least this particular time, it was explained that the Legion of the Unliving members were pulled from time at the moment before their death. That covers all the bases.
With future appearances of the Legion, you do raise a good point. However, with some creative thinking things can usually be figured out. For example, the Green Goblin wasn't Norman Osborn (who, it turns out, wasn't dead), but Bart Hamilton (who is still dead). Bucky wasn't the original (who, it turns out, wasn't dead) but one of his replacements. Like I said, you have to b e creative, but it can be done.
What I want to know it, when will Oort the Living Comet get around to making his first (living) appearance??
Posted by: Bill | March 6, 2015 10:49 PM
I never knew that Thanos' father was the Freshmaker!
Posted by: Tabe8 | March 7, 2015 1:03 AM
Man, Tabe8, you really made me have to think for a minute on that one! Changed "Mentos" to "Mentor"; thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 7, 2015 1:22 AM
Mike Teague, from what I have read GSA #4 was very behind schedule. Dave Cockrum either did not have the time to pencil it or just wasn't interested, and at literally the last minute Don Heck was pressed into service. This was, after all, back when comic books absolutely positively had to ship on time with no exceptions. None of this "I'm going to take my time to render a masterpiece" stuff that suddenly became fashionable from the 1990s on.
In any case, Heck was very fast when he needed to be, and no one imagined that decades later people would be buying collected editions of this stuff, so there wasn't any concern that it would look very sketchy. So he was given the story to pencil.
By the way, I do think that Heck is often unfairly maligned. When he was allowed to take his time on a story, and when he was given a good inker, his stuff often looked great. But, yes, this was unfortunately some of his less-impressive work, done under hardly-ideal circumstances.
Oh, well, at least this story gave us the now-immortal line "Woman, have you not seen that you are to marry that tree?"
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 31, 2015 1:20 PM
Okay, since I'm re-reading this storyline again, I might as well add another comment!
Michael wrote... "David, the creepy part was that the Priests felt Mantis needed more experience with humanity, so they erased her memory, dumped her in the middle of a civil war and left her to become a hooker. And after that, she still married the Cotati."
Michael, the fact of the matter was, both Mantis and Moondragon were very aloof, arrogant, condescending individuals at the end of their training by the Priests of Pama. But then Mantis had her memory wiped, she thought she came from a much more humble, everyday beginnings. It also led to her doomed relationship with the Swordsman, and his death led Mantis to realize just how haughty and uncaring she had become. That all resulted in Mantis developing much-needed humility, which is why she was much more suited to becoming the Celestial Madonna. In contrast, Moondragon never went through any of that, and she developed a monumental god complex.
Having said all that, if you still think that the Cotati and the Priests of Pama had some screwy reasoning going on for wiping Mantis' memory, well, later stories by Englehart showed that they had some rather selfish motives, and that they could be very manipulative. For instance, I am totally convinced that most of the Priests faked their deaths at the hands of Monsieur Khruul as part of the whole elaborate charade to lead Mantis to discovering her destiny. Seriously, the greatest martial artists in the galaxy got killed by some local gangster?!? Years later in Fantastic Four a whole bunch of the Priests show up alive & well, headed up by a guy who we are told was Mantis' main instructor in the martial arts. So, yeah, neither the Priests and the Cotati are saints.
Posted by: Ben Herman | August 23, 2015 12:56 PM
Ben, the problem with the scenario you're describing is that it's basically saying" If women get too arrogant, they should be put into situations where they have to become prostitutes to make them humble". Do you see how that has Unfortunate Implications?
Posted by: Michael | August 23, 2015 1:06 PM
Oh, definitely, Michael. I agree that it is VERY questionable of Englehart to have Mantis become a prostitute. That aspect of was certainly unnecessary. It definitely feels like he was pushing the envelope for the sake of it, rather than for legitimate character development. Mantis could have been given the experience of living an everyday hardscrabble existence without turning her into a hooker.
I'm also disappointed that (as was pointed out in the comments here on Avengers #112) years later Englehart described Mantis as "very frankly, a slut." I think that the work that he did on Mantis was very good but nevertheless somewhat flawed. I'm still able to enjoy the stories, but I do recognize their weak points, as well as the problems in Englehart's thinking.
(I often have the same problem with Chris Claremont. I really like his work, but from time to time I'm just left going "Wow, mind control and weird fetishistic physical transformations and BDSM yet again?!?")
Posted by: Ben Herman | August 23, 2015 1:38 PM
@Ben & Michael: I think you're both totally missing the point of what Englehart was doing here. In Avengers #129, after Mantis has hooked up with the Swordsman and tags along when he joins the team, Kang the Conqueror turns up, heralding his arrival by a huge star over Avengers mansion – reminiscent of the natal star in the East from Christ’s nativity – having seemingly worked out that one of several women will give birth to a very significant child. Kang is pretty keen to father this child. It then turns out that Mantis is to be the Celestial Madonna, with the Cotati obligingly providing her with a husband, in the form of her dead lover the Swordsman reanimated by a plant. During the selection of Mantis as Celestial Madonna from the various candidates, Steve Englehart asserted that she was found most appropriate because she’d spent years working the Saigon bars and being treated as meat, whilst Moondragon (and possibly Wanda) were too pristine and perfect. Now, in making Mantis a whore, Englehart was digging back into a very ancient tradition. The bride of god who births a god is often seen as personifying wisdom (and Mantis has a certain serene understanding about her), and is often linked to prostitution. And that’s why Mantis was sent by the Priests of Pama to live on the streets and survive as best she could. Now the Christian church would perhaps argue that in using the pure Mary of Nazareth the vessel for Christ, God was leading the world from a half-understood truth to a fully revealed one. Wisdom is no longer soiled or depraved by the sins of the world, but is made pure and spotless as it is meant to be. There are certainly less dark undertones in the Gospel accounts of Christ’s birth than in Englehart’s modern fable. In choosing the old, cruel, way, it would appear the Cotati show their true colours. Englehart carries the story through his run on Silver Surfer, and the child eventually gets taken from Mantis and then continues it in his F4 run, but you can tell he intended the whole Celestial Madonna thing to be far from over. And that the child was going to be seriously bad news if it was brought up to serve the Cotati.
Englehart’s story here parallels the Gnostic tradition that the Holy Spirit was feminine in nature, and that the personified apocryphal figure of Wisdom was the third part of the Trinity, the female companion to the male Christ. Whilst Wisdom was held to have been manifest in the Virgin Mary, the pure mother of Jesus, she was equally seen to have been manifest in Mary Magdalen, the whore who became Christ’s companion. And the Gnostic writings go far beyond the Christian Gospels in describing the relationship of Jesus and the Magdalen, depicting her as his principal disciple to whom he revealed secrets untold to Peter, and even as Christ’s wife and the mother of his child. So a comic book version of the “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” hypothesis which speculates that the Templar secret was that the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene formed the Merovingian dynasty of early France, and suggests a continuous secret plot to restore the present descendants to world rulership. Anyway, there was a Gnostic idea that wisdom, which was female, was debased in the sinful world of the flesh, and was degraded into prostitution. The “Templar conspiracy” also interprets the Grail legend as referring to Christ’s bloodline.
Posted by: Nathan Adler | August 23, 2015 4:04 PM
Very interesting insights and interpretations, Nathan. Thank you for sharing them here.
Posted by: Ben Herman | August 23, 2015 7:08 PM
Many of my thoughts about Mantis and this storyline are similar to Ben and Michael's concerns and observations, which can occasionally force me to overlook the points Nathan brings up -- most of which I intuitively understood the ramifications of when these issues were first published.
I think that Englehart's plans for Mantis required five factors to be in alignment: 1.) insightful personal philosophy, 2.) storyline consistency, 3) storytelling mastery, 4.) long-term control over the character and 5.) editorial support.
I think when Englehart introduced Mantis, he was not quite sure what to do with her, and he was still developing his voice and skill as a writer. Later, he lost complete long-term control of the character and definitely had to deal with editorial interference, which certainly affected his ability to write the character as he wanted when he had more mastery of his craft and had more experience in crafting long-term story arcs. I think his personal philosophy is somewhat progressive and somewhat limited at the same time, and not as self-reflective about its bias as it should be, given how often he is willing to focus on ethnicity and gender issues beyond his own immediate experience, without directly questioning his perspective on those issues within the stories themselves.
Less ambitious storytelling and characters don't suffer under the same constraints, because they are safer to do, leaving themselves up to less criticism because they don't explore as many issues.
I'm not saying that Emglehart's handling of Mantis should be seen entirely through a perspective of criticism or praise alone, but rather viewed together, acknowledging were it works and where it does not, and how some of that is due to Englehart and some of that is due to industry factors outside of his control.
Posted by: Aaron Malchow | August 23, 2015 7:32 PM
Actually, it was the Watcher who put up the huge star. From what I remember of the Trial of the Watcher in Englehart's Captain Marvel, he did so pretty much because he felt like it.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 24, 2015 10:42 AM
I guess nobody cared for Mantis
Steven Printz, I just got this done last weekend...
I expect that I am now in the running for World's Biggest Mantis Fan, although admittedly there probably isn't much competition for that title :)
Posted by: Ben Herman | November 20, 2015 10:31 AM
Ben, you are nuts, but an admirable nuts. I just had my wife read Thanos vs Avengers and she turned to me at one point and said "Will this character ever stop saying 'This one'? It's really annoying."
Then two days later it got out that she'll be appearing in the second Guardians film. So you can't be the only one who likes Mantis!
Posted by: Erik Beck | November 20, 2015 2:43 PM
The problem with saying the members of the Legion of the Unliving weren't really dead, but taken from a moment "just prior to their deaths..."
If that's the case, why bother with the "unliving" concept at all? This isn't exactly a powerhouse lineup. Why wouldn't Immortus just grab a lineup of truly powerful figures at the peak of their prowess? If there is supposed to be something special about being "near death" that allows Immortus to spirit someone away, these characters (aside from the two "really dead" ones) seem pretty healthy. And if Immortus somehow restored them to health, why do they still end up dying when he sends them back?
Posted by: Dan H. | November 24, 2015 8:10 PM
Immortus didn't pick them, Kang did; and he says flat out that he's picking people the current Avengers will *think* are dead because he sees it as a method of psychological warfare. In fact, he gives more specific reasons for several of the summonings: Midnight, for example, is needed because Kang needs Mantis alive, Wonder Man is there to psych out the Vision, and so on.
Also, given how quickly many of the legionnaires start breaking away from Kang's orders, summoning really powerful folks would have been a bad idea.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | November 24, 2015 11:13 PM
Ah, obviously my memory of those issues has faded. Now that you mention it, I do remember that it was Kang doing the picking.
Posted by: Dan H. | November 25, 2015 1:46 AM
What is the deal with the Legion of the Unliving? The first group were assembled by Kang under Roy and Englehart's pen here so given they call forth fallen superbeings this was really nice foreshadowing to reveal Immortus was another of his identities given his summoning forth a similar coterie in his early appearance (Avengers #10) what with Paul Bunyan, Attila the Hun, Goliath, Merlin and Hercules. But my question is, when they summon members, are they zombies, or does Immortus/ Kang pluck them out of the timeline prior to their deaths and if the latter how do they get them to do their bidding?
Posted by: Nathan Adler | January 16, 2016 7:23 PM
"What is the deal with the Legion of the Unliving? The first group were assembled by Kang under Roy and Englehart's pen here so given they call forth fallen superbeings this was really nice foreshadowing to reveal Immortus was another of his identities given his summoning forth a similar coterie in his early appearance (Avengers #10) what with Paul Bunyan, Attila the Hun, Goliath, Merlin and Hercules. But my question is, when they summon members, are they zombies, or does Immortus/ Kang pluck them out of the timeline prior to their deaths and if the latter how do they get them to do their bidding?"
Since different Legions were summoned by different people, it's...different. Legion I has been strongly suggested to be actual people pulled through time from seconds before their "deaths" or disappearances. They were resistant to harm under Kang's mind control, but this fades as the story progresses.
Legion II were created by the Granmatser, wielding the power of Death herself. It is suggested in that story that they are simulacra rather than actual dead folks brought back to life.
Legion III, summoned by Immortus, were very likely Space Phantoms, but may have been time-displaced people instead.
Legions IV and V were zombie-like reanimates created by the Grim Reaper through mystical means; we know that Legion V were the real articles, since Wonder Man is resurrected fully in that story.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | January 16, 2016 7:53 PM
fnord, don't want to mention Roy Thomas' impossible retcon from West Coast #61 where he reveals the Human Torch in this story is actually Toro?
Yeah, I ignore it too, but worth a mention, no? Even just explaining that you're treating that as not true since it really really is impossible to say what is presented in this story is Toro.
Posted by: AF | January 17, 2016 5:12 AM
I think you just said it for me, AF. :-) I've added a note in the Considerations.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 18, 2016 1:53 PM
I cannot believe I am suggesting this... in (groan) Avengers Forever #8, the Synchro-Staff is revealed to be (groan) a Space Phantom. And that Space Phantom sits us down and gives us a lecture from Busiek and Brevoort about how crap the 90s were and how everything from as far back as Lee/Kirby has been all smoke and mirrors and Space Phantoms.
So shouldn't Synchro-Staff (Space Phantom) be treat as a character appearing?
(At times I feel I am the only person who genuinely thinks Avengers Forever is an absolutely terrible indulgent narcissistic vanity project.)
Posted by: AF | February 16, 2016 4:02 AM
@AF: Don't worry you aren't the only one who thinks Avengers Forever is an absolutely terrible indulgent narcissistic vanity project!
Posted by: Nathan Adler | February 16, 2016 5:40 AM
For all of AVENGERS FOREVER's problems, I think it gave us the definitive Kang characterization, and setup for the definitive Kang storyline in KANG WAR (aka KANG DYNASTY).
Posted by: Thanos6 | February 16, 2016 6:48 AM
I've added Synchro-Staff as a character appearing. Thanks!
Posted by: fnord12 | February 16, 2016 8:33 AM
"The Holy Spirit is feminine in nature according to gnostics" has to do with the different frequencies of the Trinity Needed by Man to tune in and communicate with God. Great thread here...
Posted by: Rocknrollguitarplayer | July 27, 2016 2:09 AM
@AF: You mean the speech where it was revealed that Immortus was not only playing the long game against the Avengers and their allies, but also against himself (more to the point, against past versions of himself like Kang) just so Earth's superhuman population never ventures beyond the confines of the Solar System (at least not without someone or something keeping them in check) in order to make sure the Time Keeper's ideal timeline comes about? I confess I don't remember specifically how the speech went, but I think I'll remember the major points when Avengers Forever #1 gets put on this site.
Posted by: D09 | July 30, 2016 9:06 PM
Shortly after Avengers Forever came out, I e-mailed Kurt Busiek and asked him why he had decided to retcon of nearly the entirety of "The Crossing." I no longer have the response he sent me, but as I recall he justified is by arguing that it was such an unpopular and convoluted storyline, and he felt it would just be better to put as much of it aside as possible rather than having to devote a significant chunk of his run resolving all of the unanswered questions and tying up all of the dangling subplots.
(I am very much paraphrasing what Busiek said, and I am probably at least slightly off in my recall.)
In any case, considering what an absolute mess "The Crossing" made of the character of Mantis, I do appreciate that AF wiped all that away, enabling subsequent writers to use her again without having to deal with that whole "she betrayed the Avengers and had sex with Kang the Conqueror" thing.
Posted by: Ben Herman | July 31, 2016 9:20 PM
It's selfish indulgent crap. Crossing sucked but Avengers Forever sucked more. Crossing attempted to be a story and failed, Avengers Forever was just a mean-spirited agenda for Busiek and Brevoort to flex their muscles and show off how they can retcon anything they want and how they are going to "fix" the Avengers.
#8 is literally just a lecture. There's no story whatsoever, it is a Space Phantom/Kurt Busiek sitting you down and then telling you all the comics that don't count in his mind. It's far from just The Crossing that gets the shaft, he's going as far back as Lee/Kirby issues to show how he can do whatever the hell he wants for no reason except for the pretense of this story that is just an exercise in ego. He retcons A STICK into having being a shapechanger in disguise, for God's sake.
Posted by: AF | August 1, 2016 7:37 AM
With the Synchro-Staff being a Space Phantom in disguise, it's not like its unprecedented for a shapeshifter to turn into an inanimate object (see Avengers Annual #14 for what I mean). However I'm willing to wait until we actually get to Crossing and Avenger Forever to actually discuss them once we have actual pages in front of us.
Posted by: D09 | August 1, 2016 11:39 AM
I don't know why, but I seem to chuckle a little bit everytime I see that speech bubble containing the line, "Expletives deleted".
Posted by: D09 | August 16, 2016 2:04 PM
Something I missed: In G-S Avengers #2, Rama-Tut has a court wizard called "Shamaz", obviously referring to a young version of the old wizard Shazam in the Golden Age Captain Marvel stories.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 19, 2016 10:45 PM
" I e-mailed Kurt Busiek and asked him why he had decided to retcon of nearly the entirety of 'The Crossing.' I no longer have the response he sent me, but as I recall he justified is by arguing that it was such an unpopular and convoluted storyline, and he felt it would just be better to put as much of it aside as possible rather than having to devote a significant chunk of his run resolving all of the unanswered questions and tying up all of the dangling subplots."
Jesus. I hate "The Crud-Thing" as much as anybody, but it does specify that "Kang" and "Mantis" are from an alternate timeline, so this doesn't damage 616-Mantis at all. Just specify that the "Iron Man" running around since, say, AWC 102 is the Stark from that timeline, that they've been holding 616-Tony as a hostage "back home" and that Franklin brought him back when he made the "Heroes Reborn" world, sending Teen Stark back to *his* native timeline. The attempted retcons during the battle (Kang was responsible for Hank Pym's breakdowns!) are just alt-Kang lying for future advantage, of course.
See? Simple, doesn't affect anything pre-Bob Harras and requires exactly zero Space Phantoms. Sigh.
Posted by: Dan Spector | August 21, 2016 3:36 PM
No, the Crossing doesn't specify that Kang and Mantis are from alternate timelines- everybody talks like its the same Kang and Mantis the Avengers knew.
Posted by: Michael | August 21, 2016 3:45 PM
Yeek! You're not going to make me scan through *that* to dig out the evidence, are you? SCARY thought…
Posted by: Dan Spector | August 21, 2016 5:55 PM
Anyone have any explanations for when the Human Torch randomly disappeared between the end of GSA 3 and Avengers 133?
I agree with all statements about Avengers Forever being stupid.
Posted by: VCR | November 22, 2016 7:06 PM
Yeesh, I shudder to think what the comments section of all the issues for both The Crossing and Avengers Forever storylines will look like the instant they get put up. I pray for your sanity fnord12 when that time comes, I truly do.
Posted by: D09 | November 22, 2016 9:24 PM
That's a good point, VCR. The Torch is on the last page of one book and gone in the first scene of the next with no explanation. Clearly Immortus took him for his own purposes and wiped the Avengers' minds, or something. Immortus fixes all continuity problems.
I have to say, I like this storyline, and Avengers Forever as well. Yes, the Vision being the Torch is stupid, but once Thomas put that ball in play, subsequent writers had no choice to play the hand they were dealt, to mangle a metaphor. The Celestial Madonna saga and Avengers Forever are stories that both entertain and clean up continuity. And neat continuity is what this site is all about.
Posted by: Andrew | November 23, 2016 9:48 AM
I have also always been curious about the Human Torch going missing between GSA #3 and Avengers #133. Perhaps it was a miscommunication between Englehart and one of the artists? It's possible Cockrum might have included the Torch on the final page by accident. Or maybe during the time between writing the plots for these two issues Englehart simply forgot that the Torch was still there at the end of GSA #3 and so didn't include him in the plot for #134 he gave to Sal Buscema? Englehart was definitely juggling a heck of a lot of balls with this sprawling storyline, so it's not inconceivable that he lost track of one of the characters along the way. If I have an opportunity I will ask him about it, but who knows if he remembers the answer over 40 years later?
By the way, fnord, I agree with Andrew that "neat continuity is what this site is all about." As always, keep up the good work.
Posted by: Ben Herman | November 23, 2016 10:41 AM
No need to ask Steve, Ben, he's already explained it in the letter column of #136: https://68.media.tumblr.com/bc14cee9f8f28dce22919320d214cd04/tumblr_oj013iNJnB1tms107o1_500.jpg
Posted by: AF | December 30, 2016 7:53 AM
Love the comments section here! By the way, about The Crossing I have mixed opinions. I agree it's not the best, but I will say it was totally exciting reading it. I had no idea what was going to come next.
I certainly like it more than most of you. I bought the Omnibus and it still holds up twenty years later. Definitely flawed, but still enjoyable reading.
Posted by: Urban Commando | February 16, 2017 4:33 AM
"I had no idea what was going to come next." The problem was that it didn't seem like the writers knew what was coming next either. It was all over the place.
Posted by: clyde | February 16, 2017 10:52 AM
In Giant-Size#3, letterer L.P. Gregory is actually longtime DC letterer/logo designer Gaspar Saladino. DC Publisher Carmine Infantino frowned on DC employees moonlighting, which probably explains why a pseudonym is still being used in 1975.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 28, 2017 11:31 AM
One of the most convoluted stories ever. Sadly, that's the kind of storytelling that reigned the mid-80s and onwards.
Posted by: will | July 3, 2017 9:10 AM
I loved this stuff as a kid and am revisiting it all digitally in a massive bout of procrastination today. Englehart had great riffs but his whole generation of creators had more similarities than we thought at the time. It's a blur of fan fiction! FWIW, I bought the idea that Mantis had humbling experiences that grounded her in a way that Moon Dragon didn't. Perhaps there's something too salacious and exploitative in the sex worker thing or maybe it could be handled with real depth in another world.
Thomas calls Shang-Chi a "half-breed" at one point in the issue he scripts. And the Asian skin coloring is beyond racist, it's a crazy fetish that I remember a persistent letter column writer taking on in Master Of Kung Fu til Marvel gave in. Good times.
Giving the Vision a backstory as the Torch made sense to me as a religious Marvelite who thought Avengers #93 was iconic. Tom King used it as paet of his Vision tapestry.
Maybe Wertham was right but too late now for me :)
Posted by: solo500 | September 27, 2017 3:38 PM
FOOM #7, mentioned aove, also has a "This Is Your Life" parody featuring the Vision, whih is included int he Marvel Masterworks Avengers volume as a supplement to this storyline.
Interestingly, it reads a lot like a 1970s version of the "Oral History of the Avengers" idea that will later turn up in Bendis's Avengers books.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | November 17, 2017 6:46 AM
I have to, doesn't all this mean that zombie Swordsman is the most powerful man in the universe? Or is Lang just wrong about that?
Also the whole origin stuff is WAY to long, should be half an issue at best. Origin stories always suck.
Posted by: OrangeDuke | December 24, 2017 12:35 PM
Considering your rules on time-travel tags, wouldn't every Legion of the Unliving member here not require a tag here? Or is the fact the time-travel puts them so close to their last appearance enough to excuse it?
Posted by: AF | January 14, 2018 2:28 PM
I generally don't tag people who are plucked from time since it's not a proper chronological appearance for them, and as i note in the Considerations, it's possible that the appearances aren't even real versions of the characters.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 14, 2018 7:04 PM
Since Limbo is “outside time” it’s hard to say, but I’d say you have to leave them. You can not count “locals” in time travel stories, but if you didn’t count time travelers themselves, you could never track Kang, among others.
Posted by: Andrew | January 14, 2018 7:05 PM
According to Avengers #675, this is one of Mark Waid's top 5 Avengers stories.
Posted by: Steven | January 14, 2018 9:00 PM
That'd explain why his Avengers run is so awful then.
Posted by: AF | January 15, 2018 9:27 AM
"Continuing with the revelations, Immortus reveals that he is actually another future version of Kang, and he's actually been working to prevent Kang from messing with the Celestial Madonna situation. With Kang out of the picture for the time being, Immortus offers to send the Avengers back in time to learn what this Celestial Madonna business is all about. Separately, he sends the Vision back in time to learn about his origin in more detail."
Why would Immortus do that? It's such an obvious contrivance to facilitate the reveals. Does the whole story actually depend on this kludge? It makes no dramatically-driven sense for Immortus to do that, at least not without later revisions (like Avengers Forever and the Crossing I guess, neither of which I've read). Or does it? I tried to like Englehart, I really tried. I even sorta do like some of his writing, I admit it. But I can understand why later writers would feel a need to revise this. It's make-it-up-as-you-go-along and all the seams are showing. Is he on drugs? Obvious answer I guess...
Posted by: Holt | February 9, 2018 9:02 PM
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