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. Harknes 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 Avenger's 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 Rana-Tut is an old Kang - in his 60th year - that became a softee, 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 grasphing 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 Coatati. 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 Coati representatives win the contest by converting their planetoid into a beautiful garden. Angered, the Kree slaughter the Coatati 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 Coati, form a resistance movement. They are banished to a barren planet by the Supreme Intelligence.
The next point in the Kree pacific 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. Coati were secretly buried in that temple as well. The Avengers realize that the temple is the same one 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.
The last two issues of this arc are drawn by George Tuska and Don Heck respectively, and they suffer for it.
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 Mentos. 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.
Meanwhile, 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 Coatati - 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.
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. Dormammu and Gaea's appearance here is between Doctor Strange #7-8.
Continuity Implant? N
Reprinted In: Avengers: The Celestial Madonna TPB
Inbound References (18): 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.
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.
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.
A Mantis mini-series written By Denny O'Neil was announced in late 1982, but nothing came of it.
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.
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".
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.
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.)
He's alluding to the fact that the Slasher uses the name Razorblade years later when he reappears in a Captain America issue.
I've added some clarity around the name of the Slasher character (and fixed where i was calling him Razorfist. Thanks guys.
A Vision/Scarlet Witch wedding parody by Tony Isabella, Paty Cockrum, Duffy Vohland and Alan & Paul Kupperberg appeared in FOOM#6.
FOOM#7 announced a new costume for the Scarlet Witch in #132, but I guess there was no room for it.
Jo Duffy has a letter in #132.
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.
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