FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE With Marvel Comics characters basically being Pop Culture Deities these days I’m approaching this topic the way I approach neglected mythological epics.
THE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 114 (August 1973) Night of the Swordsman
Before diving in, just contemplate the original publication date of this issue. FORTY-FOUR YEARS AGO!
If you went back 44 years before August of 1973 superhero comic books didn’t even exist yet. Just let that sink in for a moment.
Cast of Characters:
MANTIS: When researching these old stories I’ve come to really “marvel” at Marvel Comics’ writers’ knack for handling long-term episodic storylines. In my opinion they handled it better than many writers of serialized science fiction and horror television series’ of today. Maintaining multiple threads of a long-running narrative is a specialized type of pulp fiction writing and 1970s Marvel Comics are excellent examples of the craft.
The enigmatic seeds being planted in this issue regarding the brand new character Mantis and the long-established figure the Swordsman will bear fruit over the course of YEARS, culminating in what is remembered as the Celestial Madonna Saga. But a maddening one month wait between episodes makes today’s one week or so between tv episodes look pretty brief.
Getting back to MANTIS – She was one of the many superheroines introduced by Marvel in the 1970s. This issue of The Avengers was the first appearance of this Eurasian beauty who was part Vietnamese and part ? for now.
Mantis’ mutant powers included empathy so advanced it was akin to telepathy at times. Physically she employed a brand of “super kung-fu” like DC’s superhero the Karate Kid. In this debut appearance, for instance she defeats THOR AND CAPTAIN AMERICA in battle. Yep.
The enigmatic hints about Mantis’ potential were nicely done and seem to have partially inspired Chris Claremont’s later handling of Marvel Woman/ Jean Grey’s slow evolution into Phoenix and then Dark Phoenix over at The Uncanny X-Men.
THE SWORDSMAN: Hawkeye’s trainer and mentor when they both traveled the circus and carnival circuit in their pre-supervillain turned hero days. Unlike Hawkeye, however, the Swordsman was an actual villain, not merely misunderstood like his protégé.
Way back in Avengers’ #19 and 20 he pretended to join the team but was really infiltrating them as an agent of the supervillain the Mandarin. (The real one, not the comic-relief impersonator from the third Iron Man movie.) The Mandarin was the man who upgraded the Swordsman’s regular sword into its unbreakable state. He also outfitted it with the ability to shoot electric rays, fire rays and power blasts. That weaponry was controlled by buttons on the hilt of the sword.
After his betrayal of the Avengers at the behest of the Mandarin the Swordsman was an active supervillain in the Marvel Universe, often clashing with the Avengers as part of the Lethal Legion and as a semi-regular foe of Captain America. Most recently the Swordsman had fought alongside the Avengers in the 100th issue anniversary special to help them save the Earth and Asgard from the Greek god of war Ares.
The current members of the Avengers at this time were: THOR, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE SCARLET WITCH, THE BLACK PANTHER and THE VISION. Since they’ve become household names thanks to the Avengers movies there’s no need to reintroduce them here. Time to give a synopsis of this issue’s story:
NIGHT OF THE SWORDSMAN –
Synopsis: The story opens with the Scarlet Witch in her quarters at Avengers’ Mansion. She is contemplating the massive public disapproval she and the Vision are enduring for their paradigm-challenging romance of a mutant and an android.
Her brother Quicksilver has shown his own bigotry on the matter. Despite the hatred and ostracism that he and Wanda (Scarlet Witch) have endured for being mutants Pietro (Quicksilver) has spitefully – and loudly – disapproved of Wanda’s love affair with the Vision. He cuts off ties with her unless she dumps the Vision.
He has decided to stay in the Great Refuge, home of the Inhumans, along with his girlfriend Crystal. (She is one of the Inhumans – movie to come soon, supposedly – and was a former member of the Fantastic Four, replacing Invisible Woman during one of her pregnancies. She was the girlfriend of the Human Torch but dumped him recently. Whew! What a soap opera!)
In the Scarlet Witch’s reverie she comes across the Avengers’ training room, where Iron Man and Captain America are tussling with the Vision to help get him back into shape after the wounds he suffered at the hands of the anti-mutant and anti-android supervillain hate-group called the Human Bombs. (Prior to this issue.)
As her brooding continues Wanda slips into civilian clothing and goes for a walk. Passing by a construction site she is recognized despite not being in costume since the Avengers are all such celebrities. The Scarlet Witch attracts a combination of catcalls over her beauty and insults over her mutant status.
Wanda eventually calls the construction workers “stinking human pigs” and wades in to attack them with her superpowers. Out of nowhere the costumed superheroine Mantis arrives, using her martial arts abilities to help the Scarlet Witch defeat the laborers.
Mantis helps the injured Wanda get back to Avengers’ Mansion – ironic, in view of later developments between them. Back at that mansion the other Avengers have barely been introduced to Mantis before they get surprised by the sudden appearance of the Swordsman, who dramatically broke into the mansion despite the security systems. (Typical superhero machismo games, I guess.)
It turns out that Mantis is the Swordsman’s lover and the pair have come to join the Avengers. (NOTE: Marvel did back-and-forth retcons over the years regarding whether Mantis was really a member of the Avengers or not. Eventually it looks like common sense prevailed and it was settled canon that she DID indeed join the Avengers in this issue. Even the official Marvel Wiki says that … for now.)
The Swordsman explains that after he helped the Avengers save Earth and Asgard from Ares’ plans (Avengers #100), France pushed through a Top Secret U.N. pardon for all his past crimes so he could serve as a super-powered operative for France against the Viet Cong in Vietnam. Eventually he drifted back into taking any and every dirty mercenary activity he could find, drowning his fading self-esteem in booze.
Then he met Mantis, a former street urchin who was working as a prostitute in Vietnam. She found herself attracted to the Swordsman and reignited whatever remaining nobility he had within him. She got him to straighten up and to seek to rejoin the Avengers for real this time.
Captain America was vehemently opposed to trusting the Swordsman – as I mentioned above the Swordsman was part of Cap’s Rogue’s Gallery of foes for quite a while by this point. The Scarlet Witch, however, persuades the other Avengers to accept the Swordsman and Mantis (you’ll be sorry, Wanda).
Thor, as the current leader of the Avengers, makes it his own responsibility to oversee the Swordsman through a probationary period. We readers get brief one-panel looks at the Swordsman fighting alongside Thor against monsters in Asgard and robots in outer space. None of this proves his intentions, but for some reason Thor – after an undetermined time period of “testing” Swordsy – announces to the other Avengers that he can be trusted. (?)
The Avengers are always updated on reports of superhero and supervillain activity from around the world, and during one such briefing they see that Hawkeye – who left the team in anger when he realized the Scarlet Witch was in love with the Vision and not him (Jeez, these people) – recently helped the Hulk battle the giant electricity monster Zaxx.
They realize that since that battle was in New York but Hawkeye did not drop by Avengers’ Mansion afterward then he MUST be serious about not rejoining the team. NOTE: As will become relevant soon, Hawkeye actually joined the Defenders (Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange, the Silver Surfer and the Valkyrie) a super-group whose existence was kept hidden from everyone outside its own members. At this particular time, anyway.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Unlike today, when the Avengers have about a dozen or more subsidiary teams (The West Coast Avengers, the Great Lakes Avengers, etc) back in 1973 there was only one team of Avengers. Outside of them you had the Fantastic Four and the X-Men – whose title was relegated to reprints/ reruns at this point, at least until 1975, when Chris Claremont introduced the new X-Men team of Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Banshee, Nightcrawler and Colossus.
The Defenders were fairly new, and served as a sort of Justice League Dark in the Marvel Universe back then, unlike their “street level” focus these days. At any rate, the fact that the Defenders were keeping themselves a secret helps lead to a misunderstanding and a clash between them and the Avengers before too long, that’s why I’m emphasizing them.
ANYWAY, the Main Battle for this issue involves an old Avengers villain called the Lion God. He attacks Avengers’ Mansion, and in the resulting battle Mantis and the Swordsman prove they’re for real by tipping the battle in favor of the Avengers.
As the story ends only Captain America remains suspicious of Mantis and the Swordsman. +++
I’LL EXAMINE THE NEXT ISSUE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
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