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THE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 115 (September 1973) Below Us The Battle
Avengers Roster: THOR (Donald Blake, MD), IRON MAN (Tony Stark), CAPTAIN AMERICA (Steve Rogers), THE SCARLET WITCH (Wanda * last name unknown at the time of this story * ), THE BLACK PANTHER (Prince T’Challa), THE VISION (not applicable), MANTIS (* unknown at the time of this story *) and THE SWORDSMAN (Jacques Duquesne).
BELOW US THE BATTLE
Synopsis: All of the Avengers listed above are in an Avengers Quin-Jet flying over the Atlantic Ocean bound for England. The Black Knight (Dane Whitman), in 1973 the only British member of the Avengers, has been out of contact for an alarming amount of time. Anticipating trouble the team has decided to check out the Black Knight’s castle for signs of their friend and colleague.
In keeping with the usual levels of verisimilitude for 1970s Marvel Comics, the story presents the British branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. intercepting the Quin-Jet because of the presence on board of the recently reformed former supervillain the Swordsman.
Despite the Swordsman’s pardon and his status as an Avenger the Brits do not want the formerly wanted man allowed in the country. Thor – more worldly in the comic books than he is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – negotiates with the British and the Swordsman is allowed in England but the Avengers are responsible for his actions.
Captain America is the only Avenger still suspicious about the Swordsman and his lady love Mantis, the enigmatic woman who will assume more and more importance as the issues go by, enroute to the Celestial Madonna Saga.
Arriving at Garrett Castle the superheroes land their Quin-Jet on the grounds and warily approach the castle. The Avengers find their way blocked by an invisible force-field which surrounds the castle.
Nothing the heroes throw at the force-field penetrates it, not Captain America’s shield, not Thor’s hammer, not Iron Man’s repulsor rays nor the Scarlet Witch’s mutant hex-power nor the Swordsman’s fire, electrical and power blasts. The Vision can neither pass through the barrier in his intangible state nor blast through it with his solar eye-beams.
Mantis’ mutant empathic powers enable her to detect the force behind the invisible barrier: Doctor Strange. In 1973 Dr Strange wasn’t as well-known to most of Marvel’s superheroes, and the Avengers’ lack of familiarity with the Doctor will partially lead to the upcoming war between the Avengers and the Defenders (Dr Strange, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, the Silver Surfer, Valkyrie and the former Avenger, Hawkeye.)
The assembled figures outside Garrett Castle recalled that the good doctor DID know the Black Knight, since Strange once helped the Knight and the rest of the Avengers save the world from the combined attack of the Norse frost giant Ymir and the Norse fire demon Surtur.
Before the Avengers can investigate the Black Knight’s disappearance any further they find themselves attacked by an army of Troglodytes. These ugly, malformed but brutal humanoids turn out to be an inbred subterranean race forced underground by King Charles I in the 1600s.
The Troglodytes emerge from camouflaged holes in the Earth and at first the Avengers have no trouble defeating the army of hundreds, but eventually the Troglodytes use unknown subterranean gasses to knock them out and take them down into their lair.
The inbred army carry the Avengers deep beneath the Earth where their ruler, King Scol, accuses the heroes of erecting the invisible force-field around Garrett Castle. That force-field has kept the Troglodytes from their rodent-like sallies into the castle to steal food and so they are beginning to starve.
King Scol demands that the Avengers get rid of the invisible barrier or he will have them executed. Naturally he refuses to believe that our heroes are not able to dispel the force-field and he has them thrown into a pit with a Kaiju-sized scorpion.
The Avengers battle the creature and ultimately the coup de grace is delivered by Mantis, whose “super kung-fu” (for want of a better term) shatters the monster’s exoskeleton and slays it. Remember, last issue Mantis defeated both Captain America AND Thor in combat with her other-worldly martial arts.
Thanks to the Black Panther’s ability to see perfectly in the dark the Avengers find their way free and the Troglodytes are defeated. Our heroes turn over these second-rate versions of the Mole Man and his subterranean armies to British medical services, to be cared for and reintroduced to life above ground.
When all of that has been handled the Avengers board their Quin-Jet and begin their flight back across the Atlantic, wondering if the enigmatic Doctor Strange has abducted the Black Knight or possibly worse.
*** The story cuts to the Dark Dimension ruled over by Dormammu, the flame-headed demonoid whose mystic powers dwarf Dr Strange’s, because Dormammu is literally a god. Long ago Dormammu had tried to conquer the Earth’s dimension in order to expand his kingdom. Dr Strange opposed him and ultimately defeated him through trickery.
Just like Galactus once made a vow to Mr Fantastic of the Fantastic Four that he would never again try to devour the Earth, Dormammu was tricked into a vow never to invade Earth’s dimension again. That vow was enforced by the immeasurably powerful mystical entity called Eternity. (Don’t ask.)
Since then Dormammu had clashed with Dr Strange a few more times, usually tricking Strange into entering his dimension so he could kill him since he was forbidden to enter Earth’s dimension. The most recent attempt was thwarted when Dr Strange’s teammates in the Defenders entered Dormammu’s realm to save him.
Dormammu has rescued Loki from certain destruction after he was blinded by Thor in their most recent battle. Dormammu proposes an alliance with the sightless Loki. If Loki helps him mislead the Defenders into assembling the scattered pieces of an ancient relic called the Evil Eye of Avalon (from a Fantastic Four adventure) then that relic can be used to enable Dormammu to kill Dr Strange and the Defenders and enable Loki to kill Thor and the Avengers.
The pair of deities agree to proceed with this plan when Loki extracts the guarantee that the entire Earth will be destroyed as well. +++
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