FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE
THE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 116 (October 1973) Betrayal
Avengers Roster: THOR, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE SCARLET WITCH, THE BLACK PANTHER, THE VISION, THE SWORDSMAN and MANTIS, the mysterious superheroine from Vietnam.
Defenders Roster: DOCTOR STRANGE (Stephen Strange, MD), SUB-MARINER (Prince Namor), THE HULK (Bruce Banner, PhD), THE SILVER SURFER (Norrin Radd), THE VALKYRIE (Barbara Norris) and the former Avenger, HAWKEYE (Clint Barton). (At the time of this story the Defenders functioned more like the much, much later Justice League Dark at DC, instead of their later street-level focus.)
As part of Mantis’ original run with the Avengers she took part in this milestone clash between those Avengers and the then-secret group called the Defenders. The story was presented in multiple issues of both The Avengers and The Defenders’ separate comic books.
In the previous installment I examined Avengers #115 in which the team went searching for their long out-of-touch member the Black Knight. At his Garrett Castle headquarters our heroes found the Knight missing and an impenetrable mystic barrier surrounding the castle.
Mantis’ mutant empathic power enabled her to detect that Dr Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, had erected the barrier for unknown reasons. In 1973 the Avengers had had very limited contact with Dr Strange, who had previously helped them and the Black Knight save the world.
NOTE: This is one of the elements which convinced me that the 1970s were Marvel’s true Golden Age in terms of the printed, four-color comics – because the various Marvel characters had been around for just a decade or less.
That was old enough to give their shared world enough established lore to feel fully-fleshed out but not SO old that every character knew each other intimately. The Avengers’ uncertainty about Dr Strange’s true intentions gave the ensuing misunderstandings some plausibility.
Before we dive into this issue of The Avengers we need to cover a small part of The Defenders #8. (Yes, the group was THAT new.) The Black Knight was – unknown to the Avengers – currently trapped in a stone form like a statue.
That supernatural state had come about in The Defenders #4 when the super-villainess called the Enchantress turned him to stone as punishment for his angry reaction to the Enchantress using him in a plot to get back her mate the Executioner then dumping him (the Black Knight) the minute her plot worked.
The Defenders had been on-hand for those events, which also saw the Enchantress use the insane Barbara Norris’ body as the latest host for the super-powered Valkyrie. In that same issue #4 Dr Strange had erected the mystic force field to keep Garrett Castle safe and had brought the Black Knight’s stone form to his (Strange’s) Greenwich Village mansion.
Since then Dr Strange had been trying to return the Black Knight to normal without luck. Which brings us back to issue #8. At long last the Doctor had made progress, having located Dane Whitman’s (the Black Knight) soul, which had vacated his body the minute it turned to stone, but not to the land of death.
With the other Defenders on hand in Strange’s mansion the sorcerer reached out to establish contact with Dane Whitman’s soul. That soul informed Dr Strange that he was not suffering in any way and felt neither hunger nor thirst but was just floating in a black void.
During this mystical exchange Dormammu – a foe of Dr Strange and the Defenders – and Loki – a foe of Thor and the Avengers – intervened, unknown to Dr Strange. In my previous installment I covered how Dormammu, Lord of the Dark Dimension and Loki – at present blind following his latest battle with Thor – had formed an alliance to destroy both the Avengers and the Defenders.
That plan involved the six scattered pieces of the Evil Eye of Avalon, a powerful ancient relic from an old Fantastic Four story. Dormammu and Loki distorted part of the Black Knight’s communications with Dr Strange to make it seem like the Knight had told Strange that the Defenders needed to reassemble the Evil Eye in order to restore him to normal.
While the Doctor remained in his impenetrable mansion (his Sanctum Sanctorum) the other Defenders scattered around the world to the locations where Strange’s magic had told them they would find the missing pieces of the Evil Eye of Avalon.
At this point the Avengers, just back from their battle with the Troglodytes at Garrett Castle in England, tried to enter Dr Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. His automated mystic defenses, which functioned without any conscious thought required on Strange’s part, prevented the Avengers from entering (since they were uninvited).
However, the team DID get a glimpse of the Black Knight’s stone form inside the mansion and felt that it confirmed their fear that Dr Strange had hostile designs on the Knight and possibly the rest of the Avengers, too.
The team returned to Avengers Mansion to regroup and debate their next move. Meanwhile, Loki, still stranded in Dormammu’s Dark Dimension, had begun to suspect Dormammu was just stringing him along with his promises to cure his blindness and help him destroy Earth and the Avengers once the Evil Eye had been obtained.
Loki – unknown to Dormammu – mystically contacted the Avengers and lied to them, claiming that Dr Strange was indeed their foe. And that Strange had assembled a group of bitter outcasts to help him conquer the world. This was more believable in 1973 than you might think, as Loki laid out the membership of the Defenders:
The Hulk was always a fugitive and hated the world for hunting him, the Sub-Mariner blamed the surface world for the way its pollution and nuclear waste threatened the seas and his kingdom of Atlantis.
The Silver Surfer was still shunned because not only had the reptilian Badoon race from another planet framed him for destroying part of New York City but the Surfer himself had once embarked on a stupid plan to bring peace to the world by attacking various nations. He hoped that would make humanity form one united brotherhood to protect themselves from him.
The Valkyrie had previously incarnated as a super-villainess in the Avengers and in a few issues of the Hulk’s comic book. Hawkeye had recently quit the Avengers in a huff when he learned that the Scarlet Witch was in love with the Vision instead of him. Prior to that he had poutishly refused to help the Avengers and the X-Men save the world from Magneto just because the Black Widow had dumped him for Daredevil.
Plus Hawkeye’s former mentor and now bitter enemy the Swordsman (at left) had returned to the Avengers – in Hawkeye’s juvenile mind an intentional back-stab since the Avengers all knew about his history with the Swordsman.
Loki convinced the Avengers that the Defenders sought the six pieces of the Evil Eye of Avalon so that they could get revenge on the world at large over their varied grievances. The Avengers then split up to round up the fragments of the Evil Eye, determined to do anything to stop them from falling into the hands of the Defenders.
When the Avengers split up Mantis’ empathic powers told her she needed to accompany the Black Panther instead of her lover the Swordsman. Swordsy was fine with this, given his own experiences with Mantis’ abilities.
With the stage thus set, the opening round of this multi-issue battle of super-teams saw the Silver Surfer up against the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in Rurutu, French Polynesia.
Though fairly plausible up until now the reader’s suspension of disbelief is now strained a bit as too many convenient cases of misunderstanding keep the Surfer and his two opponents from the Avengers fighting each other over the fragment of the Evil Eye in the island’s volcano.
The rubicon is crossed when the Silver Surfer’s actions nearly cause the death of the Scarlet Witch, convincing the Vision that the Defenders really are out for blood as well as world conquest.
The Silver Surfer leaves with his section of the Evil Eye while the Vision sees to his lady love the Scarlet Witch and also informs the other Avengers that the Defenders really are as bad as Loki claimed and are willing to kill to obtain the Evil Eye of Avalon. +++
I’LL COVER THE NEXT ISSUE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
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