These days when it comes to pop culture it’s Marvel Comics’ world and the rest of us are just potential LMDs. You readers wanted more Marvel and I’m delivering. FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE
THE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 118 (December 1973) To The Death
AVENGERS ROSTER: Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, The Scarlet Witch, The Black Panther, The Vision, The Swordsman and MANTIS
DEFENDERS ROSTER: Doctor Strange, Sub-Mariner, The Hulk, The Silver Surfer, Valkyrie and Hawkeye
Last time around the globe-spanning war between the Avengers and the Defenders came to an end in Los Angeles when both teams at last compared notes and realized they were being manipulated into fighting each other.
The 14 assembled heroes had recovered all six fragments of the Evil Eye of Avalon, which relic was hastily stolen by Dormammu. That flame-headed man-god who ruled over the Dark Dimension was a foe of Dr Strange and the Defenders.
For years Dormammu had been bound by his Galactus-like vow not to invade Earth’s dimension ever again but the reassembled Evil Eye of Avalon gives him the power to bypass that vow by simply MERGING our dimension with his.
As Dormammu taunted the Avengers and Defenders, our entire universe was becoming one with Dormammu’s vile domain. The landscape and buildings were all turning surreal and distorted, the sun’s light was fading and some people were transforming into the kind of monstrous beings who inhabit the Dark Dimension.
TO THE DEATH
Synopsis: This story resumes right where we left off, with the Avengers and Defenders defiantly telling Dormammu that they’ll do whatever they have to do to save the universe from him. In typical pulp fiction fashion there’s an arbitrary but dramatic deadline to race against: Dormammu tells the heroes that in one Earth-hour the merging of dimensions will be complete and irreversible.
While the other superheroes fight off the demonic creatures beginning to surround them, Dr Strange casts a spell to prevent the Avengers and Defenders from turning into Dark Dimension creatures for the necessary hour. He tells his comrades that he can’t protect everyone on Earth the same way or he’ll be too weak to help them fight Dormammu.
The Doctor wants the Avengers to join him and the Defenders in a direct attack on Dormammu but – rather foolishly, given what’s at stake – the Avengers argue that they can’t abandon the innocent people of Los Angeles to their fate. Strange counters that the entire damn UNIVERSE will suffer if they don’t act quickly.
As the argument continues amid battles with Dark Dimension demonoids, Nick Fury, Contessa Valentina Allegro de Fontaine and Dum Dum Dugan arrive with dozens of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury’s outfit was as much a paramilitary organization as an intelligence unit and, with guns blazing they tackle the monstrous beings now reproducing geometrically out of the local population.
Satisfied that S.H.I.E.L.D. will be fighting to help the locals the Avengers agree to accompany the Defenders. Dr Strange casts a spell that takes the 14 superheroes out of Los Angeles and into the heart of Dormammu’s realm. Meanwhile the Contessa and some of Nick Fury’s other agents turn into demonoids themselves.
MORE bickering breaks out among the heroes as Thor calls out to all of those Avengers and Defenders who can fly to join him in racing to the far-off spot where they can see Dormammu and his ally/ pawn Loki standing.
Dr Strange counters Thor’s order, pointing out that the normal laws of physics do not apply in the Dark Dimension. Doc further states that, given his and the Defenders’ past experience fighting Dormammu the Avengers should accept HIS leadership in the coming attack.
Thor grandly announces to his fellow Avengers that, though it rankles, they must all follow Dr Strange’s orders until the Evil Eye-wielding Dormammu is defeated. Captain America throws his weight alongside Thor’s in backing that decision and, while the other Avengers reluctantly agree (the entire universe is at stake, you prima donnas), the Defenders Hawkeye and Valkyrie gloat over the Avengers’ discomfort. (Isn’t there a gaggle of high school girls we could send against Dormammu instead of this bunch?)
Meanwhile, Dormammu is practically climaxing over all the power the Evil Eye has bestowed on him. While relishing the merging of dimensions he also conjures up a mystic image of the approaching Avengers and Defenders so he can keep an eye on them as they fight their way toward the floating rock where he and Loki are standing.
Loki, still blinded following his (then) most recent battle with Thor, once again complains to Dormammu that he STILL hasn’t restored his vision like he promised to do once Loki helped him trick the Earth heroes into reassembling the Evil Eye. The Lord of the Dark Dimension reminds Loki how he betrayed him (Dormammu) by tricking the Avengers into fighting the Defenders for the fragments of the Evil Eye of Avalon.
Angrily, Dormammu causes a mystic cage of energy to imprison Loki. Suddenly, Uatu the Watcher appears on the floating slab of rock alongside Dormammu and the caged Loki.
NOTE: For those not familiar with the Watcher here’s a brief explanation – Millions of years ago, Uatu and his race – for reasons irrelevant to this story – vowed to merely “watch” and record the events of the universe without interfering. Each Watcher is assigned to a different populated world. Earth’s Watcher, Uatu, first appeared in the Fantastic Four comic books but had since become a staple in the Marvel Universe.
Dormammu threatens to destroy Uatu if he interferes, but Uatu, having recently been tried and punished by his fellow Watchers over his repeated bending of the rules to help various superheroes save his beloved Earth, assures the Lord of the Dark Dimension that he has learned his lesson and will just WATCH and chronicle the events, like he’s supposed to.
Back with our approaching heroes, they have gotten close enough to the heart of Dormammu’s realm that they now face the Mindless Ones, a race of headless mystic beasts possessed of incredible physical strength and who shoot lethal energy blasts from their neck-cavities. (No, I’m not kidding.)
After the battle with the Mindless Ones rages for a while, Dr Strange announces that there is no way to actually defeat the creatures, but they might be able to frighten the unthinking beasts into fleeing if all of those Defenders and Avengers capable of energy-projection join forces in one big burst. This figurative “swat on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper” succeeds in scaring off the Mindless Ones.
The enigmatic Mantis’ empathic abilities enable her to sense all the confusion and pain of the inhabitants of our universe as the dimensions continue to merge into one. She tells her comrades that they have only 20 minutes remaining in the hour Dormammu mentioned.
ASIDE: We now get a fun glimpse of assorted other Marvel Universe characters dealing with the ongoing threat, though they don’t yet know what is going on.
Readers are shown the FANTASTIC FOUR fighting various demonoids around the Baxter Building, SPIDER-MAN taking on demonoids in Times Square, future Defender LUKE CAGE (POWER MAN) fighting them on Broadway, KA-ZAR and his sabre-tooth tiger Zabu fighting them in the Savage Land and DR DOOM fighting them in Latveria. Marvel’s supernatural figures are engaged in scattered battles, too, figures like GHOST RIDER out west and MAN-THING in the Everglades.
In the Great Refuge of the Himalayas the INHUMANS are fighting, too, helped by the former Avenger Quicksilver, who is living there with his girlfriend, the Inhuman named Crystal. Out in space, ADAM WARLOCK is fighting demonoids on Counter-Earth, the Kree and the Skrulls and all the other alien races in the Marvel Universe are fighting them, too, as the dimensions merge. On Saturn’s moon of Titan, the one and only THANOS is also battling demonoids.
It is implied that the X-Men (Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast, Marvel Woman, Polaris and Havok) and any other Marvel heroes not shown in the preceding montage were already transformed into Dark Dimension monsters.
Back in the Dark Dimension, the Avengers and Defenders have at last gotten within shouting distance of Dormammu and Loki. Their hopes swell as they spot the Watcher standing there, but are immediately dashed when Uatu sadly informs them he will not help them like he has in the past.
Dormammu, long a foe of Dr Strange and the Defenders, unleashes his wrath on that super-group first. With his own godlike power increased by the Evil Eye that he holds, Doc, Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Valkyrie and Hawkeye are soon lying defeated and unconscious.
Now, with their traditional battle cry of “Avengers Assemble” the rest of our heroes attack Dormammu. The Lord of the Dark Dimension transforms the stone slab beneath the feet of the approaching Avengers into quicksand. Those Avengers who cannot fly – Captain America, the Black Panther, the Swordsman and Mantis – begin sinking into the bog.
Strangely, the Vision is trapped in the quicksand, and his lady love the Scarlet Witch hollers for him to simply turn intangible and fly out of the mire. The Vision, entirely uncharacteristically, panics and remains solid and continues sinking.
NOTE: This bizarre panic attack is indicative of a deeper problem that will unfold alongside of Mantis’ mysteries in the issues to come. The Vision’s problem will also tie into an enigmatic discovery that Ant-Man made in the Vision’s android brain during the Kree-Skrull War a few years earlier. Once again I will say that this research into Marvel’s past impresses me with their 1970s writers’ and editors’ skill at maintaining and interweaving multiple narrative threads over the course of years, then unravelling them with consummate story-telling finesse.
Getting back to the action, the Swordsman uses fire-blasts from his high-tech Makluan sword to fuse some of the quicksand into solid sand-bars so he, Mantis, Cap, the Black Panther and the hysterical Vision can hold onto them in order to keep from drowning. The Scarlet Witch uses one of her mutant hex-spheres to blast herself over the quicksand, where she joins Thor and Iron Man in attacking Dormammu.
The villain gestures, casting a spell to strip the approaching trio of their heroic identities. Thor turns back into the lame (as in limping) Donald Blake, MD. Iron Man’s armor disappears, leaving him as plain ol’ Tony Stark, whose heart begins to fail without his armored chest-plate.
To Dormammu’s surprise the Scarlet Witch stands unscathed and still costumed. Wanda informs him that she has no “other” identity or de-powered form to be transformed into. She’s a mutant, so her powers were born WITH her.
With Dormammu now distracted by the Scarlet Witch’s suicidal assault on him, Loki frees himself from the mystic cage, planning to attack Dormy, too. The Scarlet Witch’s hex powers cause the Evil Eye of Avalon to absorb Dormammu into itself.
Not even the Eye can contain so much power, however, and Dormammu’s energies erupt like a volcano from the Eye, blasting the approaching Loki. The mischievous Norse deity’s sight is restored, but with Dormammu’s god-like power added to his own it’s more than Loki’s mind can handle and he lapses into utter, helpless insanity.
The Earth and the rest of our universe are saved and returned to normal, as are Thor and Iron Man. The Watcher wraps up any questions the Avengers and Defenders have about what just happened and warns them that Dormammu will – at some point in the future – be regenerated. That regeneration will be fueled by the way that the lesser inhabitants of the Dark Dimension literally worship him as the Vile God of their universe.
The Watcher is puzzled by the Vision’s panic attack and makes the android Avenger even more red-faced than usual by asking him what caused it. The Vision emphasizes that he himself does not know.
Dr Strange and the others bid farewell to Uatu as Doc teleports our heroes – plus the captive, crazed Loki – back to our dimension. The Avengers file a report that lets the world know that an inter-universal threat has been defeated and this multi-issue extravaganza comes to a close.
WRAP-UP NOTES: I will resume with the unfolding saga of Mantis during her time with the Avengers next time. To satisfy any curiosity readers may have here are some quick items –
THE BLACK KNIGHT: Back in the pages of the Defenders, Doc and company learn that not even the Evil Eye of Avalon can undo the Enchantress’ spell that keeps the Black Knight in stone form. That’s because Dormammu misled them into thinking it could cure him to motivate them to reassemble the Eye from its scattered fragments.
Ultimately, Dane Whitman’s (the Black Knight) soul gets drawn out of the limbo it was floating in and is used to inhabit the body of the original Black Knight, Sir Percy, after Sir Percy’s soul passed on from a mortal injury during the Crusades.
The Defenders learn that Merlin the magician cast that time-traveling spell when Percy died, so that the Crusades-era Black Knight’s body – now animated by his descendant Dane Whitman’s spirit – could help the Defenders save the medieval world from a mystical menace.
It turns out that this is what was always fated to happen. Dane Whitman will go on to do all the things that history told him his ancestor Sir Percy did from that point on. Sir Percy’s soul – in Force Ghost fashion – will continue advising Dane Whitman like he did in his modern-day adventures.
Dane Whitman is thrilled that this is his destiny, since he has spent his life immersed in the history of his ancestor Sir Percy, never realizing that – from this point on in the Crusades – he was reading about his OWN deeds in Sir Percy’s body.
The Defenders leave the contented Black Knight in the past and return to our time. Hawkeye – after serving as a Defender against the Red Ghost, Attuma, the Avengers, Loki, Dormammu and (in this Medieval adventure) Temax – decides to leave the group and pursue a solo career.
Sometime well after the 200th issue of the Avengers the Black Knight returns to our time period and rejoins the Avengers. +++
I’LL COVER THE NEXT ISSUE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
FOR MY ARTICLE ON THE MAIN LIST OF CENTAUR COMICS SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE
FOR MY ARTICLE ON THE MEMBERS OF INFINITE HORIZON CLICK HERE
FOR THE AUSTRALIAN SUPERHERO PANTHEON CLICK HERE
FOR MORE SUPERHEROES CLICK HERE: Superheroes
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