These nice, escapist bits of fun have proven very popular with readers of Balladeer’s Blog. FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MANTIS CLICK HERE
THE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 120 (February 1974) Death Stars of the Zodiac
Obviously the February 1974 date means this was years before Star Wars, so the “Death Stars” of the title are just a generic reference to astrology. This individual issue kicks off a multi-part story that significantly advances the MANTIS narrative as we head toward the Celestial Madonna Saga.
Zodiac was a team of supervillains who had fought the Avengers multiple times previously. Periodically individual members of Zodiac would clash with individual Avengers in the pages of their own comic books.
DEATH STARS OF THE ZODIAC
Synopsis: The opening scene features Taurus, in his secret identity of billionaire Cornelius Van Lunt, visiting an imprisoned Zodiac member, Joshua Link. Link is the “evil” twin of the Gemini duo. Van Lunt, who has concealed his true identity from his teammates in Zodiac, has been forced to reveal himself to Joshua Link.
The reason for that is to get Gemini ready for an upcoming jailbreak, since Taurus wants ALL the members of Zodiac on hand as the team enacts his master plan.
NOTE: Cornelius Van Lunt had been a background figure in the Avengers’ comic books for quite a while by this point. He was one of those people from Old Money in New York and his family was friendly with the family of Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp), likewise from New York Old Money. As in all the way back to when New York was a Dutch possession in the 1600s.
For a real-life example of such types think of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Hell, if you go back far enough their family was known as “the Van Roosevelts.”
At any rate Cornelius had often used his family ties to try to romance Janet Van Dyne and his family fortune to hassle Tony Stark and would try plots to leverage Avengers Mansion out of their hands to force the team out of New York City. Until it was revealed that he was secretly Taurus he just seemed like the typical Marvel Comics civilian character who harasses the heroes, like J Jonah Jameson with Spider-Man, Senator Kelly with the X-Men, General Ross with the Hulk and the Yancy Street Gang with the Thing.
Getting back to the story, after Taurus busts Joshua Link out of jail and welcomes him back to Zodiac, their next move is to have Joshua move against his “good” twin, Damian Link. Damian is the New York Police Department’s Liaison with the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D.
When Damian is making his next visit to Avengers Mansion, Joshua uses his mental ability to take over Damian’s body. MANTIS is able to detect the change in the empathic readings she gets from the Liaison Officer once the evil twin is in control.
She asks her romantic partner the Swordsman to keep an eye on Damian as he confers with Iron Man, Thor and the Vision in various parts of the mansion. At one point they come across the Scarlet Witch but she snubs Damian in one of her bouts of bitterness toward ordinary humans.
That mild distraction enables Damian/ Joshua to surreptitiously steal Top Secret Nuclear Weapons Arsenal info. The Swordsman has been shadowing Damian/ Joshua and noticed it, so he steps in to expose the theft and winds up exposing the twin as Gemini from the Zodiac.
Now, in a massive continuity screw-up the tale features the Swordsman collapsing from infection over the wound he suffered in Bolivia during the Avengers/ Defenders War. We readers are told that was months ago so obviously it would have surfaced as a problem before now. They should have just had the Swordsman get injured while fighting Gemini.
Anyway, Gemini uses his incredible agility and his double-the- normal human strength to try to escape past Iron Man, the Scarlet Witch and the Vision. Thor stops him and as the Avengers get ready to interrogate their prisoner Taurus leads the other members of Zodiac in attacking our heroes.
Taurus’ specially developed new weapon is a Star Blazer gun which blasts a huge hole in the wall of Avengers Mansion. He and the other Houses of Zodiac enter and begin rumbling with the Avengers while a crowd of onlookers gathers outside.
This group of supervillains argue among themselves almost as much as the Avengers do, and as the battle between the superteams continues the new Aries argues with Taurus about talking too much. Leo sides with Taurus and reminds Aries – who is replacing the original Aries who died in the most recent prevous clash between the two teams – that the House of Taurus now leads the Zodiac, no longer the House of Aries.
(By the way, the superpowers of the individual Zodiac members can be gleaned from which astrological sign they represent. Not all of them have natural superpowers like Gemini’s double-strength, some just have enhanced costumes or weapons that enable them to go toe-to-toe with superheroes.)
Capricorn and Leo double-team Iron Man while Virgo, the lone female member of Zodiac, is battling the Scarlet Witch. The other Avengers and Zodiac members are in a general melee. Taurus is clashing with Thor, and his Star Blazer gun ultimately proves potent enough to knock out even the Thunder God after enough blasts.
At any rate, MANTIS has been out of the room attending to the fallen Swordsman, and she returns just in time to throw herself into the battle. Naturally her other-worldly martial arts powers impress the Zodiac members as she kicks major butt and she has been recognized by Libra for reasons that will become clear in a few issues.
Zodiac succeeds in rescuing Gemini, secures the plans he wanted to steal, and escapes, ending this hit-and-run raid. The Avengers recover from the attack and the public embarrassment of a loss to Zodiac.
Meanwhile Zodiac has released a taped message boasting about another upcoming attack at Midnight that will kill hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers – everyone born under the sign of Gemini – in one blow. Cut to 22 minutes BEFORE Midnight and we join Zodiac atop the World Trade Center Towers. They have parked their aircraft there, an aircraft with a HUGE version of Taurus’ new Star Blazer gun mounted in front.
The other Zodiac members mill around on the rooftop as Capricorn finishes attaching Nullify-Nodes to Gemini so that he won’t be killed like all of New York’s other Geminis at Midnight.
More bickering among the supervillains breaks out as Gemini is ticked off that Geminis got voted as the targets because he was in prison and unable to vote against it. He argues with the new Aries AND the new Scorpio (more on him next time) but Taurus orders the arguing to stop and orders Aries to stop trying to undermine him.
Taurus further puts the new Aries in his place by reminding him of the failure of his predecessor, who once led Zodiac in holding Manhattan for a billion dollars in ransom. (Hey, it was the 1970s. A billion dollars was a lot of money then. Today it would get a laugh like Dr Evil’s “one million dollars.”) Taurus boasts that he will strike terror in the hearts of the world with this slaughter of Geminis and THEN make demands.
Shortly before Midnight the Avengers show up, minus the bedridden Swordsman. They figured that the Star-Blazer weaponry that Taurus bragged about would need a location high above the city’s pollution to draw sufficient energy from the stars above. (Hey, Aries TRIED to warn Taurus about talking too much.) As the then-highest building in the city at the time, they figured the World Trade Center Towers would be the site.
We get another battle between the Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Vision and MANTIS) and Zodiac, during which the Star-Blazer Aircraft is damaged but not destroyed. When the battle turns against Zodiac, Taurus fires the damaged Star-Blazer cannon on the front of his ship.
Thus weakened from the damage the blast from the gun simply stuns the city’s Geminis, causing chaos and car accidents but no deaths. However, since MANTIS’ mutant empathic abilities are so powerful she senses the pain that those Geminis feel and is so stunned she falls near the edge of the roof, in danger of plummeting to her death far below. +++
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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