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THE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 121 (March 1974) Houses Divided Cannot Stand
AVENGERS ROSTER: Thor, Iron Man, The Scarlet Witch, The Black Panther, The Vision, The Swordsman and MANTIS.
HOUSES DIVIDED CANNOT STAND
Synopsis: Atop the World Trade Center Towers the battle between the Avengers and the supervillain team called Zodiac has come to a pause. That pause was brought on by Mantis’ mutant empathic powers filling her with the pain that Taurus’ Star Blazer Cannon inflicted on New York’s Geminis. This caused her to be overwhelmed and fall down, teetering on the edge of the roof and in danger of plummeting to her death below.
With all the combatants now focused on Mantis’ potential fate the Zodiac member Aries encourages their leader Taurus to unleash another blast from the damaged cannon to hopefully cause Mantis to fall.
Taurus refuses. With Zodiac’s attempt to kill every Gemini in New York thwarted by the damage done to the Star Blazer during the clash of superteams he now wants to simply make an escape and offers to spare Mantis if the Avengers let Zodiac go. He hints at Mantis being very, VERY important and thinks the Avengers are bluffing when they (truthfully) say they don’t know what he is talking about.
The Scarlet Witch – using her romantic partner the Vision’s body as cover, quickly maneuvers into position and unleashes her mutant hex power on the Star Blazer, completely destroying the weapon. The other Avengers rush forward to attack Zodiac in order to keep them away from the prone form of Mantis and hopefully capture them.
Virgo defeats the Scarlet Witch for the second time in as many days, then joins her teammates in using their superior numbers to keep the Avengers hard-pressed by attacking in cadres. At length Aries fights his way through the Avengers and tosses Mantis’ body over the ledge.
The Vision saves her, filling Mantis with renewed admiration for the android and his abilities, but his effort has left part of the Tower the teams are on in danger of collapsing onto The City That Never Sleeps. The Avengers immediately spring into action to prevent that from happening.
The members of Zodiac seize this opportunity to escape, with Leo adding his voice to Aries in criticizing Taurus for the failure of their plan. The villains board their aircraft and fly off.
After their hasty repair of that particular World Trade Center Tower the Avengers return their attention to their fallen teammate. Mantis tells them she is putting herself into a trance so that her healing powers can cure her internal damage.
The Avengers return to their mansion, where the injured Swordsman – now in a wheelchair and bandaged up – is alarmed for his lady love Mantis. While the team watches Mantis rest they press the Swordsman for more information on the enigmatic woman from Vietnam.
The Swordsman reminds his teammates how he and Mantis were part of the Vietnamese criminal empire run by “Monsieur Khruul” as French Intelligence called him. Mantis as a prostitute and him as a super-powered enforcer. On a dirty job for Khruul, the Swordsman was nearly killed by an opposing gang. Those rival gangsters left him for dead but Mantis found him and saved his life. Unfortunately he has no idea why Taurus feels Mantis is so important.
The Swordsman wants to come with the Avengers in their next battle with Zodiac but they make it clear he’s too injured to come with them. They let him keep watch over Mantis and go off to work on tracking down Zodiac. The Vision lingers at Mantis’ bedside, expressing his increasing regard for her and worrying the Swordsman that the Vision may be falling in love with his woman.
While Thor flies around the Tri-State Area searching for any sign of Zodiac, Iron Man, the Scarlet Witch, the Black Panther and the Vision wait at the mansion just in case their foes attack there again.
Meanwhile at Zodiac’s secret headquarters Aries is still challenging Taurus’ leadership like in our previous installment. The pair eventually stop arguing and resort to fighting. Taurus emerges triumphant and mistakenly thinks that humiliating Aries like this in front of the rest of the team has quelled any potential mutiny.
To the contrary, a half hour later Aries is furtively feeling out some other members of Zodiac to see if they’ll back him in an uprising against Taurus. Just as he is the group’s SECOND Aries after the first one died his fellow newbie, the second Scorpio is willing to join him.
The original Scorpio was Jake Fury, Nick Fury’s criminal brother. Jake remains missing for years then resurfaces at the head of his own, more powerful version of Zodiac. The Defenders (Hulk, Valkyrie, Nighthawk, Hellcat and Moon Knight) thwart Jake Fury’s plan to take over the world with the New Zodiac and he commits suicide rather than be captured.
At any rate, Aries 2 and Scorpio 2 successfully recruit Pisces, Cancer, Sagittarius, Leo and Aquarius. They don’t bother trying to woo Gemini since he owes Taurus for busting him out of prison last time around. They also avoid the risk of trying to recruit Taurus’ fellow Earth Signs Capricorn and Virgo.
The conspirators DO attempt to recruit Libra, but as the balance he refuses to take an active part. He also agrees not to inform the others about the brewing rebellion since he feels that doing so would constitute him choosing a side. Cancer threatens Libra and sneeringly points out that he has always been the least dedicated member of Zodiac anyway.
Aries and his allies proceed to the next step of their plan. Since Taurus designed and controls the team’s new Star Blazer weaponry Aries decides he needs to recruit at least one of the legitimate businessmen who do shady business with Zodiac in violation of the law.
The upstart Aries plans to line up financing to construct the nuclear weapons system whose plans Gemini stole from Avengers Mansion last time around. Aries calls Cornelius Van Lunt, whom we readers know is Taurus’ secret identity but who Aries thinks is just the richest of the shady magnates who do business with Zodiac.
Van Lunt plays along, pretending he’s willing to finance Aries’ scheme. He gives Aries an address where he and the other rebellious Houses of Zodiac must meet him to discuss further details. Aries steals one of Taurus’ Star Blazer handguns, then he and his cohorts sneak off in one of Zodiac’s aircraft to meet Cornelius Van Lunt at dawn in one of his south New Jersey warehouses.
The indefatigable Thor is still scouring the skyways and spots the Zodiac vessel. He follows it to the rendezvous location and calls in the rest of the Avengers. While Thor waits for them to show up, Van Lunt arrives and pumps Aries about all the details of his plan.
When Iron Man, the Scarlet Witch, the Black Panther and the Vision join Thor outside the warehouse they are thrilled that they will catch Van Lunt red-handed in a meeting with Zodiac members. (They, too, have been oblivious to his true identity as Taurus and, like most of Zodiac, considered Van Lunt just one of the many corrupt businessmen who cut crooked deals with the costumed crime cartel.)
Eventually the Avengers raid the meeting. While Van Lunt slips away, Thor, Iron Man and the Black Panther take on Cancer, Sagittarius, Pisces, Scorpio and Aries in a free-for-all. The Vision and Leo go one on one with the end result that the Vision completely trashes Leo.
The Scarlet Witch uses her hex powers to defeat Aquarius and in the damage that accompanies the forces she unleashed the Avengers and Zodiac members realize that the “warehouse” is actually reinforced with steel and is much more than it appears.
Van Lunt appears on one of those viewscreens that comic book villains seem to install everywhere they go. As redundant steel layers expand to cut off all the windows and doors he reveals to the trapped heroes and villains that he is really Taurus. He lured the rebellious Houses of Zodiac there to trap them but now has the Avengers as a bonus.
With the push of a button Taurus seals his trap – the seeming “warehouse” is actually a camouflaged spacecraft which immediately lifts off to strand his imprisoned enemies in orbit until their air runs out and they all die. +++
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