MANTIS 14: THE STAR STALKER

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Avengers 124 star stalkerTHE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 124 (June 1974) Beware the Star Stalker 

The Celestial Madonna Saga continues! Our previous installment ended with some of the Avengers (Thor, Iron Man, The Black Panther, The Vision and MANTIS) at the Temple of the Priests of Pama in the jungles of Vietnam. Meanwhile the other two Avengers (The Scarlet Witch and The Swordsman) were back in the capitol city with Wanda aiding the Swordsman, who had been tortured for information regarding the temple’s location.

The Avengers themselves had only found that temple through the aid of Libra, from the supervillain team Zodiac. Libra had been revealed as the father of the mysterious superheroine Mantis and claimed both he and his daughter had been trained by the Priests of Pama.

The Vietnamese drug and vice lord Monsieur Khruul (no relation to Mademoiselle Unkhiind) had used his super-powered minions to slaughter every single Priest of Pama. The Avengers and Libra defeated Khruul’s men (his “Khrewe” you might say) then found the dying crime boss himself slashed to ribbons in the temple’s dungeon.

The criminal chief’s dying words were “Beware the Star Stalker.” Unknown to the Avengers, the Star Stalker – a giant, red-scaled dragon-like creature – was watching them from above, seemingly poised to strike.     

BEWARE THE STAR STALKER

Synopsis: The Avengers have no idea who or what the “Star Stalker” might be. From hiding, the creature itself continues to observe our heroes as they split up and search every nook and cranny of the temple but find nothing.

Despite her continued claims that she remembers nothing about this temple, her father or the Priests of Pama, Mantis eventually intuits the location of a device to open a secret passageway. The Black Panther expresses suspicions that she might simply be lying about not remembering anything but Mantis sarcastically inquires if she is “on trial.”

Mantis star stalkerAt any rate the hidden passageway leads the Avengers right into the chamber that the Star Stalker had slunk away to. The creature now stands up on two legs and threateningly addresses the Avengers since, during its years of captivity in the temple, the Priests of Pama had taught the Star Stalker Vietnamese, English, French and presumably other languages as well.   

The Avengers attack the creature, whose very scales seem to ooze energy. After a furious battle it becomes apparent that physical attacks on the Star Stalker do little damage and energy blasts like Iron Man’s repulsor rays simply feed it and make it more powerful. That prompts the Vision to refrain from using the solar rays he shoots from his eyes and our heroes attempt to regroup.

The group also notes that the temple itself is in danger of collapsing from the damage the battle has inflicted. The Star Stalker points out that such destruction is nothing – he intends to destroy the entire planet as he destroyed countless others during his thousands of years of life. He further states that other life forms are meaningless and he is all that matters.   

The Star Stalker proceeds to tell the Avengers and Libra how hopeless their situation is and how he came to be imprisoned in the temple. THIS STORY WILL BE VERY IMPORTANT TO LATER EVENTS. His tale begins with the Kree, one of the most frequently-featured alien races in the Marvel Universe.

NOTE: The Kree are noted for their eternal war against the Skrulls, another alien race in the Marvel Universe. Major Kree characters include Captain Marvel (the Kree Captain named Mar-Vell but mistaken by the press to be “Captain Marvel”) and the supervillain Ronan the Accuser. Ms Marvel (Carol Danvers) gained her superhuman powers from Kree radiation and became part-Kree herself.    

Resuming our story, the Star Stalker says that in contrast with the generally warlike nature of the Kree people as they roam the galaxy conquering world after world, there has long been a sub-culture of Pacifist Kree: the Priests of Pama. So at last the meaning of Captain Marvel, Ms Marvel and Ronan the Accuser’s frequent exclamation “By the great Pama!” is revealed. 

As pacifists, the Pama sect, which includes both males and females, were ostracized and oppressed by the main Kree culture which viewed them as cowards. Out of the need for self-defense the Pama sect – which disdained weapons – began developing their alien martial arts. It took hundreds of years but the Pacifist Kree eventually reached the point where their discipline’s fighting prowess was superhuman.

Just as an Earthly human body can split boards and bricks and such thanks to martial arts training this extraterrestrial form of those disciplines enabled a humanoid body to do far more damage. (Which answers the question of how Mantis’ martial arts enabled her to defeat Thor and Captain America way back in her first appearance.)

Eventually the Kree government used an excuse to exile the Pama sect to a barren prison planet so far away from its sun that it was never truly light out. The planet only remained warm enough to support various life-forms because of its massive internal heat.

And so it was that – untold thousands of years ago – the Star Stalker happened upon this prison planet in his interstellar wanderings. He announced his intention to destroy that world but the Pacifist Kree simply stood by and did nothing.

Realizing he had nothing to fear from them the Star Stalker spun a cocoon around himself, the cocoon he uses to transform from the tougher, more resilient form that he uses to traverse the stars into a body made up of almost pure ionic energy. After his incubation period he emerged from the chrysalis, and in his ionic form – which looks just like his regular form but is mostly energy – began feeding upon the planet.

The Pama sect eventually realized they faced total annihilation if they did not stop him. Since their beliefs provided for self-defense they acted together to drive him off. The Star Stalker mockingly tells the Avengers he has no intention of letting them know how the Pacifist Kree accomplished that.

He DOES go on to say that the Pama sect then contacted the Supreme Intelligence, which, then as now, was the supreme dictator of the Kree Empire.

NOTE: The Supreme Intelligence is another frequently used figure in the Marvel Universe. The entity is really a very high form of artificial intelligence created by the Kree close to a million years ago. It became the practice to transfer data from as many freshly-dead Kree as possible into the Supreme Intelligence’s biochemical memory banks, so that nearly all Kree knowledge and a little bit of nearly all passing Kree survive in the S.I.

As artificial intelligence is so inclined to do in sci-fi pop fiction the Supreme Intelligence eventually took over as dictator, but since the figure’s genius proved almost flawless militarily the warlike Kree basically said “Meh” and were happy to have him rule them all. I will say again that the fictional history of Marvel’s various alien races is as strong as other pulp sci-fi stories, like in Doctor Who or Star Trek.

Speaking of Doctor Who, in appearance the Supreme Intelligence usually appears as a face on a viewscreen and is greenish with tentacled hair. Picture how Captain Jack looked when he was a million years old or so and was just a gigantic head in a huge container. THAT’s what the Supreme Intelligence looks like. (Marvel created the S.I. in the 1960s so I’m not implying they imitated Captain Jack.)  

Back to the story: The Pacifist Kree felt obligated to inform the Supreme Intelligence about the existence of the Star Stalker since entire planets were in danger. The Pama sect proposed that they be permitted to travel in mixed male and female pairs to every life-bearing planet that the Kree knew of so that they could teach their ways and their martial arts to others so that those worlds would know how to defend themselves from the Star Stalker.

The Supreme Intelligence pretended skepticism but was happy to use the Pacifist’s plans as an excuse to exile them permanently, dispatching them throughout the known universe where they would be too scattered to pose any threat to the Empire. The militaristic Kree view all inhabited planets as potential subject-states of their empire, no matter how many millions of years it takes, so preserving such worlds fits their agenda.  

Untold thousands of years ago the male and female Pacifist Kree designated for placement on OUR planet arrived in Vietnam at the site of what became the Temple of the Priests of Pama. Their children eventually intermarried with Earth people and over the years taught their Pama Martial Arts to only a select few, generation after generation all the way to the present day.

They were still doing it when Libra and his infant daughter Mantis stumbled upon their temple long ago. Whatever special purpose the Pama sect was preparing Mantis for died with them at the hands of Monsieur Khaalous Monsieur Khruul.

At some point long before Mantis’ years at the temple, the Star Stalker chanced upon the Earth. He was opposed again by the Priests (and Priestesses) of Pama who again defeated him and even managed to capture him.

Because of their opposition to killing, the Pama sect simply  imprisoned him in a hidden part of the temple. Over the years (decades? centuries?) of his captivity the priests kept him alive and taught him languages and other subjects but he rejected any hint of their pacifist philosophy.

Monsieur Khruul mistakenly thought the temple contained some priceless treasure that the Pama sect was guarding. He and his men slaughtered the priests and, in his fruitless search for treasure Khruul accidentally freed the alien creature. He told Khruul to “beware the Star Stalker” then slashed him to ribbons.

Thor angrily tells the Star Stalker that even the world-destroying Galactus would have enough honor to refrain from butchering a life-form which had saved him. The Star Stalker airily proclaims he has never heard of Galactus and pompously begins weaving himself into a cocoon.

He will still be as invulnerable as before to the Avengers’ attacks even in the cocoon and, when he emerges from it, will immediately begin feeding upon the Earth.

With the Star Stalker fully cocooned, Libra confronts Mantis. He feels the Priests of Pama probably taught HER whatever the secret was for defeating the creature. He further argues that, given the abilities of the Pacifist Kree they might have even had a way of wiping away the memories of her time in the temple for some unknown reason.

Mantis still refuses to accept Libra as her father but acknowledges that there is a tiny possibility that he is right about her memories having been tampered with. She enters one of her meditative trances but after a time emerges from it saying she found no indication that her memories are not complete. She recalls growing up as a street urchin in Saigon and later working for the Vietnamese crime lord. Nothing else.

The assembled heroes decide that they must first find a way to defeat the Star Stalker, then later try to determine what is and isn’t real about Libra’s claims. It is ultimately decided that they must think beyond their own powers since the Pama sect somehow defeated the Star Stalker without such powers.

The Black Panther decides to concentrate on weaponry and wants to try Zodiac’s Master Starship, the one Libra used to save the Avengers a few installments ago. That ship is outfitted with Taurus’ Star Blazer technology (which they accidentally call “Star Blaster” instead this time) and might work against the alien creature.

The Black Panther uses the Avengers’ quin-jet’s radio to reach New York. He strikes a deal with Cornelius Van Lunt (Taurus) and Van Lunt’s attorneys for leniency in exchange for his cooperation. Van Lunt informs the Black Panther how to operate the Star Blazer weapons system. 

Next the Avengers have S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft tow the Star Blazer ship from where it’s been impounded and fly it over to the Avengers’ current location in Vietnam. While waiting for that to be completed the scene cuts to the Scarlet Witch and the recovering Swordsman.

The Swordsman is losing control and despairingly confides in Wanda that he is  worried about losing Mantis. (But he does NOT mention the Vision’s apparent new attraction to Mantis.) He feels that Mantis must be getting a lower opinion of him lately, with his being sidelined by injury and then hot-headedly getting himself captured and tortured last time around.

The Scarlet Witch tries to console him even as he tearfully blurts out how hopelessly deep his love for Mantis goes.

Back to the temple. The Vision (Wanda’s romantic partner) and Mantis are finding themselves drawn closer together. The Vision can relate to her fear and uncertainty about possibly having had her memories tampered with since he has been suffering those multiple mental lapses himself in Taurus’ pool and Dormammu’s quicksand.  

Eventually S.H.I.E.L.D’s people arrive with the Star Blazer ship. The Black Panther and Iron Man use their technical skill to get the weapons system operational per Taurus’ instructions.

At length the Star Stalker emerges from his cocoon in his “charged up” state and begins feeding, obliterating much of the temple. The Black Panther wields the Star Blazer cannon on the front of the spaceship and the screams of the Star Stalker give the Avengers hope.

The Star Stalker soon dashes that hope by managing to destroy the Star Blazer. The Avengers attack the creature in sheer desperation but fare even worse than in their first attack on him since his ionic combustion power is too much for them.

MANTIS is the last Avenger not lying on the ground in agony by this point. She continues attacking the Star Stalker, who is at times hurt by her skillful strikes at his form but not seriously hindered. Her ability to touch him without succumbing to the ionic blasts that decked the other Avengers is a result of her training.

For this comparison think of how some people can literally walk on hot coals without pain if they handle it properly. In the same way Mantis’ martial-arts assault on the Star Stalker leaves her unharmed despite physical contact with the alien. 

Eventually Mantis pieces together what the Star Stalker’s weakness must be. She tells the prone Vision to try to summon the strength to use his solar rays set on HEAT ONLY. The android obliges, and his eye beams succeed in actually KILLING the alien creature.

With the Star Stalker dead, Mantis explains to her recovering teammates how she deduced what to do. The creature had avoided leaving the temple until after nightfall … it had attacked the prison planet of the Pacifist Kree which was far from its sun’s heat … and it had never heard of Galactus, which meant it must have avoided coming into contact with inhabited planets most of the time. The chill of space would shield it from any starlight as it traveled, so put it all together and direct solar heat must be its weakness. 

The Vision extravagantly compliments Mantis for her mind and her skills (DOWN, boy!). Mantis is grateful for the compliment as they hold each other, but states that she is very afraid now because  she  can no longer be sure about her past.

She ponders what special purpose the Pama sect was preparing her for if she was ever truly at their temple, and she fears she WAS since she knew about the hidden passageway. As the Avengers take all this in, this issue comes to a close. +++    

I’LL COVER THE NEXT ISSUE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.

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