FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE
AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 128 (October 1974) Bewitched, Bothered … and Dead
I’m sure Marvel Comics gave special thanks to Quinn Martin for providing the title to this particular story. Yes, it’s a play on the usual “bewitched, bothered and bewildered.”
ANYWAY, WE ARE IN THE HOME STRETCH OF THE CELESTIAL MADONNA SAGA! MISS A CHAPTER FROM NOW TO THE END AND YOU’LL BE CONFUSED.
BEWITCHED, BOTHERED … AND DEAD
Synopsis: Nighttime on the rooftop of Avengers Mansion. The Avengers and Fantastic Four have just returned from the wedding of the former Avenger Quicksilver and the Inhuman woman named Crystal. The Avengers traveled in their Quin-Jet and the Fantastic Four – oddly enough – in their roofless Fantasticar.
The two teams are hanging out chit-chatting before the FF will head home to the Baxter Building. As Midnight arrives a supernatural lightning storm strikes, threatening the lives of members from both teams with its repeated and tightly placed lightning bolts.
Naturally Thor, the Thing, Iron Man and the Vision are able to withstand any bolts that hit them, but the other superheroes plus little Franklin Richards – out of his coma now – must avoid them or be killed. Thor offers to squelch the storm with his godly powers but the elderly sorceress Agatha Harkness warns him it is not the kind of storm he has ever dealt with before.
Mister Fantastic – since he and his teammates are very accustomed to Agatha’s powers and abilities – wants Thor to listen to Miss Harkness before he tackles the storm. The Vision, who is using his diamond-hard density to protect the Scarlet Witch from the repeated lightning strikes, says Thor should just do his thing, since the lightning still hurts him, even though he isn’t killed by it.
Mantis, agilely dodging the lightning bolts that threaten to strike her, takes the opportunity to score points against her romantic rival the Scarlet Witch. Mantis does that by “just happening” to observe aloud that the Vision COULD avoid any pain by just turning intangible, then adds an “Oh, but of course you cannot … You must protect Wanda.”
Thor prevents an argument from breaking out by ordering everyone to be quiet while he takes to the air to calm the storm. The supernatural storm defies his powers and even defiantly intensifies. Thor and the others are stunned to see that, though the thunder god cannot handle the storm, Agatha Harkness is doing just fine against it.
The sorceress overpowers the supernatural storm and shuts it down completely, leaving not even one cloud in the moonlit sky. Agatha informs the awestruck superheroes that the storm was a deliberate attack on her personally. The members of the Fantastic Four offer to protect her, given her long association with the team.
Miss Harkness politely declines the offer, pointing out that little Franklin no longer needs her as a nurse now that he is cured of his world-threatening mutant powers. Agatha says she feels her place now is with a NEW charge – the Scarlet Witch.
Wanda is floored and is even more amazed as Agatha Harkness goes on to say she knows that deep down Wanda desires to master true witchcraft and also bring her probability-altering mutant hex-powers under more predictable control.
The Scarlet Witch accepts the offer for advanced training like she has never before received. The Fantastic Four members all say goodbye to Miss Harkness and the team flies off toward the Baxter Building. In the streets below, a shadowy figure carrying a box seethes internally that Harkness survived his supernatural storm and vows to kill her when next they meet.
Inside Avengers Mansion Wanda shows Agatha Harkness to the room where she will be staying. Agatha is grateful for the accomodations because her home at Whisper Hill was destroyed months earlier by the Fantastic Four’s foe Annihilus.
Adding to Miss Harkness’ air of mystery is the way her black cat Ebony saunters into the room, somehow knowing where his mistress was AND somehow slipping into the mansion despite all the high-tech security.
The Vision shows up, wanting to talk with Wanda alone, but Agatha nixes that idea, brusquely telling the Scarlet Witch that she must not leave her side until morning. The Vision is surprised when Wanda goes along with Miss Harkness’ wishes rather than his own.
In true soap opera fashion, after Agatha and Wanda lock themselves in Miss Harkness’ room, the Vision reflects to himself that he was about to assure the Scarlet Witch about his love for her and that he has realized he is romantically interested ONLY in her, not Mantis. Now Wanda won’t hear those words.
Agatha now casts a spell that she says will isolate the room thoroughly and completely from the rest of Avengers Mansion. No matter what happens no sound will escape the room, nobody will be able to enter, and though time will continue to pass normally outside the room, countless hours may roll by for them. The better to instruct Wanda.
NOTE: Yes, another mysterious parallel. The Scarlet Witch is – somewhat later in life – finally receiving the advanced training that Mantis and Moon Dragon had received when they were younger. Mantis from the Kree-born Priests of Pama and Moon Dragon from the Eternals of Titan.
This goes along with the other parallels: Mantis and Moon Dragon were even BORN at the exact same moment in different parts of the world. Like them the Scarlet Witch recently had a traumatic reunion with a father she never knew and like them she has been caught up in a romantic triangle. In her case involving Mantis and the Vision, in Moon Dragon’s case involving the Black Widow and Daredevil.
Coincidence? Stimuli in a bizarre experiment? Psychological tumblers being tripped in sequence to unlock a certain something in one of these women? The answers will finally be forthcoming.
Back to the mystically isolated room with the Scarlet Witch, Miss Harkness and the black cat Ebony. Miss Harkness eventually warns Wanda about a mystic menace about to strike, when in a flash of light, the villain Necrodamus appears.
Necrodamus was the shadowy figure who sicced the storm on Agatha and the two superteams at Midnight. He carries his usual box for collecting souls. Necrodamus talks about how – when he clashed with the Defenders months earlier – they stopped him from obtaining the Sub-Mariner’s soul when the stars were in proper alignment.
Yep, Necrodamus has mystic powers to rival Doctor Strange and physical strength to go man-to-man against the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner. Here in this room he intends to complete his “collection” of souls.
Necrodamus attacks the ladies and at one point in the battle Miss Harkness sics Ebony on him. The black cat grows to the size of a black lion and tussles with the villain, only to be overpowered and forced back into normal cat size by Necrodamus.
Next the vile creature strikes down Agatha as well, leaving the Scarlet Witch standing alone against him – a foe powerful enough to battle all three original Defenders.
Back out in the rest of Avengers Mansion the Swordsman, still being eaten away with the fear that his long-time romantic partner Mantis may be falling in love with the Vision instead of him, again tries to discuss the issue with Mantis.
He again pours out his heart to her, but this time Mantis cruelly puts him down for his emotional neediness and tells him she no longer cares for him. The Swordsman is crushed and not even Thor and Iron Man can succeed at consoling him over his broken heart.
For her part, Mantis has coldly continued walking, and has managed to find the Vision sitting alone, lost in thought. She approaches him.
Back in the Witch Room, the Scarlet Witch fights Necrodamus with everything she has but it is nowhere near enough. Necrodamus defeats her, then crouches over her, set to collect her soul, then Agatha’s for his wooden box.
Back with the Vision and Mantis, the Eurasian beauty praises the Vision’s general serenity, which she finds soothing given her empathic powers. She commiserates with him about the crises they both have been confronted with: the contradictions about her past and his fear that his android brain may be malfunctioning.
(In multiple previous installments we learned that Mantis only vaguely remembers her alleged tutoring by the Priests of Pama. She recalls mostly just being a street urchin in Vietnam and then a prostitute in her uncle’s criminal empire. For his part the Vision has had illogical panic attacks in multiple battles recently.)
Back to the Witch Room we go. The Scarlet Witch forces herself to open her eyes and fight on. Her mutant hex powers cause Necrodamus’ precious box to burst open, freeing all of the souls within. Those souls tear Necrodamus to pieces while fleeing for their rightful place in the afterlife.
When all is once again calm in the room Wanda sees Miss Harkness standing, unperturbed, petting her cat Ebony. She compliments her pupil on her handling of herself when faced with the truly dark and powerful forces that actual witchcraft can unleash.
The Scarlet Witch suspects that Agatha must have been playing possum for awhile, fully prepared to help her against Necrodamus if she hadn’t realized she needed to target his box of souls. Miss Harkness coyly denies it and says their lessons must resume.
Back with Mantis and the Vision, she draws even closer and seductively hints that the two of them have been saddled with lovers who have proven inferior to them. She suggests that she and the Vision are more compatible with each other and could investigate their respective mysteries as romantic partners.
Finally the Vision tells Mantis that he loves Wanda and only Wanda, no matter how much they may have argued in recent times. He firmly tells Mantis that he values her as a friend and teammate but there can be no more than that between them.
It’s Mantis’ turn to be crushed, now. Before the awkward situation can go any further, brilliant artificial light streams through all the windows of Avengers Mansion. The pre-dawn rush hour traffic outside the mansion is reduced to horn-honking chaos, too.
The Vision and Mantis join Thor, Iron Man and the Swordsman in racing outside, followed soon by the Scarlet Witch and Agatha Harkness, who sensed what was going on. They all behold an object far above Avengers Mansion, an artificial star or satellite that glows even brighter than daylight.
The Avengers’ speculation about what this bizarre variation on the Star of Bethlehem may mean is interrupted by an off-panel voice. Our heroes turn to see their frequent foe Kang the Conqueror in his futuristic armor. The most recent time the Avengers battled him they needed the help of the Inhumans AND Spider-Man to defeat him.
Kang announces to them that the artificial star was a signal to him. A signal that the time of the Celestial Madonna has arrived and that Earth is ripe for conquest. +++
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