FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE
AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 131 (January 1975) A Quiet Half-Hour in Saigon
It’s back to Vietnam as we continue examining The Celestial Madonna Saga.
A QUIET HALF-HOUR IN SAIGON
Synopsis: We rejoin our heroes the day after their battle with the Titanic Three (plus Slasher) in the capital city of Vietnam where they were investigating Mantis’ past. Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, the Vision and Mantis still do not understand her coming role as the Celestial Madonna.
Nor do they understand exactly WHAT this Celestial Madonna will do, let alone who her mate will be or why their offspring will somehow control all time and space. The Scarlet Witch, meanwhile, is still back in New York at Avengers Mansion, being tutored by the sorceress Agatha Harkness.
There has been no response yet to the repeating radio summons to the Kree superhero Captain Marvel, who Iron Man hopes will be able to shed light on Mantis’ ties to the ancient sect of the Priests of Pama.
No one still alive in the criminal empire of Mantis’ late uncle has been able to provide useful information, either. The Madonna Star continues to shine above Avengers Mansion, drawing throngs from around the world and inspiring rumors that the star presages the end of the world.
Presently, as another night approaches Mantis gets to work off some frustration by thwarting an attempted mugging.
Even with all that going on, Hawkeye, who often wallows in even more self-pity than Peter Parker does, ponders his insecurities. He feels in a rut compared to all the mad action and changes swirling around most of his teammates.
CUT TO: The time-stream itself, where Kang the Conqueror remains locked in battle with his future self, Rama Tut II. Through time-travel technology that is superior even to Kang’s own the pair are plucked from Kang’s drifting time-sphere in which they were fighting.
The two combatants (think of it like two of Doctor Who’s regenerations fighting each other) have been teleported to the throne-room of the green and purple-clad supervillain called Immortus. Rama Tut II has been rendered unconscious during the teleportation process – an accident, says Immortus.
Immortus, calling himself the Master of Time, welcomes Kang to his domain: Limbo, a realm that exists outside of the time-stream. Kang and Immortus have mutual enemies – the Avengers. Immortus obligingly imprisons Kang’s apparent enemy Rama Tut II in a transparent prison that negates his technological weaponry.
In return Immortus is offering an alliance with Kang the Conqueror against the Avengers. Long ago – back in Avengers Vol 1 #10 (November, 1964) Immortus plucked a half-dozen figures like Attila the Hun, Paul Bunyan and Merlin the Magician from the time-stream to battle the Avengers.
Needless to say the Avengers won, but Immortus says that was just the trial run for his device that lets him draw people from precise moments in time. Now he is ready to attack the Avengers in earnest.
NOTE: More “timey-wimey” fun here. To Immortus just a few minutes have passed since the events of Avengers #10 but for our heroes it’s been over 120 issues. Anyway, Rama Tut has regained consciousness by now and rails at Kang about how he must not possess the Celestial Madonna.
Back with the Avengers, Hawkeye checks in with the butler Jarvis back at the mansion. Jarvis tells Hawkeye that there has been no response from Captain Marvel back there, either. Hawkeye asks to speak to Wanda but Jarvis tells him that the Scarlet Witch is still locked away with Agatha Harkness in the room which Miss Harkness has mystically sealed off from the rest of the world.
Mantis, meanwhile, talks with the Vision and apologizes for her efforts to steal him away from the Scarlet Witch. The Vision is conciliatory about it all and Mantis confides in him how frightened she is about the incomprehensible role she seems destined for.
Out of sight of the Avengers the mysterious Hooded One, dressed in the robes of the supposedly extinct Priests of Pama, watches Mantis just like he was doing in our last installment.
Back to Limbo, where Immortus has been showing Kang all his technology. The Conqueror decides to improve upon Immortus’ original plan of attack against the Avengers. Instead of plucking confused beings from the time-stream, beings who have no real motive to fight the Avengers he will INSTEAD pluck several of Earth’s slain supervillains out of the time-stream.
The choice Kang will give those beings will be clear: they can help him destroy the Avengers and obtain Mantis for his bride or he will simply transport them back to the precise instant of their painful deaths. If they succeed in killing the Avengers for him he will promise to let them live by NOT sending them back to face their deaths.
Kang can then simply double-cross the members of this Legion he is assembling and send them back anyway, OR he can keep them at his side to fight Earth’s other superteams and rely on the mastery of time and space – that his and Mantis’ offspring will provide him – to negate any paradoxes caused by snatching them from their deaths.
Kang now puts his obsessive study of the 20th Century’s various super-beings to excellent use. Operating Immortus’ device he plucks specific super-villains one at a time to serve him:
WONDER MAN – Simon Williams, possessed of strength to equal Thor, plus super-speed and invulnerability. He is plucked from the time-stream just as he begins to feel the fatal effects of the serum that killed him way back in Avengers # 9.
Since Ultron used the mental patterns from the living Wonder Man as the basis for the Vision’s own artificial intelligence, Wonder Man’s mere presence should unnerve the Vision – enough, Kang hopes, to help destroy the Vision, whom he considers his greatest rival for Mantis.
THE ORIGINAL HUMAN TORCH – Despite the word “human” in his name, this super-being was the android creation of Professor Horton around the time of World War Two. As an android he survived to recent decades, just like the Sub-Mariner and Captain America had, but the Mad Thinker reprogrammed him to be a super-villain.
The Mad Thinker used the android Human Torch to try to kill the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, and destroyed the android Torch when that plan failed. Kang plucks him from the time-stream right before the fatal energy blast can “kill” him.
MIDNIGHT – M’Nai, the half-brother of Marvel’s Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. Midnight is a black-clad master of martial arts who died in his battle against Shang-Chi.
Kang wants Midnight to use his martial arts skill to bring Mantis in alive and with no permanent damage. Midnight was plucked from the time-stream an instant before his death in battle with Shang Chi.
THE GHOST – Actually Captain Vanderdekken of the Flying Dutchman, here called simply the Ghost. I would have at least made it the Ghost Mariner. Anyway, the Ghost was granted enormous powers and then temporarily released from Hell by Mephisto, who wanted him to use those vast powers to destroy the Silver Surfer himself.
Ironically, in Silver Surfer # 8 the Ghost was instead FREED from damnation when the Silver Surfer compassionately shed a tear over Vanderdekken’s plight, letting his soul at last pass on to Heaven. Kang uses the opposite motivation on the Ghost that he uses on the others – if the Ghost doesn’t serve him he WON’T send him back to meet his death and ascension to Heaven.
BARON ZEMO – The original Baron Zemo, a World War Two foe of Captain America and Bucky. Zemo blamed Captain America for the way Zemo’s super-glue Adhesive X caused his (Zemo’s) mask to wind up sticking to his face permanently.
Zemo, armed with scientific weapons like the electronic ray blaster in the palm of one of his gloves and a gun that fires Adhesive X, was plucked from the time-stream just before dying in an avalanche in Avengers number 15.
THE FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER – A choice so silly it almost ruins the whole story – to me, anyway. Marvel had begun publishing a comic book about the Frankenstein Monster’s adventures so he was included just to promote his own comic book here in the much more widely-read Avengers comic book.
Just the monster wouldn’t bother me, but they have him fighting Thor next time around, when his strength would be nowhere near Thor’s level. Annoying.
I would have used one of Hulk’s dead foes like the Glob or a similar super-villain, one that would match Thor’s strength according to Marvel’s own in-universe rules.
In any event Kang christens this sextet his Legion of the Unliving.
Back with our heroes, Mantis catches sight of a green, glowing figure that looks like the slain Swordsman. It’s NOT, though – I’m providing that spoiler right now so that none of you think Marvel wimped out and brought him back to life. It’s all part of a larger plan, but NOT one of Kang’s plans, though.
In fact the Green Swordsman’s form is a disguise in case Kang ever stopped to observe the scene during his constant time-hopping.
While Mantis feels suitably disturbed by the sight and begins questioning her own senses, we go back to Limbo. Kang is planning on traveling with his Legion of the Unliving to Vietnam to attack the Avengers but Immortus recommends that they instead teleport the Avengers to Limbo.
Immortus tells Kang about the endless miles of labyrinthine tunnels beneath his castle, tunnels the Avengers can be teleported to in scattered fashion, separated from each other and lost in the confusing maze of tunnels.
Kang likes the idea of fighting on terrain much more suited to himself and his Legion than to his foes and agrees. Immortus expresses resentment over the way Kang is practically stealing control of the entire plan so Kang overpowers Immortus and imprisons him in a transparent cell right next to Rama Tut II.
Rama Tut II screams at his younger self (Kang) that he will destroy the natural order of the universe if he possesses the Celestial Madonna. Kang scoffs at him and relishes the thought that, here in Limbo, no other superheroes can come to the aid of the Avengers. Plus, since Limbo is outside of the very time-stream itself Kang can possibly escape the fate of failing to seize Mantis and eventually becoming Rama Tut II in the first place.
Back in Saigon the Avengers are standing around at nightfall pondering their next move when they are suddenly teleported to Immortus’ labyrinthine corridors, each one alone and far from the others.
Mantis’ mutant empathic powers immediately warn her that it’s Kang, striking again as Rama Tut II predicted. The Vision, for his part, erroneously wonders if they’ve all been summoned by a Higher Being to witness the final stage in Mantis’ transformation into the Celestial Madonna.
Kang uses Immortus’ radio system to broadcast a sinister greeting to his hated foes:
KANG: Hear me, Avengers! You have defied my will for the final time! Here, lost and alone in the Labyrinth of Limbo, you will die at my direction and at the hands of the most relentless terrors you have ever faced!
And with that deliciously operatic announcement Kang leads his Legion of the Unliving into the Labyrinth to find Mantis and kill the other Avengers. +++
I’LL COVER THE NEXT ISSUE SOON. KEEP CHECKING BACK FOR UPDATES.
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