Category Archives: Superheroes

MANTIS 4: THE AVENGERS VS THE DEFENDERS

FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE 

Mantis betrayalTHE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 116 (October 1973) Betrayal

Avengers Roster: THOR, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE SCARLET WITCH, THE BLACK PANTHER, THE VISION, THE SWORDSMAN and MANTIS, the mysterious  superheroine from Vietnam.  

Defenders Roster: DOCTOR STRANGE (Stephen Strange, MD), SUB-MARINER (Prince Namor), THE HULK (Bruce Banner, PhD), THE SILVER SURFER (Norrin Radd), THE VALKYRIE (Barbara Norris) and the former Avenger, HAWKEYE (Clint Barton). (At the time of this story the Defenders functioned more like the much, much later Justice League Dark at DC, instead of their later street-level focus.)

As part of Mantis’ original run with the Avengers she took part in this milestone clash between those Avengers and the then-secret group called the Defenders. The story was presented in multiple issues of both The Avengers and The Defenders’ separate comic books.

BETRAYAL

Mantis Betrayal 2In the previous installment I examined Avengers #115 in which the team went searching for their long out-of-touch member the Black Knight. At his Garrett Castle headquarters our heroes found the Knight missing and an impenetrable mystic barrier surrounding the castle.

Mantis’ mutant empathic power enabled her to detect that Dr Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, had erected the barrier for unknown reasons. In 1973 the Avengers had had very limited contact with Dr Strange, who had previously helped them and the Black Knight save the world.    Continue reading

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MANTIS 3: BELOW US THE BATTLE

FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE 

Mantis below us the battleTHE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 115 (September 1973) Below Us The Battle 

Avengers Roster: THOR (Donald Blake, MD), IRON MAN (Tony Stark), CAPTAIN AMERICA (Steve Rogers), THE SCARLET WITCH (Wanda * last name unknown at the time of this story * ), THE BLACK PANTHER (Prince T’Challa), THE VISION (not applicable), MANTIS (* unknown at the time of this story *) and THE SWORDSMAN (Jacques Duquesne).  

BELOW US THE BATTLE

Synopsis: All of the Avengers listed above are in an Avengers Quin-Jet flying over the Atlantic Ocean bound for England. The Black Knight (Dane Whitman), in 1973 the only British member of the Avengers, has been out of contact for an alarming amount of time. Anticipating trouble the team has decided to check out the Black Knight’s castle for signs of their friend and colleague.  

In keeping with the usual levels of verisimilitude for 1970s Marvel Comics, the story presents the British branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. intercepting the Quin-Jet because of the presence on board of the recently reformed former supervillain the Swordsman.

Mantis and Swordsman (partial)Despite the Swordsman’s pardon and his status as an Avenger the Brits do not want the formerly wanted man allowed in the country. Thor – more worldly in the comic books than he is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – negotiates with the British and the Swordsman is allowed in England but the Avengers are responsible for his actions.  

Captain America is the only Avenger still suspicious about the Swordsman and his lady love Mantis, the enigmatic woman who will assume more and more importance as the issues go by, enroute to the Celestial Madonna Saga. Continue reading

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MANTIS: NIGHT OF THE SWORDSMAN

FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE  With Marvel Comics characters basically being Pop Culture Deities these days I’m approaching this topic the way I approach neglected mythological epics.

Mantis Night of SwordsmanTHE AVENGERS Volume 1, Number 114 (August 1973)  Night of the Swordsman

Before diving in, just contemplate the original publication date of this issue. FORTY-FOUR YEARS AGO!

If you went back 44 years before August of 1973 superhero comic books didn’t even exist yet. Just let that sink in for a moment.  

Cast of Characters:

Mantis 3MANTIS: When researching these old stories I’ve come to really “marvel” at Marvel Comics’ writers’ knack for handling long-term episodic storylines. In my opinion they handled it better than many writers of serialized science fiction and horror television series’ of today. Maintaining multiple threads of a long-running narrative is a specialized type of pulp fiction writing and 1970s Marvel Comics are excellent examples of the craft.  

The enigmatic seeds being planted in this issue regarding the brand new character Mantis and the long-established figure the Swordsman will bear fruit over the course of YEARS, culminating in what is remembered as the Celestial Madonna Saga. But a maddening one month wait between episodes makes today’s one week or so between tv episodes look pretty brief.   

Getting back to MANTIS – She was one of the many superheroines introduced by Marvel in the 1970s. This issue of The Avengers was the first appearance of this Eurasian beauty who was part Vietnamese and part ? for now.

Mantis’ mutant powers included empathy so advanced it was akin to telepathy at times. Physically she employed a brand of “super kung-fu” like DC’s superhero the Karate Kid. In this debut appearance, for instance she defeats THOR AND CAPTAIN AMERICA in battle. Yep.

The enigmatic hints about Mantis’ potential were nicely done and seem to have partially inspired Chris Claremont’s later handling of Marvel Woman/ Jean Grey’s slow evolution into Phoenix and then Dark Phoenix over at The Uncanny X-Men.

SwordsmanTHE SWORDSMAN: Hawkeye’s trainer and mentor when they both traveled the circus and carnival circuit in their pre-supervillain turned hero days. Unlike Hawkeye, however, the Swordsman was an actual villain, not merely misunderstood like his protégé.

Way back in Avengers’ #19 and 20 he pretended to join the team but was really infiltrating them as an agent of the supervillain the Mandarin. (The real one, not the comic-relief impersonator from the third Iron Man movie.) The Mandarin was the man who upgraded the Swordsman’s regular sword into its unbreakable state. He also outfitted it with the ability to shoot electric rays, fire rays and power blasts. That weaponry was controlled by buttons on the hilt of the sword.

After his betrayal of the Avengers at the behest of the Mandarin the Swordsman  was an active supervillain in the Marvel Universe, often clashing with the Avengers as part of the Lethal Legion and as a semi-regular foe of Captain America. Most recently the Swordsman had fought alongside the Avengers in the 100th issue anniversary special to help them save the Earth and Asgard from the Greek god of war Ares.       

The current members of the Avengers at this time were: THOR, IRON MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE SCARLET WITCH, THE BLACK PANTHER and THE VISION. Since they’ve become household names thanks to the Avengers movies there’s no need to reintroduce them here. Time to give a synopsis of this issue’s story:  Continue reading

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MANTIS: THE CELESTIAL MADONNA SAGA

MantisWith the release of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 last week and its introduction of the character Mantis to the Marvel Cinematic Universe I dove in for some research.

Luckily with the countless superhero web sites and the ready availability of archived collections of comic books from the 1970s and earlier it only took me til today to decide to take an extensive look at Mantis as she was originally presented in the pages of The Avengers – NOT the Guardians of the Galaxy – during what came to be called The Celestial Madonna Saga.

REASON ONE: I still have a soft spot for comic books because reading them as a kid served as a gateway to two of my adult passions: mythology and opera.

REASON TWO: I’m intrigued by the fact that so many of the stories brought to the screen by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and their related properties trace their original appearance to the 1970s like Mantis.

Mantis 2Hell, Gwen Stacy was killed by the Green Goblin around 1973. Magneto was ret-conned into his present personality in the 1970s. Adam Warlock got his Soul Gem, later ret-conned into one of the Infinity Stones. The Defenders debuted in that decade. Wolverine was also introduced in the 70s. Same with Luke Cage, Blade the Vampire Slayer, Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Thanos, the Punisher. Even Howard the Duck. (Well, you can’t win them all.)  

REASON THREE: I’m genuinely impressed with the way Marvel’s writers in the 1970s anticipated today’s slew of serialized sci-fi and horror series’ with their expert handling of prolonged narratives. Sometimes over YEARS! Seriously. Continue reading

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STAR WARS MEETS THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: THE MICRONAUTS

Micronauts 1May the 4th live long and prosper … or something or other. With this Star Wars festival coming right before tomorrow’s debut of the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie I figured a look at The Micronauts would be appropriate.  

The Micronauts was one of those oddly-conceived Marvel Comics titles from the late 70s and early 80s that were about forcing a continuing storyline around an already-existing toy franchise. (Rom: Spaceknight was another example of this ultimate in ass-backward storytelling.)

And a young Joel Schumacher mused "Nipples on black armor, eh? Hmmmmm."

And a young Joel Schumacher mused “Nipples on black armor, eh? Hmmmmm.”

The above example of Six Degrees of George Lucas or whatever you want to call it was just my odd way of pointing out my reasoning for posting this item on the 4th of May.

The Micronauts (First Issue: January 1979) was mostly a strained imitation of the Star Wars universe but also had a few similarities with Marvel’s ORIGINAL Guardians of the Galaxy. Those Guardians – Vance Astro, Charley-27, Yondu and Martinex – were freedom fighters waging a guerilla war to free 30th Century Earth from the dictatorial rule of its alien conquerors, the lizardlike Badoon race.

Baron Karza horseThe Micronauts was set in the Microverse, a sub-atomic universe which was being ruled by the evil, black-armored Baron Karza, one of the most blatant Darth Vader ripoffs this side of Japan’s Swords of the Space Ark movies. Karza could detach his arms and legs and could transform the lower half of his body into that of a black horse (think of Centaurs) for no better reason than the fact that THAT was the gimmick of the Baron Karza toys. Kids could move around the arms and legs or replace his regular body with the horse-like lower body. Oh what fun! (?) Continue reading

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BLACK CONDOR: THE OFFICIAL SUPERHERO OF BALLADEER’S BLOG

Black CondorRegular readers of Balladeer’s Blog know that words like eccentric, oddball, offbeat, weird and damn crazy come to mind when describing me. So, that being the case the most appropriate superhero mascot for this site is the Black Condor.

That’s the Golden Age Black Condor, who debuted in 1940 and is now in the public domain, not the newer comic book characters going by that name. The original Black Condor appeals to me in the same way that bad movies do. Here are the six reasons why this figure has long been my favorite weirdass Golden Age superhero:

ONE: HE STARRED IN A COMIC BOOK TITLED CRACK COMICS! Yep. Crack Comics number 1 marked the first appearance of the Black Condor. Very appropriate for a hero whose whole story sounds like it was inspired by smoking a crack pipe. Continue reading

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NIGHTSHADE: ANOTHER FORGOTTEN SUPERHERO

Superhero-mania shows no signs of abating! Since Balladeer’s Blog’s recent look at the defunct Centaur Comics superheroes was such a hit I decided to post an entry on another of their neglected figures.

Nightshade splash pageNIGHTSHADE

Secret Identity: Howard Hall, scientist

Origin: Wealthy young scientist Howard Hall found both science and his life of luxury to be ultimately unfulfilling. Immersing himself in the secrets of Eastern Mysticism he discovered he had a real knack for one particular Dark Art: endowing his shadow with life, solidity and super-strength.

Calling himself Nightshade, Hall costumed himself in a white tuxedo and white hat with a pair of large sunglasses serving as a mask. He used his new abilities to fight crime and other forces of evil.  

First Appearance: Amazing-Man Comics #24 (October, 1941). His final Golden Age appearance came in 1942.

Powers: Continue reading

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