Sunday, 18 September 2011

Avengers #123. The Celestial Madonna Saga: Part 1.

Avengers #123, Mantis, Libra and the Celestial Madonna
It puts Zodiac into perspective when you realise
its,"most dangerous member," is a non-super-
powered blind-man with only half-hearted criminal
tendencies and what appears to be a terminal case
of constipation.
When tackling the Avengers' Celestial Madonna storyline, the obvious question is where to start.

The obvious answer is, "At the beginning." But that means going all the way back to when Mantis made her first ever appearance.

Even then, in that debut, she was clearly being set up as a woman of mystery, although whether the writers knew back then just how it'd all pan out has to be viewed as questionable.

But reviewing every Avengers story in which Mantis ever appeared'd be madness - especially as a lot of them aren't very good. Plus, most of those stories have no relevance to the epic anyway.

Therefore I'm going to do what seems logical and start with the moment that sets in motion Mantis and the Avengers' quest to uncover her murky origins.

Avengers #123 kicks off with Zodiac member Libra declaring to a shocked gathering of Avengers and captured Zodiac members that he's Mantis' father. Apparently, some years back, he was a mercenary in Vietnam where he married a local girl and had a daughter with her.

Unfortunately for the course of true love, his wife's brother was local gangster Monsieur Khruul who could've given even Quicksilver lessons in how to disapprove of your sister's relationships, by killing her.

Blinded in Khruul's attack, Libra fled with his infant daughter, stumbling across a temple run by the Priests of Pama who took him in, taught him to see without eyes and raised his daughter Mantis to be a mistress of the martial arts.

Avengers #123, Mantis versus the Vision
In the present day, Mantis has no memory of this and decides the best response to such claims is to knock his block off.

Needless to say that leads to a mass brawl, with Mantis taking out all the Avengers before they all realise the Swordsman's flown off to avenge the death of Mantis' mother at the hands of Monsieur Khruul.

That plan soon goes awry and it all ends up in a temple, with a set of massacred priests and a huge dragon about to attack the clueless Avengers as the issue draws to a close.

The first thing that hits you in the face about Avengers #123 is the cover. It's easy to knock modern comics for having covers that have nothing to do with the actual contents but Avengers #123 turns the crime into an art form by depicting a scene that's the exact opposite of what's inside, as Mantis seeks to protect Libra from the wrathful Avengers, whereas inside it's the other way round. And just why does Libra look so constipated?

Avengers #123, Mantis versus Libra
It has to be said that Mantis' fight with the rest of the Avengers stretches credulity to ridiculous limits. She not only takes out the Scarlet Witch and the Black Panther but also the Vision, Iron Man and even Thor. I know she's supposed to be mistress of the martial arts but the way she's depicted here, you'd even place bets on her beating Galactus. Such unstoppability's made to look even more unlikely by the fact that Libra then stops her simply by holding her down with a move even I could escape from.

Not for the first or last time, the Swordsman gets to show what a complete loser he is, first by getting captured by the man he's turned up to kill, and then giving away the existence of the Priest of Pama, leading to all their deaths at the hands of Khruul's lackeys. You have to feel sorry for the man. He really can't get anything right. The again, you have to feel even more sorry for the Priests of Pama.

Avengers #123, Swordsman tortured
The artwork's not sensational, being a combination of Bob Brown's pencils and Don Heck's inks. It's not the ideal combination although the results are clear enough and dynamic, and the closing double page splash of the dragon lurking in wait for the Avengers is nicely done.

What's even more unlikely than Mantis' sudden near-invincibility is Libra's blindness. We're left in no doubt he's really sightless when the Avengers and Mantis react in horror to his destroyed eyeballs but there's no explanation given for how he's able to function perfectly without them. He doesn't even have a Daredevil style radar sense to fall back on. Apparently he can sense everything that's going on round him in perfect detail because, erm, he just can. The most egregious example of this is the flashback scene at the temple, where he goes to watch his daughter training, even though he's blind.

Still, whatever its sillinesses, it's all lively, dramatic stuff and gets the ball rolling on the whole Mantis saga while setting us up for the sight, next month, of the Avengers versus a giant dragon. If only it'd been Fin Fang Foom, my day would've really been complete.


dbutler16 said...

Mantis was Steve Englehart's creation, and at times he certainly seemed to pump her up too much. Her taking on the Avengers is indeed ridiculous, even if they weren't going all out. Still, I love the Celestial Madonna story, for all its silliness.

I've never been a big Don Heck fan, either.

As far as Libra functioning while blind, whatsa matter, you've never seen Blind Fury with Rutger Hauer? (I kid)

Steve W. said...

Just when I'd managed to forget Blind Fury, the Internet stirs up all those traumatic memories all over again. :(

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