Monday, September 25, 2017

My Father--My Enemy!

Following the Avengers' battle with and subsequent capture of the Zodiac crime cartel--thanks in part to one of their members, Libra, switching sides and saving them from perishing in their prison in space--the team is faced with a mystery, when Libra makes a shocking declaration that makes jaws drop from heroes and villains alike--to say nothing of the enigmatic Mantis, who unexpectedly finds herself to be the topic of Libra's claim.

Mantis, who accompanied the Swordsman when he returned to the Avengers and petitioned to rejoin them, has been with the group long enough to gain their trust and their confidence--yet at this point we still know so very little about her, other than the circumstances of how she and the Swordsman met. Now we discover she's supposedly linked to a wanted criminal, one who purports to be someone she doesn't even remember; nevertheless, it's the latter aspect that leaves the door open for an explanation from Libra, despite Mantis's vehement objections that clearly indicate she feels Libra should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

With all deference to writer Steve Englehart, I've never been able to make head or tails out of the order of emphasis that Mantis uses in that first panel. Obviously it makes perfect sense to Mr. Englehart--but I might have switched the emphasis to instead read like the following:

Though if someone can explain Englehart's choice, please do. (Either way, given the mood she's in, none of us are likely going to bring it to the attention of Mantis.)

This issue finally puts us on the path to learning more about this woman who has made such an impact on the Avengers in so short a time, and who played no small part in rehabilitating the Swordsman, now having made amends with those he'd once betrayed and having become a proud member of their ranks. But as we begin to put the pieces of this puzzle in place, there's this incredibly misleading cover that we'll have to make sense of, as well:

And along the way, maybe we'll finally settle another mystery about this woman: Just what are those two slender strands extending out from her head? Are they really antennae, à la her namesake? Or just carefully arranged hair follicles styled with a lot of product?

Mantis's disposition doesn't improve once the Avengers are out of earshot of Zodiac and the team returns to their H.Q.; in fact, she becomes even more incensed, quickly beginning to question Libra's character and his likely duplicity. It's unclear why her mood has taken such a sharp turn on this subject; even if she has no knowledge or memory of her father (and many people fit that category), why is this a sore subject with her? Exhibiting doubt would be understandable, particularly when the claim is being made by a former member of a crime cartel--even cold disdain would be a reasonable reaction from her. But anger? Lashing out?

Libra's story goes back to the early 1950s, where he was a German mercenary with the French forces in Viet Nam. On leave in Saigon, he meets and falls in love with a young woman named Lua, and after just two months the two become married; but the marriage angers Lua's brother, the city's crime lord, whose men attack the couple on their wedding day. The two escape with their lives--but, never knowing peace, their lives consist of keeping a low profile and never staying in one place too long. And the name of their pursuer is well-known to the Avengers.

Khruul appears to be no relation to Irma Kruhl, the alias that SHIELD agent Sharon Carter used to infiltrate Zemo's death ray operation (though both characters have names that, appropriately, rhyme with "cruel"):

His wife dead by her brother's actions and now blinded for life, Libra flees into the jungle with his daughter. After several days, he discovers a temple and is taken in by the priests who dwell there. Little did he realize that his brief time as a father had come to an end.

While in succeeding stories we'd see that practically everyone would come to speak well of the priests of Pama, their actions here seem nothing short of outrageous. Using the most absurd logic--you were a soldier, thus, we shall raise your child--these men have cut off Libra from having further contact with his daughter. Eventually, he leaves the temple, having never known the child who grew up there--while, curiously, the priests never followed through on their promise to help Libra find enlightenment, which unfortunately left his original goals of money and power intact and eventually led to his taking a position in the Zodiac cartel.

As for Mantis, she doesn't feel enlightened by Libra's story in the least.

Now what's going on with her? She's moved on from being visibly perturbed to pure rage? Enough rage to lash out at even the Avengers (and doing a pretty good job of it, too)? Even if it should turn out that Libra is lying, what's behind all this fury? She never knew her parents, never heard stories of them--she literally grew up without them. Libra isn't defiling their memory, since Mantis has no memories of them to draw on.

And as far as this issue's cover, what's up with that? The woman we've just seen is hardly defending Libra from the Avengers--on the contrary, it's the Avengers who need to form a circle around Libra to defend him from Mantis. In addition, Thor is mistaken, since Mantis isn't yet an Avenger, and won't become one for some time; while the bold caption that proclaims the origin of Mantis is true enough, as far as it goes, though we've really seen more of the origin of Libra.

Speaking of whom, Mantis has wiped the floor with the Avengers, but all but cries "uncle" when Libra pulls some scale-based maneuver that renders her helpless.

It's a difficult scene to swallow. However Libra is pulling this off, he's obviously close enough for Mantis to punch his lights out and free herself (she's also close enough to give Libra a kick to the groin and really have him seeing stars). Furthermore, with his control over his own mass and density, why couldn't the Vision have done something like this?

Mantis is about to signal for assistance from the Swordsman, only to find that he's disappeared; and the sound of a quinjet blasting off indicates he's airborne. Reached by radio, he indicates he's headed to Viet Nam to settle the score with Monsieur Khruul for what he's done. As soon as possible, the Avengers board a second craft and follow--but the Swordsman still has a good lead on them, and arrives at Khruul's villa in full vengeance-seeking mode.

What follows is a splendid example of the Swordsman's prowess, for as long as he's able to stay on his feet--for he faces Khruul and his men in a weakened condition, still recovering from an infected wound received while recently battling the Valkyrie. Given the number of armed men that Khruul has at his disposal, it's only a matter of time before the hero is overwhelmed.

And so the sight that greets the Avengers upon their arrival isn't a pleasant one to see--and a humiliating one for the Swordsman, who must face his teammates as one defeated, and, worse in his eyes, a man who ultimately surrendered to his captor.

Knowing the kind of man Khruul is, it will come as little surprise the fate that the priests of Pama have likely met with. The Avengers arrive too late to help--but they at least have the opportunity to live up to their name and avenge the fallen against their murderers.

Fortunately, the Avengers assembled are far more formidable than an injured man with a sword, and they make short work of their opposition. Khruul manages to slip away during the battle--but when a scream brings the Avengers running, they see that Khruul has paid in full for his monstrous acts. But how? And by who, or what?

We can probably assume that the beast that leers down at the scene from above is indeed the Star-Stalker, whose name Khruul revealed with his dying breath--a creature which presents a danger to the entire planet. And from its body language, it looks like the Avengers will be the warm-up! If the team survives, it will be another step in piecing together the origin of Mantis--and just maybe we'll see a state of détente develop between herself and her father in the process.

The Avengers #123

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Bob Brown
Inks: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did anyone really notice the emphasis given to certain words in the sentences ? I didn't.

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