Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Dazzling Return Of--The Swordsman!


When the Lion God made his first appearance to capture the Black Panther in order to learn the tribal secrets of the Panther God, it was all the Avengers could do to end his threat, at least for the time being--so it's fair to say he was a force to be reckoned with. Yet when he appears to menace the Avengers anew, two issues later, it looks like he's going to be upstaged:



Yes, the Swordsman returns to the Avengers--and with him, the enigmatic Mantis. But will they be friends or foes to the Avengers? It certainly looks like the latter, doesn't it? And when the time comes for this pair to make their intentions known, the Avengers will have cause to think so, too.



But, lest you think the Lion God's vengeance is going to take up the bulk of the issue, there's much more to this story that you'll probably enjoy. We pick things up after a vicious attack on the Vision by suicide bombers, following the announcement that he and the Scarlet Witch are romantically involved:


And with the memory still lingering, Wanda is storming through Avengers Mansion and nursing a growing anger towards humans. And you know things are bad when you start to regard Quicksilver as the voice of sanity:



As for the Vision, you know the Avengers: if you've been on the injured list, that's no excuse for sitting around recovering when your friends have you booked for a mock combat session.




It's not that Cap has said the wrong thing to the Vision, necessarily--it's that it's absolutely the wrong time for Wanda to hear it. She's already had enough reminders of the fact that she and the Vision aren't what the man on the street would consider "human"--and so she heads outside in a huff to walk it off. Right into some actual men on the street, unfortunately. And one of them definitely says the wrong thing.



As we've seen here and in other issues, Wanda is still being hampered by the use of her hex power which leaves her drained and almost helpless after she strikes. And while the rest of the Avengers aren't around to wonder what the heck this person is doing on their team lend her a hand, she still has a good samaritan stepping up to her defense.




And so Mantis has made one heck of an impression on Wanda, who's eager to introduce her to the other Avengers back at the mansion. But when Captain America objects to letting Mantis just stroll right in, she suddenly becomes the least of their worries:



Cap's objection is certainly valid, and to back it up he supplies a virtual laundry list of deadly encounters between the Swordsman and the Avengers that would normally raise serious doubts about this former Avenger's sincerity as well as his ability to be trusted. Imagine Cap's surprise, then, to find that the rest of the team is willing to cut the Swordsman a break:



And so the Swordsman begins a probationary membership, more for the Avengers to get a sense of any duplicity on his part than to judge his merit as an Avenger in terms of his skill or other fighting attributes. Thor, for one, is impressed by what he sees of the man--yet there are other Avengers who have had prior dealings with him who will need more convincing. And the Swordsman doesn't disappoint them.






It's difficult not to notice the conspicuous absence of the Scarlet Witch in these trials, who's also found herself at the end of the Swordsman's blade in prior encounters but who apparently feels no need to further evaluate him. And yet, how would she keep up with the man in even mock combat? It's doubtful she can match him in hand-to-hand--and she's got two, maybe three uses of her power before she'd have to call a halt to the session (or slump to the floor in surrender). Clearly writer Steve Englehart isn't willing to deal with this at this point in time--but without his input here, it almost seems as if the other Avengers aren't offering Wanda the privilege of giving hers.

At any rate, it looks like the Swordsman is in like Flint. And so the timing seems perfect for both himself and Mantis to pull back the curtain on their silent partner:




Surprised as the Avengers are by the apparent double-cross of both the Swordsman and Mantis, the Lion God's stature as well as the team's recent history with him has the desired effect of splitting their attention. And the Avengers are quickly taken down by, of all things, teamwork.





While the Lion God has realized that it's wasted effort to further attempt to force the Black Panther's cooperation, and therefore settles on ending T'Challa's life. But before he can do so, he gets quite the floor show from his two aides:






And so the Avengers have their new member, who's now proven himself beyond reproach--though Cap may still sleep with one eye open for awhile. As for Wanda--oh you noticed how she was slipped in here at the end, eh? Maybe Mantis and the Swordsman met her in the hallway and clocked her before she could join the battle. The only other reason she might have been left out of the fight with the Lion God and his little helpers is that Englehart and artist Bob Brown were perhaps at a loss as to what kind of contribution she could make--and at this point, perhaps even Wanda might agree with them.

The Avengers #114

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Bob Brown
Inks: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Artie Simek

2 comments:

Murray said...

And so began an mind-numbingly tedious time for the Avengers. I can't describe how little interest I had at the time for Swordsman or Mantis. Unlike some situations in comics, the years have not mellowed my opinion.

Of course, I admit to enormous instant bias against Mantis. My first toe in the Marvel pool was via Thor. When I learned he was a founding Avenger, with semi-regular appearances, I became an Avengers fan. No argument or appeal will ever convince me that some kung fu mary sue could drop Thor with one "nerve strike".

At least in this issue she is using first person singular. How long did it take before she adopted the pompous "This One"?

The Swordsman? If I recall, he suffers an enormous slide into doubt over his self-worth. I also recall my reaction at the time was the equivalent of "Well, duh. You are pretty useless."

david_b said...

NAY, I SAY.. I couldn't disagree more.

This was one of my first Avengers issues, and the humdrumness of this title all came after the Kree-Skrull War.

Swordy and Mantis brought a great layer of suspicion back into the midst, a nice on-going subplot with Mantis's wandering interest and Swordy's issues, ala Englehart. Great Brown art as well.

Steve E's always brought great depth to characters, contributed inner angst to character stories, developing 'em into their very own story arcs.. (like the Swordsman's descent from 117 to GS Avengers 2 in midst of the Thanos threat).

When Swordy died, I deliberately left the title. Coupled with the terrible Donny Heck art, confusing arcs (Mantis in Saigon, Vision's full-blown origin story) and inconsistent distribution, I couldn't generate sufficient interest to keep buying.

Revisiting the kooky-quartet core idea with Swordy, Mantis, Vision, Wanda would have been fun, adding either occasional Panther or the Big 3 appearances. Steve E could have really went to town.

Alas, it was not to be.

All in all, one of my favorite issues ever.

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