Collects: Avengers (1963) 124-125, 129-135, Captain Marvel (1968) 33, Giant-sized Avengers 2-4, Avengers: Celestial Quest 1-8.

Writer: Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas
Artists: Bob Brown, Don Heck, John Buscema, Dave Cockrum, Joe Staton, Joe Giella, John Tartag, Jorge Santamaria, Scott Hanna

This huge collection has Avengers from 1960s and the Celestial Quest which came out 2001.

However, it’s quite a bit disjointed at the start. The collection starts not Mantis’ first appearance but the first version of her backstory. A criminal which the Avengers have just arrested, Libra of the Zodiac, claims that he’s Mantis’ father. But Mantis has no memory of him and doesn’t believe his wild story. However, Swordsman believes him and even though the Swordsman is wounded, he takes a quinjet and heads to Saigon to confront the man who killed Mantis’ (Vietnamese) mother, a crime boss the Swordsman worked for before. The Avengers follow him and find him defeated. The Avengers fight against a monster from the stars. When they return to the mansion, they’re drawn into an epic space fight against Thanos’ forces. These issues also establish that Swordsman loves Mantis but she doesn’t love him, that the Vision loves Wanda and she loves him but Mantis wants the Vision because Mantis wants someone more powerful that the Swordsman (who apparently doesn’t have any powers).

The Celestial Madonna story starts when a large star appears over the Avengers Mansion. Kang the Conqueror appears and claims that the star announces that the Celestial Madonna has come and since the Madonna will give birth to “the one” and her mate will be the most powerful man on Earth, Kang is determined to take the Madonna for himself. There are three women inside the mansion: Wanda, Mantis, and Wanda’s mentor Agatha Harkness. So, after defeating the male Avengers, Kang kidnaps all three women so that he can find out which one of them is the Madonna and he also takes the Vision, Iron Man, and Thor to power his robotic minions. The Swordsman he scornfully leaves behind but Harkness guides the Swordsman to where the women are kept prisoner. While he can’t free them, he meets with the most important ally the Avengers will have, time-traveling Pharaoh Rama-Tut. The Swordsman, time-traveling Rama-Tut, and Hawkeye go after Kang.

The Avengers are rescued but the Swordsman is killed. When he lies bleeding to death Mantis apologizes to him the way that she’s been treating him and confesses that she does love him. The Avengers and Mantis return the Swordsman’s body to the garden of Priests of Pama and then she returns to Saigon where she thinks she grew up, on the streets. Thor, Hawkeye, the Vision, Iron Man, and Thor accompany her. However, things aren’t as she remembers. Eventually, Kang and Immortus kidnap the male Avengers and Mantis again, this time to to fight against the Legion of Unliving in Immortus’ Limbo.

The story reveals the first version of the Vision’s past but, perhaps more importantly because they aren’t retconned as much, also the past of the Kree and the beginning of the Kree-Skrull war, alongside with the story of the Celestial Madonna which is actually very small part of the story. In fact, even the story titled “the Origin of Mantis” isn’t. It continues the origin story of the priests of Pama and the sentient plant the Cotati, and the Vision.

The final eight issues are the Celestial Quest where Mantis has left her son with his father on the planet of the sentient plants the Cotati, and returned to Earth. Except that she has been split into several incarnations of herself (the freak, the mother, the prostitute, the priestess, and the avenger). When Thanos kills each incarnation, the remaining Mantises become more and more aware of herself until the next to last one is able to call to the Vision for help. The current Avengers (the Vision, the Scarlet Witch (who have broken up), Thor, and Silverclaw) along with the Squadron Supreme’s Haywire (who is grieving his girlfriend Inertia and is only with the other heroes because he thinks he’ll have chance to get her back by appealing to Death herself) accompany Mantis to the Cotati’s home planet to save her son Quoi from Thanos. On the way there, Mantis and Vision get together and Silverclaw develops feelings for Haywire. They also tangle with some reptilian space pirates whom later become Thanos’ minions, except for the only female pirate who eventually starts a romantic relationship with Quoi. Unfortunately, Quoi is rebellious a teenager who resents Mantis for abandoning him and he refuses to listen to her.

I rather enjoyed the older comics more, especially the middle part with the huge fights with Kang. Although Kang does come across as far more bluster than bite, he’s still one of my favorite Avengers villains. However, I really didn’t care for the odd “romances” which were straight out of E. R. Burroughs: the woman (both Wanda and Mantis) gets upset with her man (Vision and the Swordsman, respectively) and she’s cold towards him until he rescues her (or a revelation is made in case of Mantis) and then suddenly they marry. In fact, Wanda is only in a couple of the older comics because she’s learning witchcraft from Harkness and stays behind. She and Mantis constantly snipe at each other.

Mantis is a very different character from the movies. I’m not sure if Englehart wrote her deliberately as such an unlikable female character. If so, my hat’s off to him. Mantis a “mistress of the martial arts” and even defeated Thor with her skills. However, she doesn’t appear to have any superpowers except for some vague empathy. She’s a fearless fighter. But romantically she’s very capricious, turning her affections from the Swordsman to the Vision whom she knows is in love with Wanda. Mantis later explains that she wanted a super-powered man and that she felt close to the Vision because they were both lonely and felt that they weren’t really part of humanity. I don’t know if she tried to flirt with Iron Man or Thor but it seems a bit strange that since they’re both single, she wouldn’t try. (Of course, they both have their own comics and she wouldn’t appear in them, that’s probably the real reason.)

Interestingly enough, we find that Mantis is linked to another unlikable female character, Moondragon.

I was less happy with the Celestial Quest. Mantis’ son especially grated on my nerves. He speaks strangely and is far too much a grumpy, self-absorbed teenager to be a fun character.

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