I’ve always been a fan of “Mantis”, the antennae sporting, half Vietnamese, half German martial arts expert, Avenger member and daughter of Libra, the sometimes hero, sometimes villainous member of the crime cartel known as the Zodiac. I was particularly excited to see this great Steve Englehart created character revived some years ago by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning as a member of the new Guardians of the Galaxy (a comic that Marvel/Disney will be adapting for the big screen in 2015). So it was only a matter of time before I purchased one of Mantis’ most popular story arcs “The Celestial Madonna Saga.
However, there is also much to enjoy here. Some fine artwork by Sal Buscema, Dave Cockrum and George Tuska for example. And the Steve Englehart/Roy Thomas scripted story packs in everything but the kitchen sink. We get one of the most classic battles between Kang and the Avengers in which the Avengers discover the true nature of Kang, Pharaoh Rama-Tut and Immortus as well as Kangs plot to capture the Celestial Madonna. We also get a rather intriguing battle between The Avengers and Kangs "Legion of the Un-Living" a team of previously dead heroes and villains that includes Frankenstein, The original Human Torch, Baron Zemo and Wonderman. In Avengers 130 the Avengers travel to Viet Nam and end up battling Crimson Dynamo, Radioactive Man and Titanium Man. Over the course of the story The Avengers are witness to the origin of the Human Torch and The Vision (elements of this story were retconned in the classic and epic Busiek story Avengers Forever).
We also get the tail end of a subplot involving Scarlet Witch, Agatha Harkness, Dormammu and his sister Umar. There’s also a certain amount of kooky charm to this story. Lines such as this one are a hoot…. "She CANNOT marry a TREE! And even if she could, she could never become a Madonna because they could not have a child!"
Comic books. You gotta love em. Only in the bronze age of comics could you read a line like that delivered straight and with complete sincerity. And it's that unabashed, unapologetic and crazy brand of Marvel melodrama that helps to make this often crude, unorganized and incomplete story "AVENGERS: Celestial Madonna" a little more palatable.
In the final issue of this collection, Giant Size Avengers #4 (the classic issue with the Vision-Scarlet Witch/Mantis-Swordsman double wedding) we finally discover the origin and identity of The Celestial Madonna which anyone who's even remotely familiar with Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy (or anyone who looks at the cover to this trade) already knows. Unfortunately, GS Avengers 4 is the weakest entry of the collection from a visual standpoint. Don Heck was one of Marvel Comics "workhorses" but his art could be crude at times.