A Brief History of Kang, Part 15: Preying (on) Mantis

By Michael Proteau

I have the distinct pleasure of reviewing the Englehart Kang/Celestial Madonna Saga as part of our Kang Chronicles. I will be breaking it down into a couple of parts and include the Englehart Immortus issues as well. Be warned, I am a historian by proclivity and can tend towards long-windedness (though I try to guard against it). So to wit let us begin-

The Celestial Madonna Saga Phase One-The Coming of Kang (Avengers 128, 129, Giant-sized Avengers 2)

Avengers 128-an Englehart/S.Buscema/Staton/Thomas production
"Bewitched, Bothered, and Dead!"

The bulk of this issue deals with Wanda's first training with Agatha Harkness (interesting in light of events in Vol.3 #10) and their battle with Necrodamus (another old Defenders foe). The Mantis/Swordsman/Vision/Wanda love quadrangle sub-plot is also featured as Mantis rejects Swordsman outright and makes a play for Vision. Vision is vulnerable because he had just attempted to talk to Wanda alone and express his love for her once and for all, but the attempt was rebuked by Agatha Harkness and he is hurt Wanda chose to be with Agatha over him.

Soon after Necrodamus is defeated by Wanda [no mean feat as he had challenged the combined power of Hulk, Namor, Doc Strange, (and the Surfer iirc)], and while Mantis is putting the moves on Vision, a blazing new star appears in the pre-dawn sky above Avengers Mansion. The Avengers and Agatha Harkness gather outside and gaze upon it (why all the Avengers were hanging out at the Mansion in the wee hours of the morning is not really explained but oh well....). Thor voices their collective question, "What can it mean?"

A voice rings out in answer-"I can tell you if you care-or dare-to know!" Iron Man in horror gasps-"That voice, it cannot be---" But the voice continues, "But it is, twentieth-century savage! That star was a signal to me-a signal that your earth was finally ripe for conquest--- at the unyielding hands of KANG THE CONQUEROR!"

Well, ole Blue face only appeared for 2 panels on the last page but what an effective appearance it was, leading into-

Avengers #129-an Englehart/S.Buscema/Staton/Thomas production:
"Bid Tomorrow Goodbye!"

Kang appears before the gathered Avengers and Agatha Harkness and announces that he is there to conquer the 20th century. Thor attacks and Kang is impressed that one of the Avengers finally attacks without Kang striking first. Mjolnir though deflects harmlessly off of Kang's personal forcefield. Kang announces that there cannot be conquest without opposition, and wants the Avengers to oppose him. Kang then unleashes his Macrobots (souped up stimuloids) upon the Avengers. The Macrobots absorb power and use it to turn the Avengers’ attacks back upon them. Thor is the first to fall and soon all the Avengers (Thor, Swordsman, Iron Man, Vision, Wanda, and Mantis) and Agatha Harkness are defeated. Kang boasts that this time he did not underestimate his foes as he had in previous encounters. Kang then dispatches some of the local police and Jarvis who try to oppose him. He then prepares the Avengers for teleportation to his base of operations and announces his purpose to the (unseen) masses of humanity.

Kang announces that he has come to start World War 3 and devastate the earth in a nuclear holocaust and that he will rule over the remnant and the universe as well. The Dawnstar was a sign that he had long awaited, though whence and where it would appear could be determined no more clearly than twentieth century earth from the fragmentary histories that had survived into his time, so he set up a temporal monitor to watch for its appearance. He could not seek it out because there are many electro-static disturbances in the MU's branch of the time stream.

The appearance of the star heralds the completeness of the Celestial Madonna. Her mate shall be the most powerful man on earth, though both the Madonna and her mate's name do not survive. Kang intends to be her mate, as her child will be "The One" and Kang intends to rule the heavens through this child. The appearance of the Dawnstar over Avengers Mansion means that one of the women there is the Madonna. Kang teleports the Avengers and Agatha Harkness to his hideaway, but leaves the Swordsman behind because he considers him a weakling and a blunderer and while his plans call for powerful male Avengers, Swordsman just doesn't cut it.

Swordsman swears to get Kang, but doesn't know what to do. However, he is soon contacted through magical means by Agatha Harkness. She directs the Swordsman to Egypt, specifically to the pyramid of the Pharaoh Rama-Tut, Kang's base. Swordsman flies a quinjet there, reflecting on his and Mantis' relationship, but is shot down by the Egyptian air force. He crash lands near the pyramid, but Agatha's message abruptly ends. Kang has discovered her and ended the message.

Kang then reveals a synopsis of his history to her. He tells her how he was Rama-Tut having come back from the 31st century to rule in ancient Egypt but because of the FF he had to flee, leaving his sphinx time machine behind. Using a smaller vessel, he escaped into the timestream, but this vessel could not withstand the disturbances there and he overshot his hometime and landed in the 41st century, where he came to lead the barbarians there and became Kang the Conqueror. Wearying over the ease of conquest there, he sought challenges in the 20th century.

Swordsman, meanwhile, using skills he picked up as a criminal, finds a way into the pyramid (he had engaged in Pyramid robbing-hey maybe he and Power Man teamed up for an antiquities black market scam that could be the plot of the one-shot special Rob clamored for!!!!) Swordsman encounters a vampiric monster and is saved unwittingly by Egyptian troops who are hunting him. Kang views this and reveals that he had turned Amen-Hotep into a vampire with a special potion while he reigned as Rama-Tut. Swordsman slips away while Amen-Hotep feeds on the soldiers.

Kang reveals that he will use the male Avengers as power sources for his Macrobots and will use them to attack the world leaders and precipitate World War 3. Swordsman sneaks up and gets the drop on Kang, but before he can blast him and reveal his location he is stopped by RAMA-TUT..... to be continued in ......

Giant Sized Avengers #2 an Englehart/Cockrum/Thomas production:
"A Blast from the Past!"

Hawkeye is foiling a jewel heist and learns from a police officer that the Avengers were abducted from the Mansion earlier in the day. He seeks to go to their aid even though he hasn't been an Avenger for over a year (since he quit in 109, but it may actually be a shorter interval due the compression of Marvel time into about a 10 year period since FF#1), and learns from Jarvis what has happened. As Jarvis finishes his tale, Swordsman and Rama-Tut arrive at Avengers Mansion. Hawk is suspicious of Rama-Tut but decides to go along with his plan.

Meanwhile, Kang completes his transformation of the Macrobots by encasing the Avengers within while Wanda and Mantis both muse that Wanda must be the Madonna. Kang sends the Vision-Macrobot to slay the Secretary of State. Hawk, Swordsman and a disguised Rama-Tut materialize to oppose the Macrobot. The battle goes badly, as Kang observes and oozes overconfidence. He laughs off Wanda's comment that the disguised man may be a threat by saying that for him to be a threat he must be Kang's equal and no man is that (Englehart foreshadowing).

We then get a flashback of Rama-Tut reflecting on his life, how he tired of being Kang the Conqueror as he turned 60 and so went complete circle and traveled back to Egypt to resume his reign as Rama-Tut.

Rama tells Hawk that the Macrobot is powered by the Vision. Since Hawk knows how the Vision draws his power through the solar gem on his forehead, he uses an arrow that coats the Macrobot’s head in a black inky substance preventing any more sunlight from charging up the Vision Macrobot. It soon expends its power and collapses, much to Kang's chagrin. Rama frees the Vision, who is much weakened with his power drained.

Back to Rama's reflections-He and his court wizard Shamaz make plans so Rama can reach the 20th century to stop his fruitless schemes as Kang, the most fruitless of which is the quest for the Madonna. Because his time sphere was destroyed, Rama must use suspended animation and the knowledge of the future/his past to reach the 20th century. He is suspended in a sarcophagus and was awakened by the Swordsman's actions in Avengers 129. He stopped the Swordsman from blasting Kang, as Kang's death at that point would have been his own.

Flash to Kang- he releases the Iron Man Macrobot to destroy Peking and China's leaders. Mantis and Wanda bicker over who’s man Vision is. Hawk, Swordsman, Rama and the weakened Vision materialize to stop the Iron Man Macrobot. Vision uses his cape in a bizarre density alteration trick to destroy the armor surrounding Iron Man, but ole Shellhead's armor is desperate need of a recharge. Kang, royally p.o.'d at the turn of events, sics the Thor Macrobot upon the weakened Avengers. Shellhead absorbs the energy of the Macrobot recharging and unleashing the power back upon it while Vision frees the captive female Avengers and Agatha Harkness. Witchie uses her hex power to cause a meteorite in orbit to strike the Thor Macrobot, and the Avengers remark upon her increased power level. Rama releases Thor, but is attacked by Kang, who discovers Rama's true identity.

In this moment as they face one another, time ruptures (a great 2 pages of art by Cockrum, lots of great little touches like Hank Pym's costume progression as well as Tony's armors) and Kang learns the identity of the Madonna: it is Mantis. He also learns Rama is his future self. Rama tries to persuade Kang to surrender and Mantis rejects him. Kang vows if he cannot have the Madonna no one will and fires upon her. Swordsman leaps to save her and is struck down in her place. Rama and Kang grapple and disappear into the timestream. The Swordsman gasps his farewell to Mantis; she finally shows feelings towards him as he dies. The threat of Kang has been overcome, for now, but the saga of the Madonna is just beginning.

Of note GS#2 also reprints FF#19, the intro of Rama-Tut for those who want to read it. This is a great Kang Saga. Englehart really explores Kang’s motivation and weakness here. The theme of his over-confidence and arrogance is explored masterfully on so many levels by Englehart, yet the many layered sub-plots are also advanced: The love quadrangle, Swordsman's feelings of inadequacy, Wanda's powers, Vision's bouts of panic, etc. With all this there is still no shortage of action. I always liked these stories, but going back and rereading them, I found so much more to them than I had when I read them when I was younger. Stay tuned for Phase Two of the Englehart era. Same Kang Time, same Kang station.