A Brief History of Kang, Part 16: Madonna-Truth or Dare

By Michael Proteau

Avengers #130 An Englehart/S.Buscema/Staton/Thomas production
"The Reality Problem!"

THIS IS NOT A KANG STORY-Kang only appears in a one panel flashback, but this interregnum type ish sets the stage for further developments in the Celestial Madonna saga. The highlights-The Avengers travel to Viet Nam to bury the Swordsman at Mantis' request. Wanda elects to stay behind to train further with Agatha Harkness. The Vision/Wanda relationship subplot is touched upon. Swordsman is buried in the ruins of the Temple of the Priests of Pama (Kree splinter group of dissident pacifists who settled on Earth and trained Mantis who were slain by the Star Stalker in 124). In Viet Nam, the Avengers run afoul of the Titanic Three (Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, and Radioactive Man, but they are the law in the communist sector. Thor must strike down Iron Man to prevent him from attacking the one responsible for the death of his ladylove. The Avengers depart and Mantis recaps her story for Hawk's benefit. The Titanic Three again battle the Avengers, this time because of the machinations of a petty thief named Slasher. His plot is revealed, and the conflict is settled peacefully. However, a mysterious hooded figure had appeared during the fight to take out the Dynamo.

A mediocre issue but the highlight for me was Hawk's reflections at the funeral of the parallels b/w him and Swordsman and the choices made and breaks received that separate the two. Not much of the Madonna plot is furthered and it seems the story was catching its breath after the events of GS #2. The only key development was that the Avengers agree to help Mantis discover her roots and the consequences of being the Celestial Madonna.

Avengers #131 an Englehart/S.Buscema/Staton/Thomas production
"A Quiet Half Hour In Saigon!"

We open with Mantis kicking the crud out of a mugger in the streets of Saigon as she muses/recaps her current situation. A voice rings out in response to her rhetorical question, the voice of.....Steve Rogers: Nomad. Steve and the team catch up on old times as he awaits word on the whereabouts of the Serpent Squad (see Englehart's issues of Cap's own mag he says in his best Rascally imitation). Their talk causes Hawk to muse on how much the Avengers have changed while he was gone and to wonder if he still fits on this team.

Meanwhile.....we see Kang and Rama-Tut continuing to grapple with one another as they hurl through the timestream. Kang swears he will never become the pathetic weak fool that Rama is. Suddenly a mysterious force strikes Rama through the walls of the timesphere rendering him unconscious. Kang and Rama are again touched by this mysterious power and disappear only to reappear in..........the throne room of Immortus!!!!!

Kang's reaction: "You speak as if your name alone should be enough to impress me! I assure you it does not! Who are you?"

Immortus' response: "I am the Master of Time--He who rules the Mystic realm of Limbo, where there is no change! Who are you to exhibit no gratitude for your rescue?"

To which Kang responds: "My name is Kang, The Conqueror, and I did not ASK to be rescued. I could have overcome my foe and escaped through MY own efforts."

Immortus: "COULD you, I wonder...."

The egos just ooze off the page in this exchange. It's just delicious fare for villainous dialogue.

Immortus and Kang continue to exchange barbs as Immortus tries to capitalize on his defeat of Rama to gain Kang's allegiance. Kang explodes in fury at Rama and rants how he will never become a weakling as Rama did. He rededicates himself to conquest and vows to eradicate every trace of mercy and compassion within him to ensure he never becomes Rama.

Meanwhile, the Avengers seek word from Mar-Vell as Mantis wants info on the Kree. Mantis apologizes to Vision for coming on to him. Thor and Shell-head ask Nomad if he will rejoin the Avengers, which he promises to do as soon as he has finished off the Serpent Society. Our mysterious cloaked figure from last ish reappears and observes Mantis. She seems to sense something but when she looks there is nothing there.

Englehart keeps careful track of the passing minutes (see the title) and the difference in the passage of time between Saigon and Limbo, often using it as a transition between scenes as here when we switch focus back to Kang and Immortus. Immortus reveals to Kang that he wants to attack the Avengers, which Kang finds amusing. He tells Immortus that he has already done so but his memory of it was erased by the Enchantress, who erased the events from the sands of time (see Avengers #10-imitation Rascal); however, Kang had observed them take place (see note 1 below). However, since Kang's ambition is to attack the Avengers, he will ally with Immortus. Rama tells Kang he is a fool bound to fail and Kang explodes in rage. He tells Immortus how his pawns from Avengers #10 were not powerful enough. Kang then proceeds to collect a group of (mostly) super-powered pawns from the ages to face the Avengers-all of whom will strike fear because they are already dead-Frankenstein's Monster, Wonder Man, the original Human Torch, Midnight, The Ghost, and Baron Zemo-the Legion of the Unliving.

Meanwhile, Vision approaches Iron Man to talk about love matters hoping that hanging around playboy Tony Stark will give Iron Man some insight to help Vision out with his love problems. He loves Wanda but Mantis gets him all bothered. Iron Man quickly bucks out saying he is not comfortable talking about it.

Meanwhile, Mantis sees a glowing green vision of the Swordsman on the crowded streets of Saigon but when she gets close to it, it disappears.

Meanwhile, Kang and Immortus are arguing over strategy and tactics. Immortus convinces Kang to bring the Avengers to Limbo rather than going to 1974 (the current year where the Avengers are, dates subject to change due to Marvel time compression). As soon as this is decided, Kang turns on Immortus and imprisons him, berating him for being a fool if he ever thought Kang would be content to be a warlord under him.

Meanwhile, Jarvis contacts the Avengers with word of the Serpent Squad's whereabouts and Nomad departs. Hawk opens his big mouth and says: " Well at least he's got some action--while we stand around coolin' our heels! So now whadda we do?" No sooner does Clint get the words out when KZAP the Avengers are transported to Limbo and separated. Kang appears and threatens them as the Legion of Unliving approaches threateningly...

The Madonna saga heats up in this ish as many threads are woven to be tied together later.

1) Kang asks Immortus who he is early in the issue yet later says he observed Immortus' earlier attempt to attack the Avengers in V.1#10-huh? What's going on here, this seems to contradict itself.

2) Englehart keeps having the transitions catch Kang and Immortus in the middle of conversations to imply that there is stuff going on between them off camera.

3) The narrator assures us that Kang has nothing to do with the mysterious hooded figure running around.

4) Later retcons would bring the status of many of the Legion of the Unliving as deceased into question.

5) The scene between Vizh and Shell-head was priceless.

One of the Avengers Depicted on this cover (Thor Iron Man Mantis) Will Perish in this very issue! BUT WHICH ONE?

And so we move into

Avengers #132 an Englehart/Thomas/S.Buscema/Staton/Thomas production
"Kang War II"

Kang marshals the Legion of the Unliving against the Avengers, but Frankenstein's monster shambles off on his own. The monster encounters Thor as Don Blake who is seeking some way to escape that which holds him in Limbo. After changing back to Thor, he fights off the monster and ends hostilities. The monster wanders off and Thor follows, hoping to gain info.

Meanwhile, back in Saigon, our mysterious hooded figure examines the spot the Avengers disappeared from. He is accosted by the authorities, escapes and flees to hide in an alley. He concentrates for a moment and the green ghostly Swordsman appears in answer to the hooded man's summons. Swordsman reassures him that he need not worry, for Mantis will return, it is pre-ordained as she is the Celestial Madonna.

Back in Limbo, Kang and the Battalion from Beyond encounter the Vision. Kang sicks the Torch and Wonder Man on him. Vizh is startled but recovers quickly. (A funny scene in light of Shooter's later patented Wonder Man dialogue line "these fists hit almost as hard as Thor's hammer" when Wondy punches diamond-hard Vizh he hurts his widdle handypoo). Vision realizes he cannot defeat this group as his solar beams only briefly stun them, so he flees to find the other Avengers. The Ghost pursues.

scene switch:
Midnight attempts to capture Mantis as Kang has ordered that she be taken alive, but she fends him off and flees.

scene switch:
Immortus laments that Kang deceived him and Rama tells him he has deceived himself. Immortus blasts him for not doing anything to oppose his earlier self, to which Rama responds he has striven against Kang in his own way for 5000 years. Rama continues, "Yet I know that which for all your immortality seem not to: That which is written is written...and an eternity of raging will not alter one instant of that which will be. Only one maddening enigma remains! Who knows that which is written? Who knows what will be--in the end?"

scene switch:
Hawk and Shellhead happen upon each other in Limbo's Labyrinth. Each asks if they've seen any other Avengers but are soon set upon by Kang and the remaining members of the Legion. They hold their own, barely, but Shellhead sends Hawk to find the other Avengers. Hawk grumbles but goes. Kang stuns Iron Man and the Torch grapples him applying intense heat. The heat melts the circuits in the armor and it can no longer keep his heart beating and Tony dies. (see opening cover blurb).

scene switch:
The Ghost encounters Mantis but leaves her unmolested to seek the Vision. He soon finds the Vision and they fight. Ghost uses Vizh's own disruption trick on him, severely wounding him. Vision screams in agony as Mantis closes in. She arrives and Vision lies unmoving upon the ground. In this one's words, "You lie so still...so unmoving. This one does not need to touch you to know...to fear with her innermost being....you are dying!"

I thought Tony had overcome the need for the armor to keep his heart beating before this but I could be wrong. My Iron Man knowledge is lacking until I get around to reading my Iron Man run especially the pre-100 issues). I humbly submit to the Shellhead experts out there for comment on this one.

Kang is again presented as a competent warlord. His plan is working even though little bits are not as he planned. Kang seems to be one of those foes who beats himself rather than being overcome by his enemies. One Avenger dies and one is at death's door because of Kang's strategies, yet he has also sown the seeds for his eventual downfall.

Rama's cryptic statements are intriguing and set the stage for Englehart's future revelations. There are plenty of clues as to the identity of the hooded figure that long-time readers should have picked up as they read along.

Reading issues in succession really points out how much room is given for recaps and with the low page counts of the seventies it's amazing how much Englehart could move the story forward in such little space.

It's also obvious that Roy Thomas scripted this issue. He tries to emulate the Stainless one's style but there's just a different feel to his scripts than Englehart's.

"Let's do the time warp again!":

Giant Sized Avengers #3 An Englehart/Thomas/Cockrum/Giella/Thomas production
"...What TIME hath put asunder!"

Mantis holds the dying Vision in her arms as he recounts what he has undergone. Vision calls out to Wanda and Mantis realizes it is the Scarlet Witch that Vision truly loves. She pretends to be Wanda to comfort him in his time of dying, but is attacked by Midnight, and a martial arts duel ensues. (It is thematically appropriate that each lectures the other about the dangers of overconfidence which seems to be the moral of this era's Kang stories). Mantis emerges victorious. She returns to the place where Vision lay dying only to find him gone.

scene switch:
Frankenstein's monster shambles down a corridor carrying the Vision's limp form. One artificial life form carries another, both created to resemble man, both question their own humanity, but who is to define what is human and what is not. Hawkeye spies them and displays rare (for him at the time) prudence and decides to track down the rest of the Avengers rather than pointlessly attacking the monster.

scene switch:
Kang leads Zemo, Torch and Wondy through the corridors of Limbo. Zemo asserts himself and Kang puts him in his place reminding him whom he owes his very existence to. Kang sends Torch and Wondy to seek out the Vision and continues to berate Zemo.

scene switch:
Thor walks the corridors of Limbo musing over how he lost the monster when he comes across the still form of Iron Man and swears vengeance upon Kang.

scene switch:
Avengers Mansion-the Dawnstar still shines above it. The police arrive at the Mansion with an urgent message for the Avengers. No Avengers are available so Jarvis takes the message-Libra (of the Zodiac cartel and Mantis' father for those who came in late) has escaped from incarceration and officials fear he will help the rest of the Zodiac escape. Jarvis goes to alert the only Avenger at the Mansion, the Scarlet Witch. However, when Jarvis knocks upon her door he is told by a voice that is Wanda's yet something else as well, something not human to...."Get away from the door Jarvis! As you value your wretched life--get far away!!" Jarvis leaves visibly shaken.

scene switch:
Torch and Wondy wander the corridors of Limbo. Wondy runs at the mouth about how inferior Vision is because he is an android, ignorant of the Torch's true nature. Torch holds his tongue but is visibly disgusted by Wondy's attitude. They happen upon the monster carrying the Vision. They encourage the monster to lay Vision upon a slab, and Wonder Man moves to finish off the barely living Vision, but the monster grapples him and prevents him. Wondy has a snit and stomps off to find Kang. Torch moves carefully to examine the Vision and makes a startling discovery....

scene switch:
Kang and Zemo still bicker but Kang has the obvious upper hand. Kang sends Zemo off to check upon Immortus and Rama. Kang muses on his good fortune of Immortus happening upon him as he did, when Thor discovers him. Thor is enraged and presses the attack upon Kang whose personal forcefield absorbs the brunt of it. Kang dismisses Thor as a relic of a forgotten pagan past and strikes him with some ray he expects to dispose of him. He is incredulous to see Thor not only still standing but also pressing the attack. Thor vows to strike the forcefield so hard that Kang will be rattled inside and proceeds to start pounding upon Kang. Kang rants that it cannot happen like this just as Rama said, he rants he cannot lose that he must father the Madonna's child and rule through him, that he must be the most powerful man on earth. To which the enraged Thor can only respond-"POWER didst thou say? BY ODIN I'LL SHOW THEE POWER!" as he smites him mightily. Thor stands over Kang and admonishes him to stand and meet his fate to which a recovering Kang gloats, that Fate does await, but not his, and Wonder Man lands a powerful and cowardly blow on Thor from behind. Thor and Wondy contest and Wondy throws a snit when Thor refers to him as Kang's pawn. Thor offers to let him be if he will stand aside but Wondy refuses as he likes being alive and needs Kang to stay that way. Thor gains the upper hand though and Kang and Wondy flee collapsing the tunnel to cover their escape. Thor sets to work clearing the passage.

scene switch:
Hawkeye finds Immortus' throne room. He recognizes Rama but not Immortus. Hawk is told how to free them and he muses whether they can be trusted and decides that he will trust Rama as he helped stop Kang before. As he moves to press the button to release them, he is stopped by an energy bolt - fired by.....Zemo. Hawk launches a volley of arrows which Zemo renders harmless with his blasts, but Hawk is quicker and blasts the ground beneath Zemo's feet, overcoming him. He disables the blaster in Zemo's glove but turns his back on Zemo to free Immortus and Rama. Zemo pulls his adhesive X gun from within his cloak and immobilizes Hawk with it, and goes into super-villain rant/gloat mode. Immortus offers Zemo a bargain to travel in time and prevent the accident trapping him in his mask in exchange for his freedom.

scene switch:
Torch speaks to the monster unsure if he comprehends what he is saying. Torch reveals that he recognizes Vision's android body; it is his own, and asks the monster not to prevent him from doing what is necessary to save the Vision. The monster nods.

scene switch:
As Immortus outlines his bargain, Hawk seizes the opportunity, and using his feet and teeth nocks an arrow and draws the bow aiming for a shot at the controls on the throne which hold Rama and Immortus captive.

scene switch:
Kang and Wondy move towards where Wondy left Torch, Vision and the monster. Kang rants about the incompetence of those he summoned when Thor confronts them again. Kang quickly orders Wondy to slow Thor so that Kang himself may escape to safety and make new plans. Wondy boasts it is Thor who will need help as he spots the monster and Torch. Kang orders all three to attack Thor who responds by saying bring it on! But Torch and the monster refuse. Kang sputters in rage and tries to intimidate them into obeying him but is stared down by the monster. The monster and Torch then step aside to reveal The Vision, somewhat recovered. One of his arms hangs useless, but he stands on his own feet. Thor vows this is one more thing Kang shall pay for...

scene switch:
Immortus continues to distract Zemo but just as Hawk is about to loose his arrow Zemo notices, Hawk's shot is slightly off but still frees Immortus and Rama. Immortus zaps Zemo, reducing him to protoplasm.

scene switch:
Kang orders Wonder Man to attack the Vision. Wondy remarks that it feels eerily like attacking himself. The two clash, and even weakened and wounded, Vision gains the upper hand. Thor meanwhile has gone into a berserker rage and is attacking Kang without mercy or conscience. He will crumble the walls of Limbo destroying them all as long as Kang falls, but Kang whisks away into the timestream to escape. Vision is helped up and supported by Torch and the monster and he reveals the Torch's discovery about their bodies to a bewildered Thor. Vision explains that this discovery explains the reasons for his freezing during recent crisis situations. As they talk, they are whisked away to.....scene switch: Immortus' throne room. Immortus has gathered all of the Avengers and the remaining members of the Legion there. He essentially uses his mastery of time to resurrect Iron Man, repair the Vision and return the Legion to their own times and fates, all that is, except the Torch. Rama too departs for his own time. Immortus then agrees to help Torch and Vision discover their history and reveals that he does so because he understands what it is to be two or even three men. You see, he is yet another manifestation of both Kang and Rama from a future that they are not aware of, and that there are things which the Avengers or Rama cannot know until the appointed time, for so it is written in the history of the Celestial Madonna. The question at hand though is...how did the original Human Torch become the Vision?

Avengers #2 with the introduction of Limbo and the Space Phantom is reprinted in this issue.

Roy Thomas once again scripts this in his not quite Stainless imitative style.

A lot of long running threads are wrapped up and key developments in others are revealed in this issue. It is a crucial issue in the Englehart run, it is just unfortunate that the Stainless one couldn't script it himself. His deadline crunch was swamping him though, he was writing the Avengers regular series, the quarterly Giant-Size, Doctor Strange, Cap, and a few other features at the time as well iirc. He was also recently relocated to the west coast and integrating into the California hip culture lifestyle of the mid-seventies.

The art here is solid, and the close up panel of Thor on p. 10 as he grieves for Iron Man and swears vengeance is just intense. It displays all the emotions swirling about in Thor's psyche without resorting to exaggerated and cliched facial expressions. Really nice work by Cockrum and Giella.

A great deal of Englehart's interpretation of Kang's personality/psyche is really summed up in this book. It is a character exploration that Steve had been doing throughout the Kang/Madonna saga, but Kang's actions and comments really crystallize Englehart's (and Thomas' I suppose since he edited and scripted large chunks of this) vision of Kang. I will explore this in depth in a separate post. A question though to any who might know: How closely did the Editor(s) at Marvel in the 70's work with the writers in terms of plot direction, character development, etc.? There really was only one editor whose role is more like the EIC today, overseeing the entire line, but Roy seemed to be pretty involved in Englehart's Avengers work. Was this an exception or the norm for the time period?