A Brief History of Kang, Part 26: Celestial Redux
By John Simons
After using the character in several wonderful adventures, Steve Englehart wrote what could conceivably have been the Last Kang Story. When the frenzied despot became so obsessed with winning that he overloaded his own armor, tearing himself apart and fading into the timestream, it may well have been the end of Kang, as far as
Steve was concerned.
But as is often the case in comic books, it is hard to keep a good villain down (or a dead one dead). Kang resurfaced to wreak havoc once more. And so finally there came a time when Steve Englehart would again be scripting a character he thought he'd aced over ten years before. But sometimes it is better to reminisce about past greatness than to try to duplicate it...
As FF #323 opens, the Fantastic Four (who oddly enough are only comprised of three members in this story: Thing, Human Torch and "She-Thing", AKA Sharon Ventura AKA Ms. Marvel 2) are patrolling the streets of Manhattan to protect the citizenry from the madness of the Inferno. They hear a sound like "a hun'erd pots 'n' pans in a mixmaster", and track down the source to find Mantis fighting for her life against dozens of animated parking meters.
The Fantastic Fo-- uh, Three help her defeat the meters, and Sharon questions Mantis about what she is doing in New York. Mantis tells them that she recently had an encounter with a Cotati who took away her cosmic "Celestial Madonna" powers, and also took possession of her child, saying that Mantis had "served her purpose". Ben becomes indignant and readily agrees to allow Mantis access to the team's space technology in order to go searching for her child.
All of this is being monitored by Kang the Conqueror from his time sphere. Kang, like the Council of Crosstime Kangs, is aware of the existence of the Renegade Celestial's great weapon within the Time Bubble. However, Kang decides to beat the Council to the punch by seeking out the Celestial now, during the mayhem of the Inferno. (It never seems to enter his mind that, at this time, the Celestial might not yet have invented any weapon) Kang decides he can achieve his goals and get revenge against Mantis at the same time by capturing her, draining her cosmic energies away, and utilizing them to defeat the Celestial.
Kang's sphere appears over New York, and immediately attacks the FF with vibration beams. He then holds them all in check with a paralysis beam, and quickly alights from the sphere to snatch Mantis up. As he floats away, he leaves behind a powerful bomb, saying, "I must maintain absolute secrecy when pitting a Celestial Madonna against a Celestial, so my other enemies cannot learn my scheme!" (Needless to say, he probably wouldn't need to worry about this so much if he didn't just blurt out the scheme in idle conversation!) Thing is able to hurtle the bomb into orbit before it goes off, but by then Kang has gotten away.
Based on Kang's mention of a Celestial, Ben recalls that one such being is said to be sleeping under Mount Diablo, in California. He and Sharon head to a Fantasticar, but
Johnny, who has been having trouble flaming off since the Inferno started, decides to fly there under his own steam.
Kang's sphere arrives at the Dreaming Celestial's mountain, but he is disconcerted to learn that the captured Mantis no longer has her cosmic powers. "D'OH!", he exclaims, slapping his forehead. (Okay, I admit it; I made that part up.) He decides to keep her around anyway, saying that he finds himself "far lonelier" than he did when last they crossed paths. However, once he succeeds in his latest plot, she will have outlived her usefulness. Kang's musing at the portal on Mount Diablo is interrupted by the arrival of the Fantastic Four, who immediately blast the paralysis emitter on his sphere. Thing also manages to topple it over, but Kang nevertheless gets the sphere airborne. The ship uses a "suction device" to grab on to Ms. Marvel, but a fireburst from Torch cuts her loose. Johnny begins to tear into the sphere with his powers, but suddenly they flare up out of control and he explodes in a powerful nova burst. Kang gloats that he now has the upper hand, until he turns around and realizes that Mantis has somehow escaped from her containment tube!
Kang demands that the Fantastic Four tell him how Mantis escaped. When they seem as in the dark as he, the Conqueror decides to go into the past to see how it happened, and leaves behind another bomb before his time sphere disappears. Johnny grabs the explosive, and his flame is so powerful that he is easily able to fly into orbit to get rid of it.
Kang is tracking the effects of the Inferno, and he detects "an anomaly within the anomaly". He immediately flies into Manhattan to investigate and, wouldn't you know it, once again crosses paths with the FF. All four of them are greeted with a rather startling sight: Mantis, trussed up next to a giant hourglass, a silver dagger hanging by a cord above her breast. And holding on to the other end of that cord-- the sorcerer Necrodamus!
Necrodamus admits that he took Mantis from Kang, because her unique lifeforce is necessary for his spell to rule mankind. Soon the planets will be in complete alignment, when he can sacrifice Mantis "and power beyond all else will be mine!" None of the heroes nor Kang can breach the magical shield which Necro has thrown up around him and his captive.
Suddenly Ms. Marvel comes up with a plan, which she whispers in Kang's ear. He, in turn, orders Johnny to accompany him on his sphere. The Torch is suspicious, but he decides to find out what's going on. The sphere flies them to the planet Mercury, where
Kang hands Johnny a generator capable of pulling the planet "slightly out of alignment".
The last of the sand drains out of the hourglass, and Necrodamus lets loose the dagger's cord-- but it doesn't fall! The planets are not properly in alignment, and the thwarted sorcerer fades from existence, whining and moaning.
The Torch returns to Mercury's orbit but, not surprisingly, he is abandoned by Kang to die in space, 120 million miles from home...and the shockwave of Mercury's misalignment is felt far away-- by the Silver Surfer!
The Surfer comes across the stranded Human Torch, who explains what has led up to his being there. When Surfer hears that his former ladylove Mantis is still alive, he grabs Johnny and heads back to Earth at top speed. Norrin and Mantis embrace, and she explains all that has happened to her since they were separated. Surfer swears to help her find her son. He tries to help the Torch flame off, but the magick affecting Johnny thwarts even Surfer's power cosmic.
Suddenly in the sky above the Four Freedoms Plaza appears three startling sights: Kang's time sphere, a floating pyramid containing "the High Cotati", and a small pod--
Mantis's son! The Cotati telepathically explain that Kang has helped bring them there to speak about the child. They beseech Mantis to stop trying to get back the child, for the greater sake of "the universe entire". For his part, Kang says he led them to her because he knew she would refuse, and that they, in turn, would kill her.
Of course, Mantis does indeed refuse, betraying a rather narrow-minded view of the Cotati's state of existence (considering she previously had no qualms about marrying and mating with one!) The Cotati say that the Celestial Messiah will be their ambassador to the universe, and he must spend time with them in order to "train his mind to be as clear and unemotional as ours!" When the FF and the Surfer stand by
Mantis in refusing to give up the child, the Cotati feel they have no choice but to send their followers to attack!
Suddenly, the heroes are surrounded by dozens of Priests of Pama, equipped with jet packs and energy batons so powerful they knock even the Thing onto his keister. A free-for-all erupts, with Mantis, the FF and the Silver Surfer duking it out with the Priests, Mantis' martial arts teacher Master L'ai Sau, and Kang. Defeating her former teacher, Mantis turns to the Cotati and unleashes a deadly bolt of pure mental energy-- powers which she has unknowingly developed even before she became the Celestial Madonna. She is not able to defeat the Plant-People, but they are driven away, taking the pod with them. Deprived of his allies, Kang also flees in his time sphere.
Silver Surfer tries to comfort Mantis, but she is unable to accept further help from him. She believes that the only way to follow the Cotati is to "depart this physical form and align her pure consciousness with that of the Cotati". Kissing Norrin Radd one last time, she exits her physical body and presumably begins her pursuit. Johnny tries to comfort the Surfer, but he angrily spurns the sympathy, and flies off into space once more. Ben Grimm muses that the Surfer is more alone than he has ever been. Sharon says that no one has ever been more alone than "that one", Mantis.
To be honest, I don't much care for these stories. Kang's actions are puzzling at best and of the three stories, only the middle one has what I would consider a decent ending. The other two just sort of-- stop. Kang's plot to confront the Dreaming Celestial seems half-assed, and he drops it all too quickly. The Mantis issue doesn't so much forward her story arc as remind us that she still exists and Steve still likes her. Having Kang play lackey to the Cotati seems particularly incredible and to the detriment of the character. Oh well, at least the Keith Pollard artwork is nice.
A few bits of Kang-lore worth noting:
Kang in this story appears to be in competition with the Crosstime Kang Corps in gaining the weapon within the Time Bubble, while other appearances claim that Kang himself is the founder and ruler of the Corps. One way this may be explained is if Kang travels back in time to found the Corps. Perhaps at the point of his personal history in which these stories take place, Kang does not yet realize that the Corps actually works for him! Ain't time travel fun, kiddies?
When Kang died at the end of AVENGERS #143, it sure seemed permanent; his body stretches apart and dissipates. In his memoirs, Kang refers to a technique of escaping dying bodies, but it has never been shown in an actual story and so is suspect. Yet how can the Kang of FF #323-325 remember the Celestial Madonna saga, if that particular counterpart didn't survive it? The answer may possibly lie in the psyche-globe which Kang grabbed at the end of AVENGERS #269. The current Kang may possess full memories of the event, even if he did not physically take part.
Or maybe he just never died. This is comics after all!
These issues mark the last encounter between Kang and Mantis prior to their alliance in The Crossing. Although Kang's comments about loneliness open up the possibility of their future relationship, Mantis does not seem particularly enthralled with him, or in any way bitter about the Avengers, in the course of these stories.
John, Lord of Time