Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Celestial Madonna - Kang War I


When Kang the Conqueror returned in The Avengers #129 it was with enormous ambitions. He wanted to conquer the whole world of the 20th Century and to that end he wanted no less to uncover the identity of the Celestial Madonna, whose coming was signaled by a daytime star, and become the father of her all-powerful offspring. The candidates for the job are the seductive martial artist Mantis and the ravishing Scarlet Witch. He kidnaps them along with Wanda's witchy mentor Agatha Harkness as well as Thor, Iron Man and Vision. He leaves the Swordsman behind as too meager a threat to sully his hands with.


The Swordsman, who has already suffered many indignities, not least of which was the rejection by his beloved Mantis is left to brood. He chooses though to follow as best he can to Egypt and the tomb of Rama-Tut. He finds himself battling an ancient vampire and later encounters Rama-Tut himself, as we know the same man who will become Kang.


The story continues in Giant-Size Avengers #2 with lush artwork by Dave Cockrum and friends. The yarn picks up with Kang using Thor, Iron Man and Vision to power his deadly Macrobots, as each hero is inserted inside the robot bodies. Swordsman and Rama-Tut return to Avengers mansion in time meet with the returning Hawkeye. Then in a series of battles across the globe these two battle the Macrobots, each time succeeding in releasing the Avenger who powers it. First the Vision, then Iron Man, and also the Scarlet Witch and Mantis.


It is revealed that Mantis is in fact the prophesied Celestial Madonna and Kang fights ferociously against the Avengers and his own Rama-Tut self to get possession of her. The final Macrobot containing Thor is dispatched and the Thunder God is freed. Then Rama-Tut reveals he is in fact not from Kang's past but his future when he will return to Egypt and renounce his warlike ways. Kang rejects this possibility and upon realizing he cannot have possession of Mantis chooses instead to kill her. But the Swordsman takes the deadly blast and Kang disappears into time. The Swordsman dies a hero.


This is a grand story by Steve Englehart and company. Sal Buscema is joined on the regular title by Joe Staton, who having made an impact at Charlton was casting about for his next regular gig. He'd end up at DC, but this is one of his few regular jobs at Marvel. The are team are tremendous with Buscema adding his storytelling might to Staton's lush finishes. Dave Cockrum was a great artist, but was hampered by his speed. Even on this job which is one of my favorites of his is marred by the evident fact that Neal Adams and his Crusty Bunkers seem to have stepped in to help finish off the last part. Englehart was a great writer during this period, combining fresh characterization with a savvy understanding of vintage Marvel lore. He was able to dredge up old characters and concepts and give them a shining new polish for the then current day. His Kang stories are among his most ambitious as we shall see. 


This engagement with Kang is far from over. More tomorrow.

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4 comments:

  1. Sweet post Ripster! Yep, I recall Englehart’s Celestial Madonna storyline most fondly. One of the pinnacles of the bronze age….And The Swordsman!…The freaking, down-on-his-luck, severely underestimated, working class hero/villain Swordsman! Great, great character who was here all too briefly (at a fully recognized Avengers status anyway)…Always thought it was genius on the part of Roy Thomas to bring him back in Avengers #100…and then for Englehart to –re-introduce him again with Mantis a dozen or so issues later. This minor villain & Hawkeye mentor from the days of Cap’s Kooky Quartet…Course you had to go all the way back to Avengers #16 to even recall that he was made an Avenger…Mighty Marvel Continuity was indeed marching on in those days…!

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    1. The Swordsman is the trick here. I first encountered him in Avengers Special #1 alongside the Mandarin and later in Captain America. Then we learn more of his role in training Clint Barton and later still I get my mitts on his debuts in reprint form. The appearance in one hundred had a glimmer of profound tragedy to it and Englehart picked right up on it.

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  2. You're making me want to pull out the trade and read this, Rip...

    Doug

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    1. I just saw a few minutes ago that Marvel is issuing a new collection with all the Avengers stuff as well as the later limited series by Englehart when he returned to the company in the 80's. Too bad they can't get the rights to the Jade JLA story and the Scorpio Rose stuff from Eclipse too. That would be an awesome set.

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