Avengers: The Complete Celestial Madonna Saga
Steve Englehart with Roy Thomas (writers) / Various Artists
Steve Englehart has a very unique perspective for classic comic creators. He has to be the first comic creator to be given royalties for characters he created, appearing in films with such overwhelmingly different interpretations of his original works (I kid, I think they all get this treatment in the end). His Star-Lord was brash and arrogant with a nagging god-complex. His Mantis, a beloved character whose story he took with him from Marvel to DC to some Indy publishers before returning her to Marvel is so different from the films, if it weren’t for the name I would be hard pressed to consider the two to be the same. Differences standout with Mantis in particular due to Englehart’s attachment to the character and the legend built-up around it.
In the comics Mantis was an overly confident emissary of space like gods to be the very best of what man could represent and thus be the creation point for a cosmic messiah (in the ‘70s cosmic messiahs were rather common but Mantis was the first Madonna story). Her character was wildly strong willed for female characters of the time, with a distinct visual style. I’m not sure if she was very popular at the time though, as she’s the type of character that other characters trip over to endear themselves to. She was something very unique, and her uniqueness gave her impact. Her antennae made her seem different but she ended up being the ultimate reflection of the human experience that need to be something more than just who we are, that need to be something greater than what we think we are. Mantis gets not only a unique cosmic origin but also a very to the moment origin involving the then just ending Vietnam War. She had a lot going for her and because of that she’s fondly remembered by fans, despite appearing very little over the years, and often in wildly different takes on her character. In Kurt Busiek’s Avengers Forever there’s a full issue devoted to untangling a number of long running Avengers plots due to Mantis, despite the character not appearing in the main plot at all. She has that kind of Deus ex Machina quality to the structure of continuity all these stories hang on.
This volume also has the unique perspective of showing the original saga (which sadly avoids Mantis first few appearances which could have helped shape the collection, but would have made it rather long) but also the finale to Englehart’s Mantis saga, done almost thirty years after the original upon Englehart’s return in the early noughts. It’s fun to read how he shapes Mantis to reflect modern storytelling techniques and modern reflections on the characters used. It’s both alarmingly different and comfortingly familiar.