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Member Since: Sat May 17, 2008
Posts: 89
Subj: Mantis - The Celestial Madonna
Posted: Thu Apr 03, 2014 at 02:47:53 am EDT (Viewed 277 times)

An excerpt from one of the best accounts of Mantis during her time with The Avengers - her history, abilities, personality, growth and development. Long but worth reading. I always thought she was fascinating and this account has rekindled my interest

From Writeups.org


By Sébastien Alexandre Andrivet

Source of Character: Primarily Avengers comics during the 1970s (Marvel Universe) by Steve Englehart. Everything is covered until her return in 1987.
Helper(s): Peter Piispanen, Darci

Real Name: First name unrevealed, last name Brandt
Note: One caption implies that “Mantis” is her actual first name. If so her parents may have given her a Latin or Greek first name, since neither the Vietnamese (Bọ ngựa - “insect horse”) nor the German (Fangschrecken) are terribly conductive as a first name. In Ancient Greek, μάντις (mántis) means “prophetess”. A later account is that the “Mantis” name was given to her by the Priests of Pama based on her mastery of the martial arts attack of the same name.

Other Aliases: Celestial Madonna, Willow, Lorelei, “This one”
Marital Status: Married

Known Relatives: Gustav Brandt (aka Libra, father), Lua n’Guyen Brandt (mother, deceased), monsieur Khruul (uncle, deceased), Prime Cotati (husband), Sequoia aka “Quoi” (son)

Mantis has received an extraordinarily advanced alien training regimen - the fusion of thousands of years of Kree and Cotati wisdom. She has a near-perfect control over her body and mind, though she has only recently reached the point where she learns to grow as a person.

In practice Mantis has slightly superhuman levels of strength, endurance, agility, speed and hand-to-hand fighting techniques. She particularly excels at striking weak points, allowing her to hurt or knock out targets that are utterly out of her strength range - she famously felled Thor in one blow, though she can’t do that with any level of reliability and her blows can shatter hardened steel without apparent effort. 

Mantis could engage Captain America on seemingly equal footing, and was clearly superior to the version of Midnight (M‘Nai) summoned to serve among the Legion of the Unliving. She could also reliably hit Quicksilver despite his speed - at least at Quicksilver’s 1970s power level.

Her lift-to-weight ratio is likewise impossible, as she was seen simultaneously hurling back Thor, Iron Man and the Vision - though it might be very advanced throwing techniques that can leverage minor movement on the opposition’s part to make them sail in the air. Mantis could easily carry in her arms her unconscious lover Jacques Duquesne, who weighs more than twice what she does. However, her only defence is her agility.

Mantis’ distinctive “finisher” move is to leap on the back of her opponent, landing on their shoulders and coiling her legs around their neck and upper chest. The exact move varies from squeezing the neck between her thighs to induce unconsciousness within seconds, to various hand strikes on the skull.

She is highly intelligent, with superior deductive abilities and an excellent intuition. Mantis’ logical deductions have been compared to the Vision’s.

This one knows many esoteric techniques. These are a mix of “ancient martial arts secrets” in true 1970s fashion, mental techniques taught by extremely advanced telepathic aliens, and outright magic. Demonstrated capabilities include :
Precisely assessing the damage to her body (including internal damage) with but seconds of concentration.
Performing an elaborate, graceful dance that could transfix onlookers with a bestial nature (such as the Lion-God). Others can assist if they have suitable skills - for instance the Swordsman reinforced the effect by making his sword ’dance‘ and reflect light in sophisticated, rhythmic patterns.
Entering healing trances in which her body somehow repairs itself as if under the care of a superior, well-equipped physician.
A limited knowledge of the occult, allowing her to sense magical presences around her, conduct simple rituals, know basic information about thaumaturgic manifestations and entities, etc. This one is clearly no Doctor Strange, but she’s a competent troubleshooter.
By meditating upon nearby magical energies, Mantis can gather basic information about it, such as the caster’s identity and the spell’s general nature and purpose
This one has a form of mystical awareness, warning her of cosmic occurrences and mounting malevolent mystical machinations. These flashes of insight tend to be very random, though, and usually occur to move the plot along.

This one’s perfect muscles control allow her to slip free of most bonds, and to slither and contort into impossibly tight spaces without breaking stride. She can presumably climb up with the same degree of mastery, though she was only seen climbing down

Sprinting at speeds that seem slightly superhuman - perhaps 50 km/h.

Mantis has ill-defined quasi-telepathic and empathic abilities. For instance she could feel the persona switch within Gemini (Joshua Link) of the original Zodiac, and it was stated that she could feel another person’s pain as if it were her own. She could also sense dominant emotions felt around her, and get a sense of people’s personalities at a glance.

This one can make her body vibrate slightly out of synch with the universe, to exist as a ghost in a nearby dimension. In this form she can talk and perceive, but is immaterial.

Mantis is the daughter of Gustav Brandt, a German mercenary who served with the French Foreign Legion during the colonial war in Indochina (1946-1954).
Gustav was but one of thousands of German soldiers who joined the Legion after the Second World War rather than return to a Germany that laid in ruins. Some sought adventure, some simply wanted not to starve, some had lost everything, and some had to flee their past as SS stormtroopers. Entire units were recruited by the French among the military prisoners camps, and were an important presence in post-WWII colonial wars.

In 1952, Herr Brandt met a local in Saïgon ; they fell in love, and were soon married and with a child on its way. However, the brother of Mrs. Lua Brandt, one monsieur Khruul, was a major mobster who reviled the thought of a White man marrying his sister. His hitmen nearly killed the couple and forced them to flee for ten months across Việt Nam, to the Northern half. When the killers caught up with them, Lua was killed and Gustav’s eyes were destroyed. The German nevertheless fled in the jungle with the baby, and eventually stumbled upon a temple.

The men there were monks of Pama. They decided to raise the baby, and Brandt never got to talk to his daughter again. He eventually escaped and returned to the West.

The monks treated the Brandts’ baby with reverence, and used all their resources to raise her as a perfect human being and the ultimate fighter. This was part of a project to raise a human woman who could make mental contact with the immensely intelligent Cotati aliens. 

On the same day, the other Pama monastery in the solar system - on Titan - started working with a little girl named Heather Douglas and trained her similarly. She would become Moondragon.

Mantis reached mastery of her mind and body, and was taught to make contact with the vegetal Cotati - which expanded her consciousness. She emerged as the most suitable of the two candidates, and unlike Moondragon went on to the next stage. Mantis received mind blocks and fake memories to convince her that she had always been an ordinary Saïgon slums girl, and was released from the sheltered monastery at age 18 to discover her humanity.

The Cotati are vegetal aliens, from the same world as the Kree. They are known for their interest in developing their mentality, spirituality and telepathy. Over time they evolved into immobile rooted forms, and many are indistinguishable from trees.

The Kree attempted to exterminate the Cotati millennia ago, but some Cotati survived and allied themselves with Kree dissidents who shared their pacifistic beliefs. These men and women formed the basis of the Priests of Pama, but the authorities exiled them to a barren planet.

This prison was eventually attacked by a planet-destroying creature called the Star-Stalker, whom the Priests defeated. They offered to protect the Empire against further attacks by the Star-Stalker, and Kree Supreme Intelligence agreed to a deal. The Priests were allowed to spread through space in pairs, covertly taking their plant friends with them as they founded small temples. On Earth, one was founded in Việt Nam and gradually recruited monks among the locals.

end footnote

By that point the city was in the final years of American occupation, and its economy was shaped by the military presence there. As a naive young woman without any relative or contacts, Mantis was soon approached by mobsters - who worked for her uncle, though neither suspected that they were related. Mantis joined the ranks of the hundreds of thousands of prostitutes in South Việt Nam during these years.
She soon ran into a Frenchman patronising the bar she was working in. Though he looked like a pathetic, burnt-out wreck, the highly empathic girl discerned the seed of greatness in Jacques Duquesne. At that point Duquesne was working for monsieur Khruul, but a raid went wrong and the diminished Frenchman was shot by rival mobsters.
Mantis found him and took him to her apartment, healing him and going without food so he could eat. She started a relationship with him, and tenderly helped him regain his dignity and character so he could reclaim his identity as the costumed adventurer, the Swordsman. The Swordsman now wanted to be a hero again, and he and Mantis left Việt Nam for the US to apply with the Avengers. Duquesne had previously been an Avenger - though he was forced to work as a double agent for the Mandarin, he had been an heroic figure and he had betrayed the Mandarin to save the Avengers.

Mantis and the Swordsman applied in 1973. At this point Hawkeye (Clint Barton) had recently left the team, and the couple replaced him. Mantis did not request an official status, but the Swordsman joined as a full Avenger after a probation. Though many Avengers were suspicious, particularly about Duquesne, he and Mantis served well. They briefly appeared to betray the team, but that was part of a cunning - and successful - plan to defeat the Lion God.
Mantis and the Swordsman served during the so-called “Avengers-Defenders war”. They also were present during the big clash with Thanos in 1974 ; when the apotheosised Thanos put most Avengers out of synch with time to neutralise them, it was Mantis who managed to project her image back to the real world and warn Captain Mar-Vell. Mantis, ISAAC and Mar-Vell deduced how to put an end to Thanos’ godhood, a plan that the great Mar-Vell successfully executed on.
Mantis, the Swordsman and the rest of the Avengers also fought the version of the Zodiac covertly led by Taurus (Cornelius van Lunt). The latter incident led this one to meeting her father, who was working for the Zodiac as Libra but betrayed them to save his daughter. During the fray, Mantis also developed a romantic interest in the Vision despite her relationship with the Swordsman and her friendship with the Scarlet Witch.
Libra told the Avengers and Mantis about his daughter’s origin. This made the young Vietnamese furious, as it conflicted with her memories. The revelations also triggered the Swordsman’s ire, and the Frenchman impulsively left for Việt Nam to kill monsieur Khruul now that he knew that his former employer had killed his lover’s mother. However, the Swordsman was badly weakened by an infected wound, and was defeated by Khruul’s men. He was tortured and gave them the location of the Temple of Pama.

Monsieur Khruul’s men raided the Temple and killed the Priests. This was a bad move - the Star-Stalker responded within minutes, killed Khruul and his men, and prepared to consume the Earth. The Avengers defeated him, and the fight led Mantis to the conclusion that Libra’s assertions about her real past had some substance. Libra went to prison, but Mantis said that she’d ponder his words and perhaps visit.
As the Avengers continued their adventures, romantic conflict arose between Mantis, the Vision, the Swordsman and the Scarlet Witch. The Vision and Mantis grew to admire each other’s detached intellect, to the dismay of their respective companions.
Mantis eventually dumped the Swordsman and attempted to start a relationship with the Vision, but he remained faithful to Wanda Maximoff. The resulting stress took a heavy toll on the Swordsman’s mind.

In late 1974, Kang attacked. His historical records talked about a Celestial Madonna - a woman destined to give birth to a child of immense power - whose emergence would be marked by a mystery star in the sky. Since the records about the father of the Madonna’s child had been destroyed, Kang decided to seize destiny and become that man.
When the star appeared above Avengers’ Mansion, Kang knew that one of the three women inside (Mantis, the Scarlet Witch and the Witch’s mentor, the aged Agatha Harkness) was the Madonna. He attacked, subduing and kidnapping everyone. Kang then used the captive Vision, Iron Man and Thor in an attempt to start World War Three so he could rule over the ruins.
This plan was foiled by Rama-Tut, Kang’s past self, with the help of the Swordsman and Hawkeye. Kang realised that Mantis was the Madonna, and in irrational fury tried to shoot her - but the Swordsman reflexively blocked the shot, saving his lover at the cost of his own life. Kang then escaped.

The death of the Swordsman shocked Mantis, who suddenly realised that she loved him after all.

Shamed by this realisation, Mantis left the Avengers and returned to Việt Nam to investigate her past. She took the Swordsman’s body to bury him at the temple of Pama, and the available Avengers accompanied her for this ceremony. Once this was done, they helped her investigate in Saïgon, where it soon became obvious that all her memories there before 1971 were fabrications.

Kang struck again, still determined to claim the Celestial Madonna. This time he used Immortus’ machines to conjure the first Legion of the Unliving and a suitable battlefield. The Avengers and Immortus overcame his plot, and Mantis defeated the version of Midnight (M‘Nai) summoned by Kang. Immortus then sent Mantis and some Avengers friends on a voyage through time to discover the origin of the Priests of Pama, and the project of raising a perfect woman.

Upon returning, Mantis entered a mental communion with the eldest Cotati on Earth, who had been planted in the Temple. This Cotati-Prime reanimated the body of the Swordsman, who had been buried among its roots, and possessed it as a living man suffused by a green, glowing energy so he could interact with Mantis. After mental contact, the two agreed to a marriage. Immortus officiated the ceremony, and the Avengers made Mantis an official member to celebrate. The Vision and the Scarlet Witch also married during this ceremony.
Mantis and the Cotati-Prime then turned into pure energy and flew into outer space.

In 1977, Mantis briefly returned to Earth - albeit for unknown reason it was Earth-One, in the DC Universe. Her skin was now a light green, apparently since her husband had somehow merged with her - and she was a few months pregnant. She had felt a need to return to Earth to finish her pregnancy, and to give birth to new life that would guide humanity to the stars. She called herself “Willow” to hide from her enemies.

However one such enemy, the radio waves intelligence called the Construct, sensed her as a bringer of life that could destroy its projected reign over Earth. It sent many robots after her, and “Willow” contacted the Justice League for help. She encouraged Aquaman and the Elongated Man to go to Miami to defeat the Construct’s homicidal plans there, and defeated the Construct itself with the help of the Atom (Ray Palmer).

With her enemy gone, “Willow” swore Palmer to secrecy and remained on a desert island, where she gave birth some months later. She named her son Sequoia.

After giving birth, this one moved to Willimantic, CT and lived for six years in a Willowmantic Heights condo to raise her son. By this point, she had somehow moved to a different Earth. Demons there schemed to use an artefact called the Book of Fleshe to create a nemesis capable of destroying her son while that was still possible.
However, the immortal Romani witch Scorpio Rose - this Earth’s loose equivalent of Madame Xanadu, and a guardian of magical artefacts - opposed the demonic agents seeking the Book. A demon in the body of one Igor Gravesend reluctantly allied with the witch, and when he tried to teleport to her side found himself in this one’s kitchen. She told him to call her Lorelei.

Lorelei told Gravesend what his masters were up to, then let him leave to rejoin Scorpio Rose. Though Gravesend claimed that Lorelei held no influence over him, he admitted that he was doing it out of love for Scorpio Rose - right after Lorelei told him that she was a force of life and love.

During the first half of the 1980s, Mantis handed Sequoia over to a manifestation of his dad, to be taken to a Cotati world for exposure to this part of his heritage. Mantis then returned to outer space - and to the Marvel Universe.

Mantis’ odd costume was apparently some sort of exotic dancer costume that she wore as a hustler in Saïgon, though she chose to keep it.

This one has two stray lock of hair shooting from her scalp and framing her face. As time goes, this hair apparently becomes more rigid and hangs more horizontally. It thus starts evoking insectile antennae.

At this stage, Mantis is chiefly characteristic as the Sensual and Very Mysterious Oriental - keep in mind that she’s an early 1970s character. She is polite, heroic and well-spoken, but shuns the limelight. Two other notable traits are her habit of referring to herself as “this one” (though it takes a few issues to appear) or occasionally “Mantis”, and to initially refer to the Swordsman as “her man” with a certain submissive reverence - presumably due to her lack of experience with relationships.

This one is very confident in her abilities - but then her abilities are formidable, and she never appears overconfident. This one knows what this one knows.

During much of this era Mantis is still catching up with the normal human emotional development - her first 18 years at the temple did not include normal socialisation. Thus she has many of the same problems as Moondragon including arrogance, emotional distance, a nasty temper, haughtiness, a low tolerance for frustration, etc. These are under much better control than with Moondragon, though, and Mantis is usually a pleasant person to be around. Yet, this is largely out of pride, as Mantis wants to look cool, smart and masterful. As such she comes across as somewhat Vulcan-like - she understands emotions but prefers to act detached.

This one made rapid progress during the three years after she was released into the world. At first she wasn’t a stable person as she was in many respects a child, but her good nature and power of empathy soon made her capable of more sophisticated, balanced and selfless emotions. At this stage she became fascinated by the greater-than-life-heroes among the Avengers, who had a greater stature than even the Swordsman - and her desire to have one led to her attraction toward the Vision.

Libra’s revelations hurt her and made her furious, as all this progress was now threatened by no longer knowing whom she was - and her strong suspicions that her entire life had been some grand manipulation for a higher purpose where she was but a pawn. These ontological doubts, and her paranormal perception that the Vision was exactly the right man for her, led to a poor handling of the end of her relationship with the Swordsman.

The shock of the Swordsman’s death is what made her a grown woman, as she suddenly realised how petty, manipulative and self-centered part of her behaviour toward Duquesne had been while she was still emotionally an adolescent. This greatly shamed her, which in turn led to the decision to take the time to determine whom she was.

Writeup completed on the 25th of January, 2014.

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