Publisher: Marvel Comics
First Appearance: Avengers #112 (1973)
Created By: Steve Englehart & Don Heck
Mantis (her full real name is unknown) had a typically rocky comic book start. The child of a German father who went on to become a fairly minor supervillain and a Vietnamese mother, she lost her family at a young age when her mom was killed and her dad abandoned to be raised by a sect of aliens, the Kree, who believed her to be the Celestial Madonna.
Even though they figured she’d eventually be giving birth to the Messiah of the entire universe, the Kree erased her memory once she reached adulthood and pushed her out the door to experience the world. Unfortunately, that experience ended with her becoming a prostitute in Vietnam, but things got somewhat better when she met up with the Swordsman, a D-list former Avenger, and used her awesome martial arts skills to help him out of a scrape. That led to her hanging out with the Avengers as well. Yay!
Only yay cannot last long in comics. After a spell on the team, she witnessed the Swordsman’s death and only then realized she was totally in love with him. But luckily (?), his body ended up inhabited by a basically tree-shaped alien warrior, so she could sort of make him the baby daddy of the Celestial Messiah.
She gave birth to a son, Sequoia, and raised him for one year before handing him off to his father’s alien people. But giving him up wasn’t what she wanted, and after some space adventures with Silver Surfer, she slowly started to break down, her mind splitting into fragments of her personality. Mantis pulled it together in time to save her half-tree son from getting murdered (apparently his alien half made him grow to adolescence at a speedy rate). Oh, and she turned green along the way, for some reason.
From there, she became one of the new Guardians of the Galaxy, though she ruined her chance at being voted Guardian of the Month when it was revealed she’d helped mentally manipulate some of her colleagues.
So What’s So Great About Her?
Mantis has one of the weirdest, most convoluted histories in comics—and I mean her real-world history, not her backstory, though that’s admittedly pretty weird too. Essentially, she’s one of those characters whose writer fell in love with her—like Shard—only this time, he just couldn’t say goodbye. According to Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed, when Steve Englehart started writing for DC, he took Mantis along for the ride, calling her Willow and continuing the storyline he’d left behind in Avengers. From there, Mantis and Englehart continued their working relationship at Eclipse (Mantis went by Lorelei there) before making their grand return to Marvel.
What makes this story particularly hilarious is that no reader in the history of the world could possibly care as much about Mantis’ storyline as much as Englehart did. When you set up a character as being basically the Virgin Mary (except for the being-a-virgin part), only even bigger in scope because she was going to give birth to the Celestial Messiah, not just your run-of-the-mill Earth Messiah, it’s just so mind-boggling and hard to pull off that readers are a lot more likely to check out than get invested.
Considering that Mantis’ son, the Jesus-with-branches known as Quoi, has made less than a dozen appearances over the years, other creators have largely chosen to ignore Englehart’s grand plans as well. And yet Mantis remains, becoming a more important and visible character than she’s been since her Avengers days.
I actually think Mantis works a lot better when you ignore the Madonna stuff. For one, you get to ignore the awkward theological implications. Second, her character ceases to be entirely defined by her motherhood. (I accidentally typed ‘motherwood.’ MOST APPROPRIATE TYPO EVER.) Yes, Quoi remains an essential part of her history, and her interactions with her son, few as they may be, are very poignant and moving. But she’s also a martial arts master, a fierce warrior, and a superhuman with vast telepathic and precognitive capabilities. To reduce her to some kid’s mom is incredibly unfair.
Establishing her as a largely space-based hero has also done Mantis a ton of good, I think. She’s always been an otherworldly character, and with her being raised by aliens and marrying an alien and being the Holy Mother of the Universe and all, confining her to Earth just doesn’t make sense. She just feels more natural in the space-set comics, and I can only imagine the human world leaves her with a lot of dark memories anyway.
With the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie on the horizon, it’d be amazing to see Mantis on the big screen—even just a cameo!—and have that lead to her having a bigger comics presence. I just don’t see enough of this one.
Captain Marvel #33
Silver Surfer (vol.3) #3-9; 19-21
West Coast Avengers Annual #3
Avengers: Forever #6-9
Galactus the Devourer #4
Avengers: Celestial Quest #1-8
Annihilation: Conquest—Starlord #1-4
Annihilation: Conquest #2-6
Guardians of the Galaxy (vol.2) #1-25
She-Hulk: Cosmic Collision #1
The Thanos Imperative: Ignition #1
The Thanos Imperative #1-6
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