Who is Mantis? A Comics History of the New ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Star
We recently learned what fans had already suspected, that the character Pom Klementieff is playing in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is none other than Mantis, a character who has been featured prominently in the Guardians comics. But who is Mantis? We still don't know much about what she'll be like in the movie, but she's existed in comics for 43 years, so we know that version of her pretty well. And looking back at her history may give us some insight about what to expect from this new version of the character.
Mantis was created by writer Steve Englehart and artist Don Heck, and I'm not certain any writer has ever loved a character more than Englehart loved Mantis, but we'll get to that. She first appeared in Avengers #112, but it took until #114 for her to meet the team. She helped the Scarlet Witch fight off some attackers on the street, and Wanda took her home to meet the Avengers. Their trust in Mantis was immediately tested, however, when she turned out to be romantically involved with the Swordsman, a former criminal who had previously betrayed the team.
By the end of that issue, Mantis and Swordsman had both become Avengers, but along the way the inevitable fighting occurs between the heroes, giving Mantis a chance to show off her abilities, even taking down Thor effortlessly with one strike to the neck. I prefer not to use the term "Mary Sue" because it so often has sexist overtones, but like I said before, Englehart really likes Mantis.
Mantis isn't just a martial artist in the comics; she has various psychic abilities that have expanded the longer she's been around. She could originally sense the emotions of others, which eventually expanded to telepathy. She's also demonstrated astral projection abilities, and she eventually gained the ability to see the future. In more recent comics, she often seems to know what the future holds at all times without even trying.
During her time with the Avengers she learned more of her origins, and in fact was reunited with her father. Mantis, who's birth name is never revealed, is the daughter of a German mercenary named Gustav Brandt who was in Vietnam with the French forces in the 1950s. He fell in love with a Vietnamese woman named Lua, and fathered a child with her, before an attack by her criminal brother left Lua dead and Gustav blind. He managed to save the child, however, and escaped with her to the Temple of Pama, home to a pacifist sect of exiled alien Kree.
The priests there raised Mantis and trained her in martial artists and mental disciplines, while also training her father to live and fight without his sight. However, the priests kept the two separate, wanting Mantis to grow up without the influence of her father's greed and violence. Gustav escaped and eventually became Libra, of the original Zodiac organization, while Mantis lived in the temple until adulthood.
Eventually Mantis was revealed to be the Celestial Madonna, which is exactly what it sounds like: The Kree believed she was destined to give birth to a cosmic child who would change the course of the Universe. After the death of the Swordsman, she left Earth to marry an alien who had possessed his reanimated body ('70s comics: they're a little weird) and presumably give birth to the Celestial Savior.
Now here's where things get interesting. In Justice League of America #142, written by Steve Englehart, the League met a woman who calls herself Willow (above). She refers to herself as "this one" instead of using first person pronouns, which is exactly how Mantis referred to herself in Avengers.
Willow explains that she's just returned from space and that she's been changed by that experience (accounting for her different appearance) and that she's pregnant with an important child. So yes, although he couldn't come right out and say it, Steve Englehart took Mantis with him when he left Marvel for DC. This story is also the first time she's depicted with green skin, a change that would stick when she showed back up in Marvel (although her antennae grew back to full length).
Englehart also used a thinly veiled Mantis in Scorpio Rose, which he wrote at Eclipse Comics. At that point she had given birth to her child and was going by the name Lorelei.
But in time, Englehart and Mantis made their way back to Marvel. She was reintroduced in Silver Surfer, and was a member of the West Coast Avengers when Englehart wrote that book.
The epic cosmic event Annihilation Conquest was not written by Steve Englehart, but it was influenced by his work, and it's during that event that Mantis was revealed as a prisoner of the Kree, and sprung by Star-Lord to join the group that would become the Guardians of the Galaxy. When the Guardians got their own series after Annihilation, Mantis served as the group's counselor, using her empathic abilities to help the rag-tag team stay balanced.
It's hard to imagine that the Mantis of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will be from Earth (they seem to like keeping Peter Quill as the only Earthling). She'll probably be revamped as an alien, like Drax. Green skin is so much easier to explain that way, after all. But there's every chance she'll still be a psychic martial artist who was raised from childhood in some manner of temple --- just probably not in Vietnam.
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