So let’s talk about Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Played by Pom Klementieff, Mantis has been used for laughs in a couple of trailers and really stands out thank to her antenna and big guileless bug eyes. You remember Mantis, she is the woman in the first Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer who uses her empathic abilities to discern and announce that Peter Quill has sexual feelings for Gamora. Yeah, it’s a funny scene and James Gunn and company will clearly utilize Mantis’s unique empathic powers for dramatic and comedic effect.
Mantis was a member of the comic book version of the Guardians for a short time, but her real impact on the Marvel Universe was as a member of the Avengers. In fact, Mantis was involved in one of the longest and most cosmically trippy and epic stories of the 1970s, and in a way, she also sort of appeared in the – get ready for it – DC Universe (and more)! Intrigued? You darn well should be!
This is going to be a long, strange trip…
So before you understand who Mantis is, you have to understand what the Celestial Madonna is. Think of the Celestial Madonna as a cosmic Virgin Mary figure who is destined to give birth to the Celestial Messiah. So it’s kind of like the Jesus story but with more aliens, lasers, and spaceships. Mantis first appeared in The Avengers #112 (1973) and was created by Steve Englehart and Don Heck. The future cosmic hero was the daughter of Gustav Brandt, aka the villainous Libra. Brandt’s criminal brother-in-law (who, I’m not kidding, was named Monsieur Kruul) disapproved of his sister marrying and having a child with the German Brandt and pursued the family to Vietnam. Kruul burns Brandt’s house, blinding the man and killing his wife. Brandt manages to hide his daughter among the Priests of Pama, a sect of Kree monks that protect a race of sentient psychic plant people known as the Cotati and…yeah, it’s weird.
So let’s unpack this. The future Mantis is taken to a monestary where she is trained by alien monks in martial arts to protect and possibly mate with a race of psychic celery people. Yes, it was indeed the ’70s.
The future Mantis was being prepared to become the Celestial Madonna. The Priests of Pama were testing her worthiness to see if she was pure enough to mate with a Cotati and become a mother of the Celestial Messiah. Yes kids, the tale of Mantis is indeed the tale of cosmic veggie Jesus. And it just gets stranger and cooler from here.
Mantis was taught to communicate with the Cotati so she developed empathic abilities. Now, she was a semi-psychic martial artist destined to mate with a sentient vegetable to bring about the birth of the cosmic savior. When Mantis turns eighteen, the Priests of Pama wipe her memory and brings her out to the modern world to see if her purity of spirit holds up. Now, the comic never really came right out and said it, but basically, the tabula rasa young Mantis instantly became a prostitute in a Vietnam brothel (the comics called her a “bar girl,” but listen, we know what was going on). It’s while working as a “bar girl” where Mantis meets and falls in love with the sometime hero/sometime villain the Swordsman. She senses a nobility in the alcoholic depressive Swordsman and encourages him to reunite with and join the Avengers. Mantis and Swordsman confront the Avengers and Mantis take down both Captain America and Thor (really) with her martial arts abilities. Swordsman and Mantis join the team and help fight Loki and Dormammu during the Avengers/Defenders War, an event which is widely considered to be the first major crossover in comics.
Mantis had this really annoying habit of referring to herself is “This one” instead of “I.” One guesses that this aversion to personal pronouns was supposed to make Mantis sound foreign and demur, but from a modern perspective, it was irksome and maybe a little racist. As she spends more time with the Avengers, Mantis tires of Swordsman and began trying to seduce the Vision. This didn’t do anything for her popularity with her fellow Avengers (or with fans), but Mantis’ synthetic obsession continued. Around this time, Mantis learns her history from her birth father.
Of course, Mantis’ growing affection for Vision really threw Swordsman for a loop. I mean, what would you think if your girlfriend began crushing on your laptop?
To prove his love for Mantis, Swordsman sacrifices himself in battle with Kang, the time traveling arch foe of the Avengers. You see, Kang wants to locate the Celestial Madonna so he could sire the Celestial Messiah. Swordsman is buried in the gardens of the Priests of Pama and, get ready for this, is reanimated by the Cotati. The celery-possessed Swordsman helped the Avengers defeat Kang, Mantis is revealed as the true Celestial Madonna and she and Swordsman get married…in a double wedding with Vision and Scarlet Witch! I guess Wanda forgave the whole creeping on her man thing now that Mantis had an animated corpse vegetable husband.
The ’70s were weird.
Mantis and Swordsman decided to take on astral forms and travel to the stars where they could sire the Celestial Messiah. Now this begs the question, if the cinematic Mantis follows comic book Mantis, will she eventually try to bed down with Groot? After all, Mantis has a thing for plants. Disney, you’re entering a strange place here. Of course, the cinematic version is clearly an alien and not a Celestial Madonna with terrible grammar and a salad fetish.
After the marriage, this is where things get really meta and weird (as if they haven’t already). After Mantis left Earth with her veggie corpse hubby, Steve Englehart left Marvel…and in a way, he took Mantis with him. In Justice League of America #142 (1977) by Englehart and Dick Dillin, the Justice League meets up with a woman named Willow. Willow is clearly supposed to be Mantis with the justification that when Mantis left Earth she began exploring other realities. Now, Englehart never came out and intrinsically states that Willow is Mantis because lawyers, but you guys, Willow is Mantis.
In addition, in 1983, Englehart penned a mini-series for Eclipse Comics: Scorpio Rose. In the second issue of this title, Englehart introduces a cosmic beauty named Lorelei, a woman who informs readers that she has recently given birth. Yup, Lorelei was Mantis. The third issue of Scorpio Rose was never published by Eclipse, but it was reprinted in 2005 in the pages of Coyote Collection #1 by Image Comics. So Mantis became a Celestial Madonna that not only traveled through galaxies after marrying her celery possessed lover, she also was able to transverse four separate publishers.
“But why,” I hear you asking. “Is Mantis making her film debut in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when she was an Avengers character?” Well, after the whole traversing the universe as the Celestial Madonna thing, the Mantis story was continued in fits and starts, with many storylines often contradicting the one previous. She had a brief romantic entanglement with the Silver Surfer and was even split into multiple beings, but it’s all rather convoluted and that’s what back issue bins are for.
We will tell you than during Annihilation: Conquest (2007-2008), Mantis helps Rocket Raccoon, Peter Quill, Groot, Drax, and Gamora bust out of a Kree prison. The escapees band together as the Guardians of the Galaxy, so heck yeah, Mantis is part of Guardians history! She was part of the initial lineup of the present day team, the very same one that inspired the film! In fact, to insure that the rag tag group of misfits that made up the Guardians stayed together after the escape, Quill had Mantis use her mind powers to compel the Guardians to band together in the first place. So if there was no Mantis, there would be no Guardians of the Galaxy!
Kind of makes up for all that “this one” stuff, huh?