Review by Frank Plowright
Steve Englehart’s crowning achievement in an exceptional mid-1970s run of Avengers comics was his introduction of Mantis and her progression from orphaned Vietnamese martial artist to Celestial Madonna. It was quite the journey, and ended with Mantis married to an alien being in order that she could fulfil a prophecy and give birth to a child destined to change the universe.
Englehart returned to Mantis when writing other titles, most prominently Silver Surfer, before this series accelerated the destiny of her son, Quoi, who for his own reasons Thanos wants dead. Mantis is reunited with the Avengers after what’s noted as five years. Englehart’s strength over his 1970s Avengers run was his ability to define a personality and have them act accordingly, which saw him through some mundane early plots. For Celestial Quest, however, this talent has largely deserted him. Mantis isn’t as convincing as previously when sowing discord, and she’s not the only one. Englehart’s rather saddled with Silverclaw, then a youthful Avenger in training and presents her as the voice of wonder and puzzlement. Less explicable is the use of Haywire, an obscure hero from another world in mourning for his dead girlfriend and with no previous connection to the Avengers. He’s grieving and headstrong, and there’s a role for him eventually, but one that could have been taken by a more interesting personality. The Vision is certainly that, turned to a quivering mess by Mantis, and embarrassingly impulsive, contradicting his established character.
Far better is Qoui, to all intents and purposes a new character, a snotty eighteen year old in Earth terms, his growth expedited due to his alien heritage. At least he surprises for not meeting expectation as someone of destiny. He may be thrashing about finding his way, but he acts in an understandable manner throughout, whereas elsewhere the jaw drops at the decisions taken and comments made by the established heroes. One of them dies, and there’ll be no prizes for guessing who it is, and all they’re worth is Silverclaw’s illogical eulogy. As for Thanos, very little of what he does makes sense unless he’s somehow aware of a need to fill 190 pages. He fights Mantis, but can’t beat her, retreats, creates lumbering allies from space pirates, fights Mantis again and can beat her. The Englehart of old would have applied far greater logic to Thanos’ methods and ends.
Jorgé Santamaria draws the almost the entire story, providing a consistency absent from Mantis’ original saga, but he’s a mixed blessing. His page layouts are very good, maximising action and location, but his figurework and expressions don’t match that skill (see sample art). The solidity of Joe Staton’s work replacing Santamaria on the penultimate chapter would usually be welcome, but Staton obviously worked to a very tight deadline.
In 2017 Celestial Quest was combined with an expanded version of Mantis’ earlier appearances as The Complete Celestial Madonna Saga, but it’s very disappointing wherever its read. The story, as much as anything is about parental responsibility, and that now extends to Englehart’s responsibility for the tarnished legacy of his original story.