AVENGERS: CELESTIAL QUEST (2001-2002)

I have to love Avengers: Celestial Quest because it’s written by the great Steve Englehart, who was one of the founding fathers of Marvel Comics as I grew up on it. His stint on Batman is one of the greatest ever (it was the one that turned Joker from a silly ditz into a truly frightening villain); he wrote the Avengers-Defenders War; he turned Patsy Walker into Hellcat; and he was responsible for one of the best Dr. Strange runs of all time.

By the 1990s, the legendary creators of the ’70s were past their prime. Claremont, Byrne, Ordway, Conway and others were still working in the industry, but none of the folks who shaped Marvel as we know it were any good in 2000.

Or so we all thought.

With Celestial Quest, Englehart made a story about his weirdest creation, Mantis, a character who started with the Avengers, moved to the Justice League, and, with this miniseries, returned to Marvel. It’s true, look it up.

Mantis has been split into different beings, and at the beginning of the event there are five of them. Thanos decides to gather up all the pieces–and kill them. The Avengers try to stop him.

What follows is lots of hitting and a wonderfully bizarre assemblage of weirdos (Reptyl!) and some “out there” stuff like this: Mantis boinks Vision on the same planet inhabited by the reanimated Swordsman (who was married to Mantis) and Mantis and Swordsman’s 18-year-old kid. While Vision and Mantis bang, Sequoia is taken by Thanos.

Vision is empathetic, and tells her about his own kids.

The Avengers help her get him back.

But Sequoia, it turns out, is even more powerful than the Mad Titan. He’s actually the Celestial Messiah.

Death shows up and we learn another cosmic fact: Death and Thanos had a kid and its name is The Rot. Actually, it’s more of a sentient force of nature that overcomes things like spaceships. Rot never appears again, but … What a concept!

Thanos denies being the daddy because he says he destroys and doesn’t create. Dude. Denial is not valid contraception.

I’m pretty sure Rot is destroyed in this story, although with all the cosmic posturing it’s not entirely clear.

Yeah, this is vintage Englehart.

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Above, you can see how in one page he recaps the past 20 years of Thanos’ history, all leading to this character moment:
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He rejects Death once and for all…

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It culminates, essentially, in Thanos becoming a complete narcissist.

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But perhaps even more amazing was that this was the first great Thanos story not written by Jim Starlin. (And to this day, great non-Starlin Thanos epics are hard to come by.)

Note: This is actually NOT THANOS via a much later retcon. At the time, though, it was written to be the real one. I’ve tagged both the clone and “real” Thanos here, since it is clearly the creators’ intent that this is the real Thanos.

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