Sally Avril (Bluebird)

Among the many classmates of Peter Parker, in Spider-Man: Homecoming, there’s also a chubby girl portrayed by Isabella Amara (she’s the one who sadly announces that Peter isn’t going to the competition in Washington D.C.); she’s quite smart, as she’s a member of the school’s decathlon team. Amara already confirmed she’s going to appear again in Avengers: Infinity War, so we haven’t seen the last of her…albeit it’s unlikely she’ll start wearing a costume and fight crime like Sally did in the comics. Even the first live action version of Sally didn’t do much in this sense: Kelsey Chow in fact portrays her in The Amazing Spider-Man, the hot girl who asks Peter if he can take pictures of her and her boyfriend on Friday night, laughing at the fact he believed she was asking him out. In the comics, Sally’s story is more deepened…and eventually more tragic. Let’s see together.

Sally Avril was born in New York City, in Forest HillsQueens. When she was a kid she attended the local Elementary School, where she met and became friends with a group she would have grown up with, consisting of Jason Ionello (her best friend), Liz Allan, Peter Parker, Tiny McKeever and Seymour O’Reilly. The group was quite inseparable, but when they arrived to Midtown High School everything changed: the new social division had quite an effect on her, and she immediately realised the new school was clearly divided between “winners” and “losers”, and she had no intention of being part of the second group. She did her best to be one of the popular girls, taking a distance from some of her old “best friends”…including Peter Parker, who was now the favourite target of bullies like Flash Thompson. Instead of defending her friend, Sally started dating Flash, and when Peter asked her out she laughed in his face and proclaimed she preferred “dream boats” like Thompson. She even arrived to the point of isolating Peter when his beloved Uncle Ben died, convincing Liz Allan not to be friendly with him even in such a delicate situation, so obsessed she was with high school’s role game. She finally obtained all the fame and the popularity she craved by winning all the school’s competition as a gymnast, but it still wasn’t enough, she wanted more…and Jason gave her the perfect idea to achieve it, as J. Jonah Jameson offered a big sum of money to whoever brought him the secret identity of the superhero he despised, Spider-Man. The two friends decided they would have been the ones to take money and glory.

Armed with binoculars and camera, Sally Avril and Jason Ionello started “hunting” for Spider-Man, and they found him during a meeting with Batwing. Spider-Man realised he had been followed, and warned the two kids not to, as it could be very dangerous; Jason wanted to follow his advice, but Sally decided to ignore it, as she was sure they would have succeeded. Next, they spotted Spider-Man as, brainwashed by Dr. Winkler, was stealing money for Electro. The two followed the hero, and prepared to take a picture just as Electro was about to unmask him…but their camera’s flash broke the hypnosis, and Spidey came back to his senses just in time. In the following fight, when Spider-Man was about to be defeated, Sally intervened in first person incapacitating Electro with a kick to the head, allowing the hero to knock him out for good: thankful, Spider-Man took a picture of Sally and Jason standing over the defeated criminal, a photo that would have been published on The Daily Bugle under the title: School Kids Foil Super-Villain. Intoxicated by the experience, Sally presented herself to Jameson asking for the position of free-lance photographer, but she was shocked in discovering that the job was already taken…by Peter Parker. Her former friend confirmed it, but she asked her not to tell anybody at school he was the one who took pictures of Spider-Man. This, however, brought Sally to change her plans: instead of becoming a photographer, she used the experience with Electro to decide to become a superheroine herself. She created a costume and built some (highly inefficient) gadgets, and named herself Bluebird, ready to take on New York’s criminality with her athletic skills. She even elected herself as Spider-Man’s partner, but the hero wasn’t too happy of having such an inexperienced and vulnerable sidekick “aiding” him…

Sally Avril is an extremely ambitious and glory-carving girl, a young woman quite obsessed with popularity who’s overenthusiastic over pretty much every single initiative she takes. As Bluebird, she’s an extremely skilled athlete and acrobat, but she doesn’t have any superhuman power; she has a number of gadgets, some useful ones such as insulated boots and her rope line, and some unuseful and dangerous ones like her Bluebird Eggs, “bombs” filled with ether that usually explode before even reaching their target. First a bully ready to forget any friendship and to step on anyone’s feelings for a little popularity, now Sally is a danger for herself and others, a rookie vigilante who’s too arrogant to realize that as an amateur she risks her life without being of any kind of help to her unwilling mentor Spider-Man.

M’Baku (Man-Ape)

The last character appearing in the Black Panther trailer is a secondary villain, who promises to be quite a pain in the back for the titular hero nevertheless: M’Baku, portrayed by Winston Duke. In the movie, he’ll be the leader of a tribe hostile to T’Challa‘s government, the Jabari, and he’ll cause quite some disorders in Wakanda. Character and actor have been both confirmed for Avengers: Infinity War, so it’s safe to say that whatever conflict will put M’Baku against T’Challa won’t see its end in this movie. In the comics, M’Baku is even bigger and badder, and his outfit is much more characteristic than the casual white fur we see in the trailer, as he wears an entire gorilla skin and goes by the name Man-Ape. Let’s see together.

M’Baku was born in Wakanda, a secluded African nation, in the Jabari Village. The Jabari tribe was the only one left in Wakanda to follow the old religion, the White Gorilla Cult, a barbaric warmongering cult practiced by ancient Wakandians, who were hunters and warriors. M’Baku grew up with his brother Mandla in the myth of the old days, when the strongest ruled and the weak ones obeyed, and he trained himself to be the most powerful warrior of the country…something that he actually achieved, becoming an impressive fighter, second only to the country’s protector, the Black Panther. In order to give his people its honor and pride back, M’Baku reinstated the White Gorilla Cult, despite the Wakandian laws forbid it; he also named himself the new leader of both cult and tribe, and he crossed the forbidden lands up to the Great Vibranium Mound, until he found a sacred white gorilla, a rare (protected) species that was said to have mystical powers…as it actually did. M’Baku killed the gorilla, bathed in its blood, ate its flesh and made an armor from its skin: from this gruesome ceremony he obtained superhuman powers, and he came back to his people as the Man-Ape, ready to lead the White Gorilla Cult to a new era of leadership in Wakanda. Taking advantage of King T’Challa’s absence, M’Baku led a rebellion, wanting to bring Wakanda to its original state, outlawing all the advanced technology introduced by the royal family of Black Panther cultists and turning the population to a nation of warriors and hunters only. When T’Challa knew about what was happening in his country, he came back to Wakanda along with the Avengers, and received a public challenge from Man-Ape. The two fought for the right to rule, and Man-Ape managed to defeat his opponent. When he tried to crush him under the Panther totem his enemy worshipped, however, the huge statue crumbled, burying him under the rubbles. Taking this as a sign from the gods, Black Panther was confirmed the king, and M’Baku left for dead.

The Man-Ape, however, hadn’t met his end yet: one of his most loyal followers, N’Gamo, used some secret herbs on him, reviving him and later hiding him in the village until he came back to full health. Humiliated by an unrecognized victory, M’Baku became obsessed with proving himself better than the Black Panther, and he even left Wakanda to follow his enemy to New York City, where the hero resided as an Avenger. Once in the new land, Man-Ape learned that the Avengers had many enemies, and he took the opportunity to join forces with them in order to kill his nemesis: he became a member of Grimm Reaper‘s version of the Lethal Legion, an offer he accepted only in exchange of the promise of being able to face Black Panther. After a brief fight with the Avengers, Man-Ape was ordered to kidnap Monica Lynne, Black Panther’s American girlfriend, in order to lure the hero into a trap. The plan succeeded, and T’Challa was captured. Soon the other Avengers followed him, but when Vision managed to free them all, another battle ensued…exactly what Man-Ape was waiting for. He challenged Black Panther once again, and even this time his brute force had the upper hand in the confrontation, but eventually Captain America intervened, and M’Baku found in him a far better warrior than he was. Captured, M’Bau was sentenced to exile by Black Panther, who decreed that he would have faced death penalty if he ever came back to Wakanda. A renegade, Man-Ape stayed in New York and joined the Lethal Legion once again, being assigned to battle Tigra, but he eventually abandoned the team along with Black Talon as soon as Grimm Reaper’s racism became unbearable. With no home to come back to, Man-Ape started wandering a world he had never seen, and visited the less civilised areas of the planet selling his services as a mercenary. Despite the executioner waiting for him, however, home’s calling was strong in his blood, and soon he would have come back to Wakanda to challenge the Black Panther once again.

M’Baku is a violent and tyrannical man, a leader who only believes in the law of the strongest and who only values battle prowess. As the Man-Ape, he possesses superhuman strength, durability, agility, stamina and reflexes, and he’s an incredibly skilled combatant, able to match Black Panther himself. A charismatic religious and political leader, Man-Ape dreams of a country reverted to its primitive condition, when the strength of your arm was the only measure of your value and no technology contaminated a warrior’s spirit…a world in which a man like him would be revered like a god on Earth.

Okoye

Another character from the Black Panther trailer, again one of the feared Dora Milaje…actually, their leader, according to the character’s description: Okoye, portrayed by Danai Gurira. In the movie, Okoye will lead her female-only squad against several threats against T’Challa‘s rule over Wakanda, but apparently she’ll walk away pretty healthy from the many battles, as she’s already confirmed to appear in Avengers: Infinity War (thus confirming that at least a part of it will be set in Wakanda). Now, waiting to know more about her role, or to see her directly on the screen, let’s take a look at the original Okoye.

Okoye was born in an unspecified location in Wakanda, a secluded and technologically advanced nation in Africa. When she was still a child, her village’s elders chose her to be one of the Dora Milaje, the “Adored Ones“, wives in training and bodyguards to the king. The order had been inactive for long, but the new king, T’Challa, reactivated it for solving the rising political discord within his kingdom: the Dora Milaje came from every tribe in the country, and the possibility of becoming queens gave every group a chance to approach the throne. Okoye moved to the Royal Palace, and she immediately bonded with the other girls with her, especially Nakie, a simple peasant who had developed quite a crush on the king. Unlike Nakia, who still dreamt of becoming the next queen, Okoye realised pretty early in her training that the king didn’t feel anything romantic for the girls, quite the opposite, he saw them more as if they were his children: she came to accept this without problems, focusing on her job as a bodyguard and training herself the best she could to be up to the task, but she found out that Nakia didn’t want to give up on her romantic fantasies towards the king, as she even put herself in danger just to attract his attention. Okoye stayed close to her and tried to dissuade her from her delusion, stating that it was obvious that the king wouldn’t have chosen any of them as his future wife, but Nakia was deaf to her friend’s wisdom, and eventually her romantic obsession turned violent, with her trying to kill T’Challa’s American girlfriend Monica Lynne. Okoye couldn’t do anything but to see her best friend exiled from the Royal Palace, but despite her feelings Okoye agreed with her king’s motives, and she remained loyal to T’Challa.

In the following years, Okoye gradually became one of the most apreciated (and skilled) among the Dora Milaje, often accompanying her king into some of his most delicate travels. To the public, she simply acted as T’Challa’s chauffeur, but when the king donned the costume and claws of his alter ego the Black Panther, Okoye was by his side as the warrior she had been trained to be. Not only loyal but devoted to T’Challa, she even abandoned her people language and she adopted her king’s one, Hausa. The most difficult moments, for Okoye, came when she found herself forced to fight against her former friend Nakia, now the villain Malice, but she was present also in a number of other occasions. Once, T’Challa brought her to Chicago to help him recruit a young woman in the Dora Milaje: the girl was of Wakandian origin, albeit she didn’t know it yet, the member of an enemy tribe who had worshipped the White Gorilla, and she had been raised by a warrior loyal to T’Challa, who had monitored her progressesses. With a vacant place in the Dora Milaje, Okoye arrived in Chicago where the girl, Chanté Giovanni Brown, had become the social activist known as Queen Divine Justice, and as soon as she agreed to follow T’Challa, Okoye became first her mentor, then her friend and teammate, with the two of them forming quite a formidable couple. When in New York City a new vigilante appeared, donning the Black Panther’s costume, T’Challa investigated on the matter, and brought Okoye along. It turned out the man was Kevin “Kasper” Cole, a cop who stood up to his corrupt superiors. Intrigued, T’Challa wanted to test the man to see if he was worthy of the suit he wore, so he sent Okoye as part of the trial. Okoye had to seduce Kasper, to see if he would have abandoned his pregnant girlfriend Gwen to stay with her instead, but the man passed the test by rejecting Okoye’s attentions, despite an obvious attraction to her. Later, Kaspar became the heroic White Panther, with Okoye not only serving a Panther, but now being responsible for giving birth to one.

In everything she does, in everything she thinks and says, Okoye is a Dora Milaje, a bodyguard fiercely devoted to King T’Challa, following him like a shadow and protecting him from any possible threat. As an Adored One, she’s one of the finest warriors in Wakanda, a martial artist with a mastership over traditional Wakandan weapons but also modern firearms; she’s also a skilled driver, unmatched in pursuits and races. One of the most dangerous women in her country, Okoye devotes every breath and every step to King T’Challa…may the enemis of the royal family be warned.

Shuri (Black Panther)

The first trailer for Black Panther has been released as well, and most of the main characters have been seen. Let’s start from a girl who’s been already announced to appear in Avengers: Infinity War as well, the girl who’s seen wielding a couple of big bad guns: Shuri, portrayed by Letitia Wright. In the movie, Shuri is Wakanda‘s princess and T’Challa‘s sister, as well as a skilled inventor who’s behind much of the advanced technology in the country. In the comics, Shuri has become an increasingly more relevant character, T’Challa’s step-sister and his successor in both leading the country as queen, and protecting it as the new Black Panther. Let’s see together.

Shuri was born in the technologically advanced nation of Wakanda, the daughter of King T’Chaka and his third wife Queen Ramonda. Since since was a kid, Shuri felt like a burden the tradition according to which only the kingdom’s males could become the legendary Black Panther, and against her mother’s will she secretly trained to be the first woman in history to don the mantle of Wakanda’s protector. When T’Chaka was killed by a foreigner, his brother S’yan inherited the title, and Shuri trained even harder than before to challenge him in the Black Panther Tournament, a ritual held every year to allow Wakandans to challenge their king if they wanted to replace him. Shuri participated in disguise, as women couldn’t attend to the tournament (and because she was far too young to become queen), but another masked contestant defeated S’yan before she did: T’Challa, her older brother. Albeit too young himself, T’Challa won his right to become king and Black Panther, and succeeded his uncle in leading the country; Shuri, as a princess, swore her loyalty to him, but kept training as a warrior. The day Klaw invaded Wakanda with his mercenaries, Shuri did her part, and she faced Igor Stancheck, the Russian Radioactive Man: she managed to kill him with the legendary Ebony Blade, but albeit victorious she was shocked by her first killing. Wanting to allow his sister to fight on her own terms, and to defend her people if she ever succeeded him, T’Challa offered to train her personally in hand-to-hand combat. A skilled warrior now, she was the one who protected Wakanda from Erik Killmonger and his mercenaries when they attacked the country, taking advantage of the absence of King T’Challa and Queen Ororo, who were with the Fantastic Four: Shuri was captured by Killmonger, but she was freed by Zuri, and she defeated most of Killmonger’s mercenaries single-handedly. Then, king and queen returned, and together with them Shuri repelled an invasion from the Skrulls.

Shuri proved herself over and over again, so when Black Panther was nearly killed by Doctor Doom and sent into an irreversible coma, Queen Ororo named her T’Challa’s successor. Princess Shuri went through the various trials to obtain the Heart-Shaped Herb, and she managed to pass them all, thus becoming the new queen of Wakanda…and the new Black Panther, as she had always dreamt of. As she consumed the Herb, however, Bast the Panther God was offended by the girl’s arrogance, and also saw the taint in her soul caused by her long-lived envy towards her brother and his role. Because of this, she wasn’t granted the powers of the Black Panther. She didn’t even have time to think about what happened, however, as Morlun, an interdimensional vampire who fed on the animal avatars such as the Black Panther came. Weakened, Morlun was after an easy prey such as the comatose T’Challa, but Shuri decided to protect her brother by donning the mask and costume of the Black Panther to distract the vampire and to lead him away from her brother. In the meanwhile, the sorcerer Zawavari performed an ancient ritual to make a bargain with Lady Death, making her trade the soul of T’Challa, trapped in Limbo, with the one of Morlun. The ritual succeeded, and T’Challa was freed…just when Morlun was about to slaughter a helpless Shuri. Bast was pleased by the queen regent’s act of self-sacrifice, and he finally granted her his powers, now making her a full Black Panther. In the meanwhile, the revived T’Challa had discovered the conspiration of the Desturi, a group of Wakandans infected by Doom with special nanites: under Zawavari’s tutelage, he started to train in the ancient magic of his people to face Doom, and when he left he made Shuri Queen of Wakanda in his absence. Soon, however, Doom took control of all Wakandans, until Shuri and T’Challa were the only ones free from his control: it was time the royal family brought war to Latveria and they joined forces with ColossusWolverine and Nightcrawler of the X-Men to free their people from Doom, brother and sister together.

Shuri is a proud and headstrong woman, a princess and a queen who devoted all her life to hone herself into the perfect ruler for her people and country, and who in her arrogance believes to be the fittest ruler ever for Wakanda. As the Black Panther, the Panther God grants her superhuman agility, strenght, speed, durability and stamina, as well as enhanced senses; her Vibranium armor makes her nearly impervious to damage, and she’s a master martial artist and a skilled user of both sword and spear; after her stay in the mystical realm of the Djalia, Shuri also gained the ability to turn herself into a large black bird (or even a flock of them), and to turn her body into stone, becoming invulnerable. One of the fiercest Black Panthers ever, Shuri has fought all her life to obtain the privilege she felt was robbed from her by old and surpassed traditions, and she’ll prove to anyone how worthy she is of the role she’s filling.

Brunnhilde (Valkyrie)

The second character spotted in the new official images from Thor: Ragnarok is another female lead, this time one of the good guys: Valkyrie, portrayed by Tessa Thompson. In the movie, Thor somehow ends up on the gladiatorial planet Sakaar, and in here he finds, among others, also another Asgardian, the Valkyrie, who apprently has been there for quite a long time. The two become allies, and possibly Valkyrie will also replace Jane Foster as Thor’s love interest, but that’s as far as we know for now. Marvel Studios obviously took some major estetical liberties from the original material, as the Norse goddess somehow turns out to be an African-American…but that’s something we’ve been through with Heimdall already, and it’s useless to keep complaining about the continuous and not always reasonable race-swaps. Thompson is a good actress nevertheless, and she’ll surely deliver a good Valkyrie to the big screen. Waiting to see what she’ll do with the character, let’s take a look at the original one.

There are many different tales about the story of how Brunnhilde became the Valkyrie, with the truth being possibly lost in myth. According to many, Brunnhilde was born on Asgard, and she became one of the few female warriors there, besting many men. For both her skills with the sword and her crush on prince Thor, Brunnhilde became a rival of Lady Sif, who with time became a friend of hers. When she matured to be one of the finest warriors in Asgard, Odin selected her to lead the Valkyrior (the Choosers of the Slain), warrior goddesses whose task was to visit the battlefields to collect the souls of the ones who had died as heroes and to lead them to Valhalla, where they courage and honor would have been chanted for eternity. According to another version of the story, Brunnhilde was born on Aesheim (the ancient Asgardian name of Earth), princess of the Wrlstead Arms. In her youth, she fell in love with Sigmund, her father’s best warrior and her own trainer in the arts of the sword; the two became lovers and comrades in arms. When Cul Borson, the Serpent Old, tainted mortals with his evil influence, Odin decided to slain them all, and attacked the Wrlstead Arms: Sigmund was among the first ones who fell under his blade. Brunnhilde stood over her lover’s body, refusing to let Odin advance. Impressed by the maiden’s courage, Odin rewarded her by turning her into the Valkyrie, a goddess with the task of bringing valiant souls to Valhalla; the first soul Valkyrie ever escorted to the warriors’ paradise was Sigmund’s one. According to yet another story, Brunnhilde was a goddess that witnessed Odin banishing Thor on Earth in the guise of the hero Sigmund; when Odin decided to end the life of Sigmund, Brunnhilde intervened to protect him, and the Alfather punished her defiance by stripping her of her powers and her divine condition, exiling her on Earth. Here, she met Siegfried, Sigmund’s son and human reincarnation of Thor. The two fell in love, and when Siegfried was killed in battle, Brunnhilde jumped into his pyre wanting to join him in death. Odin, moved by their bond, restored both their lives as Valkyrie and Thor, giving them back their divinity, but erasing all their memories regarding the time spent together on Earth.

In all this confusion regarding her origins, one thing is for sure: Valkyrie was a loyal servant to Odin, and she guided countless honorable warriors to the halls of Valhalla. When Odin made a deal with the Celestials and interrupted the millennial connection with Midgard (Earth), Valkyrie was ordered to stop bringing mortals’ souls to Valhalla, chosing only among Asgardian heroes. With her task enormously reduced, Valkyrie started travelling Asgard, looking for a purpose; in a tavern near Marmoragard she found something similar to it, a friend. Amora the Enchantress approached her, and told her about the life of adventures she was leading…and she was willing to share. Valkyrie accepted to accompany her, and the two travelled along the entire realm…until Brunnhilde realised that her “friend” was actually an immoral and villainous sorceress, and that she was using her skills. Valkyrie tried to break the partnership with Amora, but the Enchantress didn’t want to lose such a valuable tool, and she casted a spell, trapping Valkyrie into a Crystal of Souls. Valkyrie’s body remained in suspended animation for centuries, while Amora used her soul for a variety of purposes: she usually “rented” her superior physical prowess to empower herself or her lackeys, and once she even borrowed her physical appearance, using it to gather some Earth female heroes (Black WidowWasp, Madame Medusa and Scarlet Witch) and to form the Lady Liberators, later leading them in a quest against the male Avengers. Valkyrie finally knew freedom again when Amora switched her soul with one of a dimensional displaced mortal, Barbera Norriss: while Barbera’s consciousness was trapped in Valkyrie’s body in Asgard, Brunnhilde’s one inhabited Barbera’s body, without any knowledge of being in a stranger body thanks to Amora messing with her memory. Valkyrie helped her captor and the Defenders in a battle against another sorceress, Casiolena, and when the foe was defeated, Amora let her go with the heroes. Valkyrie lived a lot of adventures with the Defenders, still unaware of her true condition, but Jack Norriss, Barbera’s husband, kept following her wherever she went, still claiming she was his wife: Jack’s constance did indeed unlock something in Valkyrie’s mind, and she finally started questioning her memories…

Brunnhilde is a brave and honorable warrior, forged by the fire of thousands of battles. Proud on the verge of arrogance, she lives for the battlefield, and always seeks new challenges to test her ability. As the Valkyrie, she possesses the usual Asgardian features, such as superhuman strength, speed, stamina, agility and durability, slowed aging and accelerated healing; she also has the ability to see the Death-Glow, a special aura that surrounds the ones whose death is imminent, and she can instantly teleport herself and the souls of the dead to Valhalla; she’s also one of the finest warriors in Asgard, expert in both armed and unarmed combat, with her weapons of choice being the enchanted sword Dragonfang and the spear Geirr. Accompanied by her winged horse Aragorn, Valkyrie flies from a battlefield to another, collecting the souls of the ones worthy of the Valhalla…and joining as many fights as she can.

Brandt/Mandy Celestine (Mantis)

mantisfilmBefore looking at the new characters from the series’ winter finale(s), let’s take a brief look at the new Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer, that introduced one of the new protagonists. At the end of the trailer, Peter Quill is seen holding hands with a weird alien, who can read his mind through contact and has no problems in exposing the man’s sexual interest in his teammate Gamora (much to Drax‘s amusement). That’s Mantis, portrayed by Pom Klementieff. What we know of her as for now is that she’s been raised by Ego the Living Planet, and she lacks any experience in social interaction (as we could guess from the trailer): she’ll assist the Guardians of the Galaxy in their mission, and eventually join them…but that’s all we know. In the comics, she’s not an alien to begin with, albeit most of her adventures involve outer space in a way or another. Let’s see together.

The woman known as Mantis was the daughter of German Gustav Brandt and Vietnamese Lau Nguyen. She was born in HuēVietnam, but immediately after her birth her parents were attacked by Khruul, Lau’s brother, who opposed the union: the woman was killed, while the man lost his sight. Seeking refuge, Gustav arrived with his baby to a temple home to the Priests of Pama, a rogue sect of the Kree Empire who despised its warring policy and was exiled as a result. The Priests were waiting for the Celestial Madonna, some sort of cosmic mother of the future Messiah, said to be “the most important being in the universe”, and they believed that the baby could be the one they were looking for. The Priests took in father and daughter, and even when Gustav left they kept training the girl and taking care of her, awakening her latent mental powers and teaching her martial arts; there was only one thing the girl lacked: life experience. When she turned eighteen years old, the Priests of Pama erased her memory and sent her out to the city, letting her learn from her own choices. Implanted with memories of being a Vietnamese orphan grown up in the streets of Huē, Mantis did her best to survive on her own, and she started working in a bar; mantiscomics1when money weren’t enough to make ends meet, she also became a prostitute (always operating in the bar she worked in). Among her many clients, she became attached to one in particular, sensing his self-loathing and his lack of self-respect: French mercenary Jacques Duquesne, the villain-turned-hero Swordsman. The two became friends, and Mantis helped him come back to his old self; when the hero was ready to come back to the United States, Mantis eventually followed him, and she stayed by his side even when he rejoined the Avengers. Putting her gifts and powers to her friend’s service, Mantis became a valuable ally to the Avengers, just as they first clashed then teamed up with the Defenders to repel a deadly alliance of Loki and Dormammu.

Chosing to stay mostly because of her growing attraction towards the Vision (being oblivious to the Swordsman’s love for her), Mantis helped the two men of her life and Scarlet Witch save Iron ManThorCaptain America and Black Panther from The Collector, but immediately after that the team was involved in a fight with a powerful terrorist organization, the Zodiac Cartel. One of the commanders of Zodiac, Libra, turned out to be Gustav Brandt, who revealed himself as Mantis’ father…but the woman obviously didn’t remember him. Gustav told her the whole story of her origins, but Mantis didn’t believe him…the one who believed the man was Swordsman, who left on a solo quest to find the killer of Mantis’ mother, Khruul. The quest ended in nothing, with Khruul being killed by Star Stalker before being questioned, and Mantis dismissed the whole thing…but her past came back haunting her when Kang the Conqueror, who claimed to know that she was indeed the Celestial Madonna, came to the heroes’ timeline to kill her. In the battle that followed, Swordsman sacrificed his life to protect her, and only in front of Duquesne dying Mantis finally revealed to him that she reciprocated his love. Swordsman was buried in Vietnam, in the temple Mantis had allegedely been raised in, and, while being there, she started investigating her mysterious past along with the Avengers. Kang returned, wanting Mantis to bear his child, and he unleashed the Legion of the Unliving on the heroes: the Avengers defeated both Kang and the Legion allying with Immortus (another mantiscomics2version of Kang), and the time master offered to both Mantis and Vision the opportunity to watch their origins as if they were spectators. Mantis accepted the offer, and she learned everything of the Kree/Skrull War, the Priests of Pama and the Cotati race they swore to protect. Back to Vietnam, she found out that Swordsman’s body, buried in the garden where the Cotatis hid, had been possessed by one of them: accepting her destiny as Celestial Madonna, Mantis left to space with Cotati-Swordsman to conceive the Celestial Messiah. From Vietnamese orphan to cosmic savior, Mantis had walked a long path…but that was still just the beginning.

Mantis is a living mystery, a woman whose past as she remembers it is a lie and an illusion, and whose destiny is written in the stars; with years, she became less and less human, embracing a nature that makes her detached from physical existence altogether, from passions and feelings. As the Celestial Madonna, she’s a powerful telepath and empath, she can leave her body in astral form, she can use pyrokinesis and chlorokinesis (the ability to manipulate vegetal life), she can foresee her and others’ future, she can strenghten her body with her psychic powers and even heal faster; after her training she has complete control over every single cell of her body, and she’s one of the most accomplished martial artists in the whole universe, being specialised in locating and using pressure points in her adversaries (despite not disposing of superhuman strength, she can easily immobilize extremely powerful opponents such as Thor with her techniques). With an awareness spanning eras and light years, watching over the balance of galaxies and cosmic beings, Mantis is now something infinitely more than the mere physicall shell containing her, a creature with an ever-expanding mind who barely remembers having been human once.

Wong

wongfilmAnother trailer for the upcoming Doctor Strange has been released, and we finally got a first look at the last one among the main characters: Wong, who’ll be portrayed by Benedict Wong (quite a irony here). Wong will be one of the Masters of the Mystic Arts, and quite of a drill sergeant for the newcomer Stephen Strange…a real twist compared to the original version, that saw him as a butler and valet for Strange, certainly not an accomplished sorcerer. He already appeared in the first Dr. Strange movie, portrayed by Clyde Kusatsu: this version followed the original source closer, and Wong was introduced as Thomas Lindmer‘s servant, ready to resume his duty with Lindmer’s successor, Strange. Waiting to see how this new and tougher Wong will work out, let’s take a look at the original one, the life-long friend and servant of Doctor Strange.

Wong was born in an ancient family, the son of Hamir the Hermit: for centuries, since his ancestor Kan (a legendary monk with knowledge of the occult), the firstborn males of the family were sent to serve the Ancient One in his palace in Kamar-TajTibet. When he was only four years old, Wong was called to Kamar-Taj to train, so that he would have been able to take his father’s place when he died. Wong was kept in a remote monastery, learning martial arts and a variety of other skills that would have helped him in serving a master sorcerer, one day. His family could visit him only seldomly, and during one of these occasions his mother brought to him a young couple: the woman was pregnant, and Wong was promised to her unborn daughter in marriage. Finally, with his training complete, Wong was introduced to the Ancient One himself, the immortal magician who watched over Earth against mystic threats. What the Ancient One demanded from him, however, was not to stay in Kamar-Taj to serve him, as his father did, but to travel to New York City, in the United States, to serve his disciple, Stephen Strange, who had wongcomics1just made his first steps as an accomplished sorcerer. Wong obeyed his master, and was the first one in his family to leave Tibet and to go to America: he reached Doctor Strange in his mansion, the Sancta Sanctorum, in the Greenwich Village, where he offered his services to the sorcerer and was welcomed as a friend and a precious advisor by the magician. To most people visiting the Sanctorum, Wong was the wise but silent butler of Strange, a constant presence in the sorcerer’s mansion whose main function was to serve tea to the sorcerer’s guests and to politely send unwanted visitors away. In truth, Wong was a precious ally to Strange, helping him to face many of his enemies with his extensive knowledge of the occult, and even to defeat them with his martial arts expertise (albeit he used violence less often than during his time in Tibet). With time, the relationship between master and servant grew closer and closer, until they became true friends.

The true extent of Strange’s affection for Wong became plain the moment the manservant was kidnapped by the Shadowqueen, an otherdimensional sorceress who brought him to her realm to use him as an energy source. Without hesitation, Strange ran to the rescue, even taking a huge risk in opening a portal to Shadowqueen’s dimension: once there, the sorcerer freed his friend, and Wong aided him in defeating the witch, vanquishing the threat she represented. They came back together to Earth, and soon Strange succeeded to the Ancient One as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, becoming the ultimate defender of our dimension against mystic threats. Wong kept serving Strange at the peak of his capacities, even aiding his now many allies (New York’s superheroes, from the Avengers to the street-level ones like Spider-Man or Daredevil) when it came to supernatural foes, advising them and even practically helping them when Strange wasn’t available. Unfortunately, Wong got abducted once again, this time along with an empath, Topaz: the culprit was the alien sorcerer Urthona, who tried to force Wong to reveal the secrets of some texts and amulets he had stolen from Strange. When Wong refused, Urthona disfigured and tortured him. Once again, Strange came to his friend’s aid, but to prevent Urthona from using the artifacts he had stolen he preferred to destroy them (they were actually sucked in the wongcomics2dimension of the mystical being Agamotto). With Urthona defeated, Topaz healed Wong’s injuries and even restored his face…but the artifacts’ removal had caused an unwanted chain reaction, as they mantained several spells that were holding back a number of other mystical menaces. In order to defeat each demon he had set free without any hindrance, Strange casted a spell on the entire world to make everybody on the planet believe he was dead, Wong included. The loyal manservant was left in charge of the Sancta Sanctorum, and kept providing mystical aid to the heroes needing it…needless to say, when Strange defeated the last demon, Shuma-Gorath, and came back, Wong was overjoyed to see his master and friend alive and well, and resumed his position at his side. Knowing what it was like to lose his master, Wong was now more determined than ever to protect him the best he could.

Wong is a wise man, a servant of a few words, who makes every word spelled meaningful. He’s fiercely loyal to the Ancient One and to Doctor Strange, and he’s always ready to give his life for them (albeit his respect for his masters doesn’t prevent him from being pretty ironic in dealing with Strange). Wong is an accomplished martial artist, able to repel through physical means only even mystical foes like The Hood, a servant of Dormammu; he’s also a rookie magician, who learnt much from observing Strange and who’s able to cast even powerful spells, if guided (this even led him to be considered as a replacement for Strange as Sorcerer Supreme by Agamotto). Brave and loyal to a fault, Wong is the irrepleaceable companion, friend, advisor, aid and servant of Earth’s most powerful sorcerer…and that says quite a lot.