The cover blurb atop The Forever People #2 hollers, “Stop, Mantis! is the cry of a great city — at the mercy of an evil power vampire!” Combined with the Apokolips villain’s quintessential Kirby pose — hands thrust toward the reader, crouched and ready to spring, Mantis is one impressive character, a worthy bad guy joining Darkseid’s growing roster of super-powered lieutenants!
But, still, when we first meet the brilliantly-colored (a sweet complementary mix of yellow-&-green) costumed enemy of The Forever People, he’s shown in vivid close-up, giving out “a scream of awesome terror!!” Darkseid minions are yanking him out of his coffin-like Power-Pod, treating him impudently and with disdain. “Out of your Power-Pod, Mantis!” says one. “Did you think to hide from Darkseid?” barks another. “Don’t rouse me!” yelps Mantis in protest. “It is not time! My body will lose its precious gain of voltage!” Throwing him at the feet of the ruler of Apokolips, a henchmen orders, “Don’t whine! You are in our master’s presence!”
Cravenly cringing before Darkseid, the weak baddie begs Darkseid to concede that Mantis is loyal. “Am I not one with you — and all who live on Apokolips?” The Master of the Holocaust grants, “You are a creature of great power, Mantis! But your biology ever betrays you!” Seems Mantis has prematurely taken the Boom Tube to Earth in the hopes of securing the planet for his own. Like a petulant child, Mantis yaps, “Earth is mine! Mine! I came here first! You have no right –” Before ordering Mantis back to his pod and to “Unleash the terrors of the night! Make man gringe! Make him tremble — Make him fear!” Darkseid tells his underling he can have our planet, for the King of Evil is only interested in extracting the greatest prize of all, the Anti-Life Equation… and Earth be damned!
A few pages later, we are witness to a familiar scene from many a vampire movie, this one expertly atmospheric courtesy of Jack’s artistry: A bell tower clock rings midnight, eerie sounds whistle through cemetery trees and we see an ominous sarcophagus in an underground crypt. Suddenly the lid is opened from the inside and we hear sinister boasting, “It is time! My powers are at maximum charge! — And the city waits — for the coming of Mantis! Here, I shall carve out the kingdom I am destined for! Against all foes!”
Yep, we see Darkseid’s point: Mantis is wildly ambitious and will, I’ve little doubt, become one day a threat to seize the throne of Apokolips itself, and it’s a relentless drive we are exposed in all of his appearances in the Fourth World saga. This vampire “bug” wants it all and then some!
Immediately Mantis shows his terrific power (derived where from, I’m not exactly sure, but he needs time to recharge his batteries and, in this story at least, works best at night), which is to detonate minute anti-matter particles in things and to infuse material with incredible amounts of destructive energy. “AAAA — the power surges inside me — rushing to get out! — And destroys what my fingers touch!” And who needs to use the stairs when he can tunnel through rock in mere seconds! Zowie!
(In fact, in the full-page Jack devotes to Mantis in The New Gods #2, featured during the “Mother Box” sequence when Orion shows his newly acquired Earth comrades the threat Darkseid and his ilk pose to poor old Mother Earth, the character is referred to as “the awesome digger,” and perhaps is responsible for the network of underground tunnels noted by Metron in NG #1: “[Darkseid] and his power elite are now on Earth — creating a tube network beneath its great cities! Soon they will be able to reach any spot on that globe!”)
Watching teevee, Serifan catches a news report of Mantis’s rampage through the city, and the team, knowing full well of the villain and his destructive abilities, beckons forth The Infinity Man to do battle. (The amalgamated hero seems to possess a Sixth Sense, unnoticed until now by yours truly, as he says while flying into action, “This city is besieged! My mind reaches out for the thought waves of the aggressor! … I can sense his fiery hunger for conquest and power!“)
Mantis wrecks havoc in Metropolis and he and The Infinity Man duke it out. We discover Mantis has the ability to also produce fire and ice from his finger tips, as he freezes the sixth member of The Forever People in a block of frozen water and subsequently sends “rivers of flowing heat” cascading down the side of a building, engulfing a city block in flames. Our hero finally figures how to escape the giant ice cube, and then, after touching IM, detonating “Anti-matter blasts through your very being,” Mantis crouches over his prey and brings his hands together in the villain’s classic posture, harking to his insect namesake’s pose just before striking the lethal blow (and there’s a Dracula vibe present in the theatrics, as well!)… Awesome!
But — a-HA! — The Infinity Man, takes advantage of the Apokolips denizen’s vanity and socks him but good. “You hesitated to gloat, Mantis! It was your undoing! Try this Infini-Beam! It will release your stored energy in one vast rush!” Mantis (who has the ability to fly, by the way) careens wildly out of control and, drained of his power (which, he boasted, had the capacity to “shatter star systems!”), he scampers back to his Power-Pod to lick his wounds and hatch another plan to conquer his coveted dominion, Earth!
Before they combine as The Infinity Man to engage the villain in battle, the other Forever People are sitting around Uncle Willie’s dining table when Serifan rushes in to tell them the news report of the riotous Mantis, and Mark Moonrider makes a curious remark, one we won’t fully understand until the villain’s reappearance, late in The New Gods run. “He is feared as much as Darkseid himself,” yelps Beautiful Dreamer’s boyfriend. Sure, we see Mantis as a formidable opponent, with terrific power… but one with equal power to strike the same terror as Darkseid in the hearts of the nightmare planet’s inhabitants? Alas, we finally comprehend Moonrider’s exclamation during the horrific events of the “Bug” two-part epic over in Orion’s comic book quite a few months later…
For, in the closing blurb, trumpeting the next issue’s contents, of The New Gods #9, we read:
If dreams can come true — so can nightmares!!! In fact, they’re coming!!! By the thousands! By millions! — Armies without number! — Led by Mantis!! — with a lust for power! — and a claim to — Earth — the Doomed Dominion
In NG #9, it is revealed that there is a somewhat sinister subculture ruling the underground of New Genesis, one born during the Great Clash, when Darkseid’s forces infested Izaya the Inheritor’s planet with “bacterial monsters” which “fester and play” under the surface. As the issue begins:
War is a process of violent, never-ending beginnings! What once began as the first ‘Great Clash’ between the new gods — also began bacteriological attack!! — The spreading of toxic ‘micro-life’ as a ‘destructant’! This life did not end with the ‘Clash’! It festered! It grew! It evolved! And it was different!!!“
We learn these humanoid insects litter the world with innumerable colonies (called Mounds) that are constantly warring with one another over food. When these “Bugs” come to the surface they are at risk of murderous insecticides which are spread by Highfather’s flying Monitors. Each hive is ruled, it appears, by an “All-Widow” and her second-in-command, a dominant male called “Prime One.”
During a particularly intense battle between Forager’s colony and another, Mantis appears to turn the tide in favor of the brood of the unsuspecting new god. “The battle is over! — The enemy beaten!” exclaims Forager, with other voices adding, “But not without the aid of Mantis!” And another, “His arrival decided our victory!!!” Striking his trademark “preying mantis” pose, Mantis bellows, “For the power was in these limbs, my kin –! Power granted to me by a mighty ally! And now, this ally grants to me a new and large dominion! A place of abundance and food! A place where our kind can rule!! Harken to Mantis! — For he can show you that place!!”
For, in service to Darkseid and his own lust to rule planet Earth, Mantis has arrived on New Genesis to unite the colonies and invade our world with thousands — millions — of Bugs! “Other colonies have joined me,” he persuasively tells Forager’s colony, “to create a create army!! Join this swelling host! — And see wonder upon wonders!” Mantis leads his hordes into the Boom Tube and they blanket Metropolis, a huge infestation of “bugs” threatening human existence.
Before the great invasion, in the splash page blurb, we get a hint of Mantis’s origin:
Beneath the world of New Genesis are the burrows that support the strange species the gods refer to as ‘Bugs’! Countless numbers of them, savage and restless, are stirring within their great colony, known as the mound! A powerful force has returned among them! He lies now in his Power-Pod — generating and building the immense cosmic charges — with which he will lead his legions against Earth — the doomed dominion
Combined with his use of the word “kin” when first arriving on New Genesis, I reckon it’s fair to surmise Mantis is actually born of New Genesis, only now returning to the bosom of his species to seize control and use the Bugs of Orion’s world for his and Darkseid’s evil purposes. “We go to Earth!” Mantis vows, “And there Mantis will make you the masters!! There you shall rule instead of run!” To the cheers, he adds, “Hear further! Hear how this war between Apokolips and New Genesis will end with victory — for us!!” A voice in the multitude cries out, “Great Darkseid of Apokolips is our ally! And when he wins this war — we win!!” Responds the energy vampire, “Yes, you win powers such as he’s given Mantis! Each of you will rule a part of Earth with these powers! Now, follow me! Follow Mantis! To war! To Earth! — To victory!”
Good lord, what a sight it is to see Mantis’s swarm enveloping Metropolis! But rather than to describe what transpires, suffice to say Orion and Mantis wage a terrific slugfest — “The entire city is then witness to a battle of titans! Fierce gods, lashing out in terrible fury!” — and Lightray thwarts the invasion with Mantis and his minions forced to travel back through the Boom Tube.
There’s a curious incident in “Even Gods Must Die,” after Darkseid resurrects Kalibak and others from his elite back from the dead. “Steppenwolf is back!” Darkseid notes. “Now… resurrect Mantis!” And, a little while later, we see a relatively mindless Mantis, hands in shackles, craving to do battle. That’s the last we see of the villain and it frankly begs the question: Why did Mantis have to be resurrected as when last we saw, he was escaping into a Boom Tube, very much alive, presumably returning to New Genesis. I don’t think it’s ever explained but I’ll betcha that Mantis might well have gotten too big for his britches and made it to the wrong end of Darkseid’s lethal Omega Effect. I mean, think of it: Mantis has a foothold on both Apokolips and New Genesis, and commands quite possibly the largest army on any of the three worlds. Like the full-pager in NG #2 describes, “Mantis, whose mammoth power rivals that of Darkseid himself…”; ya can’t imagine the ruler of Apokolips would’ve tolerated him for too much longer…
All that said, Mantis is a superb addition to the mythos and one impressive villain.