Celestial Madonna: Timothy Leary didn’t write it, but he could have

I mentioned recently that I’ve been reading a comic book called GODLAND, written by Joe Casey and drawn by Tom Scioli. The book is drawn in the classic Jack Kirby style, and written in the cosmic adventure genre done so well by guys like Kirby, Steve Englehart, and Jim Starlin. Some GODLAND fans have even created a site devoted to the comic at godlandonline.com.

One of the hip features of the fan site is a regular column by writer Joe Casey called The Genre, in which he explores the world of classic “cosmic comics.” In the first edition, Casey paid homage to Steve Englehart’s “Celestial Madonna” storyline, which ran in The Avengers from 1974-75.

It’s very, very hard to write a simple synopsis of the storyline, mostly because I’m not in possession of whatever mind-altering substances Mr. Englehart was using back in the day. Suffice it to say that the story begins with the appearance of a mystical star glowing above Avengers Mansion, and ends with the character Mantis marrying a tree. Yup — a tree. (Insert sound of bong hit here.)

On Mr. Casey’s recommendation, I asked Andy at Comics Etc. to order the Celestial Madonna trade paperback collection for me. I finished it this morning. Yoikes! This thing was written back in the day when comic book dialgue made George Lucas sound like David Mamet. As Carrie Fisher said of George’s scripts: “You can write that stuff, but you can’t say it.” The Celestial Madonna collection takes that adage even further — you can barely read some of this stuff, let alone say it out loud. That is not an indictment, particularly if you grew up reading comics in the 70’s, as I did. Sure, things have come a long way, but it’s still cool as heck to sink deep into the pages (and pages and pages and pages and pages…) of ridiculous narration and even more ridiculous dialogue.

I was never a big Avengers fan, although I did collect West Coast Avengers for a while in the 80’s. The version of the Avengers featured in Celestial Madonna includes Thor, Iron Man, The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Mantis, and the Swordsman, along with appearances by Hawkeye, Nomad (the former — and future — Captain America) … and every villain Marvel could dig up and dust off. The main heavy is Kang The Conqueror, and that means that our heroes will be traveling through time. They do, visiting the past and the future, and even making a pit-stop in Limbo (!) to fight the likes of Frankenstein’s Monster and WWII-era villain Baron Zemo.

If your head is already spinning just from reading this, imagine how reading all 224 pages must feel!

It was worth it, though. I’m really getting into the whole cosmic adventure thing, and it’s fun to bone up on my cosmic history while enjoying modern treasures such as GODLAND and the equally brilliant Fear Agent, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Tony Moore.

As a teaser, I’ll tell you that I have my own GODLAND project planned, and that it won’t be in the form of a comic book. Stay tuned, true believer…