How Did Marvel Redeem Its Worst Avenger?

Today, we look at how Swordsman was ultimately redeemed as a member of the Avengers.

This is "Always Kind of Wondered," a feature spotlighting instances from comics where a comic book writer has clearly said, "Hey, why doesn't Character X ever do Action Y?" The sort of things that typically occur when comic book fans grow up to become comic book writers, which wasn't really a thing until the mid-1960s.

As I wrote about yesterday, the Swordsman had one of the weirdest stories involving a character joining the Avengers ever. He first showed up and tried to attack the team to prove that they should add him to the team (so that he could take advantage of the access being an Avenger would give him). They defeat his attack and then he tried to claim hat he was just testing them. Captain America then saw that he was a wanted criminal and told him, "No way." Then Hawkeye found out that he was there and explained that Swordsman had been his old mentor and had actually taught him archery but tried to kill him when young Hawkeye found out Swordsman was a crook. So they REALLY weren't going to let him join then. But then he captured Captain America and said that he would kill him unless they let him join (and made him leader of the team). What the what?

The Mandarin then kidnapped Swordsman and used a fake hologram of Iron Man to manipulate the Avengers into letting Swordsman join, mostly because they wanted to keep an eye on him as they assumed that his membership was some sort of scam. However, they all missed him actually planting a bomb that would have killed them all! Luckily for them, hanging out with these heroes made him feel bad about murdering them all, so he tried to remove the bomb, at which point the Avengers thought he was PLACING the bomb and attacked him. He escaped and got rid of the bomb, but he was now wanted by the Avengers for seemingly trying to kill them AND wanted by the Mandarin for betraying him (as shown in Avengers #20 by Don Heck, Stan Lee and Wallace Wood)....

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SWORDSMAN RETURNED TO VILLAINY

Don Heck and Stan Lee quickly forgot about their redemption arc that they set up for Swordsman (one thing you could never accuse the Don Heck/Stan Lee Avengers of being was planned out in ahead) and so in Avengers #29 (by Heck, Lee and Frank Giacoia), a brainwashed Black Widow finds Swordsman now working in a circus...

She recruits him to get revenge on the Avengers, which is something he apparently wants? I guess? Weird, right?

He and Power Man then begin their LONG stint as being interchangeable minions for various bad guys for the next fifty issues or so...

SWORDSMAN RETURNS TO THE AVENGERS BECAUSE ROY THOMAS IS A STICKLER FOR COMPLETE SETS

In Avengers #100, the hook of the story was that all of the Avengers who ever were members get back together to help stop an invasion of Earth by Ares. Roy Thomas is one of the masters of comic book continuity and obviously Thomas knew that every (living) member of the Avengers included Swordsman, so he had the villain decide to help defend his planet alongside the other Avengers...

Sowrdsman's role in the issue is almost non-existent, but it's funny how he calls Captain America "Cap" like they're old buddies...

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MANTIS HELPS SWORDSMAN REDEEM HIMSELF

Roy Thomas was the master of comic book continuity (is the master of comic book continuity? Whatever, Roy Thomas is great. He's still one of the greatest comic book historians around) but in the early 1970s, Marvel added another young writer who was one of the few other writers who was in Thomas' echelon when it came to continuity and that was Steve Englehart, who succeeded Thomas as the writer on the Avengers and if anyone would recall that Swordsman had a redemption arc that had been set up and never actually used, it would be Englehart.

In Avengers #112 (by Englehart, Don Heck and Frank Bolle), we meet a mysterious woman named Mantis who has a traveling companion who learns that Hawkeye had recently quit the Avengers. They decide to try to join the Avengers...

In the next issue, with Bob Brown now on pencils, they continue their journey to the Avengers...

In Avengers #114 (Mike Esposito now on inks), Mantis helps Scarlet Witch beat up some jerks and she invites Mantis to the Avengers Mansion where Captain America chides her for letting a stranger past their security (who is Cap kidding? The Avengers were terrible with security for YEARS at this point)...

Well, to seemingly prove his point, Mantis turns out to have brought Swordsman with her! Yep, HE was her mysterious traveling companion! And now they want to join the Avengers!

Cap rightfully thinks that it is a terrible idea, but Scarlet Witch makes some weird point about prejudice and argues for their inclusion...

Bizarrely, Iron Man and Thor agreed (I think they really just thought Mantis was hot) and so Mantis and Swordsman are allowed on to the team and actually end up serving with distinction...

However, during the "Celestial Madonna" story arc, Kang captured the Avengers except for Swordsman, as Kang didn't even want to bother with the reformed villain, deeming him useless. Swordsman proved Kang wrong as he helped rescue the rest of the Avengers (working with Kang's counterpart in time, Rama-Tut) and in Giant-Size Avengers #2 (by Englehart and Dave Cockrum), Swordsman sacrifices himself to save Mantis from a fatal energy blast...

He dies in her arms in front of the other Avengers, who have all let him know that he had already fully redeemed himself...

Mantis later sort of marries Swordsman' re-animated corpse but, well, as they say, that's a story for another day.

We shall see if the version of the Swordsman who is on this season of Hawkeye on Disney+ will have a similar redemption arc!

If anyone else has a suggestion for a future edition of Always Kind of Wondered, drop me a line at [email protected]!

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Brian Cronin (15141 Articles Published)

CBR Senior Writer Brian Cronin has been writing professionally about comic books for over a dozen years now at CBR (primarily with his “Comics Should Be Good” series of columns, including Comic Book Legends Revealed). He has written two books about comics for Penguin-Random House – Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed and Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia! and one book, 100 Things X-Men Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, from Triumph Books. His writing has been featured at ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, About.com, the Huffington Post and Gizmodo. He features legends about entertainment and sports at his website, Legends Revealed and other pop culture features at Pop Culture References. Follow him on Twitter at @Brian_Cronin and feel free to e-mail him suggestions for stories about comic books that you'd like to see featured at [email protected]!

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