"Change...growth...power." This was not only the mystical mantra used by the heroine of the same name, it also seemed to define the driving themes of the series itself. Power was certainly a central theme...Mantra's mystic abilities were at the heart of her adventures. Indeed, they allowed her to take her place as one of the premiere Ultra-heros in the Ultraverse. Similarly, change was another central theme of the series. In many ways, the book was about change...a man turned into a woman, a warrior into a wizard, a soldier into a nurturing mother. But perhaps the most interesting theme that was explored was growth, and this was most evident in seeing how Mantra's personality evolved over time.

Mantra's opinion of change, growth and powerLukasz was the consummate soldier. Recruited 1500 years ago by Archimage to aid in his war against Boneyard, he was accustomed to giving and receiving orders, and enduring unpleasant situations. He was also a classic male chauvinist, an attitude that fifteen centuries as a man doubtless helped to reinforce. In fact, these personality traits in many ways help to explain Lukasz's stubborn resistance to accept his female body for such a long time. To him, womanhood wasn't something to be accepted, it was a hardship to be endured. And as a soldier, he prided himself on his ability to endure any hardship.

Mantra offers Warstrike a handshake
When "thank you" just isn't enough
(Click for full page)

Lukasz certainly didn't like being treated as a woman, largely because he hated to be constantly reminded of his new "condition." But interestingly, his attitudes towards women didn't change much even after he had been a woman for some time. He continued to see his body as "useless," even after he had won several battles, and when Eden's spirit appeared to him, he was immediately attracted to her even though he really knew almost nothing about her...he was fixated on her physical beauty. These attitudes would also made for some of the series' more comic moments...Lukasz's efforts dealing with the day-to-day trials of womanhood--high heels, men, even feminine hygiene--certainly provided some amusing situations. ("Excuse me, honey...would you know if this product leaves you feeling rainforest fresh?" "I don't know, lady! I don't want to know!")

So where was the growth? Well, it was there, believe me. One of the most interesting parts of the book was having a 1500-year-old warrior having to deal with a situation with which he had absolutely no experience: being a single working mother of two. Being Mantra was almost second nature to Lukasz--fighting Boneyard's forces was something he had plenty of experience with. But balancing a superhero career with taking care of the kids and working for Aladdin was completely uncharted territory.

Mantra looks in the mirrorLukasz's guard did drop from time to time. When confronted with a dying comrade in Mantra #14, Mantra kissed the man good-bye, remembering how it feels to die alone. And after Eden dies, Lukasz vows to take care of her children in honor of her memory. At this point, once Lukasz realizes that she be a woman for the rest of her life, the character really turned a corner. Although she would still backslide occasionally (looking at women "with a man's eye," for instance--1500-year-old habits die hard), her relationships with the kids and people around her did start to change in subtle ways, and this change in attitude promised even more growth for the character.

Future Directions

The series was cut short at this point, due to the Marvel buyout of Malibu. This was especially unfortunate since Mantra had really just come to accept the fact that she was in fact a woman. Of course, that also raised the specter of sex, which probably worried Marvel. Not only was Mantra a "woman in a man's body," but there was a good possibility that she might be attracted to other women.

ElectroCute and Mantra kissingGiven the subject matter, it's interesting that Mantra's sexual orientation had never really been an issue up until that point. Although she still considered herself a man (and was therefore attracted to women), she refused to pursue any kind of romantic relationship, even when opportunities presented themselves. Her steadfast belief that her femininity was merely a temporary condition allowed her to remain celibate and unattached.

However, with her new acceptance of her gender, that was no longer an excuse. Personally, I don't have a strong opinion as to what kind of romantic partners she would have or should have pursued, but it would have been interesting to see what happened. Frankly, after 1500 years of conflict I think she'd earned an opportunity to be happy, and it would have been fun to see how that played out.

The other direction for the character I would have liked was to have seen her finally admit to herself that she really was better off in her new situation. One of the most infuriating (and interesting) parts of her personality was her continual self-denial. She would never have admitted she was at all better off as a woman, and even after she had accepted that she was female, she never really came out and admitted it. What I wanted was a few months later for her to finally come across a way to become a man again--and then turn it down. This final bit of closure would have brought an end to her constant search for a way to regain her masculinity, and allowed her to realize that she was better off. I'm sure that in time there would have been such a scene, and it would have added another layer to an already wonderfully complex character.

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