Prester John and the Evil Eye of Avalon
In the Marvel Universe, Prester John first appeared in a 1966 Fantastic Four story.
Marvel-ified versions of ancient European legends certainly were a thing back then. With the most visible example being Thor (Thor Odinson).
The Prester John tale apparently began circa 1150, in a letter to the Pope — Epistola presbyteri Johannis.
The Seljuk Turco-Persians had turned the Second Crusade into a bloody failure. Christendom now feared conquests by Turks and Moors.
The epistolera had supposedly been sent by a great Christian King, ruling over a vast realm in India. 72 lesser Kings answered to him, the place was a wealthy and powerful paradise, all sorts of fantastic creatures (such as griffins and red lions) lived there, he was a devout Nestorian…
Basically, Wakanda for European Christians.
The tale grows
The letter was extensively translated, with Presbyteri Johannis thus becoming Prêtre Jean (French), Prester John, Jon Præst (Danish), Offeiriad leuan (Welsh), Joan präst (Swedish), etc..
As time went by, additional material piled onto his realm – often traits found in previous imaginary lands. The Prester also featured in fake travel/exploration accounts.
Finding this realm became a preoccupation for European explorers going Eastward, such as Marco Polo. Surely the fantastic King would help his fellow Christians, majestically maul Muslim militaries, and bring relief.
As the Mysterious Orient™ became better known, the Kingdom of Prester John was conveniently retconnedMaking changes to a character or story after the fact. to be in Africa. This helped drive more exploration, exploitation, and colonisation.
Prester John didn’t appear much in the Marvel Universe. But what material exists… oohhh booyyy.
It’s full of unexplained things, time travel, uncertainties, other realities and History. He’s a particularly weird corner of the Marvel Universe, this one.
Furthermore, this article covers the Eye of Avalon as well as Prester John.
So let’s do this as a three-parter to have room to clearly explain things.
- Prester John and the Evil Eye of Avalon 1/3. This here article.
- Prester John and the Evil Eye of Avalon 2/3.
- Prester John and the Evil Eye of Avalon 3/3.
- Real Name: Johann.
- Former Aliases: The Wanderer, The Keeper of Memories.
- Known Relatives: Nope.
- Group Affiliation: King Richard I’s Crusaders, Cable’s Providence community, Four Muses of Eurth. Possibly the Omega Council.
- Base of Operations: Mobile through time and space.
- Height: 6’1″ (1.85m). Weight: 210 lbs. (95 Kg.).
- Eyes: Blue. Hair: Red.
Right as I started pondering about appropriate music for this, my faithful MusicBee played one of my favourite Loreena McKennitt songs, and it’s a perfect fit.
I love it when a plan comes together.
Powers & Abilities
Prester John is a trained XIIth Century European mounted infantryman. He generally fought with a broadsword, chainmail hauberk, pot helmet and horse.
He’s a proficient fighter. Prester John can overcome Deadpool in melee, though he had the advantage in strength and powers. He also had no problem slugging it out with Iron Man and the Thing.
The Prester studied what he claims was a “true history” of the world, written by the wizards of Avalon.
Johann usually wields the Evil Eye, and once wielded the Stone of Power. These two artifacts will be described in their own section.
According to John
Johann never had any issue conversing with anyone, no matter what language they were speaking. And he instantly knew XXth Century English ‘pon waking up.
It is also likely that he didn’t age normally. One caption tells us that he spent 700 years in suspended animation. If that’s literal, then Johann was about 90 when he was awakened, yet he looked to be in his mid-30s.
Johann once blessed and poured water on a sword, thus allowing it to harm a magical fire projection. But this may not have been “holy water” per se, and more akin to a magical ritual to augment a blade against magical constructs.
He occasionally has access to his Avalonian Survival Chair. It is primarily a suspended animation device, but it can also fly around all Metron-like.
None that lives can pronounce “Nicieza”
In 2005, John was markedly larger – a bit more than 7′ (2.13m). Or even 8′ (2.44m), depending on the panel.
He also was stronger than Deadpool, who has a low level of superhuman strength.
At this point Johann wore scale armour instead of chain – and it could take close-range handgun fire. My sense is that it required superhuman strength to wear.
His super-weapon looked different, but it seems that it still was the Evil Eye.
He wore as a pendant a large, cut, red gemstone. Given his history with finding potent artefacts, one suspects that this stone may have been the reason for his newfound size and strength.
(There might also be a link with the jewel Cornell Cottonmouth once wore. But to be clear, it’s just an amusing parallel between two No-Prize HypothesesA made-up explanation to plug a plot hole..)
Back to the future
What *seems* to have been a version of Johann coming from the future also could :
- Sense across time and dimensionsOther realms of existence that are not our universe. what happens to the Eye of Avalon. In particular, when it is reconstructed.
- Telekinetically take control of it. He remotely yanked it from another man’s hand to land into his own.
- *Possibly* travel through time. Though my sense is that it was done by a third party or device.
Other abilities we’re not certain exist on Earth-616The main Marvel Comics version of Earth. will be discussed further down. Because you need to know the context first.
All that remains of the wondrous age of Avalon is this weapon
The “Evil Eye” is a wand ending with a broad, shrouded, eye-shaped lens. It is operated via buttons along the handle.
Its proper name seems to be “the Eye of Avalon”.
The Eye was seemingly created by the druid Amergin, of the dimensional island of Avalon.
Never mind the Balor
By itself the Eye is powerless. However, it absorbed the entire power of Balor of the Evil Eye, one of the Fomorians.
(Morgan le Fay’s analysis was that it actually had drained but a portion of Balor’s evil eye energy. And that this power then multiplied within the artefact over time. She seems to be more correct.)
The Fomorians (or Fomors, or Fomores) were monstrous spirits of Ireland. They were eventually supplanted by another pantheon, the Tuatha da Danaan. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Titans and the Gods of Olympus.
In the Marvel Universe, both the Fomors and the Tuatha are “gods” in the sense that the Asgardians (like Thor) or the Olympians (like Zeus) are.
But Balor was special. His power level was markedly higher than that of most Ancient Celtic gods and spirits.
Evil Eye overdrive
The Evil Eye has a sort of “on” button, making it accumulate power that can be spent by using it.
But once it has been used it is imperative to press the safety button. Or the device will continue to accumulate power until it explodes, with the power of a nuclear bomb.
It will also detonate if used at full power.
If it explodes, the indestructible Eye splits into six matriochka-like fragments. According to Dr. Strange, six was a sacred number for its creators. These fragments will burrow under the earth at immense speed, and each reemerge in some random, faraway land.
(We only clearly see it do that once. But I’m going to assume that it’s what happens every time we see the Eye getting destroyed).
Evil Eye attacks
The Eye can project potent energy beams. Demonstrated applications :
- Concussive force. This can also be used to slow down a fall.
- A bullet-shaped force field extending forward. Basically the same thing, but good at also pushing opponents back.
- Disintegration. When used against rock, metal and stone, the Eye could make untold thousands of tonnes of matter vanish.
- Forming an “unbreakable shield”. This is a dome or bubble of impervious material that can trap several persons. How “unbreakable” is it ? Well, it could hold the Silver Surfer.
- Absorbing great magical power. An out-of-control Eye once absorbed the dread Dormammu – since as an occult principality, he can be considered raw magical energy. Johann also was confident he could absorb lightning from Thor’s hammer.
- Returning multiple time travellers to their native era. The Eye may have other very limited, niche time travel capabilities.
The Eye can also club with tremendous force. But the Prester usually fights at a range – except when he was in Providence.
Evil Eye miscellanea
Sweeping beams can also terraform large areas. Maybe the equivalent of one soccer field per second.
It works even better than Votan tech. Not only can it instantly remove, add or transform vast amounts of terrain, but it can also have fantastic creatures appear ex nihiloLatin for “from thin air”..
The Eye can also be used as a sensor of exotic energies. But it has a short range, and lacks deep analytical capabilities.
Evil Eye magic
The Eye can also be used to power high-end magical rituals.
- Dormammu once used it to expand the Dark Dimension until it engulfed the Earth Dimension.
- Dr. Strange (Stephen Strange) once used it to repair tremendous damage done across Earth. Whether that included resurrections is unrevealed.
- It could be used to seal the gateway between the Dark Realm and Avalon. However, this required using the full power of the Eye, thus making it explode. In fact, I suspect it was not so much a Ritual than detonating the Eye to nuke the gateway.
- Reconstruct Balor.
In 2005, the Evil Eye looked different, and John referred to it as the “Stellar Rod”.
However, he clearly stated that it was the same weapon he had used against the Fantastic Four and Thor.
This loosely suggests that the Eye may have reconstructed itself in a slightly different shape after having been destroyed, split in six, and reassembled.
History (part 1)
The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A to Z adds what seems to be original data about Prester John. That is, this information is not found in primary sources .
This material seems derived from The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (a.k.a. the Livre des merveilles du monde, par Jehan de Mandeville). Which is an important text from the 1300s that tells tales of Prester John.
Main points :
- He was born circa 1170 in Pentoxere, in Eastern Asia.
- “Pentoxere” is one of the realms ruled by Prester John in the tales. It’s the kingdom with the talking birds, IIRC.
- This implies that Johann, the Marvel character, isn’t the mythical Prester John. However, because Johann is a time traveller, I wouldn’t be too certain about that.
- It also means that some form of the mythical Prester John’s realm once existed in the Marvel Universe’s Eastern Asia.
- Johann is reputedly descended from one of the Biblical Magi .
Johann came to serve Richard I of England, a.k.a. Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199, became King in 1189).
It was stated that Johann served the king “from time to time”. So he might have worked for him in France, since Richard spent much of his life in Aquitaine. But it’s more likely that they met in 1992.
(The Third Crusade was a European attempt at rolling back the conquests of Saladin (Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf) in the Middle East. The expedition led by Frederick Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire was a failure, but the Anglo-French expedition was a partial success. Coastal Palestine was therefore occupied by Christian forces led by Richard I of England and Philip II of France.)
In 1192, Johann seemed to be a young man, perhaps 17. He was part of the English expedition to Palestine. He had an obvious German accent, and stated that he was “almost” a priest. Likely meaning there hadn’t been an ordination yet.
He allied with the Black Knight (Dane Whitman) to foil assassins sent by the Old Man of the Mountain (Hassan-i Sabbāh) after King Richard.
In the end, it was Johann’s pouring of holy water on the Knight’s blade that defeated the fiery wraith magically projected by the Master of the Assassins.
Johann reportedly continued to work with Richard from time to time, until the King’s death in 1199.
A traveller from an antique land
Once his service was over, Johann resumed travelling the Earth. The flashback panels show him :
- In Egypt.
- In a Middle-Eastern country with airships, which Johann called flying carpets due to the shape of their helium bag. This likely means that in the Marvel Universe, part of the disintegrating Seljuk Empire, in an area now in Iraq or Iran, had some sort of super-engineer. Who invented blimps 700 years early.
- In “the land of the endless snow”, he fought abominable snowmen. I’d imagine it was Tibet, and these were the same guys who ended up as neighbours to Attilan once it moved to the Everest area.
- In Cathay — China — he was shown rocket launchers. Historically this would significantly precede records of such weapons. But it’s not unbelievable – gunpowder was well-established when Johann visited, in 1200-ish.
- Beyond the “angry sea”, he met “a tribe who studied the stars”. These folks insisted that the Earth was an ovaloid.
My completely unsupported guess is that the “angry sea” referred to the Roaring Forties , and Johann ended up in contact with a Tiwanaku colony that endured after the fall of their empire.
But Johann’s greatest discovery was “the fabled isle of Avalon”.
In the second third we’re going to discuss Avalon, the bulk of Prester John’s modern biography, and the Stone of Power.
Source of Character: Yonder Marveille Comicks.
Writeup completed on the 28th of June, 2021.