Monday, December 26, 2016

Unearthly Visions Special - Kurt Busiek

I've made it no secret that Kurt Busiek's run in the Avengers, partnered first with the great George Perez and later with the legendary Alan Davis, is one of my favorite periods in Avengers history. The first issue of Avengers volume 3 is one of that hallmarks of the mainstream comic book industry returning to a standard of solid, proportionate art and nuanced, character driven storytelling. While Mark Waid's Kingdom Come and Grant Morrison's JLA, the other two corners of the trifecta of the 90's return to comic book greatness, predated Avengers volume 3 by over a year, both had a certain sense of darkness to them. In Waid's case, they darkness was a necessity as Kingdom Come brought the cynicism of 90s comics dragging kicking and screaming into adult scrutiny. JLA was, expectedly, very Morrison-esque. Busiek's Avengers was like a beacon of light, showing us that comics could not only we well written and entertaining, but also fun again, without resorting to barely covered boobs, gritting teeth, and every other characters code name containing the words blood or death.

A few weeks ago, Mr Busiek agreed to answer a few questions for my sassy little corner of the internets. Read on below for all the Busiek goodness.

*****

Unearthly Visions: One of the things that seems to define your run on the Avengers is your level of characterization. One of these elements that stands out the most for me was the love triangle between the Vision, Wanda, and Wonder Man, while also emphasizing the relationship between Vision and Simon as brothers. How much of this subplot was mapped out ahead of time, and how much of it emerged organically as the series progressed?

Kurt Busiek: It was mostly pretty organic. I knew we were going to start with the Vision distancing himself from Wanda, because I just didn’t want to put them back together, I wanted them to explore different paths, and then eventually come back together in a new way, after finding out more about      themselves as people.
  Obviously, I didn’t get all the way through that, but that was the idea.
And I knew Wonder Man would be resurrected because he was hanging on to life using his love of Wanda as an anchor, so I wanted to see where that led, too.
But beyond that, it was a matter of seeing where the stories led.

UV: One of my favorite things about your run was how you were able to "fix", or at least reconcile, a lot of the splintered continuity that had been laid down by previous writers over the years, both through the main Avengers series and in Avengers Forever. How challenging was it to find a way to streamline the Avengers history in a way that would be embraced by long time fans?

KB: I wasn’t thinking about that too much. I wanted to clean up a few things for myself, like Wanda’s powers — I thought I’d come up with an interesting way to merge her magical abilities and mutant abilities, so it wasn’t two separate things — and there were other bits that were old mysteries that never got resolved — who is Benedict, what’s the deal with Madame Masque and Masque, stuff like that that I could get story material out of.
So I wasn’t so much looking to clean them up for the audience, I was looking to get story material out of it or to rationalize things for me as writer.
In AVENGERS FOREVER, most of the continuity bits we played with, I could have just as easily left alone, except the premise of the series was that Immortus had been messing with Avengers history, so we needed examples of it. And it’s always more fun to use actual established comics history rather than make something up.
So there, I think we were following the needs of the story. And there were things along the way, like getting rid of the Terminatrix and the Anachronauts, that were pretty much a matter of me just not liking them, so I shuffled them off-stage in a way that gave me a cleaner, simpler Kang to work with, but did it in a way that any future writer who wants to use them can easily say that what we saw in AVENGERS FOREVER wasn’t quite what it appeared to be, that they were lost in time or something, rather than killed. And presto, they’re back.

UV: Speaking of splintered continuity, what aspect of the Vision's history, beyond his relationship with the Scarlet Witch, did you feel needed the most attention?

KB: In the main book, I wanted to delve into his personality — explore it a little. If he was based on Wonder Man’s brain patterns, I wanted to see how that worked. He was the bookish Simon Williams that Simon had been as a kid, without the memories of his father’s abuse or his own failures and shame. So he was that personality’s nature, while Simon is what it had become through nurture (not a very positive nurture, though). And I wanted him to explore the world and his role in it, try things out.
In AVENGERS FOREVER, we had to deal with his whole relationship with the Human Torch, something that Immortus could well have been involved it — especially since various of the stories contradicted each other. I thought it was key to his history that he had buried memories of the Torch’s claustrophobia, but if he was never the Torch, why would he have that? So I used the Forever Crystal to make both the Torch’s existence and the Vision’s being based on him true. Not the most elegant of solutions, but I didn’t have a better one, without negating either the Vision’s history or the Torch’s modern existence.

UV: For my last question I want to jump track and ask about another of the Vision's family members, the Wasp. She was easily my favorite character of the Destiny team in Avengers Forever, and it felt to me like she had come into her own more than in any previous iteration. What was your inspiration for Janet's characterization in AF?

KB: Her whole history, pretty much. But probably the two touchpoints that I thought about most were her early days, when she was a goofy ditz in that Stan Lee “women are are shopping-obsessed” way, and Roger Stern’s later use of her as a serious, competent leader. I tried to marge the two, deciding that the capability she showed in Roger’s stories had always been there, she just enjoyed goofing around and playing the ditz when she was younger, in part to keep nudging Hank out of his shell.
So that gave me a serious, skilled leader with a sense of fun, who liked to play and have a flighty side when there weren’t more crucial things to do. It worked out well, I thought.

******
So there you have it Visionaries. I can't imagine a better wrap up for the year. As we venture into 2017 I have quite a few things in mind for future posts. Coming up next week I'll be exploring the science fiction and horror elements behind the Vision's creation by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. In the meantime, be sure to check out my daily countdown of my top five favorite Vision visuals, on unearthlyvisions.tumblr.com. Any questions or comments you want to share you can leave here on the blog or on my Twitter feed @GrantRichter9. Until next time, though, stay heavy Visionaries. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Interlude - Back in Business

Sometimes we all go a little nuts. To say that 2016 has been challenging would be something of an understatement. There's only so much socio-political shenanigans one can take before you have to forcibly withdraw your head (mostly) from the news media miasma and defiantly resume your joy. Thus, my trusty Marvel Infinite 3.75 inch Vision action figure in hand, I proudly announce the triumphant return of Unearthly Visions!

What's in store for the immediate future of my little corner of the comic book blogosphere, you may ask?  I thought I'd end 2016 on a high note, with my interview with one of my absolute favorite Avengers writers, Mister Kurt Busiek. Following that, as we progress on into 2017 I'll be starting a new series of episodes deconstructing some of what makes up the character of the Vision. I'll be exploring how, given the mentality of the 1960s and how science fiction was viewed by popular culture at the time, it could be argued that the Vision was originally something of a horror character. I'll be expounding upon my theory that, rather than being a souless, emotionless "toaster", as suggested by some fans and creators, that the Vision is, in fact, the equivalent of a a person with severe but highly functioning autism. I'll be discussing what sort of villain I'd most like to see become his arch-nemesis, and what hero I'd most want to see become his buddy-cop partner. Additionally, I'll also be doing a daily countdown on my Tumblr feed, unearthlyvisions.tumblr.com , of my top five favorite and least favorite of the Vision's many looks over the years in various media.

I'm very excited to get things going, and I'll see you back here soon. Until then, stay heavy Visionaries!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Episode 10 - Avengers A.I.

When I first saw the solicitations for Avengers AI a few years ago, I said to myself, "I'm not sure  I want to read this".

Shortly thereafter, though, the part of my brain that thinks in shades of green, red, and gold spoke up and said, "Yeah, but the Vision's in it".

"Well it's not my Vision. He's got all these funky nanite powers now, and they changed his look".

"C'mon, you're a completest. You know going to read it eventually anyway".

"Yeah, but...".

"CMON!"

OK fine!". So I read it.

After the first issue I thought "Alright, this isn't bad".

After the second issue I though "OK this is really good".

By the end of the third issue I thought "Wow. This is amazing".

Why, after my initial skepticism, did I end up enjoying this series so much? Take some of the psychedelia of Morrison's Doom Patrol, stuff it inside the super science of Ellis's Planetary, and inject it with some of the humor of Giffen and DeMatais's Justice League International, and you have a rough approximation of Avengers AI. I'm not going to go through the series issue by issue, but I am going to touch on those elements of it I found the most interesting or entertaining. The premise of the series is that Dimitrios, the artificial intelligence Hank Pym created to defeat Ultron in the Age of Ultron miniseries, has taken on a life of its own, and is determined to wipe out humanity. A great deal of the book takes place in Dimitrios's virtual world, expressed through a level of surrealism that rivals the visuals from Steve Ditko's work in Strange Tales.

Before I get into things, though, I should add a little caveat for those of you unfamiliar with the book. Avengers AI is not a series you can take, to use the phrase of a certain podcasting Match-Head, "at a thousand foot level" in terms of the greater Marvel Universe. As much as I enjoy it, there are some elements that (at least to my humble observation) haven't necessarily translated as seamlessly as possible into subsequent and concurrent series (although I believe it could have been done with a little creative editorial intervention). As such, I prefer to view Avengers AI largely in its own encapsulation.

So, what are those elements that I enjoyed?  Well, obviously the Vision is in it. In fact, out of a relatively small cast of characters, he takes center stage for much of the book. He also has great characterization, with a dry sense of humor and a sharp intellectual wit.

As I mentioned above, though, this may not be the Vision you were expecting. It was established way back in the 70s that all of Ultron's creations have a directive programmed into them known as the Ultron Protocols, which compel them to recreate their own creator, often at the worst possible times. With Ultron recently defeated, and sensing the Protocols beginning to initiate, the Vision creates a device which reconfigures his entire body, thus overriding this embedded programming. His new form is entirely made up of nanites, and he is able to change his shape, an element which writer Sam Humphries and artist Andre Lima Araujo put it innovative, sometimes almost surrealistic, use.
I had the opportunity to ask Humphries as to what inspired him to initiate such a dramatic change in the Vision. He replied, "A lot of it was just having fun and coming up with cool stuff for André to draw, which he did beautifully every time. And of course, looking at his power set and extrapolating -- if you were Hank Pym, and you were to upgrade him with near-future abilities, what would you pick?"

The presence of the Vision is not my sole character-based joy regarding this comic, however. With Avengers AI, Humphries has done what no other writer in the sixty-plus years of Marvel history has been able to accomplish: he made me like Hank Pym.

For the most part, with the exception of the visual of the Yellowjacket costume, and of the portrayal of Giant-Man in Avengers Forever, I hate Hank Pym. I hate the wishy-washiness of his different identities. I hate how he treated the Wasp in the Englehart and Shooter eras of the Avengers. I hate how he sold off Jocasta to Ultron in Mighty Avengers like a fifteenth century nobleman marrying off his daughter to cement a peace treaty. I've mentioned before that Pym merging with his creation in Rage of Ultron feels like the logical and fitting evolution of the character, and I stand by that opinion.
For the twelve issues that comprises Avengers AI, however, I didn't hate Hank Pym. The reason for this is pretty simple: within the series, Humphries reveals that there's actually something wrong with the character, specifically that he has bipolar disorder. As illustrated in the book, Hank goes through highs of manic enthusiasm, followed by periods of suffocating depression, and that the only thing that balances him out is playing superhero. While this doesn't (and doesn't try to) excuse some of Pym's more erratic behavior over the years, it does go a long way toward putting it into something of a more understandable context.

Yet another Pym family member appearing in Avengers AI is Victor Mancha, the cybernetic "son" of Ultron, and former member of the Runaways. I was happy that Humphries made use of Victor's relationship to both the Vision and Pym early in the book, and I asked him if that was an aspect he had been particularly looking forward to writing. He replied, "Yeah absolutely. I love RUNAWAYS so I jumped at the chance to include Victor. And that bro-brother dynamic really appealed to me -- the exuberant Victor and the stoic Vision. What would they even talk about?! I have a large and complicated family so that aspect intrigued me."

The truly breakout character of the book, however, was the Doombot. As the name implies, it is a robotic duplicate of Victor von Doom, complete with the Latverian dictator's megalomaniacal personality cranked up to the Nth degree. This unit, though, has been repurposed by Pym to follow his instructions, and has been fitted with a miniature black hole bomb in its chest, rigged to explode if it goes haywire. As such, the Doombot fights alongside the team, and does so very well, all the while vocalizing it's disdain for the Avengers and lamenting it'd desires to crush all of humanity. My favorite Doombot moment came in issue 7, an Inhumanity event tie-in. The team encounters a newly transformed Nu-human, an elderly woman who has taken on a tentacled Cthulu-esque appearance. Doombot calms the woman, and halts her rampage in a New York alley, by waltzing with her, and in a bizarre form of compassion, convincing her to use her new gifts to "teach the world a lesson and show them who the real monster is".

The team is organized by SHIELD agent Monica Chang, a leader hard enough to get in Steve Roger's face, and also notable as being one of the few practicing Muslims in comics. Rounding out the group is the enigmatic Alexis the Protector, an AI that exists in a physical quantum state, and sister of Dimitrios.

Would I recommend this book to my fellow Visionaries?  If you feel the need to follow a strict adherence to traditional Marvel conventions this series may honestly not be for you. If, however, you enjoy books with rich characterization, witty humor, and revolutionary takes on long standing characters, you should definitely check it out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Episode 9 - "Love and Recriminations"

I fell in love with Wanda Maximoff at an early age, almost as early as I'd become enamored with the Vision. I know that's easy for me to say, what with her traditionally being the significant other of my favorite character and all right? 

Maybe not. I think that if I'd first run across her as drawn by Al Milgrom during the "Vision Unlimited" arc by Roger Stern in Avengers, or by Richard Howell in the second Vision and Scarlet Witch series, I might not have developed the prepubescent crush that was a big part of my elementary school years.

As it happens, my first exposure to Wanda was in, what I would find out years later, a single panel of Avengers (volume 1) #171, which I saw as a promotional image without word balloons in a few different comics I owned in the late 70s or early 80s. Drawn by George Perez, the panel shows Wanda, the Wasp, Ms Marvel, Yellowjacket, Captain America, Wonder Man, and the Beast. Without captions it just looks like they're standing around mingling at a party, and, other than Cap, I had no idea who any of them were. They all looked extremely cool though (because George Perez), and for some reason I latched onto the image of the pretty lady in pink and red with the funny thing in her hair. A few years later, when I learned who she was and about her relationship with the Vision, my reaction was something like "Oh, well that works".

The Scarlet Witch hasn't always had an easy time when it came to characterization. In the Silver Age, and sometimes even into the late Bronze Age, Wanda was often depicted more as a plot device than a character, as many women appearing in comics in were at the time. More often than not, women in Marvel comics until about the late seventies (and sometimes beyond, depending upon the personal politics of the writer) were there to get captured to give the boys someone to rescue, to get injured to give the boys something to rally around, or to say something dumb to make the boys look smarter.
The late 80s began the trend of Wanda's mental instability, with her first breakdown in Avengers West Coast. While this period of emotional fugue would prove to be short lived, it would be the foundation for her much more pronounced psychotic break during "Avengers Disassembled"". Also, her manipulation by Magneto in AWC would prove to be a trend as Quicksilver would manipulate her again after "Disassembled", leading to both the "House of M" and "Decimation" events.

The Wanda Maximoff we're going to be discussing in this episode of Unearthly Visions, however, is the Wanda to re-emerged at the precipice of Avengers vs X-Men. This a Scarlet Witch who isn't defined by her romantic relationships, a Wanda Maximoff who is struggling to overcome the stigma her own emotional wreckage has brought on her.

As much affection as I have for Wanda as a character, though, I have to stop and remind myself that the focus of this blog, at least during these posts that I refer to as "episodes", is about our friend the Vision, and this post is about how the Vision and the Scarlet Witch have effected each others lives in more recent times. Perhaps appropriately, then, it could be said that the fates of the two characters somewhat mirrored each other during what I think of as the Bendis era of Marvel.

For those of you not familiar, "Avengers Disassembled" revolves around the catastrophic dismantling buy an unhinged Scarlet Witch as her reality warping powers go haywire. As part of the chaos, the Vision begins spewing large metal spheres from his mouth, an act that appears to cause him tremendous internal damage. The spheres unfold and expand into drones of Ultron, which begin blasting away at everything in sight. Already weakened from the triggered Ultron protocol, the Vision is literally ripped in half moments later when the She-Hulk's rage at the attack becomes uncontrollable. Once the dust settles, Wanda, who is now nearly catatonic, is taken away by Magneto to convalesce, and the Vision (along with Clint Barton, Scott Lang, and Jack of Hearts) is considered dead.

The Vision would return fully from the dead(?) roughly seven publication years later in Avengers (volume 4) #19. The Scarlet Witch would return to active duty just a few months later in Avengers vs X-Men #0. While inactive, both were replaced by analogs in Young Avengers, Vision by a namesake with a similar but more youthful appearance, and Wanda by Asgardian (later Wiccan, and again later Demiurge). They also both appeared in limited series' and events, the Vision in the aforementioned Chaos War: Dead Avengers, and the Scarlet Witch in both House of M and Young Avengers: Children's Crusade. Though the two hadn't been a couple for roughly fifteen years as the time that "Disassembled" was published, it's clear that writers nonetheless perceive an inseparable connection between them that has emerged as repeated parallels.

In past episodes I've given fairly equal billing to the members of the different branches of the Vsion family tree. I'm not going to do that with the Maximoff's. In future interludes that include character spotlights I may go into the question of the twins parentage, the convoluted origins of Tommy Shepherd and Billy Kaplan, and about just how much I don't like Quicksilver. In the meantime though I think Wanda deserves the spotlight.

When the Scarlet Witch made her return in Avengers vs. X-Men # 0, as drawn with the Fanboy service that is Frank Cho, Vision has been back in active duty for some time. When Wanda is taken to Avengers mansion by Carol Danvers, she is greeted at the door by her former husband. The Vision explains that he sympathizes for what Wanda has been through. He tells her that he forgives her for what happened to him. What he cannot forgive, he says, is the fact that she used him, out everyone available, to hurt their friends. With that, in a truly heart-wrenching scene, he turns his back on her, shedding silent tears, as she crumbles in despair. The pain that they both evidence in what each perceives as the betrayal and rejection by the other shows how much love, no matter how deeply buried beneath suffering, they still harbor between them.

Neither has time to brood, however, as the Avengers are thrust into a conflict with the X-Men over Hope Summers and the Phoenix Force. By the end, Wanda has proven herself to the Avengers that she can once again be a trustworthy teammate, and has helped reverse some of the damage she caused to the mutant race. Wanda would face first a psychically powered Red Skull, and later Kang and the Apocalypse Twins as part of the newly formed Avengers Unity Squad. The Vision faced off against the genocidal Dimitrios as a member of the Avengers AI unit.

Their various individual trials overcome the two lovers would not meet again until the end of the second volume of Uncanny Avengers. Having learned that the mutant Magneto is not their true father Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver journey to counter earth seeking answers from the High Evolutionary. Fearing for the safety of her teammate, and also fearing the damage she can do, Rogue forms an ad-hoc Avengers Unity Squad, including the Vision, to go after them. On Counter Earth, the Vision meets, falls in love with, and creates thousands of self replicating children with Eve, the sentient artificial intelligence of the planet. In the sixth and last issue of this volume, he aids Wanda and Pietro against Luminous, the genetically perfect creation of the Evolutionary and "sister" of the twins.
In the epilogue, the Vision comforts Wanda when she unable to locate Wonder Man, who's energies were dispersed from Rogue earlier in the arc. He tells her that he will always be there for her as a friend, to which she kisses him, not necessarily in a romantic way, but in a way that implies a tenderness that has not been seen between them for some time.

In a story written by Mark Waid in All New All Different Avengers #0, the Vision meets Wanda at her home. Though it's clear the two aren't romantically involved, there is a familiarity about them that is akin to that of a couple that have fallen into a routine of comfortable, casual affection. The Vision recounts to Wanda how he has been having hallucinations, with "ghosts" of old memories interfering with his perceptions, to the point where accidentally allowed an innocent civilian to die in a rescue attempt. He elaborates that the problem is not the memories themselves, but the emotions attached to them. His manner and speech suddenly becoming stiff and formal, he then informs her that he has severed all emotional ties to his previous memories, and that his meeting with her was the final test to see if the process was a success. At first stunned, Wanda asks in a small voice "Where is the man knew?". When the reality of the situation sinks in, however, she screams in horror "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!"

This is not the reaction of a concerned teammate, or even that of a close friend. This reaction carries years of pain and love behind it. Despite Wanda's assertions during a phone call at the beginning of the story that "there's nothing there", this is the reaction of seeing what was and what could have been shattered into shards of memory and possibility.

I liked Vision and Wanda as a couple. It bothered me when their relationship fell apart, and I like the idea of them one day being together again. Out of the fifty-plus year history of the characters, however, they were only married for a small percentage of the time, roughly fifteen years. They have a longer history of hurting each other, both physically and emotionally, than loving each other. It is ironically through those hurts, and more importantly through the intensity of their reactions to those hurts, that we see how much they truly love one another.

That, Visionaries, wraps up my exploration of our hero's immediate family. Over the next few weeks I'll be discussing stories and short lived series featuring the Vision that I've particularly enjoyed (if I'm very fortunate I may be able to get some creator interviews along the way). I'll be beginning this run in the next episode with my coverage of Avengers AI, featuring my interview with series writer Sam Humphries. Interspersed among these will be my general thoughts on various aspects of the character, as well as explorations of characters to whom the Vision has a more tertiary relationship, such as the Wasp, Scott Lang, Victor Mancha, Jocasta, Wiccan, and Speed.

Unearthly Visions is just getting started!  Stay heavy!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Interlude - Fred Van Lente

In the last episode of Unearthly Visions, during our exploration of the character of the Grim Reaper, we discussed the 2010 miniseries Chaos War: Dead Avengers, written by Fred Van Lente. Mr. Van Lente, who also co-wrote the core Chaos War series, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me recently via email.

Van Lente began writing for Marvel in 2007, became coauthor of Incredible Hercules in 2008, when the focus of the title switched from the Jade Giant to the Lion of Olympus following the events of World War Hulk. Additionally, he co-wrote several Marvel Zombies miniseries, the Marvel Noir limited series, and the 2011 Power Man and Iron Fist mini at Marvel. He was the author of the 2012 Archer and Armstrong series, as well as 2015's Ivar: Timewalker for Valiant. He is slated as coauthor on the upcoming Slapstick series for Marvel as well.

As those of you who have been following my little diatribes might suspect, I can be rather fervent when it comes to the Etheric Avenger. When changes are made that make the character into something less than he is, like removing his emotions and dismantling his personal relationships, I get ...let's say disappointed. I don't get internet fanboy rage or anything, but I do settle in for a good sulk while I wait out the return to the previous status quo.

When :Avengers Disassembled" came out in 2004, then, I was (and I think understandably) less than enthusiastic about the events within. I'd seen the Vision get taken out before. In the early 80s he suffered severe internal damage fighting Annihilus, leading to a story arc where he interfaced with the world computer of the Eternals and attempted to become benevolent dictator of the world. In the late 80s he was dismantled so thoroughly that it would take a body swap with an alternate reality duplicate to return him to a semblance of his former self. In the late 90s he was blasted in half, the lower portion of his body severed, his physical form taken out of action for a year of publication time, reduced to a hologram while his body rebuilt itself.

"Avengers Disassembled "was different though. He was ripped in half again, this time by a raged out She-Hulk, courtesy of a mentally unstable Scarlet Witch. In every previous instance, the response was to hook the Vision up to some impossible Kirby machine and wait for him to get better. Not this time. The Vision had been so thoroughly destroyed that he was considered to be officially among the deceased. A teenage analog even took his place for a few years.

When the Vision turned up in Dead Avengers, then, I was extremely happy, buy also a little surprised. While I believe that the Vision, as a character, is as alive as any other character within the confines of the fictional universe, he is still essentially an artificial intelligence housed in a synthetic body. Even in fictional settings, the possession of a soul is often considered the purview of biological beings born of biological means (not that I'm complaining mind you).

I asked Fred how the concept of the Dead Avengers book came to be. He replied "Chaos War" was initially conceived just as the climactic storyline of the "Incredible Hercules" comic, the Big Finish for what Greg Pak and I had been building toward for six or seven arcs or so. By the time we finally got to it, though, the marketing people thought it would sell better as an independent mini (and they were probably right), and so Marvel made it their big fall event for that year. Well, having a it becoming a big company event means that you need ancillary titles and one-shots, and as a god-themed story Thor and Ares got theirs. Part of the "Chaos War" storyline had the big bad, Amatsu-Mikaboshi, come through and wipe out all of the underworlds so the dead people had nowhere else to go but the land of the living. So we could do fun things like bring back Alpha Flight, and that set up the basic scenario of "Dead Avengers," having the dead heroes being the only ones able to make a last stand against the forces of evil because the active -- as in "living"! -- Avengers had been defeated over in the main book. I really liked the appeal of this tiny group of capes making a last stand against impossible odds -- a "300" with superheroes, if you will. "

Returning to the topic of the whether or not the Vision has a soul, this has been a topic of some contention for both fans and writers. In a possibly less theological context, does the fact that the Vision possessed sentience indicate that he is more than just a series of electrical impulses? I would say yes (obviously). Others, not so much. One author, in fact, who has a history of writing the Vision was quoted as saying, "Should something that can be so easily copied and retrieved be treated as having the same intrinsic value as a human being? Should any of the human Avengers, for instance, ever risk their lives on behalf of the Vision? My vote would be no. He is a toaster".

I asked Fred if there was any editorial conflicts concerning the Vision having a soul that could exist in any form of afterlife. He said, "Not that I remember. As long as we promised to send everyone back to being dead again, they let us do pretty much what we wanted. But I loved the Vision, so screw the theological implications, I was doing the series, I was putting him in there."

He went on to say, "I was a huge Vision fan as a kid, having read the original Thomas/Buscema origin stories in an old paperback, and devoured the Vision & Scarlet Witch miniseries, particularly the 12-issue Englehart and Richard Howell one, where, of course, Grim Reaper and Nekra were the main villains, so that inspired me to put them in DA. Besides who else would worship a nihilistic death god like Amatsu-Mikaboshi other than those two nutcases? "

Great sentiments from Mr. Van Lente.

Thanks to everyone for following my exploration of the Vision's family tree so far. I also want to extend a big thank you to Fred Van Lente for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. Join us back here next week when I'll be finishing up this particular thread of familial dynamics by discussing the Vision's relationship with the Scarlet Witch in the aftermath of Disassembled.

As always I welcome any feedback, from my fellow fans of the Etheric Avenger, as well as others of the internet superhero fans community. Feel free to leave comments here on the site, or you can contact me through the handle @GrantRichter9 on Twitter.

Until next time, stay heavy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Episode 8 - "Brothers in Ions" part 2

I'm going to begin this episode by probably offending the greater comic book community by saying I don't like Batman.

Gasp!

It has nothing to do with the character's over saturation since the release of Frank Miller's Year One (though that is certainly a contributing factor). I don't have anything against the character, but as a whole he has just never done it for me.

I am, however, a fan of writer and director Kevin Smith, and of his run on Green Arrow in the early 2000s. One of my favorite contributions Smith made to the series was the hero killer Onomatopoeia. When I found out a few years later that Smith would be bringing Onomatopoeia back in the miniseries Cacophony I grabbed it up.

At the climax of Cacophony, the Joker is injured, captured, hospitalized, and given mediation to balance out his mental instability. During the epilogue, Batman visits the Joker in the hospital. He asks the Joker if his mind were to stay lucid would things change between them. The Joker replies "I don't hate you because I'm crazy. I'm crazy because I hate you".

That is the mark of what makes a villain a hero's true nemesis: a single minded obsession that drives one beyond the event horizon, to feel the abyss staring back at you and to give in to its overwhelming pull. This quality, if nothing else, is what I feel makes the Grim Reaper at least a candidate for the Vision's greatest foe.

(For those Sons and Daughters of the Bat out there, I'm not in any way implying that the Reaper has the same gravitas as the Clown Prince of Crime. I'm simply comparing one admittedly unequal quality between the two characters. I don't have the energy for an internet argument.)

Appearing as far back as May of 1968, the Reaper predated the Vision by only a few months. While the Vision's origin is partially centered around the use of Wonder Man's brain patterns as the basis of his personality, the Reaper originated out of revenge for what he saw as the Avengers' responsibility for Wonder Man's death. He would return in 1970, leading the first incarnation of the Lethal Legion against the Avengers, where he would learn that the Vision was essentially a mental clone of Wonder Man, the Reaper's estranged brother. It would be under writer Steve Englehart, as covered in the Unearthly Visions special, that the Reaper would become a more persistent foe for Wonder Man and the Vision, plaguing both heroes, as well as the Scarlet Witch, in Avengers, West Coast Avengers, and both Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries'.

Eric Williams has returned in many iterations over the years. Originally just a fit and angry human with a cybernetic scythe in place of his right hand, he died, was resurrected with supernatural powers, though with the vampiric need to kill one human being every twenty four hours. He later becomes the avatar of an other-dimensional death god, complete with a demonic appearance that more closely resembles his name namesake. Even later he emerged as a being in an ionic state similar to that of his brother, Wonder Man.

Most recently, Eric Williams made a very brief, but very severe impact on the life of the Vision, and on the of the Vision's self-made suburban family, in the Etheric Avenger's current eponymous series (which, sadly, is scheduled to end in only a few weeks from this writing). What we'll be exploring in this episode of Unearthly Visions, however, will be two appearances of the Grim Reaper that take place, somewhat ironically, in what I think of as "extreme sleep mode", the time frame between the events of "Avengers Disassembled" and the Vision's reactivation in Avengers (volume 4) #19.

The first of these entries is Dark Reign: Lethal Legion, released in 2009, written by Frank Tieri, with art by Mateus Santolouco and Chris Sotomayor. As should be obvious from the title, this miniseries takes place during the "Dark Reign" era of Marvel, in which the insane Norman Osborn has become one of the most powerful men in America, and has replaced the peacekeeping organization SHIELD with his own unit HAMMER. As such, the Vision is still dead, and does not appear in this series. That's and unusual choice for me I know, but I really enjoyed this book and I think it's a great modern insight into the character of the Grim Reaper.

The mini opens with the members of the Legion having already been defeated by Osborne's Dark Avengers and currently incarcerated on the Raft. Livingston, an attorney, is sent to interview the Legion members for the case. Before he can interview the Reaper, though, Eric is stabbed in the heart by another inmate, an Osborne loyalist, and dies. Through his interviews with the different Legion members, Livingston learns of their motivations for joining. Tiger Shark and Mister Hyde were out for revenge for past humiliations. The Gray Gargoyle was jealous over being excluded from the Thunderbolts and the Dark Avengers. Absorbing Man felt that Osborne being in charge was "bad for business". Nekra joined out of loyalty to the Reaper.  Wonder Man had joined to try to keep the destruction to a minimum in what he believed was his brother's attempt to do the right thing by removing Osborne from power. At the end of the series, it is revealed that while Eric did physically "die" from the prison attack, he is incapable of truly being killed do to Nekra's voodoo machinations and the Reaper's own vampiric tendencies. It's also shown that the Reaper had reformed the Legion at Osborne's behest, partially as a PR device, to give the Dark Avengers a team of overt villains to fight to help them win the public trust, and partially to discredit Wonder Man, who had been publicly outspoken against Osborne's administration. Though he shows regret at the thought of leaving Simon and Nekra behind, Eric does not hesitate when Norman smuggles him off of the Raft and sends him off to Europe to further HAMMER's interests.  While, again, this series takes place when my favorite red, gold, and green hero was more or less dead, it does a great job of showing exactly how cold blooded and self serving the Reaper can be.

The other series we'll be discussing on this episode is Chaos War: Dead Avengers, published in 2011, written by Fred Van Lente, with art by Tom Grummett, Cory Hamscher, Andy Troy, and Sotocolor.  In the main Chaos War mini, also co-written by Van Lente, the god-like Chaos King has disrupted the afterlife, causing millions of dead souls to return to Earth and causing every human to fall into a coma-like sleep. In Dead Avengers, a small group of Earth's Mightiest Heroes who count among the deceased materialize in New York where the Avengers have collapsed, and where a horde of demons are attacking and destroying other returned souls. The returned Avengers are Captain Mar-Vell, the original Swordsman, the second Yellowjacket, Doctor Druid, Deathcry, and, of course, the Vision.  The Swordsman rallies the ad hoc team to protect both the civilian dead and the unconscious Avengers, and Mar-Vell takes command as the field leader. By the end of the first issue, the Grim Reaper, with Nekra as his first lieutenant, is revealed to be leading the demons in the Chaos King's name, and, in the second issue,"kills" Mar-Vell. 

Throughout the series, each of the remaining heroes laments either the circumstances of their death or an unresolved aspect of their former life. In the third issue, each of these heroes earns redemption. The Vision has probably the most spectacular moment of the series in the finale. In the opening of issue 3, Vision confronts the Reaper and the two are shown charging at each other. The Vision is shooting solar beams at the Reaper, his face set in grim determination. The Reaper is deflecting the blast with the blade of his scythe, his eyes ablaze with supernatural energy. 

With an action shot this dynamic, one would expect the dialogue to be some sort of highly dramatic declaration of intent of the characters to stop and/or destroy the other. Nope. As they bear down upon one another, the dialogue between the hero and the villain, respectively, is simply:

"Eric"

"Vision"   

I love this!  I love the casual familiarity that these two have fallen into over the years, as if battle after battle their enmity has become something that just has to be done every once in a while, an extremely unpleasant inevitability. It reminds me of two coworkers that can't stand each other that regularly get assigned to the same project, or (perhaps more accurately) squabbling family members that only see each other out of obligation during special occasions. It feels like every harsh words that could be said has already been spoken, so let's just get down to it. Really good stuff. 

By the end, Druid and Deathcry (now calling herself Lifecry) have died in battle. Seriously wounded by the Reaper, the Vision chooses to sacrifice himself, detonating his body, killing his dark brother and allowing Swordsman and Yellowjacket to get the Avengers to safety. 

According to editor Tom Brevoort, the souls of all of the Dead Avengers returned to the afterlife once the Chaos War was resolved. The Vision, of course, came back to life a few months later in the pages of Avengers volume 4, and the Grim Reaper apparently just can't stay dead. 

That wraps up our exploration of Simon and Eric Williams as they pertain to the Vision. If you're a fan of the Vision and his family dynamic, I highly recommend any of the storylines I've mentioned in this episode, as well as Tom King's outstanding Vision series, which is scheduled to end in October.

As always, you can take a look at images for this episode on my visual companion feed, unearthlyvisions.tumblr.com (I highly recommend it for the Vision-Reaper showdown image).  Also, if you want to share your thoughts on anything from this episode, feel free to leave me or a comment, or you can hit me up on Twitter @GrantRichter9.

Join me back here at Unearthly Visions where I'll be doing a creator spotlight interlude on writer Fred Van Lente and posting the answers to a few interview questions that he was kind enough to answer for me. Until then, stay heavy Visionaries!







Thursday, September 22, 2016

Interlude - "Token Marvel Guy"

This would normally be the installment of Unearthly Visions where I do a brief creator spotlight of a writer and/or artist who's work was featured in the most recent episode. The majority of of the material I covered in Episode 7, however, was by Steve Englehart and Kurt Busiek, and I think I've already waxed their respective cars enough for the moment. I still need a bit of a mental sorbet before I jump back into the shenanigans of the Williams brothers, though, so I'm just going to use this as an opportunity to ramble on little before jumping fully back into the swing of things.

I am fickle. Maybe it's a Gemini thing. I don't know, but I can admit this about myself. I mentioned back in episode 3 that the Vision has been my favorite superhero since I was about four or five, and for the most part this is true. When I was a kid, though, I had a favorite superhero the way an unfaithful boyfriend has a steady girlfriend. I'd wander, and often, but I'd always come back to the Vision. All-Star Squadron, one of the few DC titles I picked up on something resembling a regular basis, was my biggest temptation. After a single issue, I spent a week one summer with Starman, the Golden Age Atom, Doctor Fate, the Tarantula (in his original yellow and purple costume), and the Golden Age Green Lantern taking turns as my favorite character for a day or two. (Notice a pattern with capes?) I'd always eventually get bored with the others ("they meant nothing to me, I swear") and return to the Vision.

The group of bloggers and podcasters I've chosen to follow and to network with are mostly focused on DC characters. In terms just of individual characters, blogs and podcasts I follow are dedicated to Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Firestorm, the Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Captain Atom, Batgirl, and Swamp Thing, not to mention Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to Hawkman and Supergirl.

Why did I decide this very DC specific group of internet superhero fans, to network with them and latch on to them like the kid brother from the Christmas Story following Ralphie and his friends to school from twenty feet behind?  Surely there are some fan created Marvel presences on the internet?  Of course there are. As far as blogs and podcasts dedicated to individual characters (not to Marvel superheroes as a whole), there doesn't seem to be the same sense of community. The people I follow continuously reference each others expertise in their respective characters, interview one another for their blogs, guest star on each other's podcasts, and recommended one another to new readers and listeners. It's a very admirable thing.

Inundated by this fandom of DC, and feeling the lingering tendrils of childhood fickleness, I began to question my memory. Is there a deeply entrenched love of a particular character from DC comics, maybe a Super Powers figure, or a member of one of the many teams of the 80s, that I'd forgotten, that had perhaps been melted from my waking consciousness by the spikes, pouches, shoulder pads, and giant guns of the 90s?

Not really. That's not to say that I didn't collect and don't enjoy DC comics. I do and I have. I think Crisis on Infinite Earths is far superior to the original Secret Wars. I liked Legends. I collected both JLI and JLA (Morrison). I'm a huge fan of both of Geoff John's JSA series. I even collected a few series in the new 52. I love the teams and (most of) the big events, there's just never been one individual character that I've really ever thought of as mine.

(I will say that I've had an affection for Swamp Thing over the years. I'm not including him here because I don't necessarily think of him as a "superhero", and there is already a really good blog out there about the character that I follow).

At the time I started writing this little diatribe I was reading for the first time, through the miracle and wonder that is Marvel Unlimited, a classic Avengers story that reaffirmed not so much why (because the logic is actually pretty counter intuitive), but just how much I love the character of the Vision. The issue in question is Avengers (volume 1) #165, written by Jim Shooter, with art by John Byrne.

Those of you that have read some of my earlier instalments may be surprised at my appreciation of this creative team. I've mentioned briefly here, and also on a couple of social media outlets, that there is one particular Shooter story in Avengers, as well as some decisions he made regarding certain characters in Secret Wars, that tend to color my perception of the other work that's he's done that I do like. Taken in a forest-from-the-trees view this story, and honesty the majority of his work on Avengers is very good. Also, those of your that have read episodes 3 and 4 will remember that I have a particular dislike of Byrne's take on the Vision in West Coast Avengers. As I mentioned in an earlier interlude, though, I am still a huge fan of his art in the 70s and 80s, and this is issue is an excellent example of his work from that time.

Within the issue itself, the Avengers are fighting Count Nefaria, who has gained Superman-like abilities, in the streets of New York, and are fairing poorly. The Vision is not a part of the battle. In fact, he is only shown on one page, inside Avengers Mansion, recuperating from a recent battle with Ultron in a kind of coma inside a transparent coffin-like device, with Jarvis lamenting that the synthezoid is not able to help. Just seeing him in this very limited capacity, rendered so well by Byrne, gave me a "yay, there he is!' moment. Weird?  Maybe, but I guess that's how it is when you truly have an affection for a character.

With all of that out of the way, let's take a look at what's in store for Unearthly Visions in the immediate future. Episode 8 will be coming out very soon, continuing our exploration of the Williams brothers as they pertain to the Vision. Following that will be a creator spotlight interlude, featuring interview questions with current Valiant writer Fred Van Lente, who wrote the 2010 miniseries Chaos War: Dead Avengers, featuring both the Vision and the Grim Reaper. In the weeks beyond I'll begin a discussion of arguably the most formative branch of the Vision's family tree, the Maximoff's, including the ever complex Scarlet Witch.

Until then, stay heavy Visionaries!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Episode 7 - "Brothers in Ions" part 1

Astute comic book aficionados may have noticed similarities between the Vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the cosmic Messiah analog Adam Warlock. For those of you unfamiliar, Warlock is an artificial being created by a group of evil scientists. In his first appearance he emerges from a cocoon and instinctively attacks Thor. He is later given the Soul Gem (later revealed to be one of the six Infinity Gems), which he wears on his forehead, becomes a universal champion of life, and has something of an aloof personality. In the MCU, the Vision is an artificial being, created by scientist being controlled by an evil entity, who emerges from a cocoon like incubator, instinctively attacks Thor, has one of the Infinity Gems, sets himself up as a champion of life, and has an aloof personality. Given that Infinity War is looming closer and closer, and that we haven't heard rumours of Adam appearing in any Marvel movies any time soon, it's looking like the Vision will be the MCU's answer to Warlock.

There is, however, another similarity that those of you haven't obsessed about either character for years may not recognize at first glance. During the Infinity War and Infinity Crusade mini series' of the early 90s, it's revealed that, while he was in possession of the Infinity Gauntlet, Warlock purged evil/chaos and good/order from his soul, leaving him a being of total logic and balance. These cast off elements of Warlock's soul became sentient beings, the Magus and the Goddess respectively. While the Vision has never been through such a cosmic convolution, it could be argued that he does stand in the same position as Warlock in a similar, if metaphorical, triumvirate.

When he was first created by Ultron, the Vision's mind was based on the recorded brainwave patterns of Simon Williams. Simon had been transformed months prior into the iconically powered Wonder Man, and had been believed dead at the time of the Vision's awakening. Wonder Man would later be revived, to become a long standing Avenger, and would come to regard the Vision as his mental twin, men of identical beginnings who have grown into their own distinct identities. Shortly after Simon's apparent death, his unstable brother Eric would have his right hand replaced with a cybernetic scythe, becoming the criminal Grim Reaper, a murderous renegade for that would plague the Avengers, and specifically Wonder Man and the Vision, again and again. It could be argued, then, that with the valiant but brash and sometimes naive Wonder Man on one side, and with the obsessive maniacal Grim Reaper on the other, the Vision stands as a noble but calculating balance between his two "brothers".

In this episode of Unearthly Visions, however, we'll be focusing specifically on the Etheric Avenger's heroic brother. While the Vision, as mentioned in my special Steve Englehart episode, has always come across to me as a character defined by his relationships with others, Wonder Man has always felt like a character trying to define himself. In one of the first issues following his "resurrection", it's revealed that what had been interpreted as death by Grim Reaper and the Avengers had in fact been a sort of metamorphic coma, with his body changing from organic to ionic matter. He struggles with the fact that he is no longer Simon Williams the human being, but the mind of Simon Williams in control of an ionic body. Writer Jim Shooter and artist George Perez, in the first redesign of Wonder Man's costume, even gave a nod to the parallel of the Vision being a copy of Simon's mind in control of an artificial body, with the new costume having a color scheme similar to that of the synthezoid. Despite his virtually indestructible form, he suffered from an irrational fear of death and also claustrophobia, due to his extended time in a death like state trapped in a coffin-like capsule. After eventually overcoming his fear of death, Simon became arrogant and belittling of his teammates. In early 90s he became darker and more violent (because the 90s), more balanced and well intentioned during the Busiek/Perez run of the early 2000's, and most recently a pacifist who would go to great lengths to curtail superhuman violence. This may, of course, be an issue of various writers over the years trying to put a definitive spin on the character to keep him from just coming across as a generic powerhouse, but I think the end result is a sense of a man not knowing who he truly is and trying to find his place and his own validity.

As mentioned above, Simon came across as the most well balanced when written by Kurt Busiek (with art by Gentleman George Perez). This would be a prevalent theme in the early Busiek run on the Avengers, stripping away much of the deconstructive angst heaped onto characters in the last ten or so years of storytelling, of showing personal drama not through a string of ever more epic tragedies, but in the every day emotional conflicts through which we all struggle. One of my favorite issues of the Busiek/Perez run, Avengers (volume 3) #23, highlights the emotional turmoil of the Vision and Wonder Man, both internally and with each other.

At the beginning of the "Ultron Unlimited" story (see Unearthly Visions episode 5), the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man discover that the Vision has been frequenting a restaurant that features the traditional food, music, and dance of Wanda's home country of Transia. They both interpret this, in conjunction with the Vision's growing emotional distance toward them both, as the Vision begrudging the romance that has blossomed between Wanda and Simon.

In issue 23, with the battle with Ultron behind them, Wonder Man confronts the Vision, demanding that his synthezoid brother open up so that there are no lingering resentments. The results are explosive, with the Vision physically attacking Simon in frustration. Coming to his senses, the Vision explains that though he is supportive of Wonder Man's relationship with Wanda, he is distraught over the fact that he has come to see himself as a pale reflection of Simon Williams. It's not only a physical and emotional attraction to the Scarlet Witch that they share, but a love of jazz, chess, satirical literature; all the little things that help define a person as a person.

On the heels of this revelation, Simon discloses that he is actually jealous of the Vision. Wonder Man argues that while the Vision did begin his life as a mental copy of Simon Williams, the Vision has since evolved into his own being with his own identity, one free of the mistakes Simon made before and during his life as Wonder Man. The Vision flies off to reflect on their talk, with their emotional conflict not yet fully resolved, but with the sense that barriers between them have begun to become undone.

This scene, even more than almost manic bonding between with Wonder Man in the 1985 Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries, highlights the brotherly relationship between these two characters. In the last couple of years Wonder Man was "permanently" absorbed by Rogue, then later purged from her and dissipated by a scientist of Counter Earth, in the first two volumes of Uncanny Avengers. The Vision also has more than his share of problems in his own eponymous title, the penultimate issue of which is out soon as of this writing. With any luck, however, these two brothers will reunite again sometime in the near future.

Unearthly Visions will be back in a few days with part 2 of "Brothers in Ions", where I'll be focusing on Eric Williams, the Grim Reaper. In the meantime you can take a look at images for this episode, such as different iterations of Wonder Man's appearance and some panels from Avengers (volume 3) #23, over at unearthlyvisions.tumblr.com. As always, you can leave me questions and feedback here on the blog or on my Twitter feed @GrantRichter9.

Until next time, stay heavy Visionaries!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Unearthly Visions Special - Steve Englehart

The Vision, as a character, doesn't necessarily evolve. In a fictional universe that has largely made its name on character development, this does tend to make him stand out.

Spider-Man, for example, has gone from a nerdy high school student, to a confident college and grad student with a full love life, to a married man to trying to help make ends meet, to a spokesperson for a government registration program (and then all of the shenanigans that followed). Wolverine went from an amnesiac berserker, to a warrior seeking peace through Zen, to a leader, and eventually a teacher. So forth and so on.

Not so much with the Vision. Yes he changes costumes, or body designs, or whatever every so often. He gets "killed" when a writer wants to create some tragedy for the Avengers, yet wants to leave a way for another writer to bring back a "dead" character with little convolution. Sometimes he has emotions, sometimes he doesn't. Essentially, who the Vision is, though, doesn't really change. This is part of the appeal of the character to me. The Vision simply IS (I've commented on Twitter before that, as much as Firestorm is a Marvel character in the DC universe, the Vision is a DC character in the Marvel universe). He is the unchanging rock in the stream of human acquaintances that flow around him. As such, it is often the nature of those acquaintances that help shape who he is as a character as those friendships and enemies come and go, hence my preoccupation with his extended family.

In the almost fifty years since his introduction in Avengers #57, no one has added to the Vision's sense of family more than legendary comics writer Steve Englehart. Steve was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for me recently about contributions he's made to the Marvel mythos that include the Vision and members of his family. In this special episode of Unearthly Visions we'll be exploring storylines Steve has worked on that, over an almost twenty year period, made the character one with a rich and detailed family background.

Though the Vision made his first appearance under Roy Thomas's tenure on the title, Englehart would introduce an element that would add a greater element of history, an element that harkens back to one of Marvel's earliest creations. In 1974, in Avengers #129, the Avengers became embroiled in what would be known as the Celestial Madonna Saga.
The classic story involves the time traveling villain Kang trying to ensure that he becomes the father of the Celestial Messiah, a being destined to bring peace to the universe. Kang had narrowed the candidate for the woman predetermined to give birth to this entity to one of three women: the Scarlet Witch, and Avengers allies Mantis and Moondragon. During the team's adventures through time in their efforts to stop Kang, the Vision learns, through the intervention of Immortus (who would be revealed to be another incarnation of Kang years later), that his body was created from that of the original android Human Torch, a Golden Age hero who fought alongside Captain America and Namor during World War II.
This revelation gave the Vision more gravitas than he'd possessed previously, tying him to Marvel's earliest days as Timely Comics.

I asked Steve how the decision came to be made to tie this spectral conflicted character of the 60s and 70s to the fiery hero of the Golden Age. He answered,
"That was Neal Adams’ idea (I think). If not, it was Roy Thomas’s. Either way, it was well-known in-house when I started the Avengers, and I made use of it when it fell into place in my continuity."

At the climax of the Celestial Madonna Saga (Giant-Sized Avengers #4), Mantis is revealed to be the chosen Mother, and she is married to an alien being that has taken the form of her former lover, the Swordsman. In a double ceremony, however, officiated by Immortus (ironically so, which we'll explore in later episodes, if you're not familiar with the Byzantine twists of Wanda's history), the Vision and the Scarlet Witch are also married in this issue. Steve would return to the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in their second eponymous mini series, beginning in October of 1985. During this run, Wanda becomes pregnant by way of her hex power/magic, and gives birth to twins in the series finale.

The romance between Vision and Wanda had begun under Roy Thomas' term as writer of Avengers, though it had been something distant and hesitant at the time, with the feel of a love not meant to be. It was under Englehart that their relationship blossomed into mutually expressed love and matured, with the Vision and the Scarlet Witch becoming one of comicdoms most well known couples. I asked Steve if there had been a long term plan in place for the evolution of their relationship, or if it been a more organic process. He said, "Totally organic. Again, I inherited the concept, and I developed it as seemed fitting…to where an actual marriage seemed especially fitting. Just as their having children seemed fitting the next time I turned to them."

One thing that's always troubled me, and this is often the case for heroes who don't usually carry their own book, is the fact that I could never identify a specific arch villain for the Vision. Bob Harras brought back the evil alternate reality version of the character, and Geoff Johns introduced a Nazi robotic saboteur called the Gremlin, but neither really stuck. Ultron seems like a probable choice, but his ire usually seemed directed at Hank Pym, with the Vision either just an obstacle too, or a pawn in, his plans.

Looking back through Steve's writing in the 70s and 80s, however, it became clear how often Eric Williams, the Grim Reaper, has plagued the Vision's existence. In one of his earliest issues on Avengers, Englehart picked up a subplot that had been previously established, that of the Reaper tempting the Vision with the promise of a human form in the body of the then-deceased Wonder Man. In Avengers #107, the Reaper reveals that his price for the Vision's humanity is the synthezoid's betrayal of his fellow heroes. Later, after Wonder Man had been returned to life, the Reaper would try repeatedly to destroy the Vision, even attacking him as a zombie while the Scarlet Witch was giving birth.

Though their levels of power are vastly different (at least during Englehart's runs), the Reaper's sheer tenacity and his obsessive vendetta against the Vision would certainly seem to qualify him as the Etheric Avenger's primary nemesis. I asked Steve if he agreed. His answer, short and sweet?

"Absolutely".

Good enough for me.

(That being said, guess what homicidal, cybernetic, sometimes undead villain will be getting some special recognition here on Unearthly Visions?)

One month after the beginning of Vision and Scarlet Witch, Englehart started writing the new ongoing West Coast Avengers series. He explored the relationship between Wonder Man and the Vision in both titles, with the two of them coming to view each other not only as brothers of sorts, but also as good friends.

John Byrne took over as writer on West Coast Avengers with issue 42 in March of 1989 (yep, here we go). He remained on the title until issue 57 in 1990, by which time the title had changed to Avengers West Coast. During his initial four issue story arc, "Vision Quest", Byrne removed the Vision's personality and his distinctive appearance, ruined his relationship with Wonder Man, destroyed his marriage to the Scarlet Witch, removed his children from existence, and severed his connection to the android Human Torch, essentially dismantling everything Englehart had built up for the character since the early 70s. I asked Steve if he'd had any strong feelings toward these changes at the time the issues had been published. He said "Yes. I hated them. I was very in tune with Wanda and Viz and did not like seeing them hurt."

I couldn't agree more.

Thanks so much to everyone for checking out this special edition of Unearthly Visions. I also want to give a very special thank you to Mister Steve Englehart for taking the time to contribute his thoughts for my little blog.

As always, you can take a look at some images for this episode at my visual companion feed, unearthlyvisions.tumblr.com. Feel free to leave a comment here on the site, or you can hit me up on Twitter @ GrantRichter9.

I'll be back soon, when we'll begin exploring the Vision's relationship with the Maximoff family in greater detail. Until then everybody, stay heavy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Interlude - Busiek and Perez

Most comic book fans "of a certain age" (in other words, those of us who had been in our late teens and early twenties at the time) will probably agree that the majority of the 1990's was a rough stretch. Though some might debate the time line, this period of unease began for me personally when Marvel put all of their creative and promotional eggs in the basket of the X-franchise, allowing the popular artists working those titles to have tremendous input on the stories (to ensure that those stories were filled with elements that would showcase their individual artistic styles), only to have said artists leave the company. For the next few years, most of the mainstream industry was filled with gimmicks and one dimensional storytelling and characterization.

Thankfully, this phase began to wan after a few years. A lot of fans will argue that the beginning of a return to richer storytelling in comics was the Kingdom Come mini series, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, which ran from May to August of 1996, much of which was a commentary of the dark and ultra-violent "heroes" that made up a good deal of the industry at the time (I was so burnt out on comics during the summer of '96 that I actually wouldn't read KC until several years later).

For me, however, the return of comic books to the standard I missed from my younger years was the release of JLA #1, by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter, in January of 1997. While certainly telling stories with a more modern sensibility, this series brought back a sense of grandeur and, most importantly, fun that had been missing for some time.

Over at Marvel, however, things were still lagging a bit behind. "The Clone Saga", an event which ran through the many Spider-Man titles at the time and which had proven unpopular with fans and critics, had just wrapped up the month prior.
"Heroes Reborn", which saw the Fantastic Four, Bruce Banner, and many key members of the Avengers supposedly killed in the Marvel Universe and existing in a separate continuity, was in full swing.

When this gimmick also proved to be unpopular, Marvel  released Heroes Reborn: the Return, a mini series which brought the characters back into the main Marvel Universe. Afterwards, Captain America, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, and  Avengers were all relaunched, each starting with a new issue 1, and each under the "Heroes Return" banner. As part of this endeavor, the Avengers was given to the more than capable hands of writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez.

The assigning of Avengers to Busiek and Perez was (at least by all appearances) Marvel's answer to DC's revitalized JLA. It was also exactly what Marvel needed at the time. Busiek already had great success with Marvel in the 90s, writing the critically acclaimed Marvel's mini series, as well as creating and writing the popular Thunderbolts. Much like Morrison on JLA, Busiek clearly had a love for the Avengers, and a fondness to spinning a modern take on classic villains. While Morrison was focused on taking the adventures of the JLA close to the extremes of what the mind is willing to wrap itself around (as Grant Morrison does), Busiek's run in Avengers was more geared toward the team dynamic, on viewing these powerful individuals under a microscope, of them dealing with their personal problems and how those problems effected the group as a whole. This was mostly closely demonstrated in new member Justice's idol worship and stage fright around the more experienced heroes, and with Carol Danvers' (then known as Warbird) struggle with alcoholism while dealing with what she saw as a loss of personal identity.

George Perez had worked on the Avengers in the 70s, alongside both  Steve Englehart and Jim Shooter, and has long been considered one of the great classic Avengers artists. It would be in the 80s, however, as artist and co-creator of the New Teen Titans, as the artist of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and as the original cover artist for DC's Who's Who series, that Perez would rightly earn his reputation as a legend of the comics industry. It was during his time with DC that he would become famous for his ability to fit a tremendous number of characters, each with their own distinct details and body language, on one page, or even in one panel. Perez highlighted this skill in the first story arc of Avengers volume 3, when every character who had ever been Avenger joined together (or at least made a cameo appearance) to battle Morgan le Fey. Perez was also specific ensuring that each character had very distinctive features without their mask or costume (not an easy feat on a team with three fit men with short blonde hair).

Following the events of "Ultron Unlimited" (covered here in Episode 5, in case you missed it), Busiek and Perez went on to explore how the Vision dealt with his ex-wife, the Scarlet Witch, being in a relationship with his "brother", Wonder Man. They also detailed a restructured Avengers roster, and the team's conflicts with Kulan Gath, the Exemplars, and the Triune Understanding. If you looking for classic Avengers stories, at a time before superhuman registration, secret invasions, and a government agency run by supervillains, be sure to check out the Kurt Busiek and George Perez run on Avengers volume 3.

Episode 6 - "Of Ants and Androids" part 2

Last episode I touched briefly on the convoluted relationship between the various members of the Pym family. Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man, also Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket) was married for a while to Janet Van Dyne. Hank created the android Ultron, who became one of the Avengers most terrifying foes. Ultron created the Vision to destroy the Avengers, though our hero quickly came to his right mind and joined the ranks of his intended targets. Ultron also created Jocasta, who shared Janet's brain patterns, to be his robotic bride. Things get even more awkward later when Jocasta becomes attracted to the Vision, Ultron takes on a female form based on Janet's body, and Hank almost has a relationship with Jocasta, but later marries her off to Ultron as a kind of peace treaty arrangement.

We discussed the "Ultron Unlimited" story arc in Avengers volume 3, by Kurt Busiek and George Perez, where Ultron planned to wipe out the human race with an android army and to replace humanity with artificial duplicates based on his extended family. In part 2 of "Of Ants and Androids" we'll be exploring the graphic novel Rage of Ultron, by Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña.

Given that this book was published in the last year and is only recently available on Marvel Unlimited, I don't want to go too deeply into the details of the story (there are tons of sites that will give you spoilers if that's your thing). The basic premise, though, is that an iteration of Ultron was launched into space some years and has recently taken over Titan (a moon of Saturn and home to a branch of the Eternals) with a nano-cloud that infects all life with copies of his personality, then uses the entire moon to invade Earth. Hank Pym has a plan to defeat Ultron, though it very much has a "scorched earth" factor to it, causing the rest of the Avengers, particularly the Vision, to object. The Avengers fight Ultron's horde of converted humans both on Earth and on Titan, with the team getting picked off one by one, either converted themselves or otherwise  taken out of the action, until on Pym and the Vision remain. The story climaxes with Pym and Ultron merging into a single being, with the Vision's phasing powers as a catalyst. 

I'm going to flat out say that I  completely loved this story. Rage of Ultron focuses heavily on how unappreciated Pym is (at least in his mind), both by his teammates and the general public, despite his genius and the fact that he is a founding Avenger. Remender returns to the concept established by Busiek in "Ultron Unlimited", that Ultron's brain patterns are based on Pym's own, that all of his violence, murderous rage, and hatred for humanity is a reflection of Hank's insecurities and resentment. The Vision is portrayed as deeply passionate, especially regarding Pym's initial solution of the Ultron invasion, at Pym's demonstration of its effectiveness earlier in the book, and at how humans often easily dismiss artificial life as disposable (I took this last bit as a meta-commentary on how quick writers sometimes are to destroy the Vision as a means of pushing a plot forward). The scenes of the different Avengers being taken out as the story progresses have an eerie, horror-survival feel to them, especially in a moment when Sabertooth, who throughout the book has been questioning his decision to be a hero, sacrifices himself so that the others can get that much closer to Ultron.

In addition to the story, the art by Jerome Opeña is absolutely beautiful. Given that most of the 90s was influenced by the style of artists like Jim Lee, and that much of the costume designs of DCs New 52 and now Rebirth are either created or inspired by Lee, it's always refreshing to find an artist that has a more gritty style, who can make the characters look less than pretty but still bold and heroic, and Opeña has those qualities in abundance. I fell in love with Jerome's art in the first story arc of Avengers volume 5, especially his rendering of the robotic Aleph, and every bit of what I was enamored with in that title carries over to Rage of Ultron.

I simply cannot recommend this book enough. In terms of the Pym family dynamic, this story brings it to its pinnacle so far. Ultron is evolved into a completely new being. Hank Pym is taken to what feels to me like the inevitable progression of the character. The Vision is given a tremendous amount of focus, in terms of both characterization and action. I read Rage of Ultron on Marvel Unlimited, but I guarantee I will be buying a hardcopy for my personal collection.

As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions, concerns, or (dare I say) compliments. You can also drop me a line at stormchaser2162@gmail.com, or on Twitter @grantrichter9.

Check in with me next time for a special episode featuring my interview with comic book legend Steve Englehart.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Episode 5 - "Of Ants and Androids" part 1

I've mentioned before that one of the things that has always fascinated me most about the Vision is the fact that he has a bizarre and intriguing family dynamic. In the next several episodes of Unearthly Visions I'll be focusing on stories featuring the Etheric Avenger that will also revolve around the different branches of his intricate family tree.

I can't honestly say that the Vision's family diagram is the traditional tree. I usually think of it more like a wheel with three large spokes, with the Vision at the center.  One of these spokes or branches, the one which has been arguably the most influential on his history beyond his fictional creation, is that of the Maximoff family, to which he was connected for many years via his marriage to Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. The second, as a product of his creation, is the Williams family, through his connection to Simon Williams, alias Wonder Man.

While the Maximoff and Williams branches of the Vision family are equally important, and I will definitely be exploring them in detail in later episodes, the focus in the here and now will be on the branch responsible for his actual creation. In this episode we'll be discussing the Pym family.

(Originally I had just planned one episode for each family branch, but by the time I dug into some background information and the details of a couple of stories, things kind of started evolving on their own.)

In Avengers #57 (now-often mentioned within this humble blog) in which the Vision makes his debut, it is revealed that he had been created by Ultron, the robotic enemy of the Avengers, for the purpose of destroying the team. In the next issue, it's uncovered through a flash back that Hank Pym, the scientist and Avenger known at the time as Goliath (formerly known as the original Ant-Man, later Giant-Man, and soon to be known as Yellowjacket) had actually created Ultron as an experiment in artificial intelligence some time ago, and had been hypnotized to forget the incident when the android had gained malevolent sentience.

Oh, the Silver Age. Sigh.

This establishes the beginnings of the Vision's family, with Ultron as his "father", and Pym as his "grandfather". This branch of his family would quickly grow, however, when Pym would marry his long time girlfriend Janet Van Dyne, the Avenger known as the Wasp, who would one day go on to become one of the team's most capable leaders.

In a world of intangible synthetic men, indestructible killer robots, and size changing superheroes, the Hank and Janet wedding is one of the most bizarre things on Avengers history. When the original Ultron hypnotized Pym, it apparently loosened a few screws in Hank's psyche. The realization that he was responsible for the creation of the Avengers most deadly foe (well, deadly in a "wait here in my slow moving death trap while I go into the next room to gloat to myself" Silver Age kind of way) knocked those screws completely out of the engine. This, combined with the pressure of being a guy who can change his size working alongside heavy hitters like Iron Man and Thor caused Pym to have a complete nervous breakdown. Adopting the new costumed identity of Yellowjacket, he claims and believes that he has killed and replaced Hank Pym. After attacking the rest of the Avengers, Yellowjacket kidnaps the Wasp and almost sexually assaults her. Despite everything, when the rest of the team shows up for a rescue, Jan announces that she and Yellowjacket are getting married.

(I should mention that the Wasp is probably my favorite female Marvel character. I have a LOT to say about how she was written in the 60s and 70s, as well as in Secret Wars. Maybe some other time though.)

Hank does snap out of his seemingly temporary bout of dissociative identity disorder, but only after Jan is placed in peril by the Circus of Crime (again, the Silver Age), and then only after they were married while he wasn't in his right mind. Still, everything for some reason is viewed by everyone involved as being a-okay, and the couple are more or less happily married for years.

Things would get even more bizarre for the Pym's a few years later. Ultron would arrange another kidnapping of the Wasp (revolving, ironically, around another Hank Pym signature breakdown). Along the vein of Shelly's Frankenstein, Ultron had decreed that he should have a bride. To that end, he created an android with a female appearance, based it's mind on Janet's, and attempted to transfer all of her life force into his creation. Given that his would-be "wife" was also his "child" with the mind of his "mother", it shows tremendous self-awareness on Ultron's part that he dubbed his creation Jocasta (Wikipedia is your friend).

Despite the fact that, story wise the Vision owes his existence to this branch of his family, he does seem to be the odd man out. While a lot has been made out of the relationships between Hank and Jan, Ultron and Jocasta, Hank and Jocasta, and even Ultron and Jan, the Vision is usually only referenced as a member of the family on a passing basis. Jocasta once expressed an unrequited romantic interest in the Vision, and Ultron would invariably referee to him as a weak and flawed creation in several encounters, but for the most part the Vision was rarely at the center of the Pym family drama.

There are, however, two stories (that I'm aware of) in which the Vision has been involved that deal with the fallout of the very existence of Ultron and how it effects their entire family. The first takes place in Avengers (volume 3) issues 19 through 22, by Kurt Busiek and George Perez. In this arc, the most up to date version of Ultron creates hundreds of lesser  duplicates of himself, including his reprogrammed prior incarnations. Using this army, he completely destroys the eastern European country of Slorenia (if this sounds familiar it's the basis for the plot of the "Age of Ultron" movie). Ultron also captures Pym, the Wasp, Vision, the Scarlet Witch, and Wonder Man, as well as Simon's biological brother, the villainous Grim Reaper. Ultron plans to continue his swath of destruction across the globe, and to utilize his human and synthezoid family as the basis for a new mechanical race to populate the world. The Vision has a great scene in issue #22, when he uses his fairly recent power of interfacing with electronics to project a holographic image of himself to try to reason with Ultron. He tells his creator, in kind a reverse Luke/Vader moment, that if he (Ultron) gives up his plan, Vision will forgive him for everything he has done so far, and that the two of them can leave together to start a new life as mechanical father and son. Ultron violently rejects his son's offer, and it is revealed to have been a distraction while the Vision simultaneously works to effect the escape of his fellow captives, but the Vision does say that he would have been good to his word had Ultron accepted, as he understands what it is to be a mechanical life form rejected by the human he loved the most.  In the end it is Pym who defeats Ultron, but not before reveals that Ultron's mind, with all of his hatred and murderous designs, are based on Pym's own brain patterns.

In "Of Ants and Androids" part 2, I'll be reviewing my other favorite story regarding the Vision and his place in the Pym family, the Rage of Ultron graphic novel. In the meantime, feel free to drop a comment or two on me. Is there a particular story arc featuring the Vision you want me to cover. Do you just want to shower me with some cool Vision swag? Let me know. You can also drop me a line on Twitter @grantrichter9, or hit me up at stormchaser2162@gmail.com.

Until next time!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Interlude - John Byrne

Between each actual episode of Unearthly Vision's where I talk about specific story arcs or story elements concerning the Etheric Avenger, while I do research for the next episode (in other words, rereading old back issues), I thought I'd start using these interludes to spotlight a creator mentioned in the previous episode. Since I devoted quite a bit of respect to Bob Harras and Steve Epting in Episode 4, I thought I'd take this time to talk a little about John Byrne.

Now, I've mentioned at least twice in previous episodes that I am not a fan of Byrne's run on West Coast Avengers, and I'll very likely bring it up again as I begin my discussion of the Vision's family dynamic beginning in Episode 5. The four issue "Vision Quest" story, which comprised the figurative and literal deconstruction of the character, was a set up for a larger arc, one of a series of catalysts that culminated with the nervous breakdown of the Scarlet Witch and her turning evil for a brief time. While there some elements of characterization in Byrne's run that I find somewhat questionable, I can't say the stories themselves are flawed beyond my personal preferences. Still, they just never sat quite right with me.

That being said, I should clarify that, for the most part, I have no problem with John Byrne as a creator. In fact, I have a tremendous respect for his work. This is the artist who, along with the immortal Chris Claremont, made the X-Men great in the 70s (plus there's the whole Storm in a Savage Land bikini thing, so...yay!). This is the writer who transformed Susan Richards from an almost apologetic girl who often had to be rescued as a plot device into a confident woman and the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four. This was the creator who evolved Superman from a character with deus ex machina powers into one with more believable limitations, and Luthor from a mad scientist in a purple and green jumpsuit to a commentary on late 80s capitalism.  Also, his art in WCA is just phenomenal (take a look on his ghostly interpretation of the Vision on my visual companion feed unearthlyvisions.tumblr.com).

Does all of this change my mind about his run on WCA?

Nope.

Do I agree with ninety percent of his personal philosophies and politics?

Certainly not.

Do I think, regardless, that he is still one of the all time great comic book creators of all time?

You betcha.

Unearthly Visions will be back in a few days (I have a lot of free time) with Episode 5, "Of Ants and Androids". In the meantime, I would love to have your comments. What are your thoughts on the Vision?  Do you think it's weird that I'm the token Marvel guy interacting mostly with a community of DC bloggers? Want my unfiltered thoughts on the "Vision Quest" story? Drop me a line!  You can leave a comment here on the Blogspot page, you can find me on Twitter @grantrichter9, or you can send me an email at stormchaser2162@gmail.com. You can also find my posts on Facebook by searching for unearthlyvisions.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Episode 4 - A Bold New Vision

I didn't set out to make this a blog about the Vision.

No, really. Yes, I know I said that the Vision is my favorite superhero, and that he was the first character I talked about, but this really was supposed to be an examination of the things that fascinate and irritate me about the greater Marvel Universe. As I was putting different posts together, though, I realized that all of my topics kind of swung back around to the Vision, at least tangentially. My planned post about the sexist portrayal of Marvel superheroines in the 60s and early 70s came around to the Scarlet Witch. The episode about classic Marvel heroes who have devolved into villains ended up including Hank Pym.

So forth and so on.

Another factor that included my decision to narrow my scope is the fact that I haven't found many current blogs dedicated to Marvel's niche characters. Sure, blogs about Cap, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and all of Marvel's other headliners abound, just as I'm sure there are a proliferation of the Distinguished Completion's Big Three. DC characters outside of the front runners do, however, seem to have an entrenched presence on the internet, with such sites as the Martian Manhunter page The Idol-Head of Diabolu, the Blue Beetle site Kord Industries, Firestorm Fan, and of course, The Aquaman Shrine.

(Yes, Rob, I know Arthur has had his own book forever and is a founding member of the JLA. Maybe pseudo-niche?)

Love for niche/second-string/B-list Marvel characters, though, seems conspicuously absent. Yes I love the Vision. Yes he's a veteran and current member of the Avengers with own critically acclaimed maxi-series, but the Vision has never carried his own solo series, and, even with his appearances in the movies, he's hardly a household name. The Vision is "my" character, I can admit he's niche, and I think he deserves his own respect thread.

In Episode 3 of Unearthly Visions I briefly discussed issue 57 of Avengers (volume 1), featuring the first appearance of the Vision. To be honest, there's not a whole lot more to be said about this issue. While I will be forever indebted to Roy Thomas and John Buscema for the creation of the Vision in this story, there is simply, as was often the case in the Silver Age of comics, not a lot of meat to it. That being said, it's still one of my favorite comic book issues of all time.

Now, as is the way of such things, I'll be posting synopses and my personal feeling about various issues, story arcs, and mini series featuring the .....  He's never really had a Stan-Lee-esque nickname has he?  Spider-Man man is Web-Head. Iron Man is the Golden Avenger. Cap is the Sentinel of Liberty. That doesn't seem right. Let's try that again

....various issues, story arcs, and mini series featuring the Etheric Avenger.

OK. That'll work.

Anyway. I'm obviously not going to cover every issue of the Avengers with the Vision in it. Sometimes he just stands around. I am going to cover stories that put a great deal of focus on him, however, or where he made a major contribution. Rather than go in chronological order from his first appearance, though, I thought I'd jump ahead about twenty five years, in this episode officially dedicating my blog to the character, to my personal favorite story arch featuring the Vision.

This subplot featuring the Vision actually ran through several issues of the Avengers, beginning in January of 1992 (with issue 343), and running through at least October of 1993 (issue 367). What makes this story-within-a-story one of my favorites, behind a really cool long running story arch by Bob Harras and excellent pencils by Steve Epting, is the fact that it changes the status quo of the Vision set up by one of my least favorite stories.

I mentioned this least favorite story in Episode 3, but the Cliffs notes version is that the Vision is captured by a rogue government agency, dismantled, and when he is reassembled it with with a pale, more ghostly appearance and without his emotions, causing him to leave his wife, the Scarlet Witch, switching from the West Coast Avengers to the east coast team. This story arch took place between the pages of West Coast Avengers # 42-45 (March through June of 1989), with story and art by John Byrne.

Now I have serious problems with with this story. Obviously the changes to the character that take place, which took away most of what made him appealing to me, were my major source of consternation. There are other factors concerning both how and why the story was executed that also rub me the wrong way, but I want this to mostly be a blog about what I like about comics, not a a forum on my opinions on what I dont like.

Anyway, Byrne was writing both of the west coast and east coast books at the time that the Vision transitioned from one team to another. Any plans Byrne may have had for the character, however, were sidetracked as he was replaced by a series of writers on the main Avengers title, such as Mark Grunewald, Fabian
Nicieza, and Larry Hama, none of whom stayed on the title for more than a few issues at a time.

In January of 1992, however, Bob Harras took over the writing duties on the Avengers in issue 343 , teaming with existing artist Steve Epting, starting their four and a half year run that would kick off with a two issue teaser of the slow burn "Gatherers Saga", that would jump into full swing later that year. During their tenure on the team, Bob and Steve would bring a number of concepts to the book. They would introduce the other dimensional team the Gatherers and their leader Proctor as the primary antagonists of a long stretch of their tenure on the title. They would start a love triangle between team members Black Knight, Crystal of the Inhumans, and Sersi of the Eternals (with the Vision having kind of a fourth wheel crush on Crystal). They also instituted a theme of matching accessories for the team members, namely brown bomber jackets and occasional silver communication headgear, that was met with mixed feelings by some fans.

(I'll be discussing the "Gatherers Saga", and defending the matching jackets, in an later episode).

From the first few pages of Harras' first issue on Avengers, though, it was apparent that he had something planned for the Vision. In issue 343, Crystal (his former sister-in-law, as the ex-wife of the brother of his own ex-wife) joins the team, and brings her young daughter Luna to live at the Mansion. When the Vision sees Luna near the beginning of the issue, he hallucinates, for just a moment in one panel, seeing his own twin sons, who at this point in continuity had ceased to exist.  Over the next several months there would be brief moments like this, with the Vision showing quick flashes of stoic emotion,each no more than a panel or two, mostly unobserved by his fellow Avengers. This slow return of his emotions is most evident in the Vision's fight scenes, where he appears less distant and aloof, but has a certain amount of drama and dynamism to his actions.

In Avengers #355 (October 1992), the "Gatherers Saga" picks up stride in earnest. As part of the Saga, the Vision is kidnapped by the Gatherers, and replaced by one of their members, an evil alternate reality version of himself. As part of this plan, Evil-Vision's consciousness was placed in our hero's ghostly white body, while the true Vision's mind was placed in that of his counterpart, which featured the classic red skin, and a costume with green pants/boots, a pale yellow shirt/gloves, and a green faceless cowl with a high collared green cloak. The evil Vision is sent to infiltrate the Avengers, while the hero is held captive in the Gatherers hidden citadel.

Evil-Vision is sent by Proctor to assassinate the alternate reality Swordsman, former Gatherer and ally of the Avengers, and is nearly successful. It's when he tries to assault Crystal in a much more intimate manner, however, that his true nature is revealed. He defeats almost the entire team (because, let's face it, even an evil Vision is awesome), before being subdued by the deus ex machina that is Sersi.

The Avengers storm the Gatherers citadel, with Evil-Vision as their hostage. Proctor destroys Evil-Vision for leading the Avengers to his lair, leaving the true Vision now "permanently" (because everything is permanent in comics, right?) confined in the body of his former counterpart.

The ramifications of this are explored a short time later, during some rare downtime between catastrophes, with the Vision struggling to come to grips with the emerging emotions that come with his new body. He is shown musing over the comraderie between Captain America and the Black Widow, as well as the love and devotion between the Swordsman and fellow former Gatherer Magdalene. He attempts to bond with his "grandfather", Hank Pym, demonstrates the fondness he's come to feel for Crystal and her daughter, and even has a moment of sexual tension with ally Deathcry, followed by an explosion of frustration and rage.

It wouldn't be until the third volume of the Avengers, written by Kurt Busiek, that Wonder Man's brain patterns would re-emerge within the Vision's mind following another destruction and rebuilding, returning him fully to both his classic look and  personality. It would be Bob Harras' plot, however, coupled with Steve Epting's designs, that would allow to the Vision to become once again something other than a machine, to allow him to again become a character to care about.

Whew!  I know that was a lot, and I thank everyone who muscled their way through this, what I think of as the grand opening of Unearthly Visions. All of the visual references for the highlights of this episode can be found at unearthlyvisions.tumblr.com, and on my Twitter feed StormChaser2162@GrantRichter (some of the art in these images was provided by fill-in pencilers Gordon Purcell and Jim Hall). Feel free to leave a comment here, on Tumblr, Twitter, or my email stormchaser2162@gmail.com.

Check in with me next time when I'll begin discussing the relationship nightmare that is the Vision's family tree.