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.

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