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!

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