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!

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