Wednesday, September 28, 2016

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.


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 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, and 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 resembled his name namesake.

Even later he was resurrected to be a Horseman of Death by the Apocalypse Twins using the Celestial Death Seed.

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 recent eponymous series.

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 an 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 due to Nekra's voodoo machinations and the Reaper's own vampiric tendencies.

It's also shows 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:

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.

As always, I welcome any and all feedback here in the comments section of the blog. Also, if you want a more immediate discussion the best place to reach me is @IamGrantRichter on Twitter. 

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!

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