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. 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, few have 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?


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.

Feel free to leave a comment here on the site, or you can hit me up on Twitter @IamGrantRichter. I'll be back soon, when we'll begin exploring the Vision's relationship with the Maximoff family in greater detail. Until then, Visionaries, stay heavy.

1 comment:

  1. Very VERY good article - really goes in-depth about a character I don't normally give much thought to, and makes me finally want to re-read the Celestial Madonna Saga story line.