Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Episode 9 - "Love and Recriminations"

I fell in love with Wanda Maximoff at an early age, almost as early as I'd become enamored with the Vision. I know that's easy for me to say, what with her traditionally being the significant other of my favorite character and all right? 

Maybe not. I think that if I'd first run across her as drawn by Al Milgrom during the "Vision Unlimited" arc by Roger Stern in Avengers, or by Richard Howell in the second Vision and Scarlet Witch series, I might not have developed the prepubescent crush that was a big part of my elementary school years.

As it happens, my first exposure to Wanda was in, what I would find out years later, a single panel of Avengers (volume 1) #171, which I saw as a promotional image without word balloons in a few different comics I owned in the late 70s or early 80s. Drawn by George Perez, the panel shows Wanda, the Wasp, Ms Marvel, Yellowjacket, Captain America, Wonder Man, and the Beast. Without captions it just looks like they're standing around mingling at a party, and, other than Cap, I had no idea who any of them were. They all looked extremely cool though (because George Perez), and for some reason I latched onto the image of the pretty lady in pink and red with the funny thing in her hair. A few years later, when I learned who she was and about her relationship with the Vision, my reaction was something like "Oh, well that works".

The Scarlet Witch hasn't always had an easy time when it came to characterization. In the Silver Age, and sometimes even into the late Bronze Age, Wanda was often depicted more as a plot device than a character, as many women appearing in comics in were at the time. More often than not, women in Marvel comics until about the late seventies (and sometimes beyond, depending upon the personal politics of the writer) were there to get captured to give the boys someone to rescue, to get injured to give the boys something to rally around, or to say something dumb to make the boys look smarter.
The late 80s began the trend of Wanda's mental instability, with her first breakdown in Avengers West Coast. While this period of emotional fugue would prove to be short lived, it would be the foundation for her much more pronounced psychotic break during "Avengers Disassembled"". Also, her manipulation by Magneto in AWC would prove to be a trend as Quicksilver would manipulate her again after "Disassembled", leading to both the "House of M" and "Decimation" events.

The Wanda Maximoff we're going to be discussing in this episode of Unearthly Visions, however, is the Wanda to re-emerged at the precipice of Avengers vs X-Men. This a Scarlet Witch who isn't defined by her romantic relationships, a Wanda Maximoff who is struggling to overcome the stigma her own emotional wreckage has brought on her.

As much affection as I have for Wanda as a character, though, I have to stop and remind myself that the focus of this blog, at least during these posts that I refer to as "episodes", is about our friend the Vision, and this post is about how the Vision and the Scarlet Witch have effected each others lives in more recent times. Perhaps appropriately, then, it could be said that the fates of the two characters somewhat mirrored each other during what I think of as the Bendis era of Marvel.

For those of you not familiar, "Avengers Disassembled" revolves around the catastrophic dismantling buy an unhinged Scarlet Witch as her reality warping powers go haywire. As part of the chaos, the Vision begins spewing large metal spheres from his mouth, an act that appears to cause him tremendous internal damage. The spheres unfold and expand into drones of Ultron, which begin blasting away at everything in sight. Already weakened from the triggered Ultron protocol, the Vision is literally ripped in half moments later when the She-Hulk's rage at the attack becomes uncontrollable. Once the dust settles, Wanda, who is now nearly catatonic, is taken away by Magneto to convalesce, and the Vision (along with Clint Barton, Scott Lang, and Jack of Hearts) is considered dead.

The Vision would return fully from the dead(?) roughly seven publication years later in Avengers (volume 4) #19. The Scarlet Witch would return to active duty just a few months later in Avengers vs X-Men #0. While inactive, both were replaced by analogs in Young Avengers, Vision by a namesake with a similar but more youthful appearance, and Wanda by Asgardian (later Wiccan, and again later Demiurge). They also both appeared in limited series' and events, the Vision in the aforementioned Chaos War: Dead Avengers, and the Scarlet Witch in both House of M and Young Avengers: Children's Crusade. Though the two hadn't been a couple for roughly fifteen years as the time that "Disassembled" was published, it's clear that writers nonetheless perceive an inseparable connection between them that has emerged as repeated parallels.

In past episodes I've given fairly equal billing to the members of the different branches of the Vsion family tree. I'm not going to do that with the Maximoff's. In future interludes that include character spotlights I may go into the question of the twins parentage, the convoluted origins of Tommy Shepherd and Billy Kaplan, and about just how much I don't like Quicksilver. In the meantime though I think Wanda deserves the spotlight.

When the Scarlet Witch made her return in Avengers vs. X-Men # 0, as drawn with the Fanboy service that is Frank Cho, Vision has been back in active duty for some time. When Wanda is taken to Avengers mansion by Carol Danvers, she is greeted at the door by her former husband. The Vision explains that he sympathizes for what Wanda has been through. He tells her that he forgives her for what happened to him. What he cannot forgive, he says, is the fact that she used him, out everyone available, to hurt their friends. With that, in a truly heart-wrenching scene, he turns his back on her, shedding silent tears, as she crumbles in despair. The pain that they both evidence in what each perceives as the betrayal and rejection by the other shows how much love, no matter how deeply buried beneath suffering, they still harbor between them.

Neither has time to brood, however, as the Avengers are thrust into a conflict with the X-Men over Hope Summers and the Phoenix Force. By the end, Wanda has proven herself to the Avengers that she can once again be a trustworthy teammate, and has helped reverse some of the damage she caused to the mutant race. Wanda would face first a psychically powered Red Skull, and later Kang and the Apocalypse Twins as part of the newly formed Avengers Unity Squad. The Vision faced off against the genocidal Dimitrios as a member of the Avengers AI unit.

Their various individual trials overcome the two lovers would not meet again until the end of the second volume of Uncanny Avengers. Having learned that the mutant Magneto is not their true father Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver journey to counter earth seeking answers from the High Evolutionary. Fearing for the safety of her teammate, and also fearing the damage she can do, Rogue forms an ad-hoc Avengers Unity Squad, including the Vision, to go after them. On Counter Earth, the Vision meets, falls in love with, and creates thousands of self replicating children with Eve, the sentient artificial intelligence of the planet. In the sixth and last issue of this volume, he aids Wanda and Pietro against Luminous, the genetically perfect creation of the Evolutionary and "sister" of the twins.
In the epilogue, the Vision comforts Wanda when she unable to locate Wonder Man, who's energies were dispersed from Rogue earlier in the arc. He tells her that he will always be there for her as a friend, to which she kisses him, not necessarily in a romantic way, but in a way that implies a tenderness that has not been seen between them for some time.

In a story written by Mark Waid in All New All Different Avengers #0, the Vision meets Wanda at her home. Though it's clear the two aren't romantically involved, there is a familiarity about them that is akin to that of a couple that have fallen into a routine of comfortable, casual affection. The Vision recounts to Wanda how he has been having hallucinations, with "ghosts" of old memories interfering with his perceptions, to the point where accidentally allowed an innocent civilian to die in a rescue attempt. He elaborates that the problem is not the memories themselves, but the emotions attached to them. His manner and speech suddenly becoming stiff and formal, he then informs her that he has severed all emotional ties to his previous memories, and that his meeting with her was the final test to see if the process was a success. At first stunned, Wanda asks in a small voice "Where is the man knew?". When the reality of the situation sinks in, however, she screams in horror "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!"

This is not the reaction of a concerned teammate, or even that of a close friend. This reaction carries years of pain and love behind it. Despite Wanda's assertions during a phone call at the beginning of the story that "there's nothing there", this is the reaction of seeing what was and what could have been shattered into shards of memory and possibility.

I liked Vision and Wanda as a couple. It bothered me when their relationship fell apart, and I like the idea of them one day being together again. Out of the fifty-plus year history of the characters, however, they were only married for a small percentage of the time, roughly fifteen years. They have a longer history of hurting each other, both physically and emotionally, than loving each other. It is ironically through those hurts, and more importantly through the intensity of their reactions to those hurts, that we see how much they truly love one another.

That, Visionaries, wraps up my exploration of our hero's immediate family. Over the next few weeks I'll be discussing stories and short lived series featuring the Vision that I've particularly enjoyed (if I'm very fortunate I may be able to get some creator interviews along the way). I'll be beginning this run in the next episode with my coverage of Avengers AI, featuring my interview with series writer Sam Humphries. Interspersed among these will be my general thoughts on various aspects of the character, as well as explorations of characters to whom the Vision has a more tertiary relationship, such as the Wasp, Scott Lang, Victor Mancha, Jocasta, Wiccan, and Speed.

Unearthly Visions is just getting started!  Stay heavy!

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