Saturday, October 1, 2016

Interlude - Fred Van Lente

In the last episode of Unearthly Visions, during our exploration of the character of the Grim Reaper, we discussed the 2010 miniseries Chaos War: Dead Avengers, written by Fred Van Lente. Mr. Van Lente, who also co-wrote the core Chaos War series, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me recently via email.

Van Lente began writing for Marvel in 2007, became coauthor of Incredible Hercules in 2008, when the focus of the title switched from the Jade Giant to the Lion of Olympus following the events of World War Hulk. Additionally, he co-wrote several Marvel Zombies miniseries, the Marvel Noir limited series, and the 2011 Power Man and Iron Fist mini at Marvel. He was the author of the 2012 Archer and Armstrong series, as well as 2015's Ivar: Timewalker for Valiant. He is slated as coauthor on the upcoming Slapstick series for Marvel as well.

As those of you who have been following my little diatribes might suspect, I can be rather fervent when it comes to the Etheric Avenger. When changes are made that make the character into something less than he is, like removing his emotions and dismantling his personal relationships, I get ...let's say disappointed. I don't get internet fanboy rage or anything, but I do settle in for a good sulk while I wait out the return to the previous status quo.

When :Avengers Disassembled" came out in 2004, then, I was (and I think understandably) less than enthusiastic about the events within. I'd seen the Vision get taken out before. In the early 80s he suffered severe internal damage fighting Annihilus, leading to a story arc where he interfaced with the world computer of the Eternals and attempted to become benevolent dictator of the world. In the late 80s he was dismantled so thoroughly that it would take a body swap with an alternate reality duplicate to return him to a semblance of his former self. In the late 90s he was blasted in half, the lower portion of his body severed, his physical form taken out of action for a year of publication time, reduced to a hologram while his body rebuilt itself.

"Avengers Disassembled "was different though. He was ripped in half again, this time by a raged out She-Hulk, courtesy of a mentally unstable Scarlet Witch. In every previous instance, the response was to hook the Vision up to some impossible Kirby machine and wait for him to get better. Not this time. The Vision had been so thoroughly destroyed that he was considered to be officially among the deceased. A teenage analog even took his place for a few years.

When the Vision turned up in Dead Avengers, then, I was extremely happy, buy also a little surprised. While I believe that the Vision, as a character, is as alive as any other character within the confines of the fictional universe, he is still essentially an artificial intelligence housed in a synthetic body. Even in fictional settings, the possession of a soul is often considered the purview of biological beings born of biological means (not that I'm complaining mind you).

I asked Fred how the concept of the Dead Avengers book came to be. He replied "Chaos War" was initially conceived just as the climactic storyline of the "Incredible Hercules" comic, the Big Finish for what Greg Pak and I had been building toward for six or seven arcs or so. By the time we finally got to it, though, the marketing people thought it would sell better as an independent mini (and they were probably right), and so Marvel made it their big fall event for that year. Well, having a it becoming a big company event means that you need ancillary titles and one-shots, and as a god-themed story Thor and Ares got theirs. Part of the "Chaos War" storyline had the big bad, Amatsu-Mikaboshi, come through and wipe out all of the underworlds so the dead people had nowhere else to go but the land of the living. So we could do fun things like bring back Alpha Flight, and that set up the basic scenario of "Dead Avengers," having the dead heroes being the only ones able to make a last stand against the forces of evil because the active -- as in "living"! -- Avengers had been defeated over in the main book. I really liked the appeal of this tiny group of capes making a last stand against impossible odds -- a "300" with superheroes, if you will. "

Returning to the topic of the whether or not the Vision has a soul, this has been a topic of some contention for both fans and writers. In a possibly less theological context, does the fact that the Vision possessed sentience indicate that he is more than just a series of electrical impulses? I would say yes (obviously). Others, not so much. One author, in fact, who has a history of writing the Vision was quoted as saying, "Should something that can be so easily copied and retrieved be treated as having the same intrinsic value as a human being? Should any of the human Avengers, for instance, ever risk their lives on behalf of the Vision? My vote would be no. He is a toaster".

I asked Fred if there was any editorial conflicts concerning the Vision having a soul that could exist in any form of afterlife. He said, "Not that I remember. As long as we promised to send everyone back to being dead again, they let us do pretty much what we wanted. But I loved the Vision, so screw the theological implications, I was doing the series, I was putting him in there."

He went on to say, "I was a huge Vision fan as a kid, having read the original Thomas/Buscema origin stories in an old paperback, and devoured the Vision & Scarlet Witch miniseries, particularly the 12-issue Englehart and Richard Howell one, where, of course, Grim Reaper and Nekra were the main villains, so that inspired me to put them in DA. Besides who else would worship a nihilistic death god like Amatsu-Mikaboshi other than those two nutcases? "

Great sentiments from Mr. Van Lente.

Thanks to everyone for following my exploration of the Vision's family tree so far. I also want to extend a big thank you to Fred Van Lente for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. Join us back here next week when I'll be finishing up this particular thread of familial dynamics by discussing the Vision's relationship with the Scarlet Witch in the aftermath of Disassembled.

As always I welcome any feedback, from my fellow fans of the Etheric Avenger, as well as others of the internet superhero fans community. Feel free to leave comments here on the site, or you can contact me through the handle @GrantRichter9 on Twitter.

Until next time, stay heavy!

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