Monday, January 30, 2017

Episode 12 - "You're a Damn Toaster!"

Those of you who have been with me on this strange exploration of arguably the Avengers least relatable character since Episode 3 (lovingly titled "I Wanna Be Clay Man" - you'll just have to go back and read it if you don't get the reference) will no doubt be with familiar with the fact that I am not fond of the story arc titled "Vision Quest" from West Coast Avengers circa 1989, and the repercussions that would befall the Ethereal one from it. At this point, however, it would be appropriate for me to explain exactly why I dislike "Vision Quest" so much. Yes, I realize there's the obvious factor of everything that made the character interesting being removed and him being recast as a one dimensional place holder. No, this is an accepted hazard of the experienced comic book aficionado, that one's treasured character may be passed to the hands of a creator with ideas for that character that deviate from your own expectations. It's more the reason behind this creative decision that concerns me.

When John Byrne took over the art and writing chores of West Coast Avengers (soon to be Avengers West Coast) with issue 42, he had a storytelling objective in mind: turn the Scarlet Witch, at least for a time, into a villain. Whatever else I may have to say, Byrne is not a heavy handed writer. He didn't just, in an issues worth of flashbacks, retcon a series of hitherto unknown fractures into Wanda's mind to neatly wrap her into a villain's role (I'm looking at you Bendis). With Wanda's long history of being a good, if troubled, person, Byrne reasoned that the most logical way to make this happen would be to have Wanda go insane, to have her manipulated, first by Magneto and shortly thereafter Immortus, causing a darker, malicious personality to emerge. Byrne determined, again logically (I never said the man couldn't tell a good story), that the thing that would drive Wanda insane most capably would be the loss of almost everything she held dear. Wanda's children were effectively killed, revealed to be fragments of Mephisto. Feeling betrayed by her team for their inability to save her children, Wanda's grief was compounded when she was literally abandoned by her husband who, due to the events of "Vision Quest", no longer felt any emotional connection to her.

All things considered, this is actually a pretty good story about tragedy and loss. What bothers me about it, however, was Byrne's reasoning behind his decision to make use of the Vision the way he did. In 2006, in response to a forum question on his website,, Byrne stated "The question becomes, I suppose, one of value. Knowing that the Vision’s complete personality/memory/intelligence was downloaded into a computer in Titan (was it Titan? Memory blurs) allowed me to scrape his brain in my VisionQuest story, since everything could be restored with a literal flip of a switch. 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 (as some of you have probably already guessed)—but I would say that even if it were not possible to restore or “save” the Vision in any other way. He is a “toaster.”".

In Vision #7, writer Tom King referenced this sentiment in meta-context. King retconned the relationship of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch following the birth of their children and before the events of "Vision Quest".  Here, King reveals that the Vision realized that the twins were only a subconscious manifestation of Wanda's powers. When he tries to gently confront her with this reality, she yells at him in anger "You're a damn toaster!".

If you've read the Vision series you'll know that Mr. King thinks of the character as anything but. Sadly, though, the perception of some casual fans is that of the Vision as just an unfeeling android, Data from Star Trek with a cool cape and some density powers. As a reader with an arguably more in depth understanding of the character I have to respectfully disagree. Rather, I propose that as a synthetic being who can duplicate nearly all biological processes of a human, the Vision HAS emotions but doesn't always know what to do with them. He's not emotionless, he's just not emotional.

Most of the time.

Beginning with Avengers (volume 1) # 89, the Avengers became embroiled in the Kree-Skrull War. It being the early 70s, when female superheroes (especially at Marvel) were sadly often used as little more than a plot device for the boys to rescue, the Scarlet Witch is promptly captured by the Skrulls. In issue 96, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Vision storm the Skrull command ship and capture the ship's captain. The Vision, as stunningly rendered by the great Neal Adams, begins pummeling the Skrull captain again and again (keeping in mind they even at his normal density he can lift/press at least five tons), exclaiming "Where is the girl?!". Iron Man attempts to interject, saying "You'll kill him!  You don't know what you're doing!". The Vision's reply, at first eerily calm, and increasing with intensity with each word is "I know precisely what I am doing. I--am--KILLING--him!" (I imagine a crushing "THUD" with each punch).

Jump ahead eleven years (publishing time), specifically to the first Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries, written by Bill Mantlo. In issue 2, Vizh, Wanda, and Whizzer (the man believed to be Wanda's father at the time, and the worst character ever) are attacked by Whizzer's Golden Age nemesis, Isbisa. In the initial assault, Wanda and the Whizzer are knocked unconscious, and the Vision's left hand is melted. Incapacitated by the pain of his mutilated hand as Isbisa moves in to kill Wanda, the Vision removes the source of the pain, using his solar beams to sever his own hand in an act of agonizing sacrifice to save his beloved wife.

(For an outstanding review of the entire Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries, be sure to check out episodes 81 and 82 of Professor Alan's Quarter Bin Podcast)

Fast forward another twenty four years to Tom King's brilliant Vision series. In issue 1, Vision's daughter Viv is severely wounded, and by issue 2 is being kept alive only by equipment in Tony Stark's lab. In issue 3 Vision devises a plan to save his daughter, transferring his own life force to Viv in a highly risky procedure, with Stark regulating the equipment. As the procedure becomes potentially lethal, Stark threatens to shut down the equipment, which would save Vision's life but could end Viv's. The Vision replies "You are...a fellow Avenger. You oldest friend. But if you touch that button...I will KILL YOU"!

Readers who have been with me for some time will no doubt remember that I propose that the Vision's strongest character beat - even more than is various amazing looks and his awesome powers - is his sense of family, of both his desire to have one and his desire to hold on to one at all costs. While the Vision's demeanor may come across as aloof, perhaps even Machevalian at extremes, these are clearly the defenses of a man who is awash with emotions but is uncomfortable with them, perhaps even afraid of them. History has shown, however, that the threatening of those he loves breaks through those emotional boundaries, bring forth a man of sacrifice, passion, and intensity.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful piece, Visionquest was the beginning of, what, 20 years of the Vision not being himself? Byrne should have put the toys back in the box when he left WCA.