Spencer: Secret Wars is dead — long live “All New, All Different Marvel”. We’re a few weeks into Marvel’s newest initiative, and so far each book is handling the “All New” mandate in a different way. Some books aren’t really changing at all (Spider-Gwen), some are throwing a few new quirks or cast members into familiar concepts (Guardians of the Galaxy, Invincible Iron Man), and some are taking their stars into completely uncharted territory (Amazing Spider-Man). For my money, though, there’s no book as drastically new and different as Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision. Part fairy-tale, part family drama, part inevitable tragedy, The Vision 1 is a comic unlike anything I’ve read in quite a while. If I’m being honest, I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around it, but I know one thing: I like it.
After clearing much of his memory, the Vision — The Avengers’ steadfast resident synthezoid — has created for himself a family. The Visions — including wife Virginia and twins Viv and Vin — have relocated to Arlington, Virginia, to start a life together, and despite their robotic nature, in many ways they’re the ideal family. Indeed, what seems most significant to me about this issue is the air of normalcy that surrounds the Visions’ life. For example, George and Nora’s visit — and the Visions’ subsequent showing off of their home — could be almost any typical suburban visit to a strange new neighbor. Likewise, Viv and Vin showing off their abilities to impress the neighborhood children isn’t much different from, say, a rich child trying to win over their new neighbors with money or cool toys.
This is purposeful, of course, because the Vision and his family are trying to be the ideal American family. Yet, no matter how hard they try, there’s always something just slightly off about their attempts. There’s just no hiding the fact that the Visions aren’t humans, and aren’t typical. George isn’t upset about meeting his new neighbors because they’re weird or eccentric, it’s because they’re not human. Vision and Virginia bicker like any married couple, but instead of clashing over bills or family, they argue about the tone behind their specific word choices or why their super-intelligent children have to attend school. Even when engaging in the most mundane activities possible, King never lets the readers forget that these characters are robots.
Walta does something similar with his art — despite humanoid designs and realistic clothes, it’s obvious from just a glance that the Visions aren’t human. Walta even knows how to play up their human features vs. their robotic features depending on the needs of the scene.
For example, in the top row Vin looks much more human; we can see his hair, we can see his layered clothes, we can see his mannerisms. Once his normality is called into question, though, suddenly he looks much more robotic; the top of his hair is cut off, making its sides look more like pieces of machinery than hair, his body and clothes are mostly obscured, his expression is much more blank, and the panel closes in on the seams on his face. Walta is fantastic at emphasizing just the right aspects of his characters in each scene.
Robots or not, though, in any other version of this title I’d be rooting for the Visions to succeed at building their ideal family, but there’s something about Vision that makes the family’s quest feel ominous and ill-fated.
Again, in any other book this would be inspirational, but in The Vision it just comes across as ominous. There’s something about that word “unobtainable” that casts a dark shadow over the whole conversation — it’s the Vision, and therefore King as well, admitting that the Vision’s dream can never really come true.
Of course, we needn’t look at such tiny examples to realize that this book is a tragedy in the making. Perhaps the most unique convention at play in Vision is King’s use of narration to describe much of the story — even using narration in place of dialogue at times. The narration, and especially the use of past tense in it, frames this book as a story that’s already reached its ending and is simply being relayed to us after the fact, lending the entire tale an air of fatalism. Moreover, King lets us know from the get-go that things are going to get dark, and that the Visions aren’t going to have a happy ending.
With the tragedy of the Visions established so early, readers don’t have to worry about whether the Visions will work out as a family or not; they just have to figure out why they won’t. I’d could make an argument that The Vision has a rather cynical view of family in general, but there’s a few moments that make me think otherwise, such as George’s final thoughts being of how much he loves Nora, no matter how much they fight throughout the issue.
Instead, I think the problem here is that the Vision is trying to force his family to be something that they’re not. They aren’t normal, they aren’t human, but instead of embracing that, he tries to turn them into the quintessential American family; heck, it’s implied that Vision might even be forcing himself to love his wife because that’s what he’s supposed to do. That’s a recipe for dysfunction if I’ve ever seen one.
Or I could be way off base with that theory, but no matter what point King is trying to make via this uncanny family and their failings, The Vision is unique and different enough to capture my attention and get me eagerly awaiting more insight. Patrick, do you have any theories on what exactly’s going on with the Visions? Any thoughts on the villain who attacks Viv at the issue’s end? I assume he’s the brother of Wonder Man — whose consciousness was used as the original template for the Vision — and if nothing else, that raises some questions for me about what, if any, consent the Visions and their donors had in putting this family together.
Patrick: That question of consent is an interesting one Spencer, and I think it’s one that King wants us to apply to families in general. I’ll agree that the particulars of the Vision’s family are unique and weird, but the overwhelming feeling of being a fraud is one of the more universal themes expressed in the issue. I had a good chuckle at Vision and Virginia’s conversation about whether to use the word “friendly” or “nice” to describe George and Nora, but I realized how many times I’ve had similar conversations (with my girlfriend, with my friends, with my sisters) about proper use of slang terms and phrases. Hell, I still don’t know how to use “on fleek.” Society is a hard superstructure to fit into, and it’s even weirder when you’re three or four or five people trying to convince the world that you’re one solid unit, just like everyone else.
Actually, King seems to be explicitly tapping in to the first generation immigrant’s experience here. Vision has the stated goal of fitting in and does so through sheer force of will. He also hangs on tightly to his old customs — which in this case are donning his crime fighting gear and checking in with the Avengers and the White House — and worries about providing for his family. The kids on the other hand, watch a lot of movies and TV.
We never get to see the kids’ perspective on why they delve so deeply into “outside sources” – and we also don’t get to know what media the kids are really taking in. Their father remembers them fighting about Merchant of Venice, but maybe that’s just because he wouldn’t understand their arguments about Breaking Bad or Adventure Time or whatever. The point is, that no matter how alien King and Walta try to make their behavior look, there’s something immediately identifiable about their struggle to fit in.
Which might be part of the reason I was sorta bored during this issue. Spencer praised the use of a first-person narration that appears to be speaking to us from the future, but I found it to be extremely cold and clinical. I know we could argue that that is the point of the narration, but I’m not sure that the series gains as much from it as it loses in pacing. King has Walta — one of the great visual storytellers working in the medium today — and clutters every single one of his panels with copy. Flip back through the issue: there are no examples where the pictures get a chance to tell a story independent of King’s words. In fact, here’s one curious example of essentially the same sentence being used in two consecutive panels.
Of course, this is an example of King playing the same language game that Vision and Virginia were playing in the previous scene. He’s juxtaposing the use of words or phrases that denote virtually the same thing, but which connote very different things. But you have to wonder what the effect would be to just use the copy “Many of them took pictures to post on their various pages” and placed that between these two panels. That allows the reader to observe the difference in the images Walta presents us with, and form our own emotional reaction to it. Vision’s voiceover eliminates that emotional interactivity, and I think that’s what frustrated me the most reading this issue – it doesn’t want me to play along.
We’ll be posting a piece about Midnighter 6 for tomorrow, which presents a similar theme of a superhero creating his own perfect family life. I discuss it at length, but one of the reasons Midnighter feels like a more successful exploration of that concept is because it embraces what family and domesticity and responsibility and love and acceptance mean in 2015. The Vision might be part of an All-New, All-Different initiative, but the ideal life its characters are chasing is a relic of a different era. That makes the Vision’s world seem more artificial, which I suppose is appropriate, I’m just not sure how engaging I find that.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?