The Vision 4

vision 4

Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing The Vision 4, originally released February 3rd, 2016.

Drew: I recently watched a video titled “Why Donald Trump is a Gift to Democracy,” which effectively argues that the correlation between Trump’s disproportionate coverage and high poll numbers reveals the problems in how a profit-driven news media can be hijacked by anyone desperate for attention. I’m not as optimistic as the video seems to be about our collective will to change this phenomenon, but the more I think about it, the more absurd a profit-driven news agency is — if good reporting and the bottom line don’t match up, a publicly traded company really only has a duty to the latter. It’s ultimately not in service of the public it reports to, but the shareholders. This may seem like an odd introduction to a discussion of a comic about a robot-family’s struggles at fitting in in suburbia, but a profit-driven news media is actually the closest thing I can think of to an artificial intelligence that would harm humans in order to sustain itself. Only, you know, I have a lot more sympathy for the family of robots.

The issue finds the Vision family back to some sense of normalcy, as The Vision plays with the kids in the yard. Of course, at the center of this normalcy is a heightened concern of what normalcy is, resulting in unnatural conversations about the hierarchies of cognition and justice. It highlights their alien nature just in time for them to give up the pursuit of normalcy in favor of just having fun.

Football

Dad caving to a kid’s weird request? I can’t think of a more human interaction than that — or indeed, a more normal one — but it’s not “normal,” so it can’t be seen as such. These contradictions are at the heart of this series — the Vision even remarks that changing but not changing is “the most human of endeavors,” but can’t seem to recognize when he’s embodying that ethos. The kids fare a bit better, though that may actually have more to do with the empathy of their peers than anything they do themselves. A few kind words from C.K. is the lifeline Viv needs to feel human, though that victory is ultimately undone at the issue’s climax.

Virginia’s accident is quickly turning into a killing spree, but writer Tom King leads us right to the grisly conclusion, keeping her actions grounded in very human emotions. He also plants some brilliant Chekhov’s guns throughout the issue, taking time to remind us of the Visions’ phasing abilities, C.K.’s scared father, the literal gun that goes off towards the end of the issue, and the “they change but they do not change” totem that is the final image of the issue. Taken together, these elements present a remarkably tight, self-contained story that articulates all of the themes of this series, even as it complicates them.

That complication comes in the form of C.K.’s father. It might be easy to call his reactionary threats as less human than Virginia’s righteous indignation, but that would require us to forget Virginia’s own killing-in-the-name-of-her-family from issue 2 that, at the time, I read as a very human reaction. That is, C.K.’s father is making a very similar choice to the one she made with the Reaper — his child was harmed, so he’s prepared to kill. Only, you know, he actually offers not killing as plan A. Is a dispassionate blackmailing plot (with a gunpoint threat) more human than a heat-of-the-moment homicide? I honestly don’t know, though Virginia’s killing of C.K.’s father here is several shades darker than when she killed the Reaper; he posed no immediate mortal threat to her or her family — he was just going to make her life inconvenient. However defensible her actions were before, they clearly cross a different set of lines here.

I’m not inclined to make any kind of slippery slope argument, but given the rapidly increasing body count, and the fact that these two deaths result quite directly from the first, it’s hard to think that the killing will stop here. But that’s getting ahead of the story — this issue is so remarkably self-contained, there’s no need to look beyond its pages. Spencer, I ended up spending a lot of time focusing on the plot points, but the structure of this issue really is remarkable. Do you have a favorite symbol, detail, or turn of phrase that gets repeated somewhere in this issue? Was the “Fighting Redskins” too on-the-nose for you?

Spencer: I don’t know if symbolism can ever be too on-the-nose for me, Drew — I understand “death of the author” and that we’re all entitled to our own readings and everything, but I still appreciate when creative teams give me a clear sign that my thinking is lining up with what they originally intended. So no, “Fighting Redskins” isn’t too on-the-nose for me. In fact, I still don’t think I’ve taken in the full extent of what that particular bit of imagery represents. I can certainly try, though.

At first it seems rather simple. The “Fighting Redskins” — or, rather, the school’s retiring of that mascot — represents change and progress. It’s impossible to look at that logo and not think of the actual, real-life Redskins football team, who cling to their name and logo despite its blatantly offensive, racist nature. I can understand why the team would be hesitant to change — there’s decades of brand recognition behind that name — but those reasons can’t justify the harmful stereotypes and abuses the “Redskins” name has facilitated over the decades. In that sense, Alexander Hamilton High should be praised for its willingness to change their team name and mascot in order to make the school a more welcoming, inclusive place.

But as the Vision points out, “they change but they do not change.” Change is a slow process that often involves much backsliding — the fact that “Fighting Redskins” logos can occasionally still be found around the school goes a long way to explain why, despite its attempts to become more welcoming, Hamilton High’s still a cold, frightening place for Viv and Vin to attend. Regardless, the trying means something, and the school’s attempts to be more inclusive could very well have helped influence C.K. to be more empathetic towards Viv. For her, that means the world.

On the other hand, the “Fighting Redskins” logo is still displayed proudly and prominently in the home of C.K.’s father. As easy as it would be to flat-out claim that this represents Mr. Kinzky rejecting change, that isn’t a claim I can back 100%. Reluctant or not, Kinzky initially made an effort to connect to the Visions by visiting their home, and had legitimate reason to be scared by Virginia and Vin’s actions. Still, he’s unable to bring himself to refer to the Visions by any term other than “things,” showing an unwillingness to acknowledge their humanity or agency, and he straight up tells them that they’re not welcome in “his” neighborhood, showing possessiveness and an unwillingness to allow anything new into his comfort zone. There’s a good chance that things would’ve played out like this between the two families even without Reaper’s murder.

All this really goes to emphasize the plight of the outsider, which is a central theme of both this issue and the series as a whole. The Visions’ issues aren’t all that different from the problems faced by first generation immigrants (as Patrick noted when we discussed Vision 1), and with that comparison in mind, the fear and hatred of the town feels all the more familiar.

the idea of you

Humans fear what they don’t understand, and that lack of understanding causes us to stereotype and pigeonhole people — we hate and fear people because of an idea we build of them in our heads without ever getting to really know them. C.K. proves that this vicious cycle can be broken with effort and empathy. Still, as wise as it is, parts of Vision’s advice — specifically, placing the onus of change on his children — worries me. There are always going to be people who can’t be convinced of your humanity, who will refuse to ever change, and taking on the burden of trying to “educate” those ones can prove to be quite dangerous.

That actually reminds me of my favorite bit of recurring dialogue throughout Vision 4: “It just goes through me.” Drew, if you want to talk about “on-the-nose”, this is as “on-the-nose” as it gets. Things literally go through the Visions. They can’t be harmed if they don’t want to be, and if we stick with the metaphors we’ve been using so far, then this seems to apply to the ostracized who are able to develop a thick skin and legitimately shake off insults and threats, letting them “go right through them.” The thing is, though, that this doesn’t hold true for everyone around them. Virginia is impervious to Kinzky’s bullets, but phasing through them gets C.K. killed in the crossfire. Likewise, simply shrugging off harmful behavior instead of challenging it allows the perpetuators to continue harassing those who may be less confident than us.

In that sense, the Visions’ greatest strengths may also be their greatest weaknesses, and that brings me to the other possible interpretation of “The Fighting Redskins”: that it represents the Visions themselves.

side by side

This page makes that reading rather obvious. Walta positions the Vision’s head and the mascot’s image side-by-side, and colorist Jordie Bellaire gives both figures the same skin-tone. What does it mean to equate these two figures, though? If the Fighting Redskins represent a resistance to change, then this could easily be referring to the Visions’ stubborn attempts to be seen as “human.”

If we return to the first-generation immigrant metaphor, then the Visions’ attempts to become “human” at all costs would equate to immigrants who might hide their former culture in an attempt to better assimilate with America. I can understand where that desire comes from, but burying cultural identities does no favors to a family. After all, those customs are nothing to be ashamed of — just because they aren’t “normal” to a specific region doesn’t mean they aren’t still important. The Visions may not be “human,” but they’re still alive, and their unique perspectives bring a lot to the table that they choose to ignore. Throughout these past four issues, the only time when the Visions seemed truly happy was when they put aside their concerns about being human for a few minutes and just tossed a football around together. By trying so hard to pigeonhole themselves into society’s ideas of what a “human” is, the Visions are missing out on truly appreciating each other.

This is also a threat in smaller, more insidious ways. For example, Virginia covers up Grim Reaper’s death (a murder that, if not inevitable, was at least justifiable) because she doesn’t want to “disrupt” their “normal” family — that’s not a healthy attitude. Actually, it’s interesting to me that Virginia seems the most unhinged of the family. Vision has the Avengers and Viv and Vin have school to help them become more socialized and empathetic, but Virginia has no one. I’m not trying to insult housewives — it can be a challenging and rewarding career — but I wonder if it’s what Virginia actually wants. When I look at Virginia I see poor Betty Draper, stuck in a house with kids she doesn’t relate to, shooting birds out of the sky because it’s the only way she can take control of her life. Virginia has the power to be an Avenger but instead is confined to her home in an attempt to replicate a “normal American family,” even though that concept was proven toxic ages ago.

Man, depicting the Visions as victims of both society and themselves — while not minimizing the horror of Virginia’s actions — is a tight line to walk, but King and Walta ace it. The Vision has stood out since issue one, but this issue is in a league all its own. I can’t wait to see if King and Walta can top it next month.

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?

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3 comments on “The Vision 4

  1. Matt!!! I know this is a longshot (and it’s a very common name), but I’ve just got a feeling here…that first letter in the letter column, is that you?

    • Haven’t been alive for 30 years, let alone reading comics that long. No, the letter isn’t from me.

      I’ll write up a proper post later, as there is a lot I want to talk about in this comic, but on the point about Virginia, I believe it has been mentioned several times that Virginia is planning on getting a job, and therefore leaving the house and having her own chance to socialize. She certainly used the recruited as an excuse to meet with CK’s father, but I also believe there have been other mentions to the idea that Virginia, all things going well (Ha!, fat chance) will eventually have her own job.

      But the fact that she hasn’t yet is certainly important

  2. I saw that Donald Trump video some time ago, and it is an interesting one. Will be interesting to see if things change as we move forward (especially after people have a close look at Ted Cruz, who Trump has allowed to sneak in). But honestly, comparing the Visions to profit-driven news media certainly isn’t the first place I would compare this comic. My first comparison would, as is so obviously set up, be Charlie Brown.

    Is there anything more ordinary than Charlie Brown? I mean, let’s compare the Peanuts movie to other comic book movies. It is honestly hard to think of many comic book movies that are ordinary. Comic book movies are where we watch Batman interrogate terrorists who look like clowns, Scott Pilgrim fight video game style boss fights or Captain America discuss how he knows what babies taste like (bonus points if anyone gets that reference). Even something like Blue is the Warmest Colour exploits the transgressive nature that same sex relations sadly still are today. And then Peanuts comes along, where the story is about things as ordinary as winning a talent show, or flying a kite. And, of course, try and kick a football.

    And this is where the Vision begins. Except it is inverted. It explicitly rejects the idea that kids would be ordinary. The structure is the same. The boy kicking the ball, while the girl holds it for him. One of them discusses how they don’t trust the other. But Viv isn’t pulling the ball away from Vin. Instead, Vin is intentionally phasing through the ball and Viv to annoy her. Rejecting Charlie Brown’s ordinariness in a way that highlights the way that the Visions aren’t normal. And yet, it is for good reason that there is none of Agatha Harkness’ narration.

    Even after last issue’s reveal that the narration is not an outside narrator but Agatha Harkness’ vision before she died, the narration still works as it did before. Moments of self actualization and of being human are defined not by the clinical observations of Agatha’s narration, but instead defined by the absence of narration. This is why the narration only focuses on Virginia (and, notably, only exists on panels where the ‘camera’ is inside, and therefore locationally separate from the Vision, Vin and Viv). Unlike the rest of the family, self actualizing and having fun by throwing a ball together in a way that only the Visions could, Virginia isn’t expressing herself. She is being forced to be small (with some truly fantastic body language by Walta and not define herself.

    Ultimately, this is the sin that the presence of narration signifies. When Vin and Viv return to school, you see the same thing. They are partitioned off, separated and therefore unallowed to interact or express themselves, until Viv meets C.K. All of a sudden, the narration disappears. And, unsurprisingly, when we have a scene where both CK and Viv are allowed to self express, to be themselves, Viv starts casually walking through walls and phasing through the rain. The Vision wishes to be human, but his method or normalcy is obviously false. What the kids learn is that humanity comes not from being ordinary, but by being yourself. By embracing your outsiderness.

    It is with this that we enter the final act of this issue. Which is all about embracing that. Virginia, bullied into submission at the start, takes control of her own agency, and of the narrative. She forces the Vision into breaking his plans, as she goes not to be blackmailed, but to control the situation. However, as much as self expression is seen, generally, as a great thing, King explores the dark side here. A dark side made very clear my the obvious Redskins flagthing, established obviously at the start of the scene.

    The Redskins join the vase of from the first issue as symbolizing suburbia. The vase that was, ultimately, toxic to all flowers inside. While the vase is a general purpose statement, the Redskins is a very specific critique. It is backwards. As Vision says, they change but they do not change. Even as suburbia will preach the correct way of doing things, they will still have a Redskins flagthing on the wall, and they will still throw a Redskins ball. And this refusal to let go of old prejudices, of the past, costs C.K’s father the only thing it could cost him. The Future. His son. His failures cost him.

    But the hard thing is that this comic has never been just about self actualization. The setting itself is just as important. From C.K.’s regressive father, to the kids doing graffiti last issue, the world around the Vision is a toxic one. And this is what makes the book a horror book. Only the Vision doesn’t know what to do in their quest to become human. The Vision is still trying to be Charlie Brown. The rest have figured out the secret. They have figured out how to be human, and am embracing their outsiderness. But they are doing so in the middle of an environment that is toxic to the very concept of difference. If the Visions are to survive, they need to burn everything around them.

    And Agatha Harkness, before she died, had a very telling Vision of the Future

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