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.
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.
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.
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.
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