The Vision 5

vision 5

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Vision 5, originally released March 9th, 2016.

Drew: I’m always baffled that the notion of privilege — that the majority class might benefit from their majority status in ways they aren’t aware of — is met with such resistance. But, I suppose that’s another symptom of privilege: blindly assuming you’re in the right, evidence to the contrary be damned. That’s the spirit that made Imperialism such a cultural force in the 19th and 20th centuries, as Western Europeans and (later) Americans replaced indigenous cultures with their own, believing whole-heartedly that it was the moral thing to do. Of course, whatever high ground a colonist might presume their medical technology or christian theology gives them, there’s no denying that imperialism brings all of the evils of the western world, as well, from literal plagues to damaging social and economic practices. The Vision 5 opens with the most memorable line from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice — Shylock’s pledge to embrace the evils of the majority class — suggesting that the Visions might be better off not being human, after all.

That quote is all about embracing “humanity” as it is defined by Venice’s majority christian class, and finds Shylock adopting that definition of humanity for himself, right down to its embrace of vengeance. It’s a compelling plea for humanity that takes a very dark turn, effectively indicting that definition of humanity. It’s hard to ignore the parallels of that monologue to this series as a whole, which opened with a quizzical exploration of humanity, but has since drummed up the ugliest parts of what it is to be human, mined from the most beautiful.

Let’s back up for a second. I used to work at a summer camp, and a big part of our training for arrival day was learning to manage anxious parents. Kids tended to be excited (or would quickly get excited upon arrival), but parents tended to be more nervous — worried about their kids’ roommates, worried about the food, worried about their kids being away from home for so long. Our training focused on remembering that these parents were simply acting out of fear and love. Moreover, their fears were simply a manifestation of their love — they just want their kids to be happy, healthy, and safe. I’m willing to posit that all of the missteps the Visions have made thus far have sprung from love. Virginia’s love of Viv curdled into fear when Viv’s life was threatened by the Reaper. And again when her family’s way of life was threatened by Leon Kinzky. This issue finds Vision himself making his own mistake, also the product of his love for his family. The mistakes are stacking up, but they’re the result of the very human emotion of love.

But I guess we knew mistakes were part of the deal: to err is human, as they say. If the Visions were really going to have a go at being human, they’d have to embrace our fallibility, as well. Curiously, the very notion of fallibility becomes a sticking point, as Vision presents himself as his own alibi witness.

Alibi witness

Obviously, the other Avengers and members of the security council can attest that he was actually at the events he mentions, but why rely on the fallible human memory when you already have a robot in the room with you? Under different circumstances, the Vision might be the ideal eyewitness, but Detective Lin is right to be suspicious here. The Vision may have a perfect memory, but he also has a conflict of interest, causing him to lie — effectively destroying his reliability as a witness in the first place.

Which actually brings me to Marco D’Alfonso’s brilliant cover, of all places, which perfectly illustrates the Vision’s relationship to human morality.

Vision 5

For me, this all hinges on the detail of the Vision’s head phasing through the roof of the car. There’s enough unease in his face and posture to suggest that he’s not going without some resistance, but he is going, in spite of the reminder that handcuffs, policemen, police cars, and jails can’t actually hold him if he doesn’t want them to. He’s playing along, even if playing along means ineffectually protesting.

Writer Tom King plays with this notion further when Detective Lin comes to invite the Vision to the station to answer some questions (collected here from two pages):

Lin

The Vision isn’t going to be suckered by Lin’s non-answers, but he realizes he ultimately has to play his part when we see the other officers (goosed by Virginia’s arrival outside). Here again, the futility of imprisoning any of this family is emphasized, as both the Vision and Virginia step outside without opening the door. The Vision ultimately comes willingly, but we’re reminded that that’s really the only way he ever could.

All of which leaves the ultimate moral of this series in question. If we were talking about a Jonathan Hickman series, I might be inclined to think the resolution would be some kind of “synthezoid morality” — totally divorced from our own human morality — but that Merchant of Venice quote gives me pause. It seems like we’re increasingly veering into territory where the only safe Virginia is a “decommissioned” Virginia, and the only infallible Vision is one that doesn’t love. Patrick, I’ll spare prompting you to conjecture on the ultimate resolution of this series (though, you know, fair game if you want to), but that leaves plenty to talk about here. I’m sure you have some insights on the Vision humoring the police, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on Virginia’s touchingly bizarre breakdown, or the list of the 37 times the Vision has personally saved the world. Geez, what a jam-packed issue.

Patrick: I’ll start with the 37 times Vision saved the world, because I was almost in disbelief that King allows the narrator to relay every single one of them to the reader. It starts off as almost a rhetorical exercise, the narrator conceding that there’s no particular reason these 37 moments should be more definitive than any other time Vision directly or indirectly saved the world. King is also careful to only give us one example on the page where this concept is introduced.

Vision fights Sentinels

Before we know that the creative team is committed to listing each one (and drawing about a third of them), we’re eased in with something that doesn’t really require investigation: sure, of course he had to fight Sentinels. Who doesn’t have to fight Sentinels at one point or another? But beyond being a totally self-explanatory beat, there’s also no real indication that this is the beginning of an actual 37-item list. Like, I almost expect the narrator to lose interest after a few entries, but we get every single one. Some of it points to Marvel stories I’m familiar with — the Korvac Saga, The Kree-Skrull War, Age of Ultron — even those entries that I’m not personally familiar with have an air of credibility to them. One of them just reads “Magneto” and I like five of them are “Ultron.” These are all heroic moments from Vision’s life that forms not only our view of the character, but also forms the character’s view of himself.

We see a similar method of character definition when Detective Matt Lin shows up at the Vision household. The narrator asserts itself for the first time immediately following Mr. Santora’s lecture about Merchant of Venice, and it does so in remarkably transparent fashion. As if announcing itself as an authority, the narration starts: “Behold Matthew Lin. Detective. Arlington P.D. Homicide Division.” In fact, that “behold” strikes a slightly Shakespearean tenor, as though the narrator is trading on the authority already established by Shylock’s monologue, which Mr. Santora has already praised as “genius.” Then the narrator goes into great detail about Detective Lin’s life, tracing from a familiar touchstone — Alexander Hamilton high school, where the issue opens — to the present. Along the way, we’re confronted with a life that also exactingly credible. While we are able to understand Vision as a superhero, who needs superheroic incident in his life, we are similarly able to understand Lin’s familiarly human life. He struggled in school, watched his friends become successful, joined the army, was deployed three times, came back to a crummy job, etc. King is careful to make each of those generalities that I glossed over achingly specific. We know the street the book store was on that employed him. We know he preferred Iraq to Afghanistan, and we get that amazing detail about why: “the lies there were easier to see.”

This is a surprisingly fleshed out character, but it’s not entirely clear why he’d need to be so fleshed out. After all, his only role in this issue is to interrogate Vision. We understand Detective Lin to be, in some way, resultant from his experiences. The narrator mentions that he shot a man on duty a year ago. That detail never comes back up, but what does it that do for the reader? Does that make us view him as dangerous? Maybe it makes us think he’d be sympathetic to claims of self-defense? Maybe it’s just a way of showing that he has secrets too – not that anyone really has secrets from the narrator.

It’s just so damn impressive how thoroughly these life-long narratives instantly shape our views of the characters. I can’t help but come back to the distressing idea that Virginia, Vin and Viv all lack those detailed histories. Both within in the context of the story and on a meta level, they are only the products of what we can witness on these pages – their pasts are a scant 100 pages, if that. And it’s not like those pages have been kind to them either. Vision has 37 times he saved the world to define himself by, but Virginia? She has a series of mistakes and an ill-defined place in the community. It’s no wonder she breaks down. Drew mentioned that it’s heartbreaking, and I couldn’t agree more. She starts by trying to assert that “everything is normal” but starts meaninglessly repeating words. Walta is pretty good about making his panels respect the left and right gutters, but her violent outburst violates it completely, extending all the way to the edges of the page.

Virginia breaks the gutter

Christ, what a stellar issue. I can’t think of a more haunting line to go out on than Virginia’s spoken alone to the darkness: “I don’t know how to fix fix fix fix.”

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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10 comments on “The Vision 5

  1. Patrick, thanks for connecting the list of times the Vision saved the world with Lin’s personal history — I had noticed how the mere existence of Lin’s backstory separated him from the Visions, but I somehow didn’t connect that the Vision’s own backstory has a similar effect. I’m reminded of the notion that our identities are the stories we tell ourselves, only the Visions don’t have stories. Being a person isn’t about biology, it’s about having been a person yesterday, and the day before, and on and on. Virginia can’t deal with being a suburban housewife because that’s not in and of itself an identity — she lacks the decades of life experience that allows someone to do something so “generic” without losing themselves completely. Without a strong sense of who she is (ranging from her personality to her morality), how could she NOT have an identity crisis here?

    • Honestly, Lin and the Vision as parallels is a massive thing. I also think that it is important that his backstory is that most quintessential superhero thing, an origin. And the fact that his first panel is a direct reference to the Vision’s first appearance.

      Not entirely sure I agree with the idea that the other Visions are not people. Virginia’s issues are linked to her nature as a housewife (and again, I think it is important to bring up that she has been looking for work, to the point of using going to a recruiter as a lie). The tragedy of the Visions is that they live in the wrong place. Everything wrong with Virginia, Vin and Viv can be traced back to the everything that has happened to them, because they are ‘different’

      • Should have said ‘the other Visions lack identities’, not ‘the other Visions are not people’. Much better way to phrase your point

      • But what makes them different is that they don’t have a backstory. They’re constantly remarking on the most mundane aspects of daily life — things that just seem normal to us. They have no frame of reference for “normal,” so have to struggle to synthesize logic and human behavior. We might notice those illogical aspects of daily life, but they’re still normal to us. My point was simply that who we believe we are is based on the narratives we hold about our lives up to this point, and that the Visions stepped into this world with full cognitive abilities, but no narrative to support an identity.

        • You are right that who we are is influenced by every event that happened before, which the Visions obviously lack. But all this means that their identities are made up of a smaller set of references (though the fact that Virginia’s brain is based on someone may suggest that her identity is based on events that she personally didn’t experience. Which also means that Vin and Viv, whose identities are gesalts of their parents, also are defined in part by experiences they didn’t actually have). A smaller set of references is still an identity, even if it is a still brand new one (I’m not sure I like the idea that experience builds an identity. Prefer to look at it as experience changes and adjusts the identity).

          But you state that it is no surprise that Virginia has had an identity crisis, but I’m saying that the crises of all of the Visions is based primarily on the events. We don’t know the full story of Virginia’s malfunction, but it is likely to do with the consequences of the first four issues and the mystery of who her brain patterns are based on (especially considering the mental issues of the primary candidate). Not the fact that she is still new to this world and has little narrative to her identity

        • I don’t think the ideas you guys are tossing around are mutually exclusive. Part of what’s wrong with Virginia is that she’s Vision’s idea of what a modern wife is, and that role — like so many in modern culture — is at odds with how human beings actually want to live their lives. Virginia can have a tough time dealing with her darkness for the same reason Betty Draper does: it’s unrealistic for either of them to live their lives free from that perspective. Like, they’re both incomplete, and both because they are forced into an identity that either doesn’t make sense or isn’t suited to them. I think it’s literally true in this series that Virginia doesn’t have a lot of life experience to pour into her own identity, but I think the metaphor to societal pressure (especially those placed on women) is just as strong.

        • Patrick’s point re: mutual exclusivity is a good one — our readings aren’t necessarily in opposition, but I think there are still some details to quibble over. I certainly agree that it’s the events of the previous four issues that have pushed Virginia over the edge, but I do think her lack of life experience makes for a rich substrate for an identity crisis. If I killed somebody tomorrow, I’d certainly be shaken up, but I’d also have decades of memories of not killing people to reassure me that I’m not defined by that action — killing would make up only a fraction of a percentage of my lived experience. Virginia, on the other hand, has been involved in violent altercations more times than she’s had birthdays, which makes those moments a much more significant portion of her lived experience, and thus, more important to her conception of who she is. Put another way, it’s harder for her to dismiss her actions as aberrant when she has so little context for them.

  2. In Avengers 57, the cover featured a giant figure standing tall above the Avengers, who scurried below his feat. The cover is coloured in an ominous red, as we are told to ‘BEHOLD… THE VISION’. Which makes introducing the detective with the same words very meaningful. I can understand why Patrick went for Shakespeare, it is obviously on your mind reading a issue that begins with Merchant of Venice and I have long said that the style of Shakespeare is very similar to Silver Age Comics, just much better written.

    But I’ll come back to the detective, as I want to discuss the Shakespeare. That first scene of Vin is amazing work by both Walta and Bellaire. The girl on Vin’s left is disinterested and above it all, while the boy on Vin’s right is utterly bored (I have never seen two characters so utterly wrong in a comic since Bruno and Mike talked about how Return of the King had too many endings in Ms Marvel 1). Meanwhile, Shakespeare is truly speaking to Vin, and he is at attention and entranced. Told all through the art (especially as Walta does a great job in making Vin look different in subtle ways, and not just the obvious ways). But Bellaire comes along with his colours, and Vin’s classmates fade into the background while Vin and the teacher stands out. Same with Viv on the next page. Some fantastic visual storytelling, and a great reminder that while Omega Men’s (great) art is the easiest to show off (nine panel grid!), all of King’s books have truly amazing art.

    And now onto Detective Lin, who is introduced exactly like the Vision. Belliaire even lights the panel with the reds from the police car. Which brilliant sets up the detective as equivalent to the Vision. While previous issues have had antagonists, none have ever gone up matched the Vision. The Vision has been above everything, the unstoppable SUperman who solves all problems. Drama comes only from his ignorance, as something like Vin’s suspension is easily solved by Vision dictating terms. But Detective Lin is an equal. An actual fight, against a man with a proper, superheoric introduction and an origin story (I think it is notable he brings up Vin’s suspension to underline this point. The Vision can’t deal with Detective Lin in the same way as the principal.

    And then there is the interrogation itself. I love how Vision is sitting, while the detective is walking around, giving a subtle predator and prey vibe. The power dynamics are obvious, and you can tell that Detective Lin has enough understanding on the story that things are about to come apart. The book has long operated on a level of dread. The Vision is obviously a Shakespearean tragedy, but it is also quite similar to Bryan Fuller’s sensational Hannibal. That show took advantage of the very fact that we knew the ending to build tension. We cared so much about the characters, that every step closer to the ending scared us more. What Hannibal did with its place in pop culture, the Vision is doing with prophecy. We know roughly what the ending is, and are totally scared at what is going to happen as it gets closer and closer.

    But alongside the interrogation, we have the list of times the Vision saved the Earth. I wonder how many of these events actually happened. can see Tom King hitting the books and finding each and every instance, but no one will complain if there are a couple of untold stories there. But I think the important feature is how every time they mention Ultron after the first, they say ‘Ultron–again’. Notably, this isn’t the case with Kang (in fact, it intentionally draws attention away from Kang), and also notably, Jocasta is the only threat given a descriptor (Bride of Ultron). It draws attention to Ultron, to remind us of the great contradiction that the Vision faces, between the two worlds. Between the world of his father and the world of humanity. Quite notable, as at the very end, it makes very clear that the Vision has crossed a threshhold, and done something that can’t be fixed.

    The tension has been building, and just after a reminder of how closely connected he is to Ultron, the floodgates open. In the comments of last issue, I discussed how, quite simply, the Visions are in an environment toxic to them, and the only way for them to thrive is to burn everything down around them. And here, the Vision has made a choice to look out for his own.

    And you can see why, when everyone else is breaking. Vin’s hand is through his head, desperately looking for an answer for his question. But you cannot prick a man who can go insubstantial. Viv is broken by CKs death, a consequence of the world’s toxic response to them. And Virginia? Utterly broken. Malfunctioning, and barely able to express what she wants to expressed – her belief that the situation is beyond fixing.

    And of course she’s right. The Vision made his choice

    • We probably could have done a break down of every single page and discussed how Walta and Bellaire are kicking ass at telling this story. I mentioned the blown gutters when Virginia smashes the table, but every other gutter violation is just as meaningful.

      I also didn’t mention this, but I LOVED the half-page panel of the Vision fighting alongside the Avengers early in this issue. There’s no copy that clues us into what’s happening, just the running Shakespeare, and it’s not really like it matters what’s going on. It’s sort of just a primer for that 37 moments thing – and another excellent reminder that Vision has the heroic aspect of his identity that he can totally take for granted.

      I’m intrigued by the power dynamic between Detective Lin and Vision throughout that interrogation scene. We’re so locked in to that narration, which at this point is clearly more in Vision’s head than in Lin’s head, and that’s just punctuated by all the panels that actually show slices of Vision’s history. We don’t get such slices from Lin’s story. But we also get a peek inside Vision’s morality – we know that he’s lying – even as the narration refuses to give us any insight into what Lin’s thinking.

      • As discussed in the Big Two thread, so many books have struggled to naturally coexist with Waid’s Avengers run, for some strange reason. As much as a really disliked the issue I read, there is nothing about the run that should be hard to coexist with. But despite the fact that the Vision is a suburban psychological thriller, it really uses his status as a superhero and an Avenger to great effect.

        Honestly, the hard thing about writing about the Vision or Omega Men is deciding on what parts to write about. You could easily write an entire dissertation by going through panel by panel. So much is happening on each page, between the writing, the art, the colours. Even the covers, and I meant to say something about how all of the Vision’s covers have been so great. And yet it is so easy to focus on the big stuff like the 37 moments.

        I’m expecting this comic to go very wild soon, and yet I’m fascinated about Detective Lin. Because there is a unique dynamic. We don’t know all of his secrets, but we know he is a big deal, we know that he is one of the few characters to actually exert any power on the Vision and we know that he has just enough knowledge about the story to be dangerous.

        Combining the massive look inside the Vision’s head with Lin asking some very insightful questions actually creates a very powerful association, that I’m sure King wants to use to really sell Lin as a guy who can cut through the lies.

        There is so much to talk about in this book. It is honestly a shame Tom King signed an exclusive with DC, as I’d love to see what he would do with a second ‘season’ of the Vision (especially as there won’t be a second season of Omega Men). Let’s just hope he gets to do some interesting stuff in DC Rebirth

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