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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.”
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