Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Vision 9, originally released July 13, 2016.
Patrick: Last month, Ryan lead off her discussion with the weird relationships uncles have with their families. Uncles have a way of bringing the outside world in to an insular little unit. I’m an uncle myself, and I know that when I walk into my sister’s house, she and her husband and their two children are going to be exposed to whatever weirdness I might inject into their routine. They all tolerate (or celebrate, depending on how open they’re feeling) my weirdness precisely because we’re family. But I always harbor a secret fear that my uncle-y eccentricities will reveal themselves to be uncle-y weaknesses in the eyes of a completely put-together family. Of course, I’m projecting. Just because there’s a pair of kids and two well-employed parents doesn’t mean that something isn’t lacking. But it’s hard not to view your own shortcomings as catastrophic in the face of such idyllic perfection. Vision 9 exposes Victor’s biggest uncle-y weaknesses – he’s a drifter and an addict and spent his whole life fighting.
Which, of course, means that he’s not at all good news for the Visions. The real-time events of this issue, which can’t take place over more than ten minutes, are basically confined to the room where Victor electrocutes Vin to death. Obviously, that’s huge. So big, in fact, that we’re made aware of this electrocution from the second panel, even without having all the information. This is a trick that repeats itself several times on the first 10 pages: wide panels that span the entire width of the page — obliterating the gutter — show the power and persistence of Victor’s destructive electric attack. Artist Gabriel Walta lets those jagged lightning bolts fly, and colorist Jordie Bellaire gives all of these panels a dangerous palette of electric blue and white.
Not only do these panels help to create a dramatic irony between the ultra-domestic “have you seen your brother?” scene and the life-or-death scene between Victor and Vin, the constant visual expression of Victor’s powers plants this concept of chaos on the readers’ head. Let’s hold on to that idea for a second and segue, as the issue does, to Victor’s addiction.
Victor, as it turns out, is addicted to vibranium. He doesn’t smash it up into a powder and snort it or smelt it down in a spoon and shoot it or anything like that. Writer Tom King has smartly decided to make his vibranium use totally invisible, even to the reader. Too often, the physical ritual of taking a drug is demonized, making it seem like the evil is in the act of doing. Take Requiem for a Dream for example: the film turns heroine use into a nightmare scenario, making Jared Leto’s character poke his rotting, oozing flesh with a needle until he can find a vein. It’s gross, and it’s effective (I was a little grossed out just recalling those details), but that grossness ultimately misses the point. In fact, that almost makes the character’s actions heroic – look what he had to overcome in order to sate his addiction! To “do” vibranium, all Victor needs to do his hold it, which reinforces the idea that this is his default. It is easier for him to abuse vibranium than not to.
Mind you, that doesn’t stop King, Walta, and Bellaire from having a little fun and playing one of Victor’s flashback scenes as a straight-up “hey man, are you holding?” scene. I really liked this sequence between Chase and Victor – it’s like a little slice of secret history from what I think is Infinity. The Runaways are in New York about to fight off (what I assume to be) Thanos’ army, so Victor and Chase get to have a NYC rooftop conversation – kinda the perfect space for this After School Special moment.
I am IN LOVE with Bellaire’s coloring here. I don’t even really know how to describe the ways the blues and greens bleed into each other and transgress Walta’s inks, but it’s fucking fantastic. Plus, that mustard color on Victor’s jacket perfectly recalls the yellow on his original stick of vibranium, painting a none-too-subtle connection between the man and the drug.
Armed with all of this visual information, we can finally move back into the present, where Victor is, of course, doing something horrible. In a moment of desperation, Vin lets out one final forehead-gem laser-blast as he shouts for his father. Victor’s going nuts at this point, so there’s all kinds of spaghetti-esque lighting mucking up the page. But Vin’s laser cuts through:
Straight as a goddamn arrow, four panels all insisting on its straightness and perfection. Victor’s life is a mess, a patchwork of Runaways and Ultrons and Avengers and disappointment and addiction and betrayal. And that’s the biggest uncle-y weakness of all.
Spencer, my god is this issue sad. The narration at the end starts to ask the question of who is to blame for this catastrophe, but that almost feels superfluous at this point, right? Also, how about recontextualizing that scene at the piano from the previous issue. Heartbreaking!
Spencer: Patrick, I reread the first Vision trade today (containing the first six issues of this series), and dude, this entire series is one giant, heartbreaking tragedy! But yes, between Victor’s backstory and the death of Vin, this issue is particularly brutal. Man, King doesn’t pull his punches: this is the second child he’s killed over the course of this series! There’s a lot of reasons Vin’s death hits so hard — he’s a character we’ve come to know and empathize with over the past 8 issues, his death is pointless and comes at the hands of someone he trusted, his agony is stretched across 20 pages — but the number one reason has got to be because he’s still just a child. It’s a point King makes sure to emphasize.
As the issue continues, Vin will plead with Victor and eventually call for his father, but when Vin is in the most pain, like any child, he calls for his mother. King builds to this point, too: Vin starts out with a calmer “Mother” before escalating to “Mother!” until, finally, he cries “Mommy!” It’s the most human Vin’s ever felt, and it’s absolutely devastating. I’ll admit, I had to put the book down for a few minutes to compose myself when I reached this panel.
Patrick, you’re right; in the light of such a tragedy, trying to blame or find fault feels especially useless. I mean, it’s what always happens in situations like this, because humans need someone to blame, but it’s not going to bring Vin back. What’s interesting about the narration here, though, is that it doesn’t necessarily seem to be trying to assign blame for Vin’s death — instead, the narrator (is it still Agatha Harkness?) is explaining how this particular sequence of events leads to what’s been hyped as a deadly confrontation with the Avengers in upcoming issues. The blame here is less about Vin’s death specifically, and more about the tragedy still looming in the future.
Truthfully, even using the words “blame” and “fault” here seems a bit inappropriate — the dispassionate narration doesn’t seek to pass judgment, simply to relay the sequence of events leading up to the confrontation between Vision and the Avengers. Both sides share blame, and both sides’ roles in the situation have been influenced both by their own faults and failings and by outside forces far beyond their control.
That brings me to what is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Vision: there are no real “bad” guys. Traditional comic book villains are largely limited to Vision’s day job as an Avenger; instead, King and Walta imbue every character with complex emotions and motivations, and again, don’t judge any of them for their actions. Characters as disparate as Mr. Kinzky, Grim Reaper, Victor, or even Vision and his family have all done some pretty bad things, but also have some pretty understandable (if not necessarily justifiable) reasons for their actions.
If anything, the true antagonists of Vision may be the forces beyond our cast’s control. What’s more destructive: people like Mr. Kinzky, or the xenophobia that fuels their hatred? Someone like Grim Reaper, or the insanity that so clearly plagued him? The Visions, or the crushing sense of toxic conformity that causes them to attempt to be “normal” no matter what the cost?
Most pertinent to Vision 9, though, is the example of Victor Mancha.
One of the more interesting aspects of Victor’s backstory is the violence he’s endured. Victor doesn’t use vibranium to escape reality — he uses it to ease his pain (at least at first). As much as Victor is the messy addict uncle, he’s also the veteran, and he’s returned to his family scarred and hurt and not quite the person he used to be. It doesn’t justify his actions (if anything, I feel like Victor’s actions are some of the worst we’ve seen in the series thus far; Virginia killed the Reaper in self defense, and Chris’s death was out of her control, but Victor intentionally attacked his nephew so that he wouldn’t be caught spying on his family), but it does thoroughly explain them, and it paints Victor as less of a villain, and more of a victim himself, albeit one who has screwed up in the most horrific way possible.
It’s almost a little strange to say this about a series that often comes across as (purposely) clinical, but Vision shows great compassion for all its characters, and that’s what makes this book a tragedy. When the Vision inevitably takes on his friends in the Avengers, it won’t be a black-and-white confrontation — it will be a man fighting desperately to keep his crumbling family together vs. a group looking to save their friend from himself, despite hurting him in the process. There’s no heroes or villains here — or even an easy “side” to join like in the Civil Wars — just two groups of flawed individuals as battered by life itself as they are each other.
It’s heartbreaking, it’s tragic, but in the most compelling way possible. Vision‘s last three issues are gonna hurt so good.
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