Today, Ryan D. and Michael are discussing Vision 11, originally released September 21, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Ryan D: One of the best teachers I ever had, a high school English teacher who also directs theatre, always urged us when starting a new book to think of the first page as “curtains up”; in other words, what is the first thing the audience sees when beginning a work. Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta craft their opening panel beautifully:
The curtains raise here on Virginia, Viv, and the dog at the family dinner table, as Virginia discusses what the Vision has embarked to do. I love how this opening catch-up dialogue feels in no way forced, but is rather part of some important, organic (no pun intended), and character-driven dialogue between the two. Too often do I read direct exposition which feels ham-handed and unwieldy, and there are few other things which can take me out of a narrative faster, so I graciously thank King for letting me hit the ground running with this issue.
Also please note the lovely choice to include in this first panel every essential element of this issue: Virginia mentions the shield — reminding us of the involvement of the other heroes, her husband, and Victor, between whom the gyre of the issue revolves — the dog and the Wundagore petals in the background — the plot devices which carry the rising action of this issue — and Viv, the limiting factor to the actions available to Virginia and the Vision. The conversation taking place at the family dining table also highlights the absence of the Vision, but just as importantly, the son, Vin, who Victor Mancha murdered. Artist Walta also establishes quickly how savvy he is with the use of spacing between characters and how quickly and efficiently he communicates the interpersonal relationships to the reader.
Another shining example of this takes place just a few pages following, as the Vision arrives the the courthouse only to find a bevvy of heroes assembled to thwart his plan of vengeance.
This is the first and only two-page spread of the issue, and quickly asserts the upcoming conflict. There is no doubt that the rest of this comic will be the Vision against all others. The nature of this confrontation proves something true for many high-powered characters, and highlights one of the reasons why I never really cared for the Vision before this current series: the Vision is overpowered, and it is difficult for a reader to care about a character who is guaranteed to win fights. One solution to this problem — one which has been applied to Superman countless times — is to scale the characters’ powers accordingly, in the manner which is most appropriate for the threat which they are currently facing; however, great writers like King, or Grant Morrison in his first arc of All-Star Superman, can keep the the power levels of their titular heroes as high as they want by ensuring that the stakes of the conflict are not predicated upon whether or not the fight is won, but what the longstanding repercussions will be to the characters and their development. Here, there is virtually no doubt that Vision can best his opposition, but the feeling inculcated by knowing that every hero KO’d brings him one step closer to committing an act that would damn not only him, but his family and relationships with his closest friends, kept me on the edge of my seat, feeling the same kind of uneasiness I get while watching a horror film character slowly descend into the basement by themselves immediately after they’ve had sex.
Lastly, I have been very impressed with how much this series trusts the reader, and this issue proves no exception. According to Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, the true magic of comics as a medium occurs between the panel, in the gutter, wherein it is the reader’s brain who automatically connects two sometimes incongruous still images and makes them connect, giving the brain the impression of a reaction, or movement, or a murder. The creative team here often uses very tight single shots of seemingly dissociated things, oftentimes interposed with text, to tell a bulk of their story. Take this page for example:
Here, the focus on certain things imbues the objects depicted with very precise narrative significance, allowing the reader to make conclusions with the characters without forcing any direct statements from them. I find it to be a very mature way of visual storytelling which not only involves the audience, but also takes advantage of the beautiful medium of comics. And, in a much broader, thematic sense, doesn’t that fit the thesis of this series perfectly: the non-human, lifeless things — much like the Vision and his family — being granted a heightened significance and impact on this universe?
When I speak of this series to my friends, the phrase which keeps coming up seems to be, “This title has no reason to be as phenomenal is it is.” Vision keeps surprising me by teaching me more about humanity and relationships than most series which star flesh and blood humans. If you’ll pardon my bias, I do not want this run to end, and this issue keeps so many doors of narrative potential open while grounding the events in character, through confident, often unexpected means of storytelling. Michael! I hazard that this series has been tickling your brain just as much as it has mine. I covered a bit of the lovely mechanics and craft of this issue; could you share some of your thoughts on the use of the concept “the impact of the creator’s first words to the created”?
Michael: Let’s compare the first words from creator to creation, shall we?
“Welcome to the world of the living. You will never know but a half-life. I am Ultron 5 but you shall call me…Master.” Ultron to Vision
“I am The Vision of The Avengers. I have saved the world thirty-seven times. I am here to welcome you to life.” Vision to Virginia
Though Vision has not reached its conclusion just yet, I think one of the central themes of the series could be the dangers of presuming to play God and creating artificial life. More to the point however, it is dangerously presumptuous to create a life and believe that you can will it into being one thing or the other. Virginia was created by Vision to be a good person, mother, and wife. Vision was created by Ultron to be a slave – a tool whose purpose was to destroy the Avengers. Both Vision and Virginia are creatures of free will – artificial though they may be – and their experiences and choices led them to become something other than what their creators intended. Even Ultron himself is an example of this, as he defied Hank Pym and became one of the most dangerous threats to the Avengers.
The tragedy of the family tree of Pym, Ultron, Vision, and Virginia is pretty similar to the tragedy of a traditional family tree. If they have certain preconceived notions, parents can become disappointed in the choices their children make. Consequently those children can grow up to have families of their own where the intentionally try to be the opposite of what they viewed their parents were. The cycle of disappointment is at the heart of the Vision family drama. Ultron defied Pym and became a villain, Vision defied Ultron and became a hero and, in a way, Virginia defied Vision by… not being perfect.
The ultimate irony of Vision is that the heroes of the Marvel Universe find the Vision family at fault when they are being the most human. Scarlet Witch warns Vision that if he kills Victor he’ll “be like everyone else,” which Vision tells her is exactly what he wants. Virginia was created to experience and embrace life the way that Vision himself has, but due to some extreme circumstances that continue to escalate she has made mistake after tragic mistake. If the Vision family is meant to be these sci-fi sendups of the nuclear family, then Virginia is the focus of The Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper”; you can only be so “perfect” before you crack.
I’m torn about how Victor dies at the hands of Virginia instead of Vision. On the one hand it is a delightful twist that completely lets the air out of Vision single-handedly taking down The Avengers. On the other hand it feels like King is protecting Vision’s heroism by robbing him of the kill and having Virginia do the deed – her hands already being bloodied. On a meta scale it seems to me that we as a comic book reading society know and like Vision, so we’d sooner throw new character Virginia under the bus. However, I’d argue that Vision is as much of Virginia’s series as it is Vision’s – maybe even more so. From this perspective Virginia is throwing herself under the bus to save her husband from ruining his artificial life. In the opening pages of the book she talks to Viv about how they will be labeled as Vision’s “dangerous creations” that will be shut off; not to mention that she has seen the future by eating the Wundergore flower. Maybe for Virginia it’s a foregone conclusion that Vision’s “dangerous creations” are doomed, but Vision himself doesn’t have to be.
To close this out I’m gonna circle back to the theme of the tragedy of family I brought up earlier. One of the subtle tragic elements of Vision is the lingering shadows of Wonder Man and Scarlet Witch, whose brain patterns were the basis for Vision and Virginia. The legacies of both of these heroes seem to be a constant presence in the minds of Mr. and Mrs. Vision, to slightly differing extents. For Vision, Wonder Man is the gold standard of what he can accomplish as a hero and everything he cannot be for his ex-wife Wanda. Much the same, Virginia is constantly reminded that she will never be Wanda – with memories and jokes that Vision shared with Wanda. I don’t think that Virginia has been driven crazy by any means, but having mental reminders of your husband’s prior marriage would certainly be enough to drive someone crazy. Ryan posted the big splash page above: Vision vs The Avengers – I love how the poster for “Omega the Unknown” starring Simon Williams (Wonder Man) is staring Vision down with the Avengers. Even better is when Vision busts into the movie theater mid-battle and Simon’s character in the movie is essentially playing the angel on Vision’s shoulder, begging him to stop.
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?