Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Vision 12, originally released October 26th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: I run payroll at the office I work in. No accounting experience, trusted with cutting paychecks for a dozen employees. I was intimidated at first — that’s the livelihood of my friends and co-workers I’m handling — but I was soon numbed by the inevitable monotony of the task. Something recently kicked me out of that stupor: a co-worker got married, and so the rate at which we withheld income tax changed. I’d been used to cutting this check for about the same amount twice a month, so I noticed that it looked like she was suddenly bringing home about 7% more than she had been before she got married. As a non-married dude in a committed relationship, I started to jealously ask “what the fuck?” The fuck, it turns out, is that the US government subsidizes marriage. I had always known there were tax benefits to getting married, but I’d never internalized what that really means. It means that marriage, and by extension family, are so integral to the platonic ideal of the American experience that the government is morally obligated financially encourage it. The Vision has always been about the fallacy of the domestic American dream, and issue 12 brings that fallacy back to the relationship from which that fantasy stems: husband and wife.
The issue starts off with Detective Lin half-heartedly entertaining his co-worker’s story about some mundane martial dust-up. Writer Tom King doesn’t ever give us any details (though there is an intriguing insinuation that a smell is involved), but it doesn’t matter. Lin’s buddy’s story has that stink of anyone that speaks from the high horse of experience, complete with a knowing wink and a nonspecific assertion of “when you got a family, man…” The story shifts from there to show Virginia’s phoned-in confession, but it’s interesting to consider why King would insist on this introduction. Is it to iterate on the importance of family? Or perhaps it’s the opposite, to trivialize the institution? Whatever the case, the reader begins the issue already thinking about the value of marriage, without having to seriously investigate it.
Of course, that gives way to the scene that takes up the majority of the issue — the final confrontation between Vision and Virginia. There’s nothing really left for these characters to work out, all they have left is to bear witness to the consequences of their actions. King and artist Gabriel Walta treat this like Vision is going into domestic battle, even going so far as to give Vision a suiting-up montage. The joke — of course — being that he’s changing out of his superhero costume, and in to his husband costume.
Virginia has a lot to confess to here, and she’s heartbreakingly forthright about her intention to let herself die, corroded from the inside from the water vase of Zenn-La. This is a compelling image all on its own, with obvious parallels to alcoholism. A wife, unable to do what’s best for her family knowingly drinks herself to death.
It would be possible for King and Walta to treat Virginia like the villain here: she did murder two people and diamond-punch a third into a coma, all facts we were reminded of earlier in the issue. Hell, she even confesses to killing the dog. But she’s not the villain here. The villain is the set of totally unfair expectations put upon her as a mother and a partner. Vision’s voice over gives a quick snap-shot of their neighbors, all of whom have made huge compromises to have families and provide for them. These compromises are hard. By the end of the issue, Wanda will have a hard time summarizing what Virginia did:
Virginia did the right thing. Or she did the wrong thing. Or she did what everyone does…
That’s a powerful contradiction, followed by the casual admission that everyone buying into those domestic compromises is doing the right thing and the wrong thing at the same time.
Absolved of villainy, Virginia becomes a truly sympathetic character. The only thing she asks for in this issue is to put her head on her husband’s shoulder. Whether she’s right or wrong, all she wants is support. In an agonizingly copy-less page, Vision acquiesces.
My god, how painful is that uneasy look on Vision’s face? It’s hard to say whether Vision is actually supportive of his wife in this moment, or if he’s just playing the part in her final moments. He has put on the costume, and we’re mere moments away from these characters dropping all other labels but “husband” and “wife.” Vision even starts to identify himself as “Vision of the Avengers,” but Virginia interrupts to remind him “you are my husband.”
Virginia’s final words are “why must you always make me…” Now, that could be a fragment, but it could just as easily be her complete thought. Whatever comfort Virginia and Vision found in their (by definition) artificial relationship, the expectations that came with it might have led them to this conclusion. It’s a welcome, non-definitive statement on marriage and family, one that offers both comfort and sadness.
Drew, you’re a happily married gentleman, what did you make of this issue? Also, how about Wanda pulling out that “one half of me” line from Merchant of Venice? What an artful call-back! Hey, and what do you make of the number of times we read the address on the house? The numbers “616” carry obvious meaning to the Marvel Universe, but I can’t quite track what the specific significance would be here.
Drew: Wow. Forgive me for ignoring your prompts, Patrick, but I can’t remember a time I disagreed so strongly with your read of an issue. Or, at least part of your read of an issue. You suggest that Virginia’s actions are the consequence of unfair expectations, but I honestly don’t think fairness enters into the equation of a mother’s self-sacrifice. Every mother, from spawning salmon to the bear that eats them, is willing to die to protect their own. Viv calls it “the pursuit of an unobtainable purpose by absurd means,” which would be short-sighted if it weren’t so spot on. The biological imperative is to assure the survival of the next generation, even if that next generation’s goal is just to assure the survival of the one after that. It may feel odd seeing that attitude from a robot (one that I suppose has no actual biological link to her children), but I’d argue that Virginia’s self-sacrifice is one of the most human things she’s ever done.
Which is to say, I didn’t really see this issue as the indictment of marriage and parenthood that you did, Patrick. These may not be motivations we fully appreciate as non-parents, but that we don’t understand them doesn’t mean that there’s something inherently wrong with them. Indeed, while Virginia was certainly the victim of circumstance, those circumstances always came from outside of her family: the Grim Reaper, Leon Kinzky, and Victor Mancha. Her reactions, on the other hand, were always motivated by protecting her children or herself. This issue finds those motives at odds — she can best protect her daughter by sacrificing herself — which is the stuff of tragedy (or a good nature documentary), but is hardly an unnatural choice. In fact, Vision makes a similar choice in issue 3, when his attempts to revive Viv threatened to kill him.
Heck, I’ll go even further to suggest that focusing on the artificiality of these relationships goes a long way towards missing the point of this issue. That those relationships bring Virginia to make the ultimate sacrifice is no more an indictment of them than Romeo and Juliet is an indictment of young love. Reading her motivations as alien ignores the very human tragedy at the center of her struggle — to me, Virginia’s actions prove that her relationship with her family was, at its core, utterly human.
Which may be a long-winded way of saying “when you got a family, man…” — this issue may be more about non-parents not fully understanding the motivations of parents than anything. Detective Lin and Virginia don’t get it, but Vision and Scarlet Witch definitely do. In that way, this issue is way less about the institution of marriage than it is about family, which I think might be so engrained as to not even warrant abstraction as an “institution” — even if the family is non-traditional, adults looking out for and making sacrifices on behalf of children is virtually universal.
Which brings me to that sequence where Vision returns home. You attribute the narration to the Vision, but I think that’s almost certainly wrong. In this issue, the red, borderless boxes seem to be Scarlet Witch’s, but the narration in that scene is an explicit callback to the opening page of issue 1, the narration of which I had heretofore attributed to Agatha Harkness. Issue 3 ends with Agatha starting to recite those exact same words, and issue 6 ends with the narration trailing into Agatha revealing her vision to the Avengers. Looking a bit more closely, it seems clear this series actually had two narrators: Agatha Harkness in the first six issues, ostensibly telling her story to the Avengers, depicted by maroon boxes; and Scarlet Witch in the latter six, ostensibly telling her story to Viv, depicted by red boxes.
That’s issue 1 on the left, issue 12 on the right. I realize the image is too small to really make out the text, but it is identical, albeit the sequence takes a bit longer in issue 12, spilling onto the pages on either side of it. A narrator switch is quite a detail to hide in plain sight, but letterer Clayton Cowles played it so subtly, it never occurred to me that anything had changed. It wasn’t until the end of this issue, where the narration trailed into Wanda’s dialogue that I even thought to question it.
It’s a testament to how dense this series is that I wouldn’t notice a detail like that for six issues. This issue in particular is so chock-full of callbacks, I’m sure I’ve missed more than I caught. That can be a frustrating prospect, but here, it has the energizing effect of making me want to go back and consume this series as a whole — we’ve often praised the strength of its individual issues as coherent episodes, but it’s harder to get a sense of the overarching structure from our issue-by-issue analyses. I actually feel under-prepared to make any grand statements about the series as a whole, but I’m hoping we can get some of that going in the comments. For me, this issue wraps everything up perfectly and nudges Vision and Viv (and Sparky!) into the future. That future may not be as tightly written as this series, but what in the world is, really?
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