Whither the Vision?
by Karen Walker
Where has the Vision gone? He suffered an ignoble end when he was torn apart by She-Hulk in the Avengers Disassembled storyline. His ‘remains’ were apparently unceremoniously dumped in a crate and left in a Stark warehouse somewhere, oddly with no effort by his comrades to put him back together again. Although there is a “young Vision” running around with the Young Avengers, that being is not the same one we’ve known for years. He is actually the combination of Kang’s future technology, the personality patterns of the young Kang, and the operating system of the original Vision. The Vision we knew, with the body of the Human Torch and the brain patterns of Wonder Man, the one who loved the Scarlet Witch, and fought alongside Cap, Iron Man, and Thor in countless battles, is apparently consigned to the trash heap.
There were a number of years where the Vision was arguably the star of The Avengers. His figure was even used in the corner box on the cover for many years. However his popularity waned later on, and he never regained his status as one of the premiere Avengers.
Why exactly did this occur? I think that this can be directly tied into his disassembly and loss of personality during John Byrne’s ‘Vision Quest’ storyline. Prior to this, the Vision had been presented as a synthetic man, capable of thinking and feeling like a human being. After Byrne had the android taken apart, he was always seen as more of a machine than a person. He lost all the qualities and quirks that made him so compelling, and allowed readers to identify with him.
The Vision was also definitely a product of his times. The early Vision is often compared to another late 60s icon, Spock from Star Trek. However, the two are actually opposites. Spock constantly denied his human heritage and fought to suppress his emotions. The Vision on the other hand, longed to be truly human and he strove to discover his emotions. As Steve Englehart put it in an interview in FOOM Magazine #11 in 1975: “What we had here was a Mr. Spock who wanted to be Captain Kirk.” What the two do have in common is that they are outsiders who must struggle to find their place in society. As such, both had tremendous appeal, particularly to adolescents. The Vision could symbolize the teenaged reader, desperately trying to figure out how he/she fit into the world around them.
In fact, he was born from the classic Marvel hero mold: the hero with problems. In his case, it was his feelings of isolation and inadequacy due to his synthetic nature. The Avengers gave him a purpose and for the most part accepted him. Much like the early Captain America, the Vision knew no home outside of the group. His whole reason for being was tied directly to the team. Despite some character growth over the years, this never really changed.
If we go back through the history of the Vision, we can see that it can be divided into four sections: 1) the struggle for identity, 2) the period of fulfillment, 3) the destruction and dehumanization, and 4) the rediscovery of self. I’ll examine the key developments in each of these stages.
The Struggle for Identity
The Vision premiered in 1968, in Avengers 57. Writer Roy Thomas, feeling stymied by the editorial dictum that he not use any of the Big Three, wanted to create a new hero for the team. Thomas really wanted to use the original Golden Age Vision, a spooky, extra-dimensional being, but editor Stan Lee insisted that the new character be an android. Thomas took a best of both worlds approach, used some of the look and mysterious nature of the original, and came up with the android Avenger. The story, “Behold… the Vision!” introduced the Vision as the android creation of Ultron, the Avengers’ robotic foe. He is given his name by the Wasp, when he appears suddenly, menacingly, at her penthouse apartment. “No—no! It’s some sort of unearthly inhuman vision!” she cries, and the android soon adopts that description as his name. But the Vision rebels against Ultron and helps the Avengers defeat him. Although they might not have been entirely comfortable around the brooding android, the Avengers apparently recognized his innate heroic nature, and by the next issue, they offer him membership.
Even though he was quickly accepted into their ranks, the Vision was still an outsider. He was isolated from society by the fact of his being an android, or “synthozoid”, as Thomas preferred to call him. In issue 58, as the Avengers ponder admitting him into their ranks, Hank Pym explains, “Not an android—but a synthozoid! You’re basically human in every way…except that your body is made of synthetic parts!” This statement is echoed repeatedly throughout both Thomas’ and Steve Englehart’s runs.
When the Avengers make the happy announcement that the Vision has been voted in as a member, he says incredulously, “You accept me…even though I’m not truly a human being?” Pym replies, “Is a man any less human because of an artificial leg…or a transplanted heart?…We ask merely a man’s worth…not the accident of his condition!” With these few words, we learn that “even an android can cry!”
His early adventures with the team went well, until issues 66-68. While the Avengers are gathered at a S.H.I.E.L.D. base to test the strength of a new metal – adamantium – the Vision mysteriously disappears. Some time later, he returns and steals the adamantium. He consequently fights the team to a standstill (yes, he was that powerful) until Ultron-6 comes crashing through the wall. It turned out that the evil robot had programmed the Vision with a command to rebuild him if he were ever destroyed. Not only did the Vision do this, but he remade him with the indestructible metal! Once again, the synthozoid rebels against his creator, and ultimately gives Earth’s Mightiest the key to defeating Ultron: the knowledge of the molecular rearranger harbored inside him. But this was only the first of a number of times the Vision would be mind controlled. It was not until almost 200 issues later that we would learn why he was so susceptible to such attacks.
Despite his betrayal of the Avengers, he was eagerly welcomed back into their ranks. However, there were times when even his team-mates had their misgivings. Repeatedly, we see the Avengers themselves comment on the android’s cold nature or chilling voice. Although he appeared aloof and unfeeling, nothing could be further from the truth. The Vision was capable of having the same emotions as any person, but he lacked the experience to know how to deal with them. He even wondered if his emotions were “real” or merely simulated by his android brain. The knowledge that his brain patterns were based on those of Simon Williams (the deceased Wonder Man) also troubled him deeply, and the situation would only worsen when Wonder Man actually came back to life!
Before that occurs however, the Vision is confronted with Wonder Man’s brother, the villainous Grim Reaper, in issue 79. The Reaper is determined to destroy the Avengers, who he believes killed Wonder Man. The Reaper traps the Avengers. As he prepares to gas them to their deaths, he discovers a file on the Vision, which reveals that his brother had provided the brain patterns for the android. He abruptly halts his scheme, saying, “If these papers speak the truth—then it’s I who have condemned my brother to death!” And thus begins the Reaper’s love/hate obsession with the android. With his “daddy” Ultron on one hand, and his “brother” the Reaper on the other, it’s no wonder the Vision was so morose!
Just as we had learned an android could cry, we would discover that he could also fall in love. Former Avenger Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, returned to the team in issue 75. The Vision seemed to take a special interest in her, and she in him. Initially there are only some barest hints that the two are attracted to each other. This plot thread seemed to languish unexplored for quite some time. It was not until the time of the epic Kree-Skrull War that we truly saw these two express their feelings for one another.
The romance between the Vision and Wanda would eventually become the defining aspect of the two characters (for better or worse), and leave them forever inextricably connected. In a strange way it made sense that they would come together; the android misfit, alone in the world, and the beautiful, often-persecuted mutant girl. But it did not start out easy.
In issue 91, while being held captive by the Kree emissary Ronan, their feelings for each other finally come to the surface. Wanda tells the Vision that, “…nothing matters---just as long as you weren’t harmed. I know that now.” Just as they are about to kiss, the Vision suddenly pulls away. “No!” he cries. “It must not be.” When she asks why, he says because he is an android – “a mere copy of a human being”. His feelings of inadequacy, of being less than human, held him back, and would continue to do so for some time.
While the Vision may have felt unworthy to return Wanda’s love, he still couldn’t prevent himself from caring deeply for her. When she is captured by the Skrulls during the war, he fights like a man possessed to save her. After the Avengers board the Skrull flagship, the Vision begins furiously beating the Skrull commander, trying to extract Wanda’s location. Iron Man tries to stop him, saying, “You’ll kill him! You don’t know what you’re doing!” To which the Vision replies, “Another correction, Iron Man! My brain is a miniaturized, high-speed computer. I always know precisely what I am doing. I—am—killing—him!”
Our android hero is ultimately stopped by Thor and Iron Man, but to see the Vision so filled with rage is simply shocking. It’s a tribute to Thomas and artist Neal Adams that this scene is so incredibly memorable so many years later.
During the Kree-Skrull saga, we also got a peek inside the Vision, as Hank Pym, in his Ant-Man guise, travels inside the synthozoid in an effort to repair him. We got our first clue as to the true origin of the Vision when Hank spots something unexpected inside him. Exactly what he sees is not shown, but it became obvious that there was a mystery afoot.
While the Vision’s love for Wanda had become painfully apparent to all those around him, he still would not allow himself to act upon it. In issue 99, Thomas gives us a beautiful quiet scene between the synthozoid and the Avengers’ butler, Jarvis. Jarvis realizes that the Vision and the Scarlet Witch are in love, and tries to encourage him to express his feelings to her. But he is still paralyzed by his own self-doubt. “There are things I could never give her…a normal home…a family…”
We got another clue about the Vision’s real origin during a battle with the Sentinels, when one of the robots identifies the Vision as an “android of highly specialized design. X-ray visi-probe reveals three decades vintage---later modification by addition of solar battery.” Fans were left to wonder, why was the Vision three decades old? The answer would come a few years later, and from a different writer. Roy Thomas would leave the book after issue 104.
The Vision was clearly writer Roy Thomas’s favorite Avenger at that time. In a note to readers on the letters page of issue 104, Thomas states: “I’ve been amazed and flattered to see the Vision grow slowly and maybe not too surely from just another pretty android into a hero nominated in a recent fandom poll as one of the most popular comix characters of 1971; and the last few issues have seen some dramatic new developments in the lives of Wanda, Pietro, and Hawkeye as well. Developments, I might add, which I know will be carried thru in the near future by my hand-picked replacement, Steve Englehart – one of the few comix scripters I know who’s as nutty over superhero groups as yours truly!”
Steve Englehart did indeed carry through on Thomas’s plans. He revealed the android’s origin, and developed the Vision-Scarlet Witch relationship, ultimately having them get married and have a family.
Englehart began by picking up a plot thread involving the Reaper, and an offer to transplant the Vision’s mind into Captain America’s body. It’s at the end of this issue that there is a real breakthrough in the Vision – Wanda relationship. As Wanda is clearly distressed over her missing brother, Quicksilver, the Vision tells her, “I can offer no promises about your brother—but I can offer my shoulder—if you should wish it.” At last, rather than running from his feelings, he began to embrace them.
As the relationship between synthozoid and mutant blossomed, they faced difficulties from many quarters. Some rejected their relationship, disturbed by the thought of a human (or mutated human) falling in love with what they considered to be a machine. While their team-mates supported them, surprisingly, one who was close to both of the lovers did not.
The missing Quicksilver finally contacts the team, from all places, in the Great Refuge, home of the Inhumans! In a rather convenient accident, Crystal and Lockjaw of the Royal Family had somehow teleported to the location where Quicksilver had collapsed when fighting the Sentinels. Crystal took him to her home and nursed him back to health. Pietro then tells the Avengers that he has fallen in love with Crystal and plans to wed her. Wanda tells him that she and the Vision are also now a couple. However, this does not go over well with the speedster, who forbids his sister to “love that thing!”
Into this hotbed of emotions would enter the Swordsman and Mantis. The Swordsman was a one-time enemy who had briefly joined the Avengers (way back in issue 20) to betray them. He had spent years as a petty criminal and drunk, but now was seeking his redemption by joining the team. Mantis was an Englehart creation, a Vietnamese bar-girl who just happened to also be a supreme martial artist and empath. There was a lot more to her background, which would eventually be revealed at the same time the Vision’s true origin was told.
Mantis, as Englehart has said, was there to shake up the status quo. Her sudden switch in affections from the Swordsman to the Vision would definitely do that. Although the Vision did not reciprocate her interest, the situation caused Wanda to become extremely insecure, and created the first real test of their relationship.
Wanda also began to explore true sorcery as the apprentice of Agatha Harkness – the former nanny of the Fantastic Four’s young Franklin Richards. As always, the Marvel universe was a small world! Harkness made extreme demands on Wanda’s time, and this too began to drive a wedge between the young couple.
The most significant development of this period however, is the revelation of the Vision’s true origin. It was a story that spanned not only the regular title but the quarterly Giant-Size Avengers and involved both long-time foe Kang as well as Immortus. Finally, all of the clues which had been planted, starting with Ant- Man’s undisclosed find inside the Vision, to the comments of the Sentinel, to his recent panic attacks, were explained.
In issue 134 we discovered that the Vision was actually the original Human Torch, the first android – modified and altered, but his body was that of the World War II hero. Thomas and Adams had come up with this idea but it was Englehart who decided to run with it. The original Torch had lain dormant in the desert for years until the Mad Thinker found him. Obsessed with androids, the Thinker reactivated the Torch and had him battle the Fantastic Four. The Torch was able to break free of the Thinker’s control but he once again was deactivated. The Fantastic Four left him in the Thinker’s underground lab, assuming he would never be disturbed. They were wrong.
Scant months after his own creation, Ultron sought out the Thinker. He wished to create a son for himself. The Thinker directed Ultron to the location of the defunct Torch. After taking the lifeless body of the android, Ultron also tracked down Phineas Horton, the man who had created the Torch. Ultron seemed to need his expertise to modify the android. The Torch was changed not only in appearance but in his powers as well. However, Horton had not followed Ultron’s instructions and erased the Torch’s mind. Upon his reactivation, this newly awakened Torch attacked Ultron, before the robotic maniac was able to once again shut him down. During the battle, Horton was killed by Ultron, who then had to do his work himself. This time, he erased his android’s mind and used the brain patterns of Wonder Man to create a sort of blank slate.
At last, the Vision knew that he was not simply the creation of a malevolent robot, but the first android known to man, and a hero from World War II to boot. It was almost as if he had discovered a ‘past life’, or maybe his family history. This was an enormous breakthrough for him.
Now, possessed of the knowledge of his creation, and confident in his own identity, the Vision took yet another huge step forward in his growth as a person: he married Wanda. In Giant Size Avengers 4, we were treated to possibly the strangest wedding ever, as not only the Vision and Scarlet Witch exchanged vows, but Mantis and a dead Swordsman with the spirit of a cotati (it’s a long story) also got hitched. Immortus presided over the affair and it was witnessed by their fellow Avengers.
There was a brief period here (issues 137-150) where the synthozoid seemed to have reached a stage of contentment. Of course, this couldn’t last forever.
With the return of Wonder Man at the end of issue 151, the Vision’s world was turned upside down. Face to face with the man whose brain patterns and perhaps personality he had ‘inherited’, the Vision once again began to question his own identity. Was he just a poor simulation of the real Wonder Man? Vizh began to behave erratically, sometimes acting coldly, but just as often flaring with anger, even at Wanda. It comes to a head in issue 158, when Vision and Wonder Man throw down over the android’s perception that Wondy is making a move on Wanda. The two powerhouses go at it right there in the mansion, while their team-mates watch. The battle soon ends, resolving nothing, and leaving everyone involved an emotional wreck.
With the situation already a powder keg, it was the perfect time for the Grim Reaper to make another appearance! He holds a trial to determine whether Wonder Man or the Vision is truly his brother. The Vision has had enough. He tells the Reaper to go ahead and kill him. “Once I imagined-perhaps hoped - that in some way I was Simon Williams! I am not! What difference if I have the same brain waves! I am unique! I am the Vision! And thus- I am content!” Vizh proposes that because of Wonder Man’s post-death transformation, he and the Vision are actually more like brothers. In the issues that follow, the Vision seems to have not only reasserted his own identity, but come to develop a friendship with Wonder Man as well.
It’s at this point that the Vision seems to settle into a ‘comfortable’ period of his life. Secure in his identity as well as his marriage with the Witch, our synthetic man becomes another face in the crowd. Not to say he doesn’t still have his highpoints: his defeat of Nefaria in issue 166 was spectacular. But a happy Vision is a Vision with no real story to tell. Unfortunately, this happy Vision hung around for quite some time.
It’s not until much later that we see anything of any consequence happening in the Vision’s life. In issue 238, writer Roger Stern began a storyline that would ultimately have grave consequences for the synthozoid’s future. The Vision, who is recuperating inside a stasis tank, is connected to ISAAC, the sentient computer of the moon Titan. Although this is done in order for Vizh to affect repairs to himself, it unfortunately links the two artificial beings and ISAAC’s programming subtly begins to overtake Vizh’s mind. While many of the active Avengers are away fighting in the “secret war”, Vision takes over leadership of the group. He is harboring a secret plan. The Vision wants to solve all the world’s problems – by taking it over!
Stern built this story slowly and deliberately – in fact, we didn’t actually learn of the Vision’s plans until issue 251. The Vision has decided to sacrifice his physical form in order to take over the world’s computer systems, and somehow create a utopia. In the nick of time, he is convinced by his fellow Avengers that this is a flawed idea, and he is restored to his body. However, he becomes aware of a ‘control crystal’ that Ultron had planted deep in his brain at the time of his creation, which not only made it possible for others to control him, but has stunted his emotional growth as well. Turning his hand intangible, the android reaches inside his head and tears out the crystal! The removal of the crystal would have a tremendous effect on his personality – in fact, immediately after he did it, he began speaking with standard word balloons rather than the yellow, rectangular balloons that had been used for years to depict his hollow voice.
Further, as shown in the 12 issue Vision and the Scarlet Witch mini-series by Steve Englehart and Rich Howell, the Vision began to exhibit extremely emotional responses to just about everything. It seemed like all the feelings that he’d had bottled up inside suddenly came rushing forth. The problem with this, however, was that he started to seem less like the Vision we all knew and loved and more like an overly emotional and neurotic guy.
The miniseries also saw another perhaps ill-conceived idea: Wanda’s magical pregnancy, and eventually, birth of twin boys. The Vision was now a synthetic family man. He and Wanda settled down in New Jersey to attempt to lead a normal life. He disappeared from the pages of Avengers for over a year, until he and Wanda rejoined the West Coast Avengers in issue 37 of that title. This would be a fateful move for the synthozoid, one which would change him forever.
Although the Stern ‘Ultimate Vision’ storyline was certainly one of the best to focus on the synthozoid, it unfortunately led to the most disastrous event in his life: his complete disassembly and the loss of his identity in John Byrne’s ‘Vision Quest’ story in West Coast Avengers.
At the start of the story, the Avengers discover that the Vision is missing, and they begin searching for him. When the team at last locates him, they make a shocking discovery. In a two-page spread, we see the Vision’s corpse flayed out across a huge platform. What looks like a mechanical skeleton, complete with elongated limbs, is clearly visible. His organic parts are contained in liquid-filled tanks, and his empty skin lies there like a deflated balloon. I believe that this image alone has done more to shape how future writers (and readers) viewed the Vision than anything before or since. Once seen broken down into component parts, it’s hard to truly move past that image and think of the synthetic man we once knew.
The Vision was disassembled by a coalition of agencies from governments around the world, united to prevent any possible repeat of the Vision’s global plans. Although Dr. Pym physically re-assembles him, the covert group has also taken the precaution of wiping out all his memories and his brain patterns from Wonder Man. The Vision is in effect a blank slate. Pym downloads Avengers history into his memory units, but the Vision gains only a basic knowledge of people and events, not a personal context for either. He also has no emotional capacity.
When we finally see the restored Vision, it is in a full page spread nearly as jarring as the dismantling scene. The Vision’s skin is all white, a side effect of his disassembly. Even worse though, Byrne gives us a nude Vision, which answers an age-old fan question: does he or doesn’t he? Byrne’s answer is, no he doesn’t. He authoritatively gives us a neutered Vision (the implication being that he was likely always that way). This drives away any last vestiges of the android’s humanity.
Byrne also decided to re-write Vizh’s origin. No longer was he the original Torch, but a being made of the Torch’s spare parts (this was later reversed by Kurt Busiek in Avengers Forever, as Immortus split the timestream to create two Torches – it’s convoluted, but in effect, Vision was a modified Torch again).
To further complicate the situation, Wonder Man decides he will not allow his brain patterns to be used again to restore the Vision. His reason? He is in love with Wanda and wants a chance to be with her. To make matters worse, the Wasp encourages Simon to go after Wanda – never mind the fact that she is still married to the Vision! Wanda herself is emotionally devastated by all that has occurred and is ripe for Byrne’s plan to use her in a storyline similar to the “Dark Phoenix” storyline from his X-Men run. By issue 55, Vision leaves the West Coast group to rejoin the original team, and Wanda is now hanging out with dad Magneto. For all intents and purposes, their life together is over.
This robotic Vision joins the Avengers in issue 312 and hangs out for an awfully long time, mostly consigned to the background. When he spoke, he sounded more like a computer, constantly calculating odds and quoting facts. This character had zero personality. There was nothing there other than his powers that bore any similarity to the Vision as he had once been.
It was not until about two years later that there was a glimmer of hope for the return of a more familiar Vision. In Avengers Spotlight # 40, written by Len Kaminski, the Vision is given the brain patterns of deceased scientist Alex Lipton by Lipton’s father. After this, the Vision slowly begins to exhibit some emotional traits.
Unfortunately, nothing more was really done with the character during the Harras run. The restoration of his personality would be put on hold until volume 3 and the arrival of new writer Kurt Busiek.
The Rediscovery of Self
Writer Kurt Busiek turned back the clock and presented a Vision that most resembled his early characterization: reserved, yet not emotionless. After a tussle with Morgan LaFey, the Vision is once again injured, this time having the lower half of his body destroyed. As usual, he spends time recovering in a stasis tank. It is during this time period (issue 4) that he and Wanda discuss their former relationship, and all that has happened since his disassembly, with the Vision ultimately telling her that he releases her from their vows. This isn’t necessarily what Wanda wants to hear.
Later, after Wanda has started a relationship with Wonder Man, the two talk again. This time Vision reveals that he had recovered his memories and feelings long ago, but has kept this from Wanda, and stayed out of her life, to keep her from experiencing any further pain. He encourages her to stay with Simon, although clearly he is still in love with her.
But an old problem had once again reared its head. Seeing Wanda and Wonder Man fall in love, the Vision again has to question whether he is not simply a copy of Simon. The one thing he felt had been uniquely his – his love for Wanda – might simply have been a result of Simon’s brain patterns, like so many of his other interests. After a brief altercation with Simon, the Vision explains his fears – and is surprised to hear Wonder Man say that he envies him! It seems Simon feels ashamed over all of his misdeeds, and that the Vision has been given the clean slate in life that he has always wished for. In effect, the Vision was the “better” version of him! This gives Vision something to ponder, and he briefly disappears, to “find himself”.
Busiek had managed to bring back the flavor of old Vision, along with a new set of problems for him. He shows us more facets to the Vision’s personality, as the synthozoid begins to explore his own interests more. He comes to realize that he needs to be able to define himself as an individual, not as someone’s friend, husband, or team-mate. He spends some time in Chicago, developing friendships and mingling with people in his human-appearing Victor Shade identity. He even takes Ms. Marvel out on a date, and has a brief fling with Mantis (in Avengers: Celestial Quest). In many ways, the android seemed more complete than he had before his disassembly by Byrne.
But although Busiek had done much to restore Vizh to his more personable self, he also had picked up on ideas from writers before him: the Vision was now able to remotely link up with computers and data bases, serving as the ultimate laptop for the team. While seemingly harmless –and in one way an expansion of his powers – this does reinforce the image of the Vision as more machine than man.
After the Avengers again defeat Kang –who this time around, really had conquered Earth – Wanda and Wonder Man break up. Gradually, it appears that Vision and Wanda begin to consider re-kindling their romance. But this plot was not really pursued by either of Busiek’s successors (Geoff Johns and Chuck Austen). The next time the Vision would play a major role in an Avengers story would be in issue 500, where he would be destroyed. It really doesn’t matter whether he was dead due to Wanda’s mad manipulation of reality, or whether his ultimate death came from being torn in two by She-Hulk. One of the oldest Avengers was gone. In perhaps a reflection of fan apathy, the remaining Avengers appeared uninterested in trying to restore him, even though they had done so many times before.
The apathy of the fans probably extends to the writers as well. It’s unfortunate, as the events of Avengers Disassembled and House of M would seem to be hugely important to the Vision. I’m sure a talented writer could have used these developments to explore the Vision’s personality even further. Busiek appeared to have successfully brought back the elements that made the character so fascinating, and yet there appeared to be little interest on the part of the fans.
Had the fans lost interest when Vizh was turned into a boring robot? Or is it deeper than that? Perhaps the character was really a reflection of the time in which he was created. In the 1960s, an artificial man must have seemed like a fresh idea. But now, when technology is ubiquitous and the idea of artificial intelligence is widely accepted, maybe an artificial man who wants to be human is just not that novel. Perhaps the new ‘young’ Vision accurately reflects the times – he seems to have no issues with his identity as a synthetic being. Personally, I’d much rather see the tortured soul we knew before restored to his rightful place among the ranks of the Avengers. He was so much more interesting than the walking iphone that currently uses his name.