Friday, February 13, 2009

The Vision: The Way We Were - Avengers #57

Avengers 57 (October 1968)
“Behold…the Vision!”
Roy Thomas -writer
John Buscema – Artist
George Klein – inker

Karen: In this post we’re going to discuss the first appearance of the Vision: at one time, one of the mainstays of the Avengers, but in recent years, a minor character at best. Actually the Vision currently running around in the Marvel Universe is the Vision in name only. His personality/identity is not the same as the original character. That hero is pretty much gone – forever?

Sharon: And actually the Vision Karen refers to- - the Vision we all know and love- - was not even the first Vision on the scene. There was an earlier Vision who debuted in the Golden Age; the earlier Vision was a Simon-Kirby creation that graced Timely’s Marvel Mystery Comics.

Sharon: Roy Thomas has stated in interviews that he was reluctant to create brand new characters in the Silver Age because back then, he wouldn’t have owned the character…and he says he would have felt cheated if “his” characters were used for marketing or merchandising without him reaping any monetary rewards (as would have been the case). Hence, his propensity to reuse older characters’ names and elements, such as the Black Knight and as here, the Vision. So when Stan asked Roy to introduce a new Avenger, Roy based the new character (at least visually and name-wise) on the older Vision. There were some changes; for example, Roy made the new Vision red-skinned (the earlier one had light green skin, I believe). Also, Stan wanted the new Avenger to be an android, so Roy incorporated this element as per Stan’s wishes.

Sharon: Now, a couple of months earlier, over at DC in Justice League of America # 64 (cover-dated August 1968), Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox had introduced a new character called the Red Tornado—who had the same name as a Golden Age DC character. What’s more, the new Red Tornado had red skin…and was an android…

Karen: Right, and there’s always been debate over the X-Men and the Doom Patrol, both teams of outcast heroes, who appeared just about 4 months apart in 1963, and DC was first there too. But I tend to think that was also a case of coincidence.

Sharon: In their debut appearance, the Doom Patrol’s tagline was “the World’s Strangest Heroes!” The X-Men did them one better; on the cover of their debut issue Marvel’s mighty mutants were heralded as the “The Strangest Super-Heroes of All!”

Karen: Some ideas just occur in a number of places around the same time. Who knows what outside trends or forces shape these things?

Karen: But back to the Vision. In his heyday, he was one of the most popular Avengers, with many storylines revolving around him. He even got the corner spot on the cover for years! The Vision has been a favorite character of mine since I first started reading comics. I came across him initially in Avengers 92, and from that point I was hooked. Of course, this was at the start of the Kree-Skrull War and the romance between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch was becoming more prominent. So Vizh got a good portion of the spotlight and his angst was appealing to a young reader like me.

Doug: I am trying to remember my first Vision meeting! I think it must have been somewhere around the Celestial Madonna arc, or before. Among my first Avengers issues were 119, 120, 130, 131, and GS 2 and 3. The Vision was featured prominently in all of the above stories. My most shocking memory of him, however, was the beach scene during he and Wanda’s honeymoon, as shown in Avengers #137. It had never occurred to this young reader that his skin was red all over!

Sharon: I know what you mean. Back in Avengers #92, he’s wearing civilian clothes (turtleneck sweater, slacks, shoes, etc.) over his uniform, so I’d always thought his uniform—at least the green sections—was part of him and that Ultron had designed him that way.

Karen: But let’s turn to Avengers 57. Of course, it has a beautiful, memorable cover, by the great John Buscema. The interior art is also exceptional. George Klein’s inks give every figure a real sense of depth and the use of lighting and shadows sets a somber tone.

Sharon: George Klein had long been Curt Swan’s steady inker on Superman at DC for years, but when Klein and some other veteran freelancers asked DC for benefits—what nerve! --- DC promptly fired them! Luckily over at Marvel, Stan had work for Klein, a plum assignment inking Buscema on the Avengers. To me, Klein will always be the definitive John Buscema inker; just as he did for Swan, Klein brought out the classic look of Buscema’s pencils and made Buscema’s pencils look even more beautiful than they already were. Unfortunately, Klein died some months later; he was only in his fifties.

Karen: It’s a shame, his work was so strong. His use of zip-a-tone reminds me of Tom Palmer.

Doug: I first saw this issue as a reprint inside Marvel Treasury Edition #7. Although my mom didn’t purchase it for me that day at the store, the initial story images made quite an impression! If you think Buscema’s great-looking on the standard sized comic page, you can imagine how great he is on the larger paper.

Karen: The plot of the issue, for those who might have missed it, is this: The Vision appears and attacks the Wasp, then passes out. Later, he is examined by the team and regains consciousness. He wishes to be allies. They discover he was sent by Ultron, and the team goes right into a trap. The Vision seemingly defeats the robot, but we are left with many questions.

Sharon: Okay…so many years later we learn that Ultron is based on Hank’s brain patterns, and here Ultron sends the Vision to attack Jan…well, let’s just say it’s no surprise that all was not bliss for this couple!
Sharon: Speaking of troubled relationships, it was nice to see the Black Widow make an appearance and have some interaction with Hawkeye. She’d been a mainstay of the book from #29-#44, and then pfft! she was reduced to sporadic, cameo appearances (as here). I have often wondered why Roy didn’t make her an Avenger after #44, but I guess he grew tired of her. Surely her abilities were sort of similar to T’Challa’s (who’d joined in #52), and what’s more, she had a real history with the team.

Doug: Roy did a nice job of revealing the Vision’s powers. We first got a hint of his intangibility when the comment was made that the rain didn’t touch him. Next we saw flight, and then the solar-powered eye beams. Intangibility was further on display when he came through the wall after the Wasp had fled behind a locked door. By the way, and I think we’ve discussed this on the Avengers Assemble! boards, but what did you think of panel 7 on page 3? Clearly, that isn’t Buscema’s art. Did I read somewhere that Marie Severin did a touch-up on this? It’s certainly not Romita’s work.

Sharon: Yes, it’s Severin and you probably read it in the same place I did: the Roy Thomas interview in Alter Ego a few years back. She redid the panel; according to Roy, it was because Stan wanted the Vision, who was phasing through a wall, to have a more intangible look (than what Buscema had drawn). Since Marie was on staff and was usually at the Marvel office, she often did touch ups/rework like this.

Doug: I also thought Hank Pym was treated very well in this story. The plot to have him scale the outside wall of Janet’s building, a la King Kong, was fun. Buscema also showed a little stretching of the conventional panel lay-out by having no borders on several panels and allowing the characters to stretch their bounds. Of course, this was about to become more common as Adams, Steranko, and Colan unleashed themselves of the four-sided constraints.

Karen: There is a sense of mystery to the Vision here – even after we discover that he has been created by Ultron 5, we still do not know all the whys and wherefores. Despite initially appearing as a villain, the reader quickly comes to sympathize with the confused android – or should I say synthozoid? For as Hank Pym puts it, that is what the Vision is: a synthetic human. “He’s every inch a human being…except that all his bodily organs are constructed of synthetic materials!” That’s something to keep in mind as we delve further into the subject.

Sharon: The Red Tornado was sent by his creator, T.O. Morrow, to destroy the Justice Society…then Reddy has a change of heart and sides with the heroes, and questions his very existence…

Sharon: Not that I’m trying to cast aspersions on Roy’s integrity. J When JLA #64 hit the stands, Avengers #57 was already in its production stages, so I assume any similarities were coincidental or accidental. Despite the public image of DC and Marvel being mortal enemies, it’s known that the talent from DC and Marvel fraternized, so who knows what information went back and forth?

Doug: In the fight scene between the awakened, recharged Vision and the team, super strength and the ability to control his density is also shown. I felt Buscema was really at his peak here with facial expressions. That attention to detail, of individualizing each character’s look, seemed to be a lost art until George Perez took an interest in it during his stint on Avengers volume 3. Overall, I am certain that I would have greeted this new and mysterious character with open arms.

Karen: This issue is mostly set-up for next issue, where much of the Vision’s past (although not all by a longshot!) will be explained.

Doug: What did you think of Ultron? In hindsight, I love the way he leapt to major-villain status almost immediately. But was the end that he met in this issue appropriate, or even plausible, for one seemingly so powerful?

Sharon: The ending certainly was poetic- - get it, because of Shelley’s Ozymandias…oh, never mind. You just knew Ultron would be back…

Karen: I actually had to memorize that poem in high school, but of course I was already familiar with it from reading Avengers! But on to Ultron: of course, this was his second time battling the Avengers, the first being back in issues 54-55, where he initially posed as the Crimson Cowl. We get his backstory in issue 58, the subject of our next post. I’ve always thought he was at least in the top 2 of Avengers villains; it’s hard to choose between him and Kang! But Ultron has such personal connections with the team, I always felt the emotional ante was upped when he was the foe.

Here they are! Your Marvel Bullpen Stamps for this post!!

Collect 'em all!!


Skydragon said...

Yeah, I was looking forward for this post!

The Vision's first story is a very powerful one, in just a few pages Thomas and Buscema create a character which is both frightening and touching, and as you said the readers quickly sympathize for him. Besides his face is often so expressionless that you don't know what he is really thinking, where his loyalties lie, and that adds to the mistery.

Also, count another one who thought that, cape aside, his skin was green and yellow, except for the red face.

Regarding his powers, I never quite understood his flying ability. He is supposed to alter his density and get lighter than air, but then wouldn't he be affected by the wind? Or fly really slowly? In an early MTU, Spidey says he is a slouch compared to his swinging, but in some Avengers' ones he seems fairly swifit.

Finally, on Ultron, I think his return was predictable, given the importance he had already obtained despite being still a new character. But it's interesting that at the time several villains seemed to die or be destroyed for good (Surtur, Grey Gargoyle, for example).

Skydragon said...

PS: and what to say of that gorgeous cover?! The combination of colors, positions and perspective certainly makes it one of the striking ever!

PPS: Great idea the Bullettin's stamps! I had never seen Roy Thomas' face for example.
But what do we get if we collect them all? A complese set of Avengers' Masterworks for your loyal readers maybe? ;)

Karen said...

Glad you enjoyed this one. I really think this issue and the next are great showcases for John Buscema's talent. Not only could he draw beautiful, powerful pictures, but he was a true storyteller.

As for the Marvel Bullpen Stamps - isn't the joy of seeing those groovy Marvel staffers reward enough?! Keep watching, more are on the way...

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