Friday, February 27, 2009

The Vision: The Way We Were - Avengers 58 (Part 2)

Avengers #58 (November 1968)
“Even An Android Can Cry”
Roy Thomas - writer
John Buscema - artist
George Klein - inker

Part 2

Karen: So the $64 million dollar question is: is the Vision more human or more machine? I’ve always felt he was more human, based on not only Hank Pym’s description -that he was basically human in every way, except made of synthetic materials – but also the obvious displays of emotion he’s shown over the years, particularly when it came to his love for Wanda. I know we’ll be talking about Byrne’s mechanizing of Vizh in some later posts, but I think anyone who really read these early stories would see that the Vision is essentially (as Hank says) a man trapped in an artificial body. But somehow we got away from all that, really starting with Roger Stern’s Ultimate Vision storyline (issues 243-254 or thereabouts). Although Vision displays emotion there, we also see him exhibit more mechanical traits, as he mentally links with a computer, Isaac of Titan, and goes a bit mad. That theme, of being a mechanical being, has continued through all later versions of the character – even Kurt Busiek’s in volume three, and I thought Busiek got Vizh better than most.

Doug: I have always thought just the opposite, Karen! To me, his red skin, the “hollow voice” (always done convincingly with the square yellow word balloons), and the simple fact that he is a construct always put the machine before the man. I, as a youngster, always saw Vizh as a fish out of water when it came to dealing with his emotions. That he had emotions didn’t really bother me – that he displayed loyalty, anger, leadership, even angst – those seemed fine. But, throw in his pining for Wanda and I just thought that was weird. And then when they were married – I’m sorry, I can understand a lot about human love and relationships, but a human and an artificial construct is just too much for me to wrap my mind around.

Sharon: Okay, so you can accept the Vision has emotions…why exclude the emotion of love? I think that was the whole purpose of giving him the “brain patterns” of a human was to establish that the Vision had a human mind trapped in a synthetic body. So it was kind of expected that at some point, Vision would fall in love.

Sharon: And I think it’s Wanda who comes off as weird or maladjusted, when she (a couple of years later) meets and falls in love with the Vision. She very clearly knows he’s a synthozoid from the start. But it’s in character with how I’ve always seen her and how she was presented for much of the 1960s: cloistered and overly protected, a beautiful but very insecure, fragile and na├»ve woman who was not experienced with men (unlike, say, Jan or Natasha). In my eyes, the Vision represented a safe haven for Wanda; he was not like other men (to say the least!). I may be getting ahead of myself here, but I hope we will explore this topic in greater detail at a later date!

Doug: Well, Sharon, you went where I was gently trying NOT to go! While I wouldn’t exclude love from the range of the Vision’s emotions, it was the physical relationship between he and Wanda which I felt (still feel) is perverse. There – I said it! I guess, and there’s no way not to be crass about it, a relationship with the Vision would be somewhat akin (talking aside) to a relationship with an Inflatable Suzy! Ugh – I really didn’t want to go there…

Karen: Wow, I don’t see it that way at all! I mean, a blow-up doll isn’t sentient. It can’t feel anything. Doug, I’m confused how you can accept that Vizh has emotions and yet feel disgust over his need to love and be loved – surely one of the finest emotions a human can have? I guess I look on his artificialness as similar to a person with artificial limbs – except in his case, everything is artificial!

Doug: Karen, you just repeated my point – “everything is artificial”. I’d said just prior that while I can accept love as one of his emotions, my problem (I am beginning to sound like Pietro!) is in the physical relationship between Vizh and Wanda. I don’t think the analogy with a person who has a prosthesis works here. Maybe we are moving toward more of a theological discussion – What is a person? Plastic and wires aren’t human attributes – that does not mean that the Vision doesn’t have any human attributes, but it was after all told for years that he was cold and calculating with a computer mind. He was not a tabula rasa from the beginning but was instead imprinted with a defined set of beliefs, emotions, etc. He is an artificial construct, not composed of flesh and blood and therefore is, in the end, an object. I know that sounds cold… Would I accept him as a teammate? Yes, as Luke and Han accepted C-3PO and R2-D2 as teammates. And although more robotic than the Vision, I would say they loved and were loved by the rest of the cast. But I don’t think anyone wanted to sleep with them.

Karen: I want to save some of this for the posts we’ll do on what Byrne did to the Vision. But I’d argue there are big differences between the Vision and C-3PO (even bigger ones between him and R2-D2)! I see those two characters as being part of the team much the way the Batmobile is part of Batman’s ‘family’, or in a more generous way, the way Silver is part of the Lone Ranger’s team. They certainly are not considered equals by the Star Wars crew, and I think most of the Avengers have always treated Vizh as an equal. Or at least they did, back in the day.

Karen: As for Wanda and Vision’s relationship, I always thought it was analogous to mixed race relationships, which were much more frowned upon back even in the 70s.

Doug: Again, people are people – I would not argue from that point of view.

Sharon: Karen, I agree with you about the race angle; it was a subject that needed exploring and sadly, during that time pairing Wanda with the Vision was far less controversial than pairing her with, say, T’Challa would have been; Vizh-Wanda was clearly “fiction.” And later on, in a letter column in the early 70s, Steve Englehart likened Pietro’s role in the Wanda-Vizh love story to of Archie Bunker’s: a bigot.

Karen: Today’s Vision, lately of Young Avengers, and now of Mighty Avengers, does not have the same personality as our old Vizh. He is really the armor of Iron Lad (the future Kang), imbued with young Kang’s personality and the data files of the original Vision. Our Vision, the stalwart Avenger for decades, is still a pile of debris in a crate somewhere. I can’t understand why this great hero has been treated so poorly by Marvel. I can only hope that someone (Dan Slott, are you listening?) decides to champion his cause and bring him back.

Sharon: I agree, Karen; the current shabby treatment of the Vision is puzzling, to say the least. You know, in our previous entry for Avengers #57, I had questioned why Roy didn’t just have Natasha or Dane Whitman join the Avengers, if he (Roy) wanted to expand the ranks. After reading #58 it hit me that the Rascally One wanted a blank slate, a tabula rasa, a character that he could shape from the get go. The Vision belonged to Roy and no one else. The aforementioned last panel of #58 left no doubt that the Vision was being groomed to play a starring role in the Avengers. And slowly but surely he did. In about a year and half, after Hank had left the team and T’Challa had became a part-time Avenger, it was the Vision who became the de facto field leader (when the Big Three were not present of course). And as Karen mentioned in our previous entry, at some point the Vision even occupied the coveted corner box spot on the cover of the Avengers!

Doug: Despite our differences above, I would like to applaud Roy Thomas, John Buscema, et al. for giving us this magnificent character – how many comic characters can be discussed with this range of depth politically, biologically, emotionally, theologically, historically, and any other –ally you can come up with?! And we haven’t even gotten to John Byrne yet…

Karen: I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Byrne for what he did to the Vision.

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

Collect 'em all!


Skydragon said...

This is another very interesting discussion. In reference to the C3P0 comparison however, I would argue that, to my knowledge, they were built as machines from scratch, without any human component, whereas as we all know Vision had Wonder Man's brain patterns, and to some extent his very mind. There was therefore something human in him.
This brings us to the point of what makes a man a man. His heart, his soul, his brain, or a combination of them all? Let's imagine that in a hundred years they create a method to move a man's mind into a perfect replicate (for example to save someone who's dying, or who has been maimed after an accident). Would he still be human? or robot? Should he go back to his wife and expect to be loved?

Cinema touched this dilemma several times. For example it reminds me of the Robocop series, where a dying policeman was converted in a cyborg, and despite his programming gradually regained some of his umanity and the love for his wife. Or of the Bicentennial Man (with Robin Williams if I recall correctly), who was born a robot and because of a "glitch" developed a personality and ultimately obtained to be considered a man, when he agreed to age and die. I think it was based on a novel by Asimov, who often focused his works on robots.

So, going back to Vision, I think the right of the decision belongs to Wanda. She knows what Vision is, and if in her good mind she decides to marry him, than it's good enough.

BTW, I think that what's closest to Vision in the Star Trek universe is not Dr. Spock, but Data from The Next Generation. Same origin (machine built with human brain patterns) and same desire to understand umanity and become a man. It's a pity they never went in the love direction with him.

Karen said...

Some very insightful comments, Skydragon. I think the question of what makes one human has been pondered for as long as mankind has existed. Many would answer that it is something innate - the soul perhaps - and not easy to define. The Asimov novella of Bicentennial Man really examines the subject. It is only when Andrew decides to become mortal and die that he truly becomes human. I think Data is another good example, but for me, he always came across as far more mechanical than the Vision. But his desire to be human was a beautiful and yet tragic thing. I need to stop here - I have to save some comments for the Byrne issues! But I'm glad you're enjoying this.

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