Friday, March 27, 2009

A Whiter Shade Of Pale/West Coast Avengers #45

West Coast Avengers # 45 (June 1989)

“New Faces”

Avengers West Coast #47 (August 1989)

“With Friends Like These!”

Writer/Penciler: John Byrne

Doug: If I could interject, before we get started – I just took these two books out of their bags. I keep my funny books in the basement (yes, I do have a dehumidifier nearby, Mom) and I must say that you can’t beat that slightly musty smell of 20-year old newsprint. Sorry…

Sharon: Let us continue our exploration of John Byrne’s Vision Quest and his utter dismantling of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’s lives, which spanned several issues of the West Coast Avengers in 1989. A lot happens in this issue: there’s the dramatic appearance of the newest Avenger (U.S. Agent); Tigra is starring in her own version of the Curse of the Cat People,--

Doug: Good Lord! Doesn’t Tigra resemble the Cat-Beast of today’s X-books?

Sharon: - -Wanda interviews a new nanny for her kids; said kids vanish again; and Hawkeye quits the team, which prompts Mockingbird to go after him (yes, she’s still around. Now I ask you given her role in the events in the last few issues, would you keep her on the team?). Aww, who am I kidding? This issue is about one thing and one thing only: the return of the Vision.

Doug: Before we go and get all up in Byrne’s grill (which I fully intend to do, alongside my comrades), I would like to compliment the man on being 5 for 5 on awesome splash pages. The guy gets emotion and mood. The two splashes of Wanda are particularly appealing (#42 and #47).

Sharon: Yes, I agree. I’ve never particularly liked Byrne’s rendering of women, but he does a great Scarlet Witch (and I liked his Frankie Raye too). But other Byrne women like Sue Richards and Jan always seemed facially generic to me.

Doug: Anyone else catch Simon’s question to Hank as they arrived in the lab and surveyed the prone form of the Vision? “Can he really be fixed, Hank? I mean, if you turn him back on, what’s to stop him from attacking us again, like he did this morning?” Again, further evidence of Byrne’s denigration of the Vision’s humanity…

Sharon: You’d think Simon, of all people- -the one who had spent a lot of time with Vision over the years (and Simon’s mother even welcomed Vision into her family!)- - would show compassion for the Vision. Instead Simon acts like Vision’s not only inhuman but an enemy to boot!

Karen: Well, given what happens later, I doubt Simon wanted him turned back on.

Doug: Let me get something straight, too, as I may have my timeline out of order: this is a few years after the Vision had plucked that doo-hickey out of his brain that dampened his emotions and made him talk in the hollow voice, correct? So in effect, his personality was somewhat along the lines of his former self (or so we thought…), Jim Hammond?

Sharon: I don’t know about the Jim Hammond personality bit, but from what I’ve pieced together (since I didn’t read these books at the time), the chronology went something like this: in 1985, in a storyline spanning several issues of Avengers, the Vision interfaced with ISAAC and the world’s computers. This caused him to become increasingly unstable and more like a robot, because according to the knowledgeable folks over at the invaluable site, “interfacing with ISAAC corrupted the emotion-regulating chip” that Ultron had installed in him when creating him. This went on for many issues until finally, in Avengers #255, Vision plucked that thing out of his head (as you said, Doug) and his emotions returned…in fact, they seemed intensified.

Karen: Our X-Men friends are a little off. It was issue 254 where Vision pulled the control crystal out of his head. It had been put there by Ultron in order to allow him easier control of the Vision, and it also allowed Vizh to be taken over a few times. The crystal repressed his emotional growth, and when he was linked to ISAAC, the combination caused his reasoning to become distorted. This is why he tried to take over the world. He was not more robot-like at this stage; if anything, he was more emotional, but in an unbalanced way.

Sharon: Got it…thanks for clarifying the chronology, Karen! So Avengers #254 contained the infamous scene with the Vision plucking that crystal doohickey out of his head (ugh!) and the denouement was in #255 (at which time Wanda and Vizh left active Avengers duty for a while). And I do recall seeing excerpts here and there of a malevolently smiling Vision keeping secrets from Wanda so the notion that he was more robotic (in the issues preceding #254) is inaccurate, as you said.
Karen: When he was disconnected from ISAAC and removed the crystal, he removed the limitations on his emotional growth. Immediately his word balloons went from his old square, yellow ones to the normal balloons everyone else had – I suppose this was to show that he had become even more ‘human’.

Doug: How did you two feel about this change? Personally, I didn’t care for it. I had grown to adulthood with the yellow balloons, the so-called hollow voice, etc. This was quite a departure from that comfort zone – I could never “hear” Vision speaking in a normal voice.

Sharon: Since I read these issues years after they originally appeared and out of chronological order, it didn’t really make an impact on me. I did think he sounded awfully “human” in the VSW limited series but just thought that was Englehart’s preferred way of writing him.
Sharon: Then in late 1985-1986, he and Wanda left the Avengers and she became pregnant (this was the 12-issue Vision and Scarlet Witch limited series). Throughout this series the Vision was utterly human, there was not a trace of android coldness in him. This series ended in September 1986 (cover date) and I believe the couple wasn’t seen until West Coast Avengers #33, in 1988. So, Wanda and Vizh had been absent from action for a while.

Sharon: Also, Steve Englehart scripted the V&SW limited series and the West Coast Avengers during this time—as well as the origin of the Vision many years earlier in the Avengers (which tied the Vision to the original Torch). When Byrne took over WCA with #42 in 1989, the first thing he did was decisively demolish the notion of the Vision as Mike Brady. It’s almost like what Englehart hath brought together, let no man but Byrne tear asunder. So while Englehart wrote what could be read as a fairy tale, Byrne resolutely went in the opposite direction and painted an ultra-realistic picture.

Karen: I felt Englehart’s Vizh was way too emotional.

Sharon: Anyway, back to WCA—I mean AWC #47: Hank tells Wanda he has successfully reprogrammed the Vision’s memory banks. But there is one small problem…

Sharon: Wanda is then confronted by a tall, ghostly pale, seemingly nude figure—no, it’s not Dr. Manhattan, it’s the reassembled, reprogrammed Vision (his bio-synthetic skin was irreparably damaged so now it’s ivory-colored instead of red). The full page shot of the “new” Vision is shocking, to say the least, for evidently he’s naked, and his pelvic region looks as smooth as a Ken doll’s…so it’s apparent writer-artist John Byrne views the Vision as lacking genitals. Neither Wanda nor Hank seem to be surprised by this, so Byrne seems to be implying that the Vision was never well equipped in that area. You could have fooled me; I mean, the way that master of anatomy/musculature/body contour John Buscema drew the (clothed) Vision, it sure looked like he (Vizh) had a nice package down there. Well, as much as the Comics Code would allow for any costumed hero back then!

Karen: Again, this is Byrne’s way of making Vision less of a person. It’s all right to marginalize him, to destroy his relationship with Wanda, if he can make the readers view him as nothing more than a very sophisticated machine. The thing is, it flies in the face of what’s gone before. Sure, I don’t think anyone seriously thought the Vision capable of reproducing, but since he was “human in every way, only made of synthetic materials” as we’ve been told before, why this exclusion? There’s an interview with Roy Thomas from the Marvel magazine FOOM (issue 12, December 1975) where Thomas states “…as far as conception, I’m not quite sure what I had in mind when he was first created. I always assumed that he was complete, but as far as having a child, I don’t know.”

Sharon: Right! And I think Roy made his intent clear even earlier than that; take a look at Avengers #99 (1972), which predated that FOOM article by 3 years. In#99, a clearly anguished Vision confides to Jarvis “There are things I could never give her (Wanda)…a normal home…a family…” What a poignant scene and it establishes early on that he can’t father kids.

Karen: Yup, a great scene, which was included in one of the earlier posts.

Sharon: And in the letter column for Avengers #143, Marvel editorial acknowledges that it’s hardly likely that a “synthetic gland” could produce “human offspring.” So while it’s assumed Vision has organs and glands comparable to a human male’s, the tragedy is that he and Wanda can’t produce kids like a “normal” male-female couple (I guess adoption would have out of the question too, back in those days).

Doug: Filed under “Didn’t really notice it at the time (20 years ago)” – if you go back to the scene where the Vision’s flayed skin in on the lab table, it’s obvious that there is no genitalia present.

Karen: Speaking of the way Buscema drew the Vision, another notable difference with Byrne’s version is the lack of sensuality in his features. Sharon, I know you’ve mentioned this before, but Buscema always gave us a Vision with rather full lips and a sort of smoldering look. By contrast, Byrne’s Vision has such thin lips that his mouth looks more like a cut in his face. He also has no ears! He reminds me more of those descriptions people have given of the little grey aliens they say abducted them! Again, quite inhuman.

Doug: If the colorist had removed a bit of the yellow hue, this Vision could have been the twin brother to the Silver Surfer.
Sharon: Yes, the albino Vision always reminded me of the Surfer (visually), as I mentioned a while back on the AA boards. Buscema in particular drew a sensual (face and body) Surfer and Vision back in the day.
Sharon: Back to the action: Wanda kisses the Vision and I guess he’s just not that into her because his only response is “Is there some significance to this action?” Hank delivers the bad news: while the Vision’s memory has been restored (by Hank), the Vision no longer has the ability to feel emotion, so he cannot invoke feelings around his memories or actions. The key to allowing the Vision to feel emotions are Simon Williams’ brain patterns, and Simon has refused to allow his brain patterns to be used as the matrix for the Vision’s mind.

Doug: Again, what the heck’s a brain pattern? If he has memories and can catalog them in sequential order, seeing the cause/effect of these events, then what is lacking? Is a brain pattern simply emotions? I would not see it that way – if that were the case, then although Simon Williams “died” a hero in Avengers #9 wouldn’t some of his orneriness/nastiness have grafted onto the Vision’s mind?

Karen: Maybe it’s like engrams…OK, I won’t go there.

Sharon: Well, this struck me as very selfish of Simon. His explanation to a distraught Wanda is that he had “no choice” in the matter the “first time” and that it’s always been “hard” for him to accept that “another man” has a piece of his brain and soul. Except for a few issues just after Avengers #152 (about a dozen years earlier than WCA #45), I don’t recall this ever being an issue for Simon. He had been shown to be a close friend to both the Vision and Wanda for many years.

Sharon: As in the previous WCA issues we’ve discussed, Byrne utilizes flashbacks effectively; he recounts events from Avengers #9, Wonder Man’s debut and death.
Doug: Hey, and I liked (in the flashback scene) seeing Wondy in his original togs! What a gaudy Kirby-suit that was!!)

Sharon: I guess it was most likely a Kirby design, since he routinely designed many of the costumes back in the early days of the Marvel Age. And since he did the cover of Avengers #9, it may have served as a kind of blueprint for Don Heck (who penciled the story). But to me, the costume lacks that Kirby techno-galactic panache and seems almost--Heck-ish (Don had designed a few costumes himself, such as Hawkeye’s original and some Iron Man villains’). At any rate, Byrne’s Wonder Man flashbacks are very much in the style of Kirby, what with the full physique and balloon-like muscles Simon sports!

Doug: When I think of a Heck-designed costume, I think of the original Living Laser outfit. Don probably shouldn’t have designed costumes…


1 comment:

Skydragon said...

Great article guys and gals!
I will comment more in-depth when the gift of time is once again bestowed upon me (;-p), but just a quick note on brain patterns.
They should be the pattern that the brain waves (electric impulses)follow when traveling through the synapses. It it believed that our way of thinking is partially affected by them.
For example, if we all live the very same experience, we are likely to respond to it in different ways, and to think those response in different ways, accordingly to our brain patterns. As such, the Vision now has the ability to think, but lacks the more or less human way to respond and react to the stimuli he gets.

Of course in real life is much more complicated than that, with hormons, neurotransmitters and so on, but Marvel probably kept it simple.

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