Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time Keeps On Slipping: The Adult Legion

Adventure 355 Legion of Super-Villains
Adventure #355 (1967)

Adventure Comics 355 (April 1967)
“The War of the Legions!”
Jim Shooter, Curt Swan/George Klein

Doug: Here we are for part two of our look at the Adult Legion – this story is somewhat of a conclusion to the tale we looked at last week, although it could be considered a done-in-one.

Doug: DC had a habit in the Silver Age that I guess strikes me as similar to Marvel’s use these days of the first page of the book as a non-story page. Nowadays Marvel gives the reader a recap of past issues; DC, over 40 years ago, gave the reader (to me) a second cover – that is, they printed an image that was a teaser of what was to come in the following pages. In either instance, I really feel the readers are cheated out of additional story/art space. But I’ll give a slight tip of the hat to DC in that the reader at least got a large splash page instead of a small recycled panel (as Marvel does).

Karen: Since I only started reading DC in the mid 70s, I haven’t seen too many of these splash pages. It seems very odd to a Marvel reader like me. With a lot of the old Marvel books, they liked to start in media res! But DC’s method here is preferable to the text recap pages used now.

Sharon: That was part of the DC formula—the splash page functioned as a second cover—just in case the cover by itself was not enough to reel in the impressionable youngster! And of course, Superman (or Superboy), being the main DC attraction, had to be featured on the cover-- even if, as here, he’s only in a few panels in the story.

Doug: Time travel problem (again!) – on the second page, Superman comments to the assembled Legionnaires that he must return to his own time to get some pressing work done. Why couldn’t Brainy just send him back to the exact second he had left? No one would have known he was gone, and whatever deadlines he had wouldn’t be in danger. Ah, well…

Karen: Time travel is always messy. That’s why it’s so disturbing when Brainy says time travel is commonplace! How many things would get screwed up if people were time travelling willy-nilly all over the place –er, time?

Sharon: Yeah, some readers would write in and question why Superman (or Superboy) was in the future for, say, two weeks, did that necessarily mean he was gone from the 20th century for those two weeks? Why wouldn’t he return to his own time a few seconds after he left? Some readers—including kids--didn’t buy it.

Karen: Also, Superman’s quote at hearing about the casualness of time travel – “Well I’ll be a three-eyed Kryptonian babootch!” – just kills me! Was he always saying stuff like that back in the 60s, or was that just Shooter?

Sharon: The dialogue was consistent with how Superman was usually written in his own comic and throughout the Weisinger-edited books. We tend to credit Stan Lee with creating a unified Marvel Universe but overlook the fact that some editors at DC were doing the same thing—the difference is, at DC the editors (Weisinger, Schwartz, et al) each oversaw 4-8 books, and not an entire line comprised of 8-10 titles (as Stan did). While there were varying degrees of character/story consistency among each DC editors’ set of books, Weisinger really stands out as someone who championed a cohesive mythology for his books (Superman, Superboy, Superman and Supergirl in Action, Superboy and the Legion in Adventure, World’s Finest, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane) by mixing and matching the same elements among them: the LSH, Supergirl, Jimmy, Lois, Perry White, Lana Lang, Lucy Lane, Lori Lemaris and Atlantis, Pete Ross, the super pets, Ma and Pa Kent, Kryptonite, Kandor, Argo City, the Fortress of Solitude, the Phantom Zone, Bizarro, Braniac, Luthor, Lena Thorul, etc.

Sharon: It’s no accident that as his Superman family was growing, Weisinger also instituted the first DC Annual, which compiled earlier tales of Superman (the start of the fabled 80-page DC Giants), so that his audience could familiarize themselves with Superman’s history. Weisinger had already woven a rich Superman tapestry before the Fantastic Four were a gleam in Stan or Jack’s eyes (well, maybe not Jack’s because the FF is reminiscent of Jack’s Challengers of the Unknown. But that’s a topic for another day…). Anyway, while Stan and Jack and Marvel can be credited with tapping into a new, older audience, kudos should also be given to Weisinger, who sought to provide his (younger) audience with an interconnected cast of characters and concepts.

Doug: “That weird ship hovering up there… as if waiting for something???” said Brainiac-5, the smartest guy around. Hey, dude, the SV logo on it ring a bell? Duh – not until the next panel when he gets himself captured.

Sharon: Maybe he thought the vessel belonged to Shrinking Violet? Oh, that’s right, she had retired…

Doug: And if you’re the Legion of Super-Villains, why don’t you just announce your presence?? This is really a quaint way of storytelling – the innocence in it is lost in today’s mags filled with sex and ultra-violence.

Doug: I also liked the SV seal on the envelopes that popped into the Legion’s hands – reminded me of the Hallmark Gold Crown stickers!

Doug: So anyway, Superman leaves, Brainy is kidnapped, and the five Legionnaires in this story (Lightning Man, Cosmic Man, Saturn Woman, Polar Man, and Element Man) are sent to five different destinations to try to find him. Two new do-badders are introduced for this tale – Echo, the master of sound, and Beauty Blaze, who can manipulate fire.

Sharon: You know, even with the additional two members, I find it amusing that a grand total of five baddies constitutes a “legion!” I guess we’re meant to assume there are plenty of other criminal members of the LSV, but they just weren’t available for this mission?

Doug: Interestingly enough, Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen combat their younger counterparts, but Cosmic King does battle with Element Man while Cosmic Man battles Echo.

Sharon: Element Man and Cosmic King’s similar powers made them natural adversaries, as far back in Adventure #331 when the teen Element Lad’s powers were used to counteract Cosmic King’s.

Karen: Wasn’t splitting the team up a typical DC convention of the time? I seem to recall this often occurred in Justice League.

Sharon: Yes, and it often happened to the Legion too, when they opposed a team--the Fatal Five, the Wanderers…

Doug: Shooter must have done his homework, or perhaps he was a closet alchemist – Element Man informs us that Cosmic King’s plot to destroy Metropolis by exploding plutonium was stifled when EM transmuted nearby objects to cadmium, which absorbs plutonium neutrons thus preventing the explosion. Hey, who am I to say?? Seems plausible to me!

Karen: Shooter tried to give scientific explanations for most of the Legionnaires’ feats here. He must have been paying attention in his science classes!

Sharon: I love how Saturn Woman’s evil nature is underscored by her thin, “unattractive” (for a comic book female) face. And does anyone else think Echo’s face looks a wee bit like the similarly powered Klaw (who’d been introduced in the Fantastic Four comic about a year earlier)?

Doug: Well, to make a long story short, the Legion gets their collective butts kicked by the cadre of super-villains, only to be saved at the last minute by… Let me just say that I didn’t care for the ending. In my opinion, doing the obvious trick of having Superman/-boy suddenly reappear, or Mon-el, or whoever, would have been better than the choice Shooter (certainly under the orders of Mort Weisinger) made.

Karen: I agree, this was a very weak ending. It was probably supposed to shock the reader but it just seemed so contrived. Then again, it was written by a teen-ager, for a young audience. However, the previous ‘Adult Legion’ story did have its charms. This one just comes up flat.

Sharon: I’m going to have to “spoil” this 40-year-old story, so if anyone has not read #355 and wants to be surprised, read no further. The ending illustrates the downside to Weisinger’s cohesive approach to the Superman titles; there was a tendency to overuse the common elements. For one thing, in #355 the two saviors show up in lead lined armors—just as Sir Prize and Miss Terious did a scant few issues earlier, in Adventure #350 and #351! I’ve heard of recycling plots but—a scant 4 issues later?? Then, three months later after Mr. Mxyzptlk’s appearance in #355, he shows up again in the “surprise” ending in World’s Finest #169 (despite the presence of Batman, World’s Finest was very much a typical Superman book edited by Weisinger).

Sharon: All in all, I agree with my esteemed colleagues that #355’s story was not as entertaining as #354’s. However, both issues provide a good look at quintessential DC back then: “once and done” tales that were complete in themselves (even with the occasional two-parter as here)--short stories, as opposed to Marvel’s ongoing “novels.” Any real changes to the tried-and-true DC formula were about a year away (1968), when DC finally had to admit that Marvel was no mere flash in the pan.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tomorrow Never Knows: The Adult Legion

Adventure 354 Curt Swan
Adventure #354 (1967) 
Adventure Comics # 354 (March 1967)
“The Adult Legion!"
Jim Shooter, Curt Swan/George Klein

Doug: This week it’s back to the Silver Age! It’s been a few months since we’ve discussed the 1960’s, and actually quite a long time since we’ve done anything DC. We’ll rectify both of those situations with this installment’s look at a fun chapter in the annals of the Legion of Super-Heroes – the Adult Legion! Unless otherwise stated, we are all using the trade paperback, Legion of Super-Heroes: 1,050 Years of the Future.

Sharon: While I own the great trade paperback Doug mentions, I also have a copy of the comic itself in my hot little hands, purchased a couple of years ago—the comic, that is, not my hands. I’ll be looking at both the reprint in the book and the comic.

Doug: The first thing I noticed on the splash page of Adventure 354 was that the Legionnaires were all still wearing the same costumes they’d worn as teenagers. Lord have mercy, but if I was still wearing all of those floral polyester shirts… I also noticed that Cosmic Boy had a receding hairline, a condition that would afflict other teammates as well. Isn’t it funny that while writers and artists let their imaginations run wild with rocket ships, futuristic buildings, etc., they couldn’t seem to grasp medical advancements?

Sharon: May I ask why, in the Legion’s headquarters, there is an exhibit commemorating the marriages in the Legion? Other than functioning as exposition, of course.

Karen: The depictions of the ‘adult’ Legionnaires are pretty funny. The men all look significantly older than Superman – or how most of the DC heroes were portrayed. I know they wanted to alter their appearances enough so that the (presumably) young reader would understand that these were grown-ups, but they look like they are closing in on retirement! Especially surprising was the former Colossal Boy, who sports a full beard! I don’t think I’ve seen many bearded characters in comics from that time (the Chief from the Doom Patrol is the only one I can think of off-hand).

Sharon: The visual depiction of the adult male Legionnaires was hilarious: they are all follicularly challenged and most sport at least a hint of jowls/double chin, whereas Supes is his usual handsome self. Are we to assume that having Kryptonian genes-- and not exercise and healthy eating-- is the key to aging gracefully?

Karen: It’s also very indicative of the times, that the male Legionnaires who have left the Legion are shown as having careers – Matter Eater Lad is president of his homeworld, Mon-El is a space explorer, Ultra Boy is director of the Science Police – but the female ex-Legionnaires all seem to be wives and mothers!

Sharon: Except for the ever-independent Saturn Girl—I mean, Saturn Woman. Sure, she’s married here, but she’s not about to relinquish her Legion duties! The fact that the rest of the women are all stay-at-home moms is unimaginative and disappointing for a series that is based in the far-off future. Scripter Jim Shooter was 15 or so at the time, and he's mentioned in interviews that he was instructed by E. Nelson Bridwell (who was in his mid-thirties) regarding how the adult Legionnaires should be written and who was married to  whom; I wish both had demonstrated more imagination regarding the female Legionnaires. 

Doug: The art in this story is just vintage Curt Swan. I know Sharon will want to comment on the able inks of George Klein. Swan’s Superman is thick and barrel-chested with that classic Superman chin and spit curl. While DC’s Silver Age artists often lacked the realism of Marvel’s John Buscema and John Romita, they did offer up a look as distinctive to their characters as Jack Kirby’s style was for Marvel’s stable. I often find that Swan’s et al.’s more “cartoony” style seemed to fit with the stories DC’s writers were telling – generally one-and-done tales with a mystery or moral twist.

Karen: Even though I haven't read many Superman titles, I think the Curt Swan look is probably the one that pops into my head when I first think of Superman. It’s iconic, very simple yet strong.

Sharon: Swan-Klein will always represent the classic Silver Age DC look for me even if it’s static (especially when compared to the dynamic style at Marvel during this time)…but the static look kind of suits the classic aura of Superman and the Superman family. George Klein’s embellishments perfectly, subtly enhanced Swan’s clean lines; there was no distortion. Later on, when Jack Abel inked Swan’s Superman and Legion, the artwork had a completely different, and less pleasing, look.

Doug: As far as the story goes, Superman is summoned to the future, but a few years later than when he usually visited. I thought this created a great deal of questions – for instance, whenever the teen Legion needed a bit more power, why didn’t they contact Superman rather than Superboy? Interesting…

Sharon: Right. Talk about opening a can of worms. The idea that Superboy only visits the teen Legion and Superman visits the adult Legion is silly; but it probably had to be reduced to this simple a level because of the readership at the time, and also because of the young author writing it.

Doug: Anyway, the technology is again interesting. In an era when time travel and teleportation seem commonplace, why the need for the monorail trains?

Sharon: Also how ridiculous is it that Superman immediately lapsed into calling the heroes by their “adult” names: Night Woman, Cosmic Man, etc.

Doug: Did Brainiac 5 strike anyone as doing a Ward Cleaver impression? That he showed up smoking a pipe was just priceless! It really mimicked the entertainment of the ‘60’s, when smoking on television and in film was quite en vogue.
Karen: Another sign of the times. Of course, anyone as smart as Brainy should’ve known better than to be smoking! But I am sure in the 30th century, they all smoke vitamins or some other wonderful substance!

Sharon: Again, hilarious. And let’s not forget that Shooter was laying out these Legion stories for veteran penciler Swan; so the pipe came from Shooter’s rough pencils. I guess to a young teen back then, a pipe was an appropriate prop for a thinking man such as Brainy.

Doug: Anyway, the Legion is being attacked from someone who knows all of their secrets, despite the fact that there have been many recent changes to their headquarters, etc. Thus begins a typical DC Silver Age mystery story. I must admit, I had this one figured out right from the start – most authors didn’t include enough clues (or I’m just dense) that the reader could figure out the ending too easily. Jim Shooter tipped his hand early in this one, revealing the identity of the miscreant on page 15 of the story.

Karen: Yup, the mystery villain of this story is fairly obvious. The real pleasure in the tale is seeing the Legion’s future. Besides Superman’s view screen chats with former Legionnaires, we see the statues in the Legion’s HQ which give us clues to the fate of many characters – and I believe foreshadowed the arrival of some, such as Shadow Lass.

Sharon: Right, although the fact that Shady’s memorial statue’s skin was flesh-colored (Caucasian) here caused a flurry of letters later on, after she was introduced as a blue-skinned beauty. I believe Weisinger explained the statue’s hue was a simple coloring mistake, though later on someone theorized that her memorial statue was Earth flesh-colored because that’s how she appeared when Mon-El first fell in love with her (when she was masquerading as an Earth girl in Adventure #369-370).

Sharon: Speaking of the memorial statues of fallen Legionnaires, besides Shady we see Ferro Lad’s statue. Ferro Lad had just been killed off in the previous issue (#353), so Shooter’s future Legion tale was a bit of a respite from the tragedy that that just occurred, as well as a way to underscore that Ferro Lad would indeed stay dead (a rarity in comics).

Sharon: But at least one young reader was more intrigued by two statues that weren’t as prominent as Ferro Lad or Shady’s. So enchanted was this reader by the Chemical King and Quantum Queen statues that appeared on the cover--by their complementary “royal” names, by their coloring (Chem: green costume with black hair, Q. Queen: pink costume with white hair), by their inescapable, tragic fates--that a few years later, when Chemical King officially joined the Legion, she wrote a letter to the editor proposing these two doomed heroes get married, thus making their fates even more tragic. The letter was published, though a romance never materialized. But such was the appeal of the Legion; its young fans really got involved with the characters/stories/possibilities. (And forty years later I still think Chem and Queeny should have hooked up!)

Doug: I enjoyed “visiting” all of the grown-up Legionnaires. I especially liked seeing Mon-el in action. Mon has always been my favorite Legionnaire – he has all of the powers of Superboy without the baggage of the Silver Age Superman and all of his silly villains and stories. I also think he has one of the truly classic superhero suits in all of comicdom. Another fine touch was the presence of Polar Boy as an active member of the team. I loved the tales when the Substitute Heroes would attempt to save the day. I really enjoyed the mid-80’s Cosmic Boy mini-series that detailed his relationship with Night Girl. Good stuff.

Sharon: The problem with this story is that Shooter painted himself into a corner. We knew from years-earlier Supergirl story that Lighting Lad and Saturn Girl would eventually wed, but now we knew about the rest of the Legion regarding who would marry whom; and also who would remain alive until at least adulthood. True, we had just seen Ferro Lad die in action; and in the adult story newer members Karate Kid and Princess Projectra weren’t shown, and neither were veterans Chameleon Boy, Sun Boy or Invisible Kid (which was convenient later on as the Kid was killed in action some years later), but based on this story--which was taken as canon at the time-- we knew almost everyone else would make it past puberty unscathed, none the worse for the wear except for some extra pounds and less hair.

Doug: I love the signs hanging everywhere that identify the doors, buildings, etc. Can you see the influence of the Batman television series in Shooter’s writing?

Karen: Hilarious – big signs everywhere! I especially like the building with the sign “Arsenal” over it. Sure, just let everyone know where all the weapons are!
Sharon: Appropriate that you should mention the Batman TV show, Doug. According to many Shooter interviews, Weisinger instructed Shooter to watch Batman. Then Weisinger would call Shooter (at the Shooter family home in Pittsburgh) and quiz him on the episode, to see what the kid had picked up from the show. (And it’s well-known he also encouraged Shooter—and his other writers—to look to classic novels, short stories and movies for inspiration.)

Doug: The story plays out with a battle royale between the perpetrator and the team, and the big reveal was rewarding for me, as I said earlier I’d sleuthed the ending (very uncommon for me – DC was truly writing for my childlike mind!). But the biggest pay-off comes in the last three panels, when it is unveiled that the true masterminds of this heinous plot are none other than the Legion of Super-Villains!! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Marvel Chronicle: Love It, Hate It - Need It, Leave It?

Marvel Chronicle: A Year By Year History
Tom Brevoort, Tom DeFalco, Matthew K. Manning, and Peter Sanderson

DK Publishing 2008

MSRP $50.00

Doug: I can’t recall a time in recent memory when I’ve seen a book at a book store and had that “Wow! I’ve gotta have this!” feeling. The Marvel Chronicle is one of those books. This week we’re going to take a look at this handsome reference text, and hopefully shine a little light on its upsides/downsides.


Doug: I’ll start – physically-speaking, the Marvel Chronicle is a handsome book. From the die-cut wraparound cover to the colorful box inside which it’s packaged, this is a really cool product. It is a big, heavy book, standing about an inch thick. The pages are glossy, but the coloring is reserved – one complaint I often have about reprint material is that new coloring/printing techniques often lend too bright of a palette to material that originally saw the light of day on low-quality newsprint.

Doug: Marvel’s history is surveyed month-by-month and year-by-year from the company’s inception as Timely Comics in 1939 up to June 2008. Once the Silver Age years arrive, the yearly recaps grow longer, from two pages to four. This is welcome, as many readers will be most familiar with the Marvel Age and beyond.

Doug: As with any DK book, there is liberal use of reproduced images; while I would say the editors didn’t always pick the best or most relevant pictures, for the most part they got it right. At times the noted events/storylines are seminal to the Marvel we know today; at other times the editors seemed to relish finding the most irrelevant stories to highlight. Overall, there’s a really nice sampling of all things major and minor, with some lost nuggets around every page-turn.

Doug: Throughout the book are several two-page spreads, sometimes of whole comic book pages or covers, at other times a lone panel. Of note is a very large Hulk panel – captivating! These are very effective representations of period art, and each spread contains a caption noting its creators and historical relevance.


Doug: Well, where to begin… No, it’s not really that bad. Actually, my gripe really isn’t about the book itself, but about decisions Marvel has made lately that have in my mind harmed the industry (and particularly my enjoyment of modern comics). I am speaking of the two most recent banes of my existence – the mega-crossover and writing stories strictly with the trade paperback in mind. While I think the Marvel Chronicle is for the most part fair in their reporting, it’s that fairness passed off as brilliance that ticked me off. Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas made no bones about the fact that both of these recent “marketing strategies” are certainly by design, and done truly with no other goal than to up the profits of the company. Now I am not stupid – I understand that as a private enterprise, Marvel’s goal is to make money for itself. However, that should never be at the expense of the enjoyment of the consumer – creativity in the context of good, solid, in-character storytelling should be their foremost concern.

Doug: That’s my major beef with the book, and again it’s not the book’s fault. I will say that, while I read every page in the book, I didn’t get all that excited until I got to the Silver Age material. But I am glad this is a comprehensive story, as Marvel’s history is rich in anecdotes of triumphs and pitfalls.


Doug: I’ll let Karen have her way with this, but let me just say that if the editorial staff at DK is going to go all Marvel-cutesy by giving themselves nicknames (that are an embarrassment to the good-natured habit of Stan Lee back in the Bullpen days), then they should have taken better care to turn out a book that had been checked for historical accuracy. Miss Karen?

Karen: Thank you, Doug. First, let me say that I have enjoyed reading the Chronicle. As Doug says, it is an attractive tome, well-designed and full of wonderful illustrations. However - you knew that was coming right? - there are a number of errors and gaffes which have diminished my enjoyment. Unlike Doug, I have not finished the entire book; I am currently in the 1980s. But from the previous sections I have noted mistakes which would make me question the reliability of the information provided. Here’s a few things that caught my eye:

- In the historical sidebar (these are a nice feature) for 1960, Charlton Heston is listed as the star of the film “Spartacus”. It was actually Kirk Douglas.

- In the 1964 section, the first appearance of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch is discussed. However, it inaccurately describes the siblings as discovering their father was Magneto in Avengers 185. This actually took place in the first Vision and Scarlet Witch mini-series.

- In the entry on Count Nefaria for 1965, it describes him as “the most powerful crimelord on Earth”, with super-strength, speed, invulnerability, and laser vision – yet he did not receive those powers until 1977.

- In the description of Gwen Stacy’s death in the 1973 section, it says Spider-Man “managed to swoop down on his webbing and catch her”. In reality, he shot his webline at Gwen, and reeled her back up to the top of the bridge (possibly snapping her neck, but that’s a debate for another post).

- In the 1974 entry on the first appearance of the Punisher, the text states it was in Amazing Spider-Man 130, while the accompanying cover illustration clearly shows it was issue 129.

Karen: I don’t want to harp on this, but if I was able to find these, I am sure there are more. While it may seem nitpicky to some, I would like to be able to use this as a resource, but the lack of accuracy is bothersome. I would say buy it, enjoy it, but realize it may not always be correct in its version of events.

Sharon: A few years ago I bought the Fantastic Four: The Ultimate Guide by the same publisher, DK (Dorling-Kindersley). The FF book is filled with the same sort of obvious mistakes Karen lists. Then some time later I bought DK’s Avengers: The Ultimate Guide —again, really blatant mistakes. Still later on I was about to buy their DC Comics Encyclopedia; I got as far as getting on the checkout line at my local Barnes and Noble, but while waiting on line I flipped through the book. The sheer number of obvious errors was staggering, so I didn’t buy the book. The misinformation was just too maddening. Now, I understand how difficult it is to put such a book together—in fact, our frequent commentator Skydragon has given us his take on the many factors that are involved in producing books of this sort, too--and DK books are by no means the only ones with mistakes, but it’s just that DK’s mistakes are so apparent. So based on my experiences with their books, I’ve adjusted my expectations. In short, the visual appeal of DK’s books is considerable and worth the price of the book (I’m a sucker for comic book art in any venue), but readers should be aware there are likely to be some textual mistakes.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Whiter Shade of Pale, part 2/Avengers West Coast #47

West Coast Avengers # 45 (June 1989)
“New Faces”

Avengers West Coast #47 (August 1989)

“With Friends Like These!”

Writer/Penciler: John Byrne

Sharon: Continuing with the flashbacks in AWC #45: we see the Vision’s creation at the hands of Ultron, and Avengers #152 (Wonder Man’s resurrection). I know it’s revealed a couple of issues later that Simon is in love with Wanda, but why would he object to helping his long-time friends, Wanda and Vision? Did he really think that not helping Wanda would make her love him (Simon) instead of the Vision?

Karen: It’s certainly an unflattering view of Wonder Man, at the least. And as you say, it appears contradictory to what we’ve seen of Simon in the past. By this time, his relationship with the Vision was fairly well-established – they looked on one another as almost brothers. For him to deny his “brother” a soul – primarily because he was interested in his “sister-in-law” – is pretty low.

Doug: Simon does come as very wishy-washy. Byrne did a nice job of portraying Simon as a milksop with the pose he drew him in for panel 2 on page 20. Jeez, Wondy looks like he’s ready for “Beach Blanket Bingo”!!

Sharon: The grief-stricken Wanda uses her power to bring down an entire cliff on Simon. He’s invulnerable, of course, but the intent was clear. As in the last issue, Wanda uses her power in an extremely destructive manner and once again I really felt the ferocity of her anger here.
Karen: Wanda certainly has improved from the days when her best shot was making villains trip!

Sharon: It’s in keeping with the nature of her powers, at least as I have always seen them: she causes “accidents” to happen: guns explode; people trip themselves up, buildings crumble, etc. An emotional person like Wanda having this type of unpredictable power is almost like a curse and it’s part of the character’s perpetual air of tragedy—makes her a great character, IMO. And I much prefer this sort of power for Wanda rather than her learning sorcery and spells and becoming like the Enchantress or Miss Harkness. By the way, it’s revealed some issues later that Immortus has been secretly amplifying Wanda’s powers, for his own nefarious purposes (and yes, readers, one day we will cover that development, so stay tuned!)

Doug: Byrne does himself homage to his Superman work with Simon’s reaction to Wanda’s anger. What did you think of the Vision’s statement that he could “manipulate the molecular structure of my body” and extend it to the cloth that was his former costume? Never seen that before.

Sharon: I think he had done something similar years earlier, at least with his cape. You have to assume his costume (created by Ultron? Horton?) was adaptable to his body, because he’d always been shown walk through walls and such with it on.

Karen: Back in issue 140, Vizh manipulated his cape’s structure to carry a serum inside Yellowjacket’s giant-sized bod.

Doug: Yes – remember it well. If I’m not mistaken, part of the duress that the Beast was under in concocting the formula was in making it in such a form that it could turn intangible with the Vision. I guess I always wrote the costume/cape off to that old Marvel standby – the unstable molecule.

Sharon: And another bombshell: Hank concludes that there’s no way the Vision was ever the original Human Torch (as had been supposed for many years). This discovery throws doubt over the Vision’s entire history.

Karen: It also makes absolutely no sense. Sigh.

Karen: This also reminds me, I found some more ‘evidence’ against Byrne’s Vision: Back in Avengers 135, when we are witnessing the origin of the Vision, an enraged Ultron seeks out Horton, because he can’t make sense of the Human Torch. He expected to find wires and circuits, but did not. Now I guess you could say that never happened, since Byrne tossed out Immortus’ version of the origin.

Doug: Some of the high points we discussed during our Celestial Madonna review, such as the Vision at first awakening with the Torch’s conscious being, are “now” moot. And, as we also said earlier, it makes no sense in regard to Hank’s reaction to the Vision in Avengers #93.

Karen: But still…so much was overturned so Byrne could do ‘his’ Vision story. And get the original Human Torch back in action. That’s an obsession I really don’t understand.

Sharon: There were other ways to bring the Torch back; Byrne could have just said the Torch (or Vision) was from an alternate reality or time stream (similar to what occurred in #135, the issue you mentioned, Karen) or something. Or even if the Vision was indeed made from spare or similar parts, Byrne didn’t have to dismantle him and erase his established personality. And if Byrne so objected to Vision the family man, Byrne could have just done away with the children (as he did a few issues later); again, why was the Vision’s mental and physical dismantling necessary?

Karen: It seems as though he has a personal problem with the character.

Sharon: West Coast Avengers #46 features a story about Hawkeye and the Great Lakes Avengers, then we return to the angst in #47 (now retitled Avengers West Coast…also, Solo Avengers was retitled Avengers Spotlight. This was done to make those Avengers titles sound more like the parent Avengers comic).

Doug: Wait, wait!! One more item of note concerning #45. This issue’s Bullpen Bulletins featured the return of Stan’s Soapbox! In this edition, Stan announced that Marvel had just been purchased by the same company that owned Revlon Cosmetics. Yeah, that worked out well…

Sharon: The issue opens with Wanda pleading with Hank and T’Challa (who has just returned to the United States) to help her husband. Except for the obvious physical change, in T’Challa’s view, the Vision seems very much as T’Challa had remembered him. Wanda interprets this to mean that neither hank nor T’Challa are interested in helping the Vision regain his former humanity and she storms out.

Sharon: I was puzzled by T’Challa’s reaction. How could he not see a difference in the Vision’s manner? Look at the issues after the Vision joined the Avengers, when T’Challa was a fulltime Avenger; Vizh was always verbose and active…not passive and stoic as here.  As an aside, Byrne draws a great T’Challa.

Karen: Byrne is re-writing a character and his history again. T’Challa has been around Vizh from the beginning. He should know better.

Doug: Agreed. Character assassination in a four-color sense. Seems more like what today’s authors do.

Sharon: For some reason, Wonder Man seeks out the Wasp and asks for her advice. The sagacious Jan already knows he’s in love with Wanda. Had Simon and Jan ever demonstrated this sort of friendship or closeness before? Did he seek Jan out because she was the only female around and so only a woman would understand his feelings of love? Their discussion and plotting about how to get Wanda to see Simon for the great guy he is comes off as callous and appalling. Look, I’m a real sucker for tales of unrequited love and romantic triangles (and I can understand why Simon would fall for Wanda); but as Jan puts it their “former comrade” is “dead,” and I would think that sad fact would be foremost on Jan and Simon’s minds at this time—not how to get Wanda to see what a swell guy Simon is.

Karen: This was just terrible. I recall when I read it at the time I felt like I had no idea who these characters were! The fact that Jan admits on one hand that their old comrade the Vision is essentially dead, and then on the other hand, is scheming with Simon to win his widow, just turns my stomach. Were we expected to feel sympathy for Simon? It just made me dislike these two intensely for awhile.

Doug: Jan does come off as very amoral here.

Karen: I also felt that there really was very little acknowledgement by the Avengers that the Vision was basically gone. I mean, I was angry when Bendis had him torn apart and they just put him in a crate somewhere. But this really ticks me off too. The Avengers I knew certainly would not have let things go at this; they would have found some way to restore him. Hell, they could’ve given him Cap’s brain patterns! I mean, at least he’d have the capacity for emotion, even if his personality was not the same.

Sharon: Yes, I wondered about that too…why not use Hank’s brain patterns, since he’s right there and a smart guy --or was Pym afraid the Vision would turn out like Ultron? Okay, then how about T’Challa? Or as Karen said, Cap?

Karen: The worst thing about all this was that we got an extremely boring Vision for the next decade or so, and even though Busiek did a great job with him, it was too little too late. He never returned to the prominence he once had.

Doug: I agree, Karen. When you think of the face of the Avengers, and I’m talking about all-time, it has to be among these three characters: Captain America, Hawkeye, and/or the Vision. You can talk all you want to about Thor and Iron Man, but their tenures on the team have for the most part been brief and at long intervals in between. The above three were the mainstays of the classic team. You are right – the character was never the same again, not even (in my opinion) in the Busiek/Perez years.

Sharon: The Vision clearly dominated the series for many years. My question is, once Byrne left this series (about ten issues after this one), why didn’t later writers or editors redo the story and restore Vision to his former glory? The albino vision seemed to last an awfully long time. I don’t think this version was very popular with readers, was it?

Karen: It was a shattering turn of events for the character. It seemed to me like the character basically disappeared, although you would see him in panels of Avengers. He just didn’t get much play. Then we got into the Harras era…things got much better when Busiek came along, but again, no one really picked up the ball after him.

Karen: It seems to me a big part of Byrne’s message is that the Vision is not a person. While I will not argue that the Vision was human –as clearly he was not – I will argue that he had a soul. Whatever quality it is that we recognize as humanity, he had it. He could feel, he could make decisions, he had a sense of self, and a conscience. He was probably a better person than a lot of folks. To see him discarded this way – even 20 years later –really upsets me.

Doug: After having been through these issues again (for the first time since their publication), I am starting to come over to the “sentient being” side that you ladies have been pulling me toward. I still have a difficult time finding any physical relationship between the Vision and Wanda as acceptable, and I must say that at times Byrne was very convincing in his deconstruction of the synthozoid to the status of “simple” robot (he can be turned off, his memories had to be re-programmed, etc.).

Sharon: I’ve read that Byrne gleaned this angle from the ISAAC storyline, in which Vizh uploaded his mind into computers. So, Byrne reasoned, the Vision was really nothing more than a computer program.

Karen: I went to the Byrne Robotics forums and found these comments from Byrne. He obviously favors the Torch, although I find little to justify his beliefs:
Androids (ie, artificial humans) tend to blur the line between living and non-living. Especially in a case like the Human Torch, where his origin tends to establish him as something much more than a clever assemblage of non-organic parts. The "instability" which originally caused him to burst into flame spontaneously indicates there's an unknown factor involved.

Push come to shove, I would put Jim Hammond into his own category, and grant that, altho he is "not of woman born", he is, in a true sense, alive. In other words, not a toaster.
” (Nov. 19, 2006)

The question becomes, I suppose, one of value. Knowing that the Vision's complete personality/memory/intelligence was downloaded into a computer in Titan (was it Titan? Memory blurs) allowed me to scrape his brain in my VisionQuest story, since everything could be restored with a literal flip of a switch. Should something that can be so easily copied and retrieved be treated as having the same intrinsic value as a human being? Should any of the human Avengers, for instance, ever risk their lives on behalf of the Vision? My vote would be no (as some of you have probably already guessed) -- but I would say that even if it were not possible to restore or "save" the Vision in any other way. He is a "toaster".” (Nov. 19, 2006)

Karen: What exactly is it about the Torch’s origin that somehow makes him worthy, and the Vision not? How do we know the Torch’s mind couldn’t be downloaded? I also don’t think he’s interpreting what happened with ISAAC exactly right. I do think though, that the ISAAC storyline by Roger Stern is when we began to see writers emphasize the Vision’s artificial aspects.

Doug: I don’t agree with Byrne’s rationalizing about saving/not saving the Vision. Even if one considered him to be some sort of accessory, he is no one’s “property”, so he goes beyond the notion that he is some simple resource. He is a being, albeit an artificial being; if the Avengers would ask him to lay his “life” on the line for them, then they should in turn show him the same sort of loyalty.

Doug: But what we are left with at the end of this long arc is in no way remotely the Vision we once knew – Buscema’s strong, brooding powerhouse. Noble, yet chillingly effective at disrupting the very life essence of an enemy. Leader, comrade, confidant. That’s my Vision.

Karen: My Vision will always be the one from the Kree-Skrull War, when I first saw him – an android who behaved like a man desperate to save the woman he loved. This was, after all, the hero who left the room to go cry after he was invited to join the team. I will always see him as a being of deep feelings, if often afraid or unsure how to express those feelings.
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