(Special note: The Vision, like many characters of Marvel Comics, was created by Stan Lee, alongside Roy Thomas, and John Buscema. Stan Lee passed away this afternoon, which I learned literally while typing up this piece, and it is hard to think of a single other creator responsible for a legacy that has inspired and affected so many for so long. He will be deeply missed.)
Vision was a 12 issue limited series published by Marvel comics between January 2016 and December 2016 written by novelist Tom King, and illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez, with covers by Mike Del Mundo, and colours by Jordie Bellaire. Departing from traditional comic book narratives, Vision was notable for being an entirely self-contained narrative, existing separate from the usual superheroes antics. King’s scripts take an unusually literary approach to the genre, morbid humour, reference, and strange imagery. The story follows the android The Vision, purged of all emotions and attachments to his life as a superhero, create a new synthetic family – a wife, son daughter, and dog – and move into the Washington D.C. suburbs.
Full of uncanny images, King and Hernandez take full advantage of the uneasy nature of their story, finding as much disturbing content in moments of extreme violence as they do in images of having their red-skinned glowing-eyed, expressionless, floating protagonist standing in a collared shirt in tie, throwing a football, or lying in bed. Vision is a character study, with a creeping sense of dread – almost from the first page, an unseen narrator tells the reader that it must end in disaster.
Something I find particularly interesting about King’s scripts for Vision is his use of cyclical and recursive dialogue, seemingly taking nods from the stilted and bulky form of early and mid 20th century comics. In fact, King occasionally lifts original 1970s dialogue from old issues of The Avengers, creating a schism between the script and its imagery, which is always grounded and understated.
Panels, phrases, and quotations often bookmark the first and final pages if an issue/chapter. King uses repetition to inform character, with quotes often taking on either tragic or sinister new meanings with each reoccurrence. My favourite use of King’s dialogue occurs halfway through the series, in the issue titled I too shall be saved by love. The issue begins in flashback, showing the Vision with his first wife, fellow comic superhero Wanda: The Scarlet Witch. They sit up far apart on opposite ends of the bed – the narrative implying this is the very beginning of their relationship, their discarded clothing strewn across the floor. They are both visibly uncomfortable until Vision tells a joke, and they both laugh and move closer together. Everything is bathed in a deep and lively red.
The issue condenses decades of publishing to track Vision and Scarlet Witch’s Marriage, from their happy early days, through to their eventual separation and divorce. The issue concludes with the revelation that Vision essentially used “copy+paste” by using his first wife’s brain as the template for creating when creating his synthetic android wife, Virginia.
King’s script ends in a twisted mirror of where it began: with Vision and Virginia sitting in opposite ends of the bed, Vision telling the same joke so many years later[iii]. The page seems drained of colour, two sets of clothing are folded neatly at the foot of the bed. They remain far apart, and expressionless. A narrator plugs along with ironical hopefulness, claiming “In the end, we begin again. Everything is new and different” (King 2016). With each repetition, things do become new and different, building both tension and character
King’s vision is an exciting take on rebooting a character without erasing some of the more awkward parts of their history, as well as an excellent way of writing a story about robots that rely on the uncanny without going to the more clichéd well of us vs them. There are things I think comic books are capable of doing that other types of storytelling – whether on the page, or stage or screen, cannot. But I do think it is worth considering King’s script’s use of repetition as a way of revealing character.
King, Tom et al. The Vision. 1st ed., Marvel Comics, 2016.
It occurs to me that I’ve actually been writing about good comic books since my very first online article: Check out my first ever review: of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s phenomenal Hawkeye