With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This time around, we look at a deep dive into questions of the soul disguised as an Avengers solo story.
As the Marvel cinematic universe kicked into high gear over the past decade, characters who had never gotten extended solo spotlights in the comics were suddenly fan favorites. That meant in the lead up or aftermath of the second Avengers movie, several of these characters got their first ever solo series- most notably The Vision, an android Avenger that had been the anchor of the franchise since his introduction.
In The Vision, Tom King, Gabriel Walta, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles told a story that no one expected. Instead of a superhero epic, we got a thriller about AI, the soul, and domestic terror. Now, with the Vision set to co-led Marvel Studios’ first streaming series, WandaVision, we sat down with the first volume of the comic to look at a story that clearly influenced the show.
Tony Thornley: I’m just going to say this right off the bat. When I first read this book, I absolutely loved it. No one knew what to expect going into it outside of the concept that The Vision had built himself a family. This tech thriller about the soul, domestic horrors, and so on was not what anyone expected.
Brendan Allen: Dude. What the hell? My expectations were just about what you stated there. The pink robot from The Avengers went off and had a cute little family. I was not prepared for this. Xenophobia, murder, blackmail, teen angst…
TT: No kidding! I feel like there’s going to be a lot of people picking it up after watching the first episodes of WandaVision this week and getting their minds blown.
I like a lot of King’s work. This series is one of his earlier big two works, and I think one of the best things about it is how it begins fully formed. He does plenty of world building, but the story isn’t preoccupied with it. Virginia, Vin and Viv are already living lives as we pick up, and gradually we see these newer androids build their lives and identities in Arlington, VA.
It even starts with hinting that the story is going to be mostly about artificial intelligence and autonomy. Then the first issue ends with a twist, when the Grim Reaper, a villain closely linked to the Vision, attacks and Virginia kills him in self defense. Suddenly this AI story is a paranoid murder mystery.
BA: Right. And that’s the point, right there, where I started viewing the Visions as sentient, feeling beings, rather than some run-of-the-mill AI. Everything is logical up until that point, and then Virginia goes off and does something so innately human, it changes the perspective for the whole rest of the book.
TT: Yeah, definitely. It’s one of things King does really well the entire series. You see the inhuman speech patterns, or the struggles with understanding a concept (the second volume has a brilliant scene about faith) and get comfortable with the idea of “these are robots trying to be people.” Then they do something like Virginia killing the Reaper in self-defense, Vin fixating on Shakespeare or Viv getting her first crush… It’s devastating.
BA: Virginia killing the Reaper in self defense isn’t the kicker, though. It’s her very human remorse, her shame for having done it, and her need to hide it after the fact. Truth told, if she had told her husband what was happening, as it was happening (they have some sort of com link, yes?) or immediately after it happened, it would have been easily dealt with. It was her attempt to assimilate that made her bury the body and lie.
TT: Walta and Bellaire do some amazing work. I know we usually start by talking about line art, but I have to mention Bellaire’s colors first. She leans into the mundane setting. The colors aren’t pastels or sepia, but it’s kind of adjacent enough that she evokes that Leave It To Beaver sort of domestic bliss.
She uses a lot of earth tones too so the Visions, with their crimson skin and green clothes, really pop out. I also love that she makes the colors feel very textured, almost watercolor-esque. She does just as much as Walta, without a doubt.
BA: I never really understood the color scheme until now. In the book we just did last week, Gregory Suicide, they dye the synthetics’ skin blue. In The Vision, he and his family have pink skin. I get that it’s a device in-story, to set them apart, make people view them differently to set off that xenophobia, the awkwardness, but it also reminds the reader that they aren’t, in fact, human, so when you’re seeing emotion bleed through, it’s still shocking and unique.
TT: Walta is really just stunning across the entire series. His rough and sketchy style is a big departure from most superhero books, so you’re able to immerse yourself in this world. The Marvel universe is often described as “the world outside your window” and this might be the first series in a long time that really embraced that in a longform story. This isn’t a story about Peter Parker dealing with a bully in the halls of the high school while also trying to figure out how to find Doc Ock. It’s a story about the fantastic colliding with the mundane and trying to fit in.
Thanks to Walta, that works. The domestic tension, the high school drama, it clicks a lot better thanks to how he’s able to depict the mixture.
BA: It’s really interesting because there’s a visually discernible disconnect between the Visions and the humans they interact with. So much of the world doesn’t make sense to them, and you can almost see the wheels turning behind those blank expressions as they process what’s going on around them. The dichotomy between logic and emotion is a huge theme in the book, and it plays out on the faces of the Visions and the characters they’re interacting with in each scene.
TT: Definitely. It’s like what you said about them suddenly being so human- Walta does it just as much as King. You get that blank stare, rigid posture, until they suddenly snap.
BA: I liked it way more than I thought I would, and this is exactly why we do these pieces. I never would have picked up this title for review or for pleasure reading if you hadn’t dumped it on me.
TT: Yeah, and I’m glad it holds up because it’s been a couple years since I’ve read it. So what’s up next?
BA: We’re going to head back to revisit one of the books we did a long while back. It’s come up a few times that we really didn’t feel right leaving off after the first arc on some of these titles. Kyle Starks’ kung fu hobo epic really just isn’t a complete story without the back end, so we’ll be picking it back up with Rock Candy Mountain Volume 2. Really best consumed as a whole story, so I’ll recommend that you go back and re-read the first half before taking on the final act.
The Vision V1: Little More Than A Man is available now from Marvel Comics.