A Witch Called Wanda
There was also another element at play that contributed to Vision’s cool factor: The hottest chick on the Avengers was his woman. I know this sounds like I’m joking, but seriously, Scarlet Witch was hot stuff. And the young me was rather impressed that the Vision could earn her affections.
There was always something special about the pairing of these two. Not too many superhero couples inspire giant, painted murals on building walls accompanied by lyrics from Joy Division’s best, most romantic song.
In later years it would be pointed out to me in the comics press how this pairing symbolically represented interracial marriage—something that is rather obvious to my adult self in hindsight. This fits in well alongside the role of the X-Men/mutants in the Marvel Universe serving as allegorical figures representing race relations and civil rights. Again, this is Marvel at its progressive best.
But Wanda & Vizh seemed to represent something deeper still, beyond even the interracial symbolism. Over and over, the love between Vision & Scarlet Witch is shown to be deep, abiding, passionate, and true.
What made these two characters click so well together? It’s almost impossible for me to express beyond one simple word (and a rather appropriate word, given that one of the characters involved is named “Witch”): Magic.
Ultimately, the relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch is one of the most iconic, most sacred romantic pairings in the history of superhero comics. It’s right up there with Scott Summers & Jean Grey, Lightning Lad & Saturn Girl, Peter Parker & Gwen Stacy, and Barry Allen & Iris West. These are couples that are never to be split up; nor should any of these characters ever be paired with anyone else, romantically, ever.
So naturally, as we move into the late 80s, you can probably tell where this is going next, right?
Over the course of several years, many issues of Avengers, and two separate Vision and the Scarlet Witch limited series, the relationship between Wanda and Vizh was meticulously built up. Even as the writers in charge would change (and there were many different writers), they had always been on the same page where the Vision-Scarlet Witch relationship was concerned. First love blossomed; then the couple struggled with that love; then they were wed. In the last Vision and the Scarlet Witch series (published across 1985 and 1986), they had even become parents (thanks to Wanda’s hex powers) to twin boys. It had been a long, amazing, and often inspiring journey.
Then along came John Byrne, who summarily wrecked all that had been built over the previous twenty years in just a handful of issues. Taking over the West Coast Avengers title with issue #42 (March 1989), utterly destroying the Vision proved to be his first order of business. After having the Vision mysteriously disappear in issue #42, Byrne took the character apart quite literally in issue #44. Hank Pym then put him back together again, only his personality had been utterly erased, leaving him completely cold and emotionless.
This also included a new visual design for the character, as revealed on the cover of issue #45. Remember how much I loved color spectrum of Vizh’s original design as a kid? Well now he had an all-white design that was as dull as dishwater. Within a year or two, the color was subtly altered (perhaps for the same reasons Roy Thomas couldn’t make him white when he first created him?) and they gave him a pale-yellow hue—kinda urine-colored. Which, of course, looked even worse.
Shortly after all this, Byrne also wiped out Vizh & Wanda’s kids (in issue #52, to be precise), explaining that they were never truly real in the first place, but just shards of the missing soul of Master Pandemonium. Then he had Wanda go completely bonkers, turn into a villainess, and join up with her father, Magneto. All of this was every bit as horrible as it sounds.
Byrne has often referred to his creative philosophy with longstanding characters as a “back to basics” approach. Normally, a traditionalist such as myself would whole heartedly endorse such a philosophy. The problem is that Byrne’s view of the “basics” is often more warped and twisted than one could imagine—his treatment of the Vision here being a perfect example.
So I’m guessing Byrne went back to look at the Vision’s earliest appearances, saw he was referred to as an android/robot, and decided to make him a “robot” again. In addition to the sin of undoing all the creative work of his predecessors, this view is quite simply wrong. In his second-ever comics appearance, the character wept. Said tale even took its title from this very fact. Vision was referred to as an android or robot at various times, yes, but this was merely verbal shorthand—he was never an actual robot, nor was he ever intended to be; he was ALWAYS a man. Pym’s speech in issue #58 made this point with crystal clarity.
But this wasn’t even the worst of it. After turning the Vision into a soulless automaton, Byrne had Wonder Man—very suddenly, from out of nowhere—become heartsick in love with Wanda.
Once again, it’s fairly easy to surmise what the thought process was here. Byrne was thinking since Vision got his “brain patterns” from Wonder Man, they must be the same person, essentially. Therefore, if the Vision fell in love with Wanda, then Wonder Man would too, right?
Actually no. First, the idea of “brain patterns” is a nebulously comic-bookish phrase, so for the sake of argument, let’s say the two characters’ brains are genetically identical—like identical twin brothers. But even if they have the same brain, essentially, the Vision is not Simon Williams/Wonder Man. Nature may play a large role in who we are, but nurture still counts for something. The reality is that the Vision is who Simon Williams would be if Simon Williams were to be born fully educated and mature in a synthetic, adult body with no childhood memories of who he was or where he came from. This would most certainly be a rather different person than the Simon Williams we started with, no?
More deeply, love is not so coldly scientific as Byrne supposed here. While there may be some surface logic to the idea that Wonder Man would fall for Wanda because of what he shares with the Vision, I think we all know there are a myriad number of other forces also at work when it comes to why a person falls in love—much of it random, circumstantial, chaotic, and yes, pure magic.
And after all this, even if one still insisted on clinging to the premise that Wonder Man would fall for the Scarlet Witch since the Vision did, it still doesn’t make any sense from Wanda’s side of it. Scarlet Witch was drawn to the Vision because he was an outsider like she was (she was a mutant and he was a synthetic being). They both existed outside the realm of “normal” humanity, unlike every other member of the team at the time, so it was only logical that the two would eventually connect. In this way, Wanda’s attraction to the Vision always made perfect character sense.
In contrast, Simon Williams/Wonder Man was born, grew up, and lived the bulk of his life as a normal human man. He did not share that same common ground with Wanda that the Vision did, and thus there was never any real basis for a connection—not from either side, really.
About ten years after Byrne, Kurt Busiek had a strong run as an Avengers scripter for over fifty issues from 1998 to 2002, aided tremendously throughout most of it by the artistic contributions of one of the masters, George Pérez. What kept the run from being an all-time classic, for me, was Busiek throwing in with Byrne’s view of the Vision/Scarlet Witch/Wonder Man triad. Writers in the years between Byrne & Busiek had tried to push Vision and Wanda back together and undo the damage Byrne had done, but Busiek flushed all of that away and paired Wanda up with Wonder Man. This pretty much ruins a large part of the Busiek-Pérez run, in my view. (This & Busiek’s annoying insistence on changing Ms. Marvel’s name to “Warbird.” Wtf is a “warbird,” anyway?)
My memory is spotty here, as I don’t think I’ve gone back and read any of these stories since first buying them, but I don’t believe Byrne had Wanda actually reciprocate Wonder Man’s feelings for her. Busiek, on the other hand, had the two of them knocking boots. I get a little sick to my stomach just thinking about it now.
It’s times like this that make me wish I lived in the world of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where I could have all this garbage erased from my memory.
The Alienated Hero
Circling back to the beginning and that article I can’t find: The writer of said article drew a figurative line tracing the classic Marvel characters that he could best relate to as an African American. Chronologically, those characters were (as best I can recall): the Thing, the Hulk, Spider-Man, and the Vision.
Parallels with the first two characters are clear: the Thing & Hulk are feared and misjudged by the public because of their monstrous surface appearances. Spider-Man is also judged on superficial grounds—even though he doesn’t appear as monstrous as the Thing or the Hulk, people are always misjudging him and rarely giving him a fair shake (due largely to the influence of The Daily Bugle on public opinion).
Making the next jump to the Vision is where it kinda gets interesting. First, it’s interesting because the previous three characters are big names; everyone knows them; they all go on the Mount Rushmore of the Marvel Age. The Vision isn’t nearly as well known as they are. Second, the Vision is neither monstrous in appearance nor is he really ever hounded by the public (aside from a couple issues here and there).
But this is where he does fit in with the aforementioned heroes: he is completely alienated and exists well apart from the conventional human experience. Like the three previous heroes, he’s an outsider—perhaps the ultimate outsider. It is the greatest burden he carries as a character, certainly through most of his early appearances.
Vision also parallels the African-American experience more perfectly than those other characters in another way. Being adopted, I think I could see this, and certainly relate to it, more readily than some others might. Now I’m not equating being an adoptee with being a slave, which is obviously a key component of the African-American identity. Contemporary adoptees are not whipped and are not forced to do hard labor. But there is still common ground: When you’re adopted, you are bought and paid for, and you are also completely cut off from your original family and your origins. It is this dilemma that the Vision shares with adoptees and African Americans: He doesn’t know who (or even what) he really is. He has no personal or family background; he has no identity; he is a stranger to himself.
Beneath the surface superheroics, it’s this journey—the journey to discover who he is and his place in the world—that made the character so compelling for me. In fact, I feel this is what makes him one of the most compelling comic characters ever.
Now I don’t keep up much with modern comics. I believe they killed the Vision off in that ghastly “Avengers Disassembled” event from a few years back; maybe he’s been resurrected since, I don’t know. But I am looking forward to seeing what they do with him in the upcoming films. If they’re smart, they’ll put him front center, as he’s a great character, more than worthy of the spotlight.