The Vision #11: Show & Tell
Spoilers for The Vision #11 follow.
The Vision is my favorite book on the stands right now, in part because it's such a compelling oddity. On one hand, it's a superhero comic that eschews the conventions of most of its peers — it's a standalone story, for example, untouched by major crossover events, and the superhero trappings often feel like a Trojan Horse for the character-driven family drama at the center of it all. And yet, it's also a comic that's obsessed with the sandbox of the Marvel Universe and the absurd, intertwining histories of the characters contained therein.
The other reason The Vision takes my top spot is the storytelling of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta. A brief summary of the story thus far: Vision, an organic android (or “synthezoid”) and longtime Avenger, has purged his emotional programming, built a family for himself, and moved to the suburbs. He is trying to be a good man, with a good family in a good home. Naturally, things go awry fairly quickly — as his family struggles to fit in and figure out who they are independent of him, Vision's past catches up to all of them in a variety of unexpected and harrowing ways.
As this issue begins, Vision is seeking revenge for the freak-accident killing of his son, and the only thing standing in his way is, well, pretty much every other superhero. While there's a parallel (and eventually colliding) narrative thread wherein Virginia and Viv Vision have a rather devastating discussion of what will happen to them if Vision succeeds in his mission (see below), Vision's brawl with the Avengers stands out to me, despite the fact that it is easily the most superhero-y the comic has felt its whole run.
The reason for my interest in the fight isn't the fight itself — we've seen these heroes come to blows countless times, they're having a similar battle over in the pages of Civil War II this very moment — but the narration during this whole sequence, and the way it informs, illuminates, and contradicts what you're seeing, makes it feel fresh and surprising.
The narrator of The Vision has been a key element of the book since its beginning. Very early on in the story, this floating voice revealed events that hadn't happened yet, explicitly letting us know we would end up here: with Vision going toe-to-toe his former friends. Since the Golden Age of comics, when narration was used as a sort of blunt instrument of exposition, describing what we could clearly see in the art, comic writers have pulled back on its use, employing it subtly, or in some cases, not at all — they've learned that the art and dialogue can often say all that needs to be said.
King's narration goes against this. His narrator spends a lot of time and space talking at us. But this narrator also understands it doesn't need to explain to us what we can see. Instead, the narration and art depict two different, seemingly urelated events, at least as far as cause and effect go.
Take a look at the following page:
As Vision systematically incapacitates Avengers, Inhumans, and X-Men, the narrator recounts the moment of Vision's birth — when he was first activated by his creator, Ultron, a villainous robotic AI. “You've told me only what powers I possess — not what I wish to know!” Vision says in the narrator's recounting, while in the present he uses these same powers Ultron gave him. “Who am I? What name is mine?” he asks. Ultron responds: “I gave you a mind so that you could obey me... Not dispute me!” and we watch as the Vision disobeys the warnings of his friends. Ultron goes on to explain the reason Vision was created: to kill the Avengers. And now, this prophetic design appears to play out, though here Vision is taking action of his own free will, rather than due to Ultron's programming — or is he? When the narrator tells us how Vision was born “consumed with curiosity” and admonished by Ultron for his “human-like” emotions, we watch as Vision tears through his allies silently, stoically — or perhaps driven by rage, the same human emotion he would later accuse Ultron of harboring.
There's no obvious connection between the words Vision shared with his creator and the superhero fight depicted in the artwork. In fact, the only connection is this: they were put together by King and Walta. That deliberate choice joins these two events in our mind, even if there's not an apparent reason for it. Not explaining why this narration is told alongside this art in turn puts onus on us as readers to thread possible connections between them — some of those possibilities may fall apart as we read, but it's this possibility of meaning that gives depth and dimension to an otherwise conventional action sequence.
When the two narrative threads of this issue collide, the narrator shifts focus, telling us about Virginia's first moments alive, with Vision now in the position of Ultron, introducing his creation to the world, and this new recounting instantly mirrors the previous:
Vision tells her that “she was made to be a good person with a free will of her own,” that if she wanted to, “They could be part of a happy normal family.” Vision's good intentions contrast with Ultron's murderous ones, but the narration stands in stark contrast to the scenes of violence playing out in the present. This all may seem obvious — of course you'd want narration, or even dialogue, to play against what the reader is seeing happen. Still, it's not done nearly often enough, or nearly this well. King and Walta pile so many narratives and images on top of one another, you'd think the story would collapse under the weight of it all.
Instead, when we read of Ultron's surprise at his creation's emotions, we think of all the ways Vision's family has surprised him in their brief lives. When Vision recalls how the Wasp first saw him and dubbed him “a Vision of death,” we consider how well he has lived up to his programmed destiny. When we see Simon Williams on a movie theater marquee in the background, we remember that his brainwaves were used to create Vision's, and when Vision tells the Scarlet Witch he wants to be just like everyone else, we know that this can never be. We aren't explicitly guided toward those conclusions, and yet all those connections — and more — are strung up and woven together by the placement of so many disparate moments alongside each other. We look at all the good that came from bad intentions, and all the violence that has been wrought by good ones, and we question what it even means to be good — this isn't really a story about synthezoids, after all, but a story about us, about being human, and how often we will fail to be the people we envision ourselves to be.
There's something else that's remarkable about this issue's narration. A good deal of dialogue from the early days of Vision is actually directly from Avengers #57 and #58, his earliest appearances. These are sentences lifted wholesale (in sometimes obviously dated ways — I can't really imagine a contemporary robot villain calling people “clown” with such frequency) from comics published in 1968, then rearranged to lend significance and nuance to a contemporary story. King wrote maybe 12 original words on those first fight scene panels above, but the attention to detail and meticulousness of arrangement is what leads this and every issue of The Vision to feel less like a comic book and more like a movement in a symphony — all these unlike instruments improbably swaying and swelling in chaotic harmony.