By Glenn Walker
The thought occurred to me on a recent episode of the All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast that not everyone knows who the Vision is, or why he is so important to the Avengers. As I said on that episode, when it comes to the Avengers in the late 1960s, the 1970s, and the early 1980s -- the Vision is the fo-shizzle.
The origin of the Vision is one of the first to be mostly retcon: that's retroactive continuity for folks not familiar with comic book lingo. It means that the story we're now told comes from slightly altering or bending events already established as history in the comics. It's made to fit with what we already know, but it's a story that is being told later. Got it? Good, we'll get to that part shortly.
Outside of comic book continuity, the Vision's origin is part of what was called a secret crossover. Back in the dark ages, before cross-company crossovers happened on a semi-regular basis, sometimes writers would get together and do them subtly for their own entertainment. The introductions of the new Vision in Avengers #57 by writer Roy Thomas and the new Red Tornado in Justice League of America #64 by Gardner Fox was one such event.
Both characters had several similarities. They were both androids who were taking on the names of long forgotten Golden Age heroes, sent by villains to infiltrate a superhero team and destroy them, but eventually they each turned good and joined that team. Both had super powers their namesakes did not, both were struggling to become human, and both would eventually find love. They appeared within a month of each other, with the Red Tornado beating the Vision to print by a month.
The Vision, at first, was the creation of the Avengers' arch-foe Ultron, itself an artificial intelligence built by Hank Pym, Goliath at the time. The Vision was an android, technically a synthezoid, an artificial being who had seemingly plastic-like flesh and blood organs beneath his crimson skin rather than gears and machine parts. He possessed complete molecular control over his body. He could become intangible and float or fly, and become as hard as diamond. He was sustained by solar energy through a gem in his forehead and could discharge powerful solar beams from his eyes. His deadliest attack by far was passing a hand into a victim intangibly then solidifying, disrupting the target on a molecular level… painful.
The Vision quickly became one of the most popular characters in the Avengers, so popular in fact that it was his image that appeared next to the price and Comics Code info on the cover of the title for almost a hundred issues. The Vision was the Avengers. Rarely an issue went by without him in it, or on the cover (besides the corner image). He was one of the most powerful Avengers, humbled only briefly by bouts of unexplained claustrophobia, a drive to become more human -- and love.
Yes, perhaps the most important factor in the Vision's life was his love for the Scarlet Witch. Two outcasts from society, non-humans, the android and the mutant, found love in each other's arms. It was a not-so-clever analogy for interracial relationships while mixed into the Marvel Universe world of superheroes. Their forbidden love shocked the world, alienated Quicksilver, the Witch's brother, and endeared the Vision and the Scarlet Witch to Avengers readers everywhere.
Around this time, the Avengers came into conflict with Kang, and the Legion of the Unliving. The Legion included beings plucked from time just before the moment of their deaths to serve Kang and destroy the Avengers. Among them were Wonder Man, whose brain patterns were used by Ultron to create the Vision's mind, and the original android Human Torch. In the battle, the Vision had been nearly destroyed, yet was saved by the above two, along with the Frankenstein Monster, all of whom felt some sort of kinship to the fallen Avenger.
The Monster perhaps sensed another artificial being. Wonder Man maybe understood on some level that they shared a mind. The Human Torch saw something very disconcerting. He saw himself. The Vision's crimson body was in fact his own! The truth became very evident that Ultron had used the Torch's inert android body to create the Vision. The android Avenger's weakness of claustrophobia was clearly inherited from the Human Torch from years of being trapped underwater.
The Legionnaires, after saving the Vision's life, were returned to their proper places in time. Wonder Man would return from the dead, vying for the Scarlet Witch's affections, and adding more of a soap opera element to the Avengers comic. It was an intriguing dilemma, as they were essentially the same man. Circumstances made it so the Vision was dismantled at one point, and his wife fell fully for Wonder Man.
Things got worse for the Scarlet Witch as time went by. She became more and more powerful, eventually gaining the power to alter reality itself. She had had this power all along, having created children for herself and the Vision with it. Once she realized that her children were not even real, she snapped, and snapped hard.
In the event called "Disassembled," the Scarlet Witch succeeded in doing what no other villain -- not Kang, or Ultron, or the Masters of Evil -- had been able to do: She defeated the Avengers. Amongst the rubble was her former husband, the Vision, torn apart by the enraged She-Hulk, as both were manipulated by the Scarlet Witch.
As with most Marvel superheroes, everyone got better eventually. The Vision's recovery was easier, being a repair rather than an out and out resurrection. Early events in Avengers Vs. X-Men have the Vision and the Scarlet Witch confronting each other for the first since the events of "Disassembled," a moment Avengers readers had been waiting for for years.
What happens next is anyone's guess, but I hope that the Vision returns to his status of greatness among the Avengers. Time will tell…
By Glenn Walker
In Marvel Comics' Avengers #213, an unfortunate character-defining moment occurred with Dr. Henry Pym, then going by the name of Yellowjacket. He struck his wife, Janet Van Dyne, AKA the Wasp. Ask anyone who's a Marvel Comics fan about Hank Pym, and at some point during the conversation, early on usually, the phrase 'domestic violence' (or worse) will come up.
Now before we start this rollercoaster ride, please understand I am not supporting domestic violence in any capacity whatsoever. What Hank did to Jan is inexcusable. My question is why does one slap define his character forever? Especially in light of the fact it might not have been meant to happen in the comic at all? Oh yeah, you read that right, but I'll get to that later.
First let's have some history on Dr. Henry Pym. He's one of the Marvel originals, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Tales to Astonish #27. As Ant-Man, the scientist-turned-adventurer continued on in that comic, gaining both a rogues gallery and a sidekick: Janet Van Dyne, who became the Wasp. While Ant-Man could shrink and communicate and control ants, he gave his heiress girlfriend slightly different powers. The Wasp could shrink, but at insect size she sprouted wings and had mechanical 'stingers.' She was a bit ditzy at the beginning, but let's be honest here, Stan Lee was not at his finest writing women back in those days.
The next big move in Hank's career was, along with the Wasp, becoming a founding member of the Avengers. By that time, Pym had improved upon the science that allowed him to shrink, and was also using the identity of Giant-Man, who could not only shrink, but also grow to incredible size. Retroactively it's been suggested that Pym kept trying to improve himself to compete with the bigger guns in the Avengers, especially fellow scientist Tony Stark as Iron Man. Me, I don't buy it.
Later after a leave of absence from the team, Hank and Jan returned to the Avengers, and this time, he called himself Goliath. Three identities and at least a half-dozen costumes, as well as a dozen outfits for the Wasp – a pattern was developing. It would stay in place for years. For the record, the Wasp has had more costumes than any other heroine in comics. He stayed Goliath for a while, and was even trapped at a height of fifteen feet for some time. It was during this period that things got bad.
Realizing that he fought better in the lab with his brain than he did in a costume and with his fists, Hank turned to his research more seriously. This, unfortunately, was his undoing. He created an artificial intelligence called Ultron that not only turned against him, the creature affected his thinking, and ultimately his mind. Later this monster became one of the Avengers' greatest foes. Failed experiments and damaged self-esteem added into the equation and Henry Pym had a mental breakdown. From this tragedy arose the new identity of Yellowjacket.
Yellowjacket was everything that Hank Pym wasn't, and he even claimed to have killed Pym. Yellowjacket was active, aggressive, acting first and thinking last. He wielded a disruptor pistol, didn't change size, and moved in on Pym's woman quickly – and asked Janet to marry him. The Wasp was the only one who knew that Yellowjacket was the product of a mental break and a backfiring experiment. So she not only humored him, she married him.
At the wedding, Hank came to his senses, but still thereafter was subject to mental stress. Mostly it was the guilt of having created one of the Avengers' deadliest enemies that weighed most heavy on him. For the most part – except for switching off to Ant-Man once or twice – Hank remained Yellowjacket for most of the 1970s. He later took on other identities like the scientific adventurer Doctor Pym, and more recently as the new Wasp in memory of his late ex-wife (yeah, we'll get to that). He also has gone back to Goliath, Ant-Man, and Giant-Man for short periods of time, that last is the identity he's using in current issues of Avengers Academy.
Ultron has returned on many occasions, often screwing with Hank's mind. In hindsight, it is hard to say how many of Pym’s mental problems have been his own, and how many have been the brainwashings and manipulations of Ultron – but that's a case for another time. This brings us back to the beginning: Avengers #213, and the slap.
Yellowjacket was under stress and mental strain again. He was getting careless, making mistakes, and taking it out on his wife Janet. Verbally, it should be stressed, he was yelling at her. Janet, in their relationship, had always stood by him. She would rather be superheroing, and he would always want to be in the lab, they quarreled occasionally, but they always stood by each other. In this issue, it changes.
Hank strikes Jan, knocks her down, and gives her a shiner. One strike is shown. Despite the idea that if it happens once, it'll happen again, we don't see it in the comics. He hits her once, and is labeled a wife-beater forever. In the events that follow, Hank is expelled from the Avengers, divorced from Janet, suffers a complete mental breakdown, does jail time, attacks the Avengers, is brainwashed by Egghead, and even seriously contemplates suicide – all of this in a very short time.
Hank has been forgiven, and redeemed himself, in his own eyes, in Janet's, and in those of the Avengers several times in the decades since. It seems that he is forgiven in everyone's eyes, except those of the majority of readers, and the writers at Marvel. And as I've always said: There are no bad characters, only bad writers. Seeing as Hank Pym is one of my favorite Avengers, it hurts me to see a character of such great potential treated thus. The slap remains a stigma, the stigma that defines the character.
I have to wonder why this is not the case with other comic book characters. Have we forgotten that Hal Jordan slaughtered most of the Green Lantern Corps? How many people has the Hulk killed in his rampages? How many times has Spider-Man knocked Mary Jane around? In post-Crisis continuity, Superman sentenced the three Phantom Zone villains to death. Reed Richards struck his wife Sue physically and verbally to shake her out of her Malice identity.
Let's not even get into the weird physical relationships Batman has had with Catwoman and Talia, among others – you know there was more than slapping involved there. Add in the archer couples Hawkeye and Mockingbird, and Green Arrow and Black Canary, and you have enough dysfunctional relationship there to make Hank and Jan seem positively healthy. Why is it Henry Pym that takes the blame?
Recently it has come to light, although I had heard rumors for years, that the slap was never meant to happen as we saw it on the page. The writer of that issue, Jim Shooter, who was also Marvel's editor-in-chief at the time, posted a blog entry about the incident. You can read it here. It's called, appropriately enough, "Hank Pym Was Not a Wife Beater." What is most interesting is that artist Bob Hall collaborates this in the comments section of the blog.
So where does this leave us? Well, continuity is as it was printed, not what was meant to be printed. I mean, this is the way it is: Hank hit Jan. Of course, Janet is no longer with us, killed at the end of the Secret Invasion. In Dan Slott's Mighty Avengers, Hank was in the process of finding a way to bring her back. The subplot remains in Avengers Academy by Christos Gage. Both Slott and Gage are good writers – no, make that great writers. Maybe Hank is headed toward another redemption, and maybe this time it will stick.
By Allison Eckel
A year ago, I wrote that Superman was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after losing New Krypton. He has nearly completed his year of walking across the U.S. and he does not seem to be any better. In July’s Superman 713, the penultimate installment of Grounded, writer Chris Roberson name-drops Under a Yellow Sun, which in the DCU is the second novel published by Clark Kent. Since Roberson left this Easter egg in plain sight, I decided to snatch it. Inside I found a fascinating look at one of Clark Kent’s earlier struggles with personal failure and enjoyed comparing it to the current Grounded event.
Under a Yellow Sun is a book within a book. It is a graphic novel written by J.F. Moore and published at a time when Clark is still re-entering his life after a return from the dead (1994). In Yellow Sun, we get some of Clark’s prose, some of his action illustrated, and some of what he is living as he is writing. It is a “day in the life of Superman” type of story. Clark goes to work, stresses about paying bills, dodges his boss, misses deadlines, flubs a conversation with his girlfriend … just like he’s a regular guy. Also, he and Lois uncover a mystery of corporate corruption that they know leads to Luthor but they can’t prove. Clark encounters a rampant culture of “why fight it?” and he feels emotionally defeated. He feels like “the city’s hardest-working boy scout,” fighting the good fight, helping those less-fortunate, but for what? A dark, empty apartment because he didn’t pay the electric bill. And the lady he’s trying to save would rather play by Luthor’s rules because life is more comfortable that way.
Moore’s Clark is experiencing a personal crisis, something akin to “Why am I trying so hard if no one cares anyway?” This is a thirty-something’s crisis of reality. In our twenties, we have big ideas, stars in ours eyes, ambitions. When we get to the big game – be it government, corporation, environment, etc. – we often find it so much more broken than we ever imagined was possible. After fighting the good fight for a few years, we will face a moment of personal crisis: Effecting change in this massive, broken system is so slow and seemingly pointless, should we continue or start looking out for ourselves? Clark says to Lois: “Maybe I finally realized that justice is the real fiction.”
Part of what makes Superman so timeless, universal, essential, is that in the end, he will always choose to continue fighting for good, regardless of the speed of change and of the personal impact. But what if Superman finds he cannot even define such black-and-white terms as “good” and “evil” anymore?
In the year-long Grounded story arc, Clark is again struggling with a personal crisis. But this time, instead of a hopeful young go-getter, he is a seasoned veteran who has been to war and lost almost everything. He is asking himself a similar question – What is the point of anything I do? – but this time, everything is bigger, heavier, and nihilism is undermining his hopeful nature. He is not just fighting rampant corruption and a culture that accepts it. He’s fighting his own motivation to even care.
In Yellow Sun, Luthor says to Superman, “You fear falling from grace more than anything.” A fall from grace can be interpreted many ways. To Superman, such a fall might come from taking a life. Clark plays with the idea of his novel’s protagonist killing the bad guy in the end, because it’s what he really wanted to do to Luthor. This idea is referenced again in Action Comics 775 (2001), when Manchester Black tries to push Superman to the point of blind, murderous rage. In both cases, simply ending the bad guy would have been so much easier than teaching him a lesson. But then, everything that is Superman would have died too. I don’t believe Superman fears that he might one day go too far. I believe to him, a fall from grace is more about failure.
Yes, Doomsday defeated him in Superman 75 (1992). But Superman is always prepared to die, if the fight goes that far. He is not, however, prepared to let others die – indeed, to let others down. When the last vestiges of his re-found Kryptonian civilization exploded in 2010, he experienced his most profound failure of his life. His very soul is damaged. So, in July last year, he started walking.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski launched the Grounded story arc last summer to explore this deep psychological trauma resulting from Superman’s greatest failure to date. Unfortunately, this great idea became wrapped in money. At least, that’s what I am left to assume from the media blitz surrounding DC Comics’ announcement that Grounded would be stretched over 12 months and take Superman to lots of cities across the country. I get the publicity stunt; I don’t get the overly long timeline. If I wanted 12 issues of trauma and depression I would reread The Watchmen. But that’s not why I read comics. And don’t get me started on the fact that the creator of the story arc bailed on it before it really launched, leaving substitute writer Chris Roberson to clean up the mess. I respect Roberson for taking on this tough task. He has made the best of an ugly situation.
Which brings me to Superman 713. Superman announces to Superboy and Supergirl that he’s hanging up his tights and cape and sticking to being Clark, full time. If he needs to save anyone, he’ll do it Smallville style, like a “blue blur.” This decision is rational: He won’t turn his back on people in need, but he is tired of putting himself out there as some symbol. The rest of the issue just upsets me. A random guy in a coffee shop butts in on Clark’s reverie to expound on why Superman is awesome. Okay, a little lecture may be warranted. But the subsequent tour of the townspeople is too much. Too heavy handed by Roberson. In the All Things Fun! new comics vidcast of July 13, I characterized this bit as cloying.
The lack of civilian support for Superman throughout this Grounded story has irked me. Superman’s walk was well-publicized within the DCU’s fictional press. I would think that his fans, those he saved, appreciative civilians, etc., would have gotten together to help this man who has helped them for so long. Towns would have put up displays of gratitude like the one in Action Comics 567, which opens with the mayor of Coaltown dedicating a statue to Superman for his help extinguishing an underground coal fire. Now, Superman is hurting, everyone can see it, and the citizenry is doing… what? Waving to him from across the street like he’s walking to the market for milk?
A grass-roots appreciation effort is what I would have liked to see in issue 713, instead of that ridiculous family who thanks God every day because Superman saved their cat (!), I would rather see our buttinsky fanboy show Clark how the people have been writing him letters, making him pictures, etc., for being that symbol he is so ready to cast off. Like when Harry Potter finally returns to his parents’ house in Deathly Hallows and finds all of the encouraging messages people have left for him. Harry had no idea people were pulling for him and the shock of that discovery bolstered him. For Superman, where is the outreach from the people he walks past? When our heroes are in trouble, we rally to help. Wouldn’t it follow that if the greatest hero in the DCU was so depressed that he is walking for a year instead living his life that the American people would rally around him? That they would at least reach out to show him appreciation? They would just give it; it would not need a random guy in an S t-shirt to ask them their opinion.
In Yellow Sun, Clark works out his personal crisis for himself, by talking with his friends and writing fiction as therapy. In Grounded, he is so broken that the few friends who have reached out to him have left empty handed. Roberson has one issue left of Grounded to work through this. Even though Superman will be re-booted along with the rest of DC’s titles in September, simply letting this depression linger would under serve the character and all he’s experienced over the past several years. Not to mention the fact that the eventual collected edition would be really lame with an ending that just peters out. So, I am looking to August 3rd with great expectation and not a little bit of anxiety.
We know from reading recent events in Action Comics that Superman will return to fighting form, but it’s the how and the why that interest me at this point. Superman 714 pictures Our Hero soaring in the sky, no longer “grounded,” and with a Mona Lisa-esque grin. I expect all will be resolved, but as with real-life personal crises, all should not be forgotten.
By Allison Eckel
To prepare for the great issue 700 of Superman, I finally sat down and read the huge stack of Superman Family titles I’ve collected chronicling the saga of New Krypton – about two years’ worth of books. I am glad I waited to read them altogether. Story collections of this saga have begun to ship, so if you haven’t followed it, you still have a chance, and there are parts of this I highly recommend.
In a nutshell, remember the bottle city of Kandor? Superman has had it in his Fortress of Solitude for as long as I’ve been a comics reader, some 30 years. Well, no longer. The city becomes big again, the resident Kryptonians grow a planet under they’re city, and Earth’s yellow sun adds a planet to its system. The obvious implication for Superman is that he is no longer the last Kryptonian, but one among many, all of whom have his abilities and almost none of whom share his morals.
That is enough to sustain a compelling read for three or four issues of one title, but not enough for the scale they needed. So someone at DC – maybe the New Krypton writing team of James Robinson and Greg Rucka? – wisely realized that Superman stories are greatest when his adversary is complicated, intelligent, plotting, and morally grey, which is why Lex Luthor is such a great foil. The weakest stories are the ones filled with mindless fisticuffs.
The New Krypton saga had three such adversaries who were locked in an intricate dance around each other, with each other, and against Superman. The covert ops and overt PR spin of General Sam Lane (Lois’s supposedly dead father); the patriotic strategizing “for the safety of New Krypton” from General Zod, who once tried to take over Earth; and the self-advancing avarice of Lex Luthor, who would sacrifice anything for more Brainiac technology. Wrapped around these men are political and moral situations allegorical to many in the recent news. Oh, and Brainiac was working in there too, he was just demoted to mindless attacker and pawn of the other three.
I won’t tell you how it all ends. I will say that it’s cataclysmic and we end up with about the same number of Kryptonians as we started with, which is a tremendous body count.
Through the saga, Superman stayed on New Krypton (except for a few crises in other titles that brought him back to Earth). He became a citizen, hung up the blue tights, and got a job. Issue 700 highlights the moment he returns to Lois. Some have criticized this story by J. Michael Straczynski as an unfortunate throwback to the days when Superman arrived just in time to rescue Lois as a damsel in distress. But I disagree. I think she would have evaded the Parasite eventually. That chase was just a convenient set-up for Superman’s arrival.
The real point of this story is not the save but the reunion. I could replace Clark and Lois with newspaper cut-outs of a U.S. soldier and his wife and the conversation would be pretty much the same. The reunion is powerful, dramatic, sometimes traumatic, and words fail. You reaffirm, reconnect, and start to move on.
Now, with Superman, he typically moves on by just getting back to keeping everyone safe. But not this time. This time, the crisis was deeply personal and prolonged. This time, his perspective of himself and his responsibility has gone a little out-of-whack. Also, the people of Earth have been put through a PR spin machine that made them distrust him. Writer JMS even has a woman blame Superman for the death of her husband from cancer, saying that if Supes had been on Earth, he might have seen the tumor and been able to do something about it. At first, I was blown away by how preposterous an accusation this is. Superman taught Kara this very lesson: They can’t save everyone, especially not from things like cancer. How could he take this woman seriously?
The answer, I hope, will come from JMS’s “Grounded” storyline that will run for a while in the Superman title. For starters, Supes walks. That’s it, he just walks. Here’s how JMS explained it to Maxim magazine in June: “Superman is coming home, to get a sense of where we are, who we are, and what he may (or may not) be able to do to help. It's about how Superman sees us, and how we see ourselves, reflected in his eyes.” Superman 701 shows him walking in Philadelphia where he stops to help a resident diagnose car trouble before moving on. Superman 702 will have him stopping in Detroit (on sale Aug. 11). These stories, so far, are small and quiet, but not pointless. By the end, I’m sure we’ll have Superman back to normal, but “Grounded” seems to be about the journey, which is a nice change of pace for a comic universe as crisis-heavy as the DCU.