Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Lost Boys

It was during the (West Coast) Avengers' conflict with Master Pandemonium and the deadly Mephisto when Agatha Harkness began to consider the conundrum of whether or not the twin children of the Scarlet Witch and the Vision were actually "real."

We've already seen Miss Harkness provide an answer to the Torch's question when the situation with Master Pandemonium was resolved; but while writer/artist John Byrne did a thorough job of arranging for these children to have literally never existed, it's important to note that Steve Englehart's original story of their birth provided Byrne with sufficient tools to do just that.*

*Byrne's research wasn't as exhaustive as he might have wished.  The linchpin to the fact that the children weren't "real" lies in the one piece of empirical data which Miss Harkness provides to test it:  "Whenever Wanda is not consciously thinking about them, the tiny creatures disappear!" If that's the case, then their "grandmother"--Simon Williams' mother, who stepped in to care for them when the Vision and Wanda became involved with the West Coast Avengers--has some explaining to do as to how seven issues of WCA adventuring went by for Wanda without the children disappearing even once, and thus has nothing out of the ordinary to report when the parents return from Europe to reclaim them:

As busy as Wanda must have been on missions, it's very unlikely that Mrs. Williams, who seems quite attentive to the kids, never took note of their disappearance--and equally incredible that, as preoccupied as Wanda must have been with Avengers business, not five minutes went by without her thoughts being focused on her children.

Regardless, to put the matter into perspective, it's time we had a look at key events from Englehart's twelve-issue 1985-86 Vision and the Scarlet Witch limited series, which focuses on Wanda's unexpected and improbable pregnancy and, for at least an instant in time for this couple, provides one of the happiest happy endings you may have ever seen in comics.

But the event would also unknowingly end up setting the wheels in motion for... oh, let's see:

  • Wanda going mad;
  • the end of the Vision;
  • the deaths of Ant-Man and Jack of Hearts;
  • the end of the Avengers;
  • the death of Miss Harkness;
  • M-Day; and, if we connect the dots,
  • the Marvel Universe, as we knew it, ceasing to exist.

This post already has its title, but we could also simply call it:

(Needless to say, those complications would extend beyond the delivery room!)

To start with: When did Wanda and the Vision decide to try and have a family? We owe the idea to the Vision, who was feeling giddy at becoming more human due to ridding himself of a control crystal which Ultron had implanted in his head, subsequently allowing his emotions to come to the fore and letting him more fully embrace his love of Wanda and the aspects of his own life. And so, as the two are spending some down time together, the Vision brings up the subject of procreation with Wanda--but there are certain *ahem* practicalities to consider.

The couple are then involved in a struggle with the super-powered witches of New Salem--and in that struggle's climax, Wanda attempts to contain and ground the uncontrollable and deadly release of the group's combined power before they're all killed. She'll ultimately be successful--but look who chimes in with a suggestion of another way that Wanda might make use of that power.

There's no "maybe" about it--because as intent as Englehart is in fast-tracking this pregnancy, conception is confirmed on the first page of the very next issue, and by a presumably irrefutable source.

"Magik's nothing but directed energy--and you directed it!" Of all people to give this news such a simplistic slant, the last person we would expect to do so would be Dr. Strange, whose studies have given him a far deeper understanding of magic and sorcery and who would come to express his own misgivings about Wanda's "hex power"--a power which even Wanda admittedly doesn't fully understand. On the day when Wanda would attack the Avengers, Strange discloses the doubts that he has always had in her mutant ability to "control" that directed energy, and the possible repercussions of her attempting to do so.

In fact, during Englehart's tenure on Doctor Strange, you could easily picture the writer taking a far more serious approach to Strange's impressions of Wanda's power, perhaps crafting a story involving Strange taking on Wanda as a student and attempting to make her realize the differences between her mutant power and true sorcery. (Something Englehart finally did on a different scale with Wanda's tutelage under Agatha Harkness.)

At any rate, what's done is done. Wanda's insistence that her power cannot be used to create life is completely bypassed, and this series proceeds as envisioned--fulfilling this couple as a couple, including their new dream of having a family. To accommodate that agenda, Englehart reduces Strange's appearances in the book by recommending a more conventional doctor as Wanda's primary, thereby removing any disbelief on our part of Strange not probing into this situation more deeply and thus distracting the reader. For now, it's this couple's normalcy that gives this story its spark--and that includes breaking the good news to the father.

And so, midway through this series, Englehart has put the questions of Wanda's conception to rest and is ready to fold her pregnancy into other segments involving Quicksilver, the Inhumans, the Enchantress, Magneto, Wonder Man, and the Grim Reaper--the latter three figuring heavily into the 12th and final issue, where Wanda is scheduled to give birth. Inbetween, Englehart has provided some nice character moments--though in the Vision's case, less was always more with him, and Englehart's portrayal of him here is perhaps too exuberant a state for such a unique character. Despite Englehart's efforts to give the two men shared similarities, the Vision isn't Simon Williams--nor is he Scott Lang, or Clint Barton, or Dane Whitman, or any other relaxed, easy-going male character in Marvel's extensive roster of such characters. How would the Vision of old react to fatherhood? Or social gatherings? Or a bond with Simon and his mother? Or casual friends? It might have provided this series with more interest than presenting Wanda and the Vision as "Anycouple, U.S.A." or simply relying on the hook of Wanda's pregnancy.

Nevertheless, we've reached the final installment, which finds a glowing mother-to-be deciding on baby names--as well as giving us haunting indications in hindsight of what the true nature of this pregnancy involved, and how dependent it was on Wanda's "wishes."

Finally, the time comes, and Strange is brought back in, mostly to smooth things over and prevent the circumstances of the birth(s) from taking precedence over the happy moment. If you're curious, you can get a glimpse of all that's going on outside of the delivery room--but as for Wanda, some things just won't wait!

As for those peculiar circumstances that Strange seems clueless about, they involve a second baby on the way, one which was undetectable until it visually makes its appearance. Regardless, Englehart bulldozes past any concerns or worries and simply makes the surprise part of the experience.

As we can see, the parents are eager to rationalize it all quickly and dismiss everything but the joy--nor will we see Strange probe further or follow up in any way. (I don't know, Stephen--how about a mystic exam, just to be on the safe side? Maybe the use of the Eye of Agamotto, which would reveal the truth?) Instead, the series closes with the infants at home with their parents, and the choosing of a name for the surprise arrival.

Which brings us full circle to a more sad scene which occurs after the toddlers are no more, where Miss Harkness--who in retrospect is responsible for setting this chain of events into motion--explains to the Avengers the true details of how Wanda's children were conceived. The Vision, unfortunately bereft at this time of any feelings he might have experienced during that period, is in no state to be emotionally affected by the revelation; but how strange that we're never privy to his reaction, one way or the other.

With the Vision no longer in the state he was... his life with Wanda in Leonia, NJ no longer an option... their children never having truly existed... and their aspirations of being parents no longer viable, Englehart's Vision and the Scarlet Witch series has effectively become a What If story, with the distinction of having been based on real events. In what seems a fitting epilogue to this period in their lives, we find the Vision speaking to Wanda some time after he has regained his capacity for emotion, as both realize with reluctance that too much water has gone under the bridge for things to return to the way they were.


Courtesy of artist Fred Hembeck,
the couple's light-hearted pitch to readers to show some love to their letters page.


Mr. Morbid's House Of Fun said...

Weird isn't it? The whole thing....I mean why did Marvel let Englehart and other writers go through all that, but the time and energy into building their whole relationship and having kids, only to just let Byrne erase all that work in a couple issues? I don't know about Englehart, but I'd be extremely pissed and hurt about the whole thing. And sure, it's not like they were Englehart's characters to begin with, but Marvel certainly had no problem letting use his ideas and make the types of changes he did...and then just let Byrne burn it all away because "it just didn't make sense to him."
Bendis was no better, but at least Byrne's the better writer of the two.
What's your take? Did you agree with the erasing of the kids and the ending of Wanda and the Vision's relationship, or did you shake your head in disgust?

I myself was too young at the time to have the sort of attachment that older fans did to Wanda and Vish's love story, but I can defintiely sympathize with the frustration they doubtlessly had at it all just being erased on a whim like it did.

Comicsfan said...

To answer your question, Dale, I could have gone with it one way or the other, even with the "scorched Earth" approach which Byrne took in this story--not only erasing the children from existence, but also wiping out any emotional evolution of the Vision and, in the process, setting the wheels in motion to dissolve the marriage. Byrne's only saving grace was to spread out the changes over several issues, rather than jam everything into one month's story--though I wasn't particularly pleased with the use of Mephisto, since he seems to be the go-to demon for initiating sweeping change(s) without the writer having to worry about lining things up logically or neatly. (Or, it goes without saying, believably.)

That said, writers have been forming relationships and then doing an about-face and wrecking them in just about every piece of fiction you could think of, whether it's soap operas or nightly dramas or "telenovelas" or comic books--so we just have to cross our fingers and hope that things don't eventually implode or become too convoluted altogether. I've gone on record in saying I was never a fan of Englehart's changes in the Vision (though I suppose we have Roger Stern to thank for setting those wheels in motion)--but everybody took things too far, and there was no going back for either the Vision or Wanda, since there was a pall that hung over them like a cloud whenever they would find themselves grouped together. Frankly, I find both characters more interesting separately--but I think that ship has sailed for good.