Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Golden Age Of... The Vision!

One of the more interesting storylines involving the Avenger known as the Vision laid a lot of groundwork before reaching its resolution, stringing the reader along for over twenty issues of The Avengers while dropping clues and subtle developments that had us all wondering: What is going on with the Vision? The short answer is that he was planning take control of the world. But it's the how and the why that would have writer Roger Stern creating an entirely new approach to the character, setting the stage for future developments for not only the Vision but also a deeper focus on his relationship with the Scarlet Witch as well as the possibility of a family life.

But we should start at the beginning--and that point arrives during a dramatic conflict between the Fantastic Four and Annihilus, the despotic spawn of the Negative Zone. In a mad bid to destroy two universes, Annihilus has established an impenetrable barrier near the Baxter Building, one that required the special talents of the Avenger whose powers were best suited to breach it. Unfortunately, no one was aware at the time that this barrier was actually a "null-field," a term which implied that anyone successful at piercing it would suffer the consequences.

Consequences which in the Vision's case meant total deactivation, or possibly even death. But despite appearances, things would get even more complicated for the Vision, though from his perspective he would likely claim that this incident gave him a new lease on life. But eventually that would mean sacrificing that life for the good of the world.

Once the crisis with Annihilus has been averted, an examination by Reed Richards revealed that the Vision is essentially unharmed, though it would take some time for his android body to effect repairs and reactivate him. In the interim, his body is moved to Avengers Mansion, where his comrades take turns standing vigil by his side--and in time, the Vision regains consciousness, though he remains immobile.

Fortunately for the Vision, a new Avenger trainee, Starfox (a/k/a Eros of Titan) is now in residence, and he suggests a link-up with I.S.A.A.C., the super-computer of Titan, in order to expedite the diagnosis of the Vision's condition. The connection would end up providing as-yet unrealized benefits for the android, but one benefit is immediately apparent: Even still immobile, he becomes more of a "vision" than ever, thanks to a side-effect of the treatment that allows him to project himself as a hologram.

In his new state of being merged with the Avengers' computers as well as I.S.A.A.C., the Vision believes he'll be even more of an asset to the Avengers--and indeed that proves to the case, when the team locates and deals with the criminals known as Blackout and Moonstone. But despite his exuberance, his friends remain cautious, and perhaps even a little concerned.

Eventually, the Vision's body completes its repairs and he regains his mobility, right around the time when several of the Avengers disappear in a flash of light caused by a construct in Central Park, which has also engulfed other heroes to take part in a "secret war" off-planet. During their absence, in a very Alexander Haig moment with the press, the Vision takes it upon himself to be the team's spokesman and acting chairman; and even though his mobility has meant the loss of his holographic projection ability, he remains linked to I.S.A.A.C. and appears to have developed, incredibly enough, a personality. And his new initiative is leading him down an interesting, and ambitious, path.

The effects of the Vision's musings are soon realized when the missing Avengers (along with everyone else taken by the construct) return and reconvene back at the mansion. During a break in the debriefing, the Vision holds a private meeting with the still-official chairwoman, the Wasp, as well as Raymond Sikorsky, who replaces Henry Gyrich as the team's new N.S.C. liaison. What follows is a whirlwind of activity which not only sees the Vision attain a more authoritative position on the team, but also marks the beginning of the Avengers' west coast branch.

The shift in leadership comes during the time that the threat of the Dire Wraiths becomes serious. We know that Avengers chairmanship used to rotate members in and out of the post in designated cycles before the procedure became one of formal election, with the Vision being one of those members who previously had his turn holding the gavel--though at the time, there was little to no emphasis on field leadership for either himself or other members who served in the post. But here, the Vision handles the post of Chairman quite well, not only in an administrative capacity but also displaying confidence and capability in the field and making good calls for everyone involved during the conflict with the aliens. Yet there's clearly an agenda in play with the Vision--and even though Captain America finds himself agreeing with the Vision's decisions, he can't shake the feeling that there's something not right here.

As the Vision becomes more comfortable in expanding the Avengers' influence and the team's public profile, he and Wanda fly to Washington, D.C. to meet directly with the President, though even Wanda isn't privy to what was discussed behind closed doors. Yet on the trip back, Wanda can't help but take notice of the out-of-character behavior of her husband. Nothing is really amiss, as far as she can tell--rather, whatever has raised her concern is simply something she can't put her finger on.

But while the rest of the Avengers are involved in a situation with the race known as the Eternals, Wanda reaches her limit with the Vision's secretive and unusual behavior, particularly when she realizes his meeting in Washington was intended to convince the President to make the Avengers' Chairmanship a Cabinet post--and though he manages to ease her mind for the time being, it's disturbingly clear that he's really provided her with no substantive information at all as to his plans or intentions.

More time passes--and with Cap's return to active duty following his dealings with the Red Skull, we see that the Vision's term as Chairman has done little to allay the concerns of his teammates that he may not be handling the responsibilities of the position as adeptly as he lets on.

As for the Vision himself, his plans appear to be reaching fruition, as he takes advantage of everyone being out of the mansion to consult secretly with I.S.A.A.C. on the final phase of his objective, a step that he finds he's not yet ready to take.

And with a new personality, and worrisome concerns, the Vision finds that even he isn't immune to experiencing the uncomfortable and extremely unnerving imagery of nightmares--which in this case take the form of his desire to be held in the high esteem of his teammates, while discarding the unemotional android aspect of himself that has inhibited him for so long.

But the Vision's real wake-up call--not to come to his senses, unfortunately, but to make the firm decision to proceed with his plans--comes in two stages soon after. The first involves an effort by Cap to have the Vision confide in him of any difficulties he might be experiencing; while the second comes when the house in New Jersey owned by the Vision and Wanda is burned to the ground as a result of the anti-mutant hysteria gripping the country. In both instances, it's ironically the words of Cap that give the Vision the fortitude to make the decision to proceed.

(This sequence in its entirety shows Stern at his best--taking the necessary time to give these characters their due, as always.)

But in order to be free of any possible interference for what he must do next, the Vision must have privacy--and to that end, he arranges for the other Avengers to be away from the mansion, all unknowingly victims of deception. Wanda, Cap, Starfox, and Hercules are sent to Arizona to assist the Army in inspecting wreckage from a former alien base, since the West Coast branch is currently occupied with another mission (according to the Vision, that is); Captain Marvel is sent to Pluto to investigate signal emissions from a starship once used by Thanos, with the distance involved keeping even one with her speed of transit sufficiently occupied; and even Jarvis is unexpectedly given the day off.

What the Vision hadn't counted on, however, was the return of Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, to the Avengers' ranks, in what would mark the beginning of his first tour of extended active duty with the team and end his "guest star" status in the book. But he's "welcomed" by the automated defenses of the mansion and taken captive--and by the time he regains consciousness, the Vision has taken his first steps toward his goal, convinced that he can--must--save the world.

Too late, Cap discovers that his team's mission to Arizona was based on a lie--and when he checks in with the Vision, he and Wanda receive an almost chilling message in response that makes it clear to them the extent of the Vision's agenda, and that the Avenger they once knew is likely no longer in his right mind. Literally.

Once again linked to I.S.A.A.C. and the computer network, the Vision once more can move about via holographic imagery. On Cap's arrival, the Vision attempts deception once more, with facsimiles of the other Avengers who seem to back up his initiative. But Cap exposes the ruse--and when the Vision terminates their discussion, Cap marshals his forces to invade and search the mansion room by room in order to locate where the Vision is sequestered.

In response, the Vision visits each Avenger separately in holographic form, adjusting his appearance to fit the tone of the dialog he has with whoever he's facing and offering a full explanation of what's been behind his change in personality and his actions of late. The responses he receives from his fellow Avengers on the subject--well thought out by Stern--has a profound effect on him, offering clarity on the sheer scope of what he's trying to accomplish and the variables he hasn't taken into account. But by the time Wonder Man has reached his true location, the Vision may be too far gone to put a halt to what he's begun.

Fortunately, Eros is well familiar with the equipment from Titan that the Vision has used in his takeover--and with the cooperation of all the Avengers, he's able to reverse the flow of energy and short out the machine's circuits. But the Vision's recovery will not be complete until he deals with the damaged control device that has robbed him of his reason--and his humanity.

It's to Cap's credit that he offers forgiveness to his fellow Avenger, rather than immediately bringing him up on charges or taking other action for which he might feel duty-bound. As Cap says, whatever repercussions come their way as a result of the Vision's actions will be dealt with if and when the time comes.

And those repercussions seem certain, since the military based in the situation room of the North American Air Defense Command in Cheyenne Mountain detected and traced the Vision's incursion into their systems (with no doubt other world powers conducting their own investigations)--and due in part to the sheer scope of what the Vision attempted, to say nothing of the breach in security, officials are hardly as inclined as Cap to let the matter wait.

You heard the man! Heads will roll!
(If Mr. Stern doesn't do an about-face on his own story, that is.)

(This post covers events from issues 233-254 of The Avengers--worth the read in full!)

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