Vision, v. 1: Little Worse than a Man
Collects: Vision v. 3 #1-6 (2016)
Released: June 2016 (Marvel)
Format: 136 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9780785196570
What is this?: Vision creates a synthezoid family in his own image, and while they try to assimilate into suburbia, it all goes wrong immediately.
The culprits: Writer Tom King and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Vision, v. 1: Little Worse than a Man is one of the rare dramatic superhero books that lives up to its hype.
The Vision is a synthezoid, an artificial life form. He tried to have a normal family decades ago with the Scarlet Witch. It did not go well, for various complicated and retconny reasons, but that experience makes the Vision one of the superheroes who is best adapted to domesticity. It’s little wonder, then, that in Little Worse he has decided to create a new family, and rather than wander down the biological road again, he has created a family — wife, teenage daughter and son — in his own synthetic image.
What follows is a fascinating and complicated look at the Vision and whether it’s possible for someone like him to be normal in any way.
The problems that beset the Visions do not feel contrived. An attack by the Grim Reaper is the inciting event of the breakdown of the Visions’ suburban life; given the Reaper’s hatred of Vision — the Vision’s brains patterns are based on Reaper’s brother, Wonder Man, and Reaper believes Vision to be an impostor — his assault is a logical starting point for any title featuring Vision. The rest of the story follows from there, with the goal of normalcy dropped in favor of being a functional family. Each complication in the story is compelling, leaving the reader waiting for the next calamity to befall the protagonists.
Writer Tom King does an excellent job giving each of the Visions a distinct personality and arc. Well, Vin, the son, doesn’t have much of an arc; he ruminates over equality and his own nature in somewhat awkward but not implausible ways, and I don’t believe the one plot-related decision he makes. But Vision, Virginia, and Viv each have their own separate troubles, despite all their similarities. The Vision thinks the situation he has created is controllable, and despite the difficulties, he can make things right. Virginia, his wife, has made decisions calculated to keep her family safe, but they have all gone wrong. Viv, the daughter, comes closest to fitting in because one person values her differences and isn’t intimidated, not because of anything she does.
Striving for normalcy isn’t unusual, but it’s a self-defeating proposition in this case. The Visions themselves make no attempt to disguise their non-organic nature, nor do they attempt to assimilate; they buy a suburban house, go to suburban schools, and imitate suburban domesticity, but that isn’t enough to gain them acceptance. They stick out like walnuts in banana bread, and they are about as welcome. The house tour Virginia gives the neighbors at the beginning of the first issue shows a house filled with exotic memorabilia from the Vision’s life and career: a stringless Wakandan piano, a flying water vase from the planet Zenn-La, an everbloom plant from Wundagore, a lighter used to read a map before D-Day, a gift from Captain America. Extraordinary furnishings of an extraordinary family.
Gabriel Hernandez Walta makes these fantastic artifacts look quite normal. The piano has no expensive fillips (except perhaps for a lid shaped like a panther); the everbloom is a shaggy evergreen, and the lighter is just a dented lighter. The vase is a floating blob, barely recognizable as a vase. Give that the water vase and everbloom are, in essence, useless, this decision to make them look mundane makes sense. Why would anyone want to own these things?
Everything in Walta’s work is muted, partially because of the restrained color palette used by colorist Jordie Bellaire. The restrained artwork — no superhero excesses for Walta — and the washed-out colors help give the book a feeling of a ‘50s sitcom, which goes along with the nuclear family that the Vision has constructed to live in his oversized suburban house. Walta draws Vision’s perfect suburban world — perfect house, perfect teenage kids, and a perfect Martha Stewart housewife, complete with an apron — with little embellishment. Walta and Bellaire’s work cast a pall over the book; it’s not hard to believe that the people in this ostensibly perfect world are all trapped and depressed, and escape is the only way to be happy again. Despite the synthezoids’ blank eyes and robotic features, their emotions — sadness, isolation, confusion — are plain to see, and that’s to Walta’s credit.
Should the Vision and his family try to fit in more? That’s not a question Little Worse tries to answer, unless that answer is found in the racism that surrounds the Visions. Many of their neighbors are uneasy about them because they are different; some of them couch this in a fear that the Visions are “dangerous.” The temptation to make a parallel between white-bread communities fearing “dangerous,” darker-skinned newcomers is obvious, but the locals have a point: the Visions are dangerous, in their way. Still, the community is primed to be fearful of the Visions, or at least to not accept them. A pair of local kids, for instance, spraypaint robot slurs on the Visions’ garage, even though they have to research which obscure slur to use. The local high school’s previous nickname, “Redskins,” operates in two different ways: the word is an insult toward Native Americans, yes, but it also foreshadows the locals having trouble seeing the Visions (who have red “skin”) as humans. Changing the school’s nickname to Patriots doesn’t change perception immediately.
On the other hand, Vision uses his superhero privilege to escape trouble when dealing with authority figures. He tells the principal at his children’s school and a police detective that he has saved the world “37 times,” and when he’s being interviewed by the detective, the specific events are enumerated between panels. (Several are labeled “Ultron — again,” which made me laugh.) The two events feel different; with the principal, Vision is using his heroism to gain equal treatment for himself and his family, but with the detective, he uses it to assert his superiority — somewhere between “I shouldn’t have to answer your questions” to “My life of service should mean you believe me.”
King uses the final issue to discuss the central theme of the book: Can the Vision, a being ruled by logical, programmed responses to the world, create a family and be happy / normal in a human, illogical world? The narration frames this in terms of a computer programming concept, P vs. NP. P is all the problems a computer can solve in a reasonable amount of time, the problems that can be solved with an algorithm or shortcut or program. NP is all the problems that cannot be solved that way. Is the Vision’s quest P or NP? King asks. (He also answers it.) What happens if the Vision decides it’s NP?
It’s an interesting question, although it would have had more of an impact had it been made earlier in the book and not have been fairly convincingly answered. (This is more of a criticism of the trade paperback form; from King’s view, the question is asked halfway through the series.) On the other hand, King also identifies the narrator, who is explaining and answering the P vs. NP question, and it’s possible that we shouldn’t believe the cat-murdering old woman. Despite the omniscient tone of her narration, she doesn’t know everything, but I’m not sure whether King is trying to add a bit of ambiguity to the story. If not, I think making the narrator a character in the story is a bit of a mistake, but I’ll find out only by reading Vision, v. 2: Little Better than a Beast.
And I’m definitely going to do that. I recommend it — and this volume — to readers. It’s one of the rare lessons that despite the huge canvas that superhero comics gives creators, it’s often the smaller stories, the ones with lower but more personal stakes, that are the most satisfying.
Rating: (5 of 5)