The TV show kicks off this week, so columnist Fred Van Lente takes a (wise)crack at bringing you the best of robot-mutant love…
By FRED VAN LENTE
With the imminent arrival of the MCU show WandaVision on Disney+, I thought I’d try something a little different for this column. The trailers for the show feature Avengers paramours Wanda (Scarlet Witch) Maximoff and the Vision (no surname) trying to make a go at suburban bliss, the same theme as two Vision and the Scarlet Witch miniseries from the 1980s fondly remembered by me.
The first, from 1982, written by Bill Mantlo, features some of the best work of one of the unheralded artists of the 1980s and ’90s, Rick Leonardi. The second, from 1985, drawn by Richard Howell and written by Steve Englehart — in whose Avengers run these two finally cashed in their mutual attraction and tied the knot — revolves around the Scarlet Witch’s… well, let’s call it her unexpected pregnancy.
I’ve already told you about my fondness for Adam Strange and his Space Girlfriend as a goofy, romantic kid; my fandom for the star-crossed love between the robot and the mutant is of a kind. They could undoubtedly relate to each other because they have two of the most convoluted backstories in superhero history. Joss Whedon, regardless of his other flaws, did the world a service by providing a clean origin story for the Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron. (Which also features a character co-created by Yours Truly.)
Likewise, Scarlet Witch is the heroic daughter of the arch-villain Magneto, except for when she isn’t. WandaVision appears to be playing a lot with her tenuous grip on reality. Comics writers like doing this because of the sheer strangeness of her power set. “Hex bolts?” Hell is that? The MCU braintrust probably wisely made the Elizabeth Olsen version (also introduced in Age of Ultron) Jean Grey with Jazz Hands.
In comics, things really started going downhill for Wanda when John Byrne rather spitefully undid her marriage in a West Coast Avengers run that out Alpha-Flighted his Alpha Flight in terms of sheer hero misery. He was the first person to drive Wanda crazy and literally broke down Vision. Did they owe him money? Brian Michael Bendis’ later Disassembled storyline hammers the nails into the coffin Byrne built by having Wanda destroy the Avengers with what he reveals are her “reality-warping” powers (though I’m surprised by how much I like Bendis’ story).
So, I thought I’d take us back to an earlier, simpler time when you could believe a robot and a mutant might find happiness in the suburbs.
Here’s my TOP 13 ISSUES OF VISION AND THE SCARLET WITCH – RANKED:
13. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2 #12: Double-Sized Climax! In writing this column I have discovered that Superhero Wedding issues are uniformly terrible—the wedding of our heroes being Exhibit A in fictive nuptial awfulness. Superhero Birth issues fare slightly better. This is a pretty good one, though the use of “climax” in the title, referring to the birth of Wanda’s twins (get it, double-sized), adds to the overall confusion about human reproduction that pervades this series.
Like any important event in a superhero’s life, though, it is interrupted by supervillain shenanigans. While Vision is occupied helping Wanda (Even an Android Can Lamaze), extended family members Magneto and Wonder Man have to defend the hospital. Richard Howell’s Campbell’s Soup Kids style isn’t for everybody, but I love it. He gives this series a homey, almost romance comics-y vibe that really works.
What’s your least favorite superhero wedding, or alternately, favorite superhero birth? Let me know in the comments!
12. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 1 #4: Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself…! This comic adds yet another patch in the crazy quilt of Wanda and Quicksilver’s continuity by introducing the idea that Magneto is their father, presumably due to the genetic evidence of similar haircuts (on Pietro/Magneto’s side). For such a historically significant comic the story is surprisingly dull, mostly following Magneto on his quest to find out what happened to his kids, then confronting them and their spouses on the Blue Area of the Moon.
During Ike Perlmutter’s much-publicized spat with Twentieth Century-Fox over the X-Men and Fantastic Four movie rights, this retcon got re-retconned out of existence, but now that the omnivorous Disney Sarlacc has devoured Fox whole, will it be re-ret-retconned? Has it already? Let me know in the comments.
11. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2 #7: Batteries Not Included! Vision visits the original Human Torch’s wartime pals Captain America and Namor at Avengers Mansion to learn more about the guy whose body he inhabits (until Byrne retconned that away too). As you can tell from the cover, though, the major threat in this issue is from The Terrible Incel, er, Toad, who wants to make sexy times on his fellow founding member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Wanda, so figures whacking her husband is a good first step. Do stalker supervillain stories now make you as uncomfortable as they make me? Let me know in the comments!
10. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 1 #3: Blood Brothers. Ultron used deceased faux Avenger Simon “Wonder Man” Williams’ brainwave patterns (which is not a thing) to create everybody’s favorite “synthezoid” (also not a thing) which not only led him to have something of a brotherly relationship with that soon-to-be resurrected hero, it also invited the wrath of Simon’s crazy supervillain brother the Grim Reaper.
Having been hospitalized with a bad case of Burnt Candle Arm last issue, Vision needs a transfusion of, uh, Brother Energy (I’m only slightly exaggerating here) from Simon to survive. The Grim Reaper, of course, sees this as an opportune moment to attack. Vision has to Pinocchio his way out of coma-induced hallucinations by convincing himself he’s a Real Boy to save the day. It’s a little corny, but Leonardi absolutely brings the artistic fire here, elevating the whole business and earning it a spot on this list.
Have you ever donated an organ to a close family member? Upload photos to the comments! (Note from Dan: Please don’t do that.)
9. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2 #1: Lovers. This maxi-series was intertwined with the regular series launch of West Coast Avengers, both of which grew out of Vision’s spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to take over the world in Roger Stern’s Avengers run. The government removes the “control crystal” which gives him his Mr. Spock iciness and made him talk in those cool yellow square balloons. This, Vision declares, makes him “a human mind directing an artificial body,” and if you call him a toaster on Twitter, he will absolutely cancel your ass.
Wanda rescues Vision from government custody, and they go back to suburban New Jersey, where they are immediately attacked by zombies under the direction of one of the great chicken-themed supervillains, the Black Talon.
What’s your favorite superhero/classic monster mash-up: Vampires, werewolves, or zombies? Mummies? Frankensteins? Rate them in descending order in the comments!
8. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2 #5: The Others Call It… All Hallows Eve! The WandaVision trailers heavily feature Halloween in the ’burbs, which is prominent in both 1980s minis. Here, Wanda tries to contact the spirit of her magic tutor, the-soon-to-be-making-her-MCU-debut Agatha Harkness, only to instead bring back Agatha’s renegade grandchildren, Salem’s Seven, whom she semi-accidentally killed two issues earlier. They drag her to the Land of the Dead, and let me tell you, as someone who’s tried, doing a Land of the Dead story is not easy because superhero characters never stay dead for very long. This is an effective one.
Which hero would you prefer stayed dead? Let me know in the comments! (Must be fictional, or we’ll get letters.)
7. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2 #8: Sweet Sister! People keep dumping various cursed artifacts on Wanda for some reason, in this case evil idols uncovered by Power Man and the recently-deceased Iron Fist. In keeping with the seasonal theme of this mini-series — eat your heart out, Long Halloween — it’s January, so of course demons come after Luke Cage on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (if this one is too subtle for you, let me know in the comments and I’ll explain it). Our heroes have to go destroy the idols in a Manhattan magically transformed into a Dungeons & Dragons playland, which Richard Howell renders with joyous aplomb.
6. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2 #4: Mutant Romance Tales. Wanda chooses Dr. Strange as her obstetrician, a smart move for a pregnancy that exists in defiance of all laws of biology and robotics. The happy parents-to-be move into their new suburban home, only to have the racists who burnt the first one down in Stern’s Avengers run plot to do it all over again. Fortunately for our heroes, their neighbors happen to also be a husband-and-wife pair of stage magicians who use their superpowers in their act. (Presumably, this is the path Peter Parker would have gone down if he hadn’t let that robber go.)
Would you use your real superpowers to make it look like you had phony stage-illusion powers? Or are you not a total weirdo? Let me know in the comments!
5. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 1 #1: Trick or Treat! Our husband-and-wife team of Avengers have decamped for the suburbs for the first time and Steve Rogers has given Wanda some moldy old spellbook he found on another adventure as a housewarming present. On Halloween it summons Samhain, the evil embodiment of the holiday, so thanks for nothing, Steve. It’s bad enough when teenagers show up at your house without costumes to just grab Halloween candy out of the bowl; here they get sorcerously empowered by evil and kick in your door roaring “Trick or Treat, inhuman scum!” Rude.
One of the few issues of this title that isn’t mired in continuity housekeeping, our loving couple just gets to do superhero stuff like fight monsters. Leonardi’s sinewy artwork is perfect for the seasonal subject matter.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done on Halloween? In middle school we filled squirt guns with lemon juice and I shot a kid in the eyes with it. Try and top that in the comments!
4. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2 #6: No Strings Attached! (I strongly suspect Englehart was pulling these titles randomly out of a hat.) Our heroes’ first Thanksgiving in their new house features an appropriately awkward mishmash of dinner guests: Vision’s “brainwave mama” Martha* Williams, some random Avengers, OB-GYN Supreme Dr. Strange, the weird magician neighbors, Quicksilver and his wife Crystal, who starts banging a guy she meets here, leading to Drama, and, of course, Quicksilver and Wanda’s dad, voted by IGN in 2014 as The Greatest Comic Book Villain of All-Time.
Magneto’s Crappy Thanksgiving is the highlight of the issue, as he has to break bread with a bunch of people who all want to murder him, which describes the holiday for far too many of us. Though he gets to prove himself to his son-in-law when his former flunky the Toad remembers that he’s had a crush on Scarlet Witch since Roy Thomas’s Avengers run and shows up with a bunch of alien technology to abduct her.
* Due to Multiversal Zoning Ordnance #Z4u8, all superhero moms must be named Martha. Do you agree with this rule? Let me know in the comments!
3. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2 #9: Off-Line! (I am definitely convinced Englehart is puling these titles out of a hat.) It’s February, the month of both Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day, so of course we’re off to New Orleans for a romance-themed adventure. Longtime Avengers nemesis the Enchantress charms Vision into helping her steal a priceless ruby, leading to a nasty tiff with a very pregnant and therefore self-conscious-about-her-body Wanda. This would be a perfect little done-in-one story if not for the fact that the ruby gets stolen by our heroes’ neighbors, who turn out to be fake magicians, but real jewel thieves. This fact goes undiscovered by any other character and as far as I know has never been commented on since? Unless you know of a time, in which case, tell me in the comments.
2. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2 #3: Ancestors. Look, I bought this comic off a drug-store spinner rack in early 1986 and have read it about a dozen times since then, and I still couldn’t tell you the exact mechanism by which Scarlet Witch gets pregnant. She and her husband have been captured by Salem’s Seven, who decide to sacrifice them to Satan, as one does, but the combo of Wanda’s hex power and the ghost of Agatha Harkness not only destroys the bad guys, it also knocks Wanda up.
While Vision is holding her around her waist. From behind.
And she’s fully clothed.
By a robot which, it has been repeatedly implied, has no dick.
But somehow the Im-marvelous Conception happens because of… Chaos Magic? A term never used in this comic? I get why Byrne and Bendis had a field day with this nonsense. As dangling story threads go it’s like that fat, short kid on the playground even the other nerds can (and desperately want to) beat up.
That said: Still a great comic, mostly because Englehart pens a lovely speech for Wanda about why she loves her husband. I mean, she must love the guy. He has no dick.
Could you love someone without genitals? Or are you shallow? Let me know in the comments!
1. Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 1 #2: Faith of Our Fathers. For a hot second in the 1970s, Wanda and Pietro thought they were the kids of Timely heroes (HEAVY SIGH) the Whizzer and Miss America, presumably due to the genetic evidence of similar haircuts (on Wanda/Ms. America’s side). When they learned they weren’t, nobody bothered to tell the Whizz. (He didn’t stick around long enough for his catchphrase to be “Nobody Beats The.”) Cap’n Billy’s Whizz-Bang enlists Wanda and her husband’s help securing custody of his nuclear-powered, developmentally disabled son, Nuklo, from the scientists who have been studying him.
Turns out the scientist holding Nuklo is the Golden Age villain Isbisa, whose name is so dumb I dare you to click on that link and learn where it comes from, leading to a giant fight that kills Whizz Comics #1 (first appearance of Shazam) for good, and nearly melts the Vision’s arm off. As he does throughout this series, Leonardi absolutely crushes the storytelling here, and the family dynamics are as dire as the combat, making this a deeply moving, exciting comic.
Is there a more unfortunate superhero name than “the Whizzer?” Let me know in the… oh, you know. Down there.
(You see his costume is yellow, right?)
Fred Van Lente has a new comic out now with frequent collaborator Ryan Dunlavey — The Comic Book History of Animation, from IDW. Miss. It. Not.
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