by Tiffany Babb
First issues are all about setting the stage. They introduce the tone of the story, communicate to the reader how the story will be told, while introducing the principal characters and the challenges that they will face. The first page of Vision is about building suspense. The narrative captions are so all-knowing, so familiar, that they immediately seem sinister.
We see a perfect little street, a smiling neighbor. Then a green mailbox with its own little rocket thruster keeping it in the air. In these first pages, you can really feel the tension between the text and image. Because we spend so much time on the idyllic normalcy of the neighborhood, we assume that there’s something lurking underneath. And then, our eyes land on the door of the Visions’ house where all the important action (and presumably terrible things) is going to happen.
In these first couple pages, Walta establishes the subtle visual contrasts that he will use throughout the series. The panels, which focus on place and not action, highlight the importance of the setting, which plays an important role throughout the series. Walta has decided to go with a very orderly grid, one that draws the eye to the orderly components of the story’s setting while also making space for more extreme moments that will break out of the grid later on in the issue.
Also playing with contrast, Jordie Bellaire’s watercolor-like palette sets the neighborhood in muted colors and while setting the Visions in a light green and pink. The colors aren’t cold by any means, but they are certainly uncanny, especially compared to the very “normal” looking neighbors. They also deviate from earlier palettes associated with Vision. Instead of darker, metallic colors, the Visions seem almost like flesh and blood— but different. The effect is more off-putting than the darker greens and reds that have become familiar over time. And the story itself pokes at what has become familiar and seemingly safe over time.
At the heart of horror is the idea that we are not safe. Oftentimes, that means placing what we consider “safe” into a new context. While Vision may have seemed horrific when he appeared in the sixties, he’s now pretty established as a good guy. But by introducing a family of all new characters, we see Vision in a fresh dynamic. His interactions are mostly with wholly unknown characters. Plus, his goals are different. This story isn’t really one about Vision saving the day. If it is a story about Vision at all, it’s a story about him wanting something.
There is a long tradition of media using picture-perfect suburbia as a horror setting. We’ve even seen stories about android-like people going through the motions of the American suburban life. These stories often question the understanding that this certain type of life is ideal and criticize the lengths that people go to achieve it.
The Vision wants that sort of life. And in this first issue, he and his family go through the all the expected motions to get it. When the neighbors stop by with cookies, the Visions want to show off their house and their impressive things. Of course, we soon find out that their impressive things are so much more extraordinary than those that might be found in your average wealthy suburbanite’s house. Their living room features a piano from the Black Panther, a lighter from Captain America used during World War II, and a tree with flowers that can help predict the future.
The beat works well, serving as a “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment while playing with the idea of how far something can go before it doesn’t seem “right” anymore. Theoretically, the Visions have the fanciest things in their house and so they should have “won” the neighborhood game. But, because their things are too fancy, their behavior skews in the other direction, into strange and uncanny.
Interestingly enough, these items just lying around the Visions’ house wouldn’t normally seem that off putting (especially in a Marvel comic) except for the fact that we are introduced to them through the neighbors’ eyes and through the paradigm of the normal suburban neighborhood. It is the way that the neighbors react to the Visions that makes it and them feel out of place.
Throughout this issue, the juxtaposition of the Visions and their neighborhood creates a heavy sense of dread and foreboding, and but as the issue progresses, we begin to understand that this feeling isn’t brought about by the introduction of the Visions into this neighborhood. It’s brought about by how this neighborhood (and the world) refuses to allow the Visions to live this type of life. Sure, it’s fine for Vision to save the world, but to live in a regular neighborhood? To send his children to the same school as everyone else? They’re too strange for that.
In this above panel, what would normally seem like a wholesome family scene comes across as distinctly creepy. Each member of the Vision family has a matching outfit and smile and uses the same words. Clayton Cowles’ lettering here is particularly powerful, as it emphasizes the roteness of the dialogue. Of course, the entire interaction is somewhat rote already, but their roteness still stands out as strange and foreign.
Repetition of similar phrases is something that is often seen in “non-native” speakers. Someone who has learned a language through listening to tapes has gain only structured ways of responding to “How are you today?” and they often sound something like “I’m fine, thank you, and how are you today?” There’s no space for nuance when one is dealing with the building blocks of a language and a culture. And a debate about the nuance of language is exactly what the first conversation we see between Vision and Virginia is about.
In this scene, Vision has taken on the role of mentor/tutor, trying to coach Virginia into what he considers the “correct” way of speaking and behaving. The conversation very quickly showcases Vision’s weirdly controlling dynamic with his wife. Of course, a husband expecting his wife to behave in a specific kind of way isn’t necessarily a new concept, but in Vision, there’s also the added dynamic that Vision has literally created Virginia. Though Virginia clearly has her own personhood, she is still expected to fit the mold that Vision has imagined for her. But she refuses to.
While Virginia seems to acquiesce easily when it comes to how she herself behaves, she is less willing to bend when it comes to the wellbeing of her children. She has a very different perspective of how people will treat her family and seems much more nervous about the children going to school than Vision does. As a whole, though Virginia is the more “unexperienced” of the two parents, she seems much more attuned to the dangers that her children may be facing.
While Vision is obsessed with being normal, Virginia seems much more preoccupied with staying alive. Vision’s obsession with fitting in echoes the expectation that if a marginalized person behaves in the “correct” way, one will be accepted. Of course, this sort of thinking is dangerous, both because it is untrue and also because it invalidates the way that others are experiencing bigotry. Also, because Vision seems to be the primary decision maker in the family, his ignorance of danger prevents the others from defending themselves in a way that might save their lives.
Virginia and her children are expected to fit into the proper behavior that Vision and the rest of the world expect from them, and in that way, their own decisions and wants are erased. Similarly, marginalized people are often treated as if their opinions and struggles don’t matter. That the danger that they face just by living isn’t there. Fittingly, it is when the Grim Reaper shouts “You are not real” that Virginia leaps into action.
If Virginia was going to fit into the role that Vision had created for her, she would have had to stay silent. She would have to refuse to act. But she doesn’t. She refuses to fit into her husband’s narrative and the narrative that the world wants her to assimilate into, and she fights back. When Virginia strikes, she isn’t just fighting for herself. She is fighting for her existence and the existence of her children, literally and symbolically.
While Vision has established himself as “protector” of the family, his inability and resistance to see the kind of danger that they are in keeps him far away from doing the protecting that must be done. Instead it is Virginia, the parent who is very aware of her lack of normalcy, who acts. Later in the series, she reports to Vision that she and the Reaper fought, she in a very civilized and controlled manner specifically planned to scare off the Reaper. Virginia’s lie represents the idealized version of how she should act. But that is not how she chooses to act.
Instead, she beats the Reaper to death. She doesn’t use her powers or any of the magical amazing items in the Visions’ house to kill him. She uses a cookie sheet, a domestic item, normally found in the kitchen a.k.a. the “wife’s domain.” This cookie sheet carries a lot of symbolism, as it represents the normalcy that the Visions are trying to achieve. But Virginia doesn’t cook, and the Visions don’t eat. The cookie sheet isn’t even theirs.
In using the cookie sheet as a weapon, Virginia destroys it and exposes the farce of the Visions’ attempt to be the perfect family in the perfect suburb. Instead of standing back and dying to reach that ideal, Virginia takes the action of destroying it herself, saving her life and her family’s, because the expected “normal” behavior and her family cannot coexist. The world won’t allow it. With this action, Virginia also brings to surface the feeling of dread that has permeates the issue, lying just below the surface of all the normalcy, and we know that we no longer have to wait for the terrible thing to happen, the terrible things have begun.
The Vision #1: Visions of the Future
Written by Tom King
Drawn by Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Coloured by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Tiffany Babb is a writer, poet and comics critic based in New York whose work has been featured in Panel x Panel as well as Women Write About Comics. You can find more from her on her website here, and follow her on Twitter here!
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