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Almost ignored by the majority of promotion for the movie, it might be a surprise to hear that the Vision is likely to be the breakout star of Avengers: Age of Ultron when it opens in the U.S. next week. But if you’re wondering what to expect from the latest addition to Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes, here’s a quick primer on the character’s impressively ridiculous comic book history.
Like Age of Ultron‘s other new additions to the cinematic super team, the character — played in the movie by Paul Bettany — has a long association with the comic book Avengers. Indeed, he’s one of the few characters to have debuted in the Avengers series without fading into obscurity relatively soon afterwards. He first appeared in 1968’s Avengers No. 58, the creation — fittingly enough — of Ultron himself, who described him as a “synthezoid,” a robot with the brain patterns of a human.
What this meant in practice was that writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema had created a superheroic equivalent of Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock: an outsider character through which arch commentary on the human condition could be made. The Vision, from the very start, was an enjoyably melodramatic and emotional character — an early story announced in a full-page image, “even an android can cry!” as one lone tear rolled down the Vision’s cheek — who sought to discover his true nature: Could he truly feel emotions? Was he truly a person, or just a thing? Could he fall in love?
The answer to that last question was an unqualified “yes,” and his relationship with the Scarlet Witch soon came to define the Vision as much as anything else about the character. Each stage of their relationship was chronicled faithfully in the Avengers series from awkward first steps through their marriage in 1975’s Giant-Size Avengers No. 4. Indeed, when the Vision eventually graduated from the series to headline his own series, he shared it with his wife: The Vision & The Scarlet Witch ran two volumes in 1982 and 1985, respectively, with the latter ending with the birth of their two sons, Thomas and William.
If you’re wondering whether Ultron built a fully-functioning synthezoid, given the existence of children, the answer is “no”; the children were the result of the Scarlet Witch’s magic, and later retconned to be personifications of a villain’s shattered souls, and later again re-retconned into teenagers, who had been magically created because they were too good for the villain’s soul, and… You know what? Let’s just quietly gloss over that, shall we? (The two teenagers, it should be pointed out, were members of the Young Avengers team: Wiccan and Speed, purposefully created to echo the abilities of the Scarlet Witch and her brother, Quicksilver.)
By the time their children were revealed to be parts of someone else’s soul, however, the Vision and the Scarlet Witch had separated. In keeping with Marvel’s grounded approach to relationships, it was for a very relatable reason: the pressures of work. Admittedly, in this case, that translated as “The Vision was literally rebooted by the U.S. Government after trying to take over the world as the result of some faulty logic, and lacked emotions upon restart, and meanwhile, the Scarlet Witch had fallen prey to a Scientology-like cult that brainwashed her and had a nervous breakdown as a result, before deciding to try and destroy humanity.” Indeed, work-life balance is tough.
After 13 years, his marriage was over, and the Vision was left adrift… in more ways than one. Lacking the humanity of his original incarnation, the character seemingly fell out of favor with both creators and fans, fading into the background of the Avengers comics. Despite being given his own storylines on an occasional basis (he regained his emotions, which pretty much reset the character to his late 1960s behavior), the Vision’s importance was reduced to such a point that, when he was destroyed in the 2004 Avengers Disassembled storyline, his “death” was a minor footnote to other events in the story, such as the destruction of the Avengers’ mansion, or the Scarlet Witch’s second emotional breakdown.
When he eventually returned in 2012, the events that led to his reactivation were purposefully vague; a year later, the Age of Ultron comic book series — which shares little with the movie, beyond the title and some characters — revealed that he had been repaired by Ultron as part of an all-new scheme to destroy humanity. Impressively, Ultron’s plan actually worked this time around, and the Vision found himself tortured by the fact that he was responsible for humanity’s temporary downfall, before some time-traveling managed to undo the damage.
Coming out of that experience, the character went on to lead his own Avengers team (The short lived Avengers A.I., which ran for 12 issues starting in mid-2013) before joining the cast of the current Uncanny Avengers comic book series, once again sharing a comic book with his estranged wife, the Scarlet Witch. Whether any of this will be repeated on the big screen is entirely unsure, especially considering that the already-announced Avengers: Infinity War two-part movie would suggest that large cosmic battles are on the menu instead of subplots about robots wanting to romance Elizabeth Olsen‘s Wanda Maximoff, but long time fans of the comic book character can at least hope. Especially if it means we get to see a movie version of scenes like this:
Avengers: Age of Ultron is released May 1.
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