WandaVision’s inspirations: Vision and the Scarlet Witch vol. 1 (1982)
When it comes to comics, the one format that never made sense to me was the limited series; if a series was selling well, why would you stop at just four issues? We saw that happen with Marvel’s Transformers, as their initial limited series became an ongoing (with the final issue billed as “#80 in a four-issue limited series”). And if something went wrong and your series was five issues and the covers mistakenly said it was four, then you looked, well, incompetent. That’s exactly what happened with the first Punisher mini-series, which according to some was always meant to be five issues, yet on the covers of issues #1, 3, and 4, it says it’s a four-issue series, while issues #2 and 5 say it’s five.
Setting that aside, while DC created the first limited series in 1979 with World of Krypton, Marvel really took to the format in the ’80s. We had limited series for Wolverine, Iceman, Firestar, Dazzler and the Beast, the Falcon, Nightcrawler, the aforementioned Punisher, and Hawkeye. We had The X-Men vs. the Avengers, Fantastic Four vs. the X-Men, West Coast Avengers, and then there’s the one I’m about to talk about today: 1982’s Vision and the Scarlet Witch.
The series was written by Bill Mantlo, a man who had written a wide range of Marvel titles such as The Champions, Rom: Spaceknight, The Micronauts, and The Incredible Hulk. With legendary artist George Perez, they created the White Tiger, the first American comic hero of Hispanic descent. I was about to trash-talk the man about his run on Alpha Flight, but I discovered in 1992 Bill Mantlo was struck by a car while rollerblading and was rendered temporarily comatose. Due to permanent brain damage, he now lives in a health care facility with this brother as legal guardian. Personally, I can’t think of many more horrific things to befall a creative talent.
Penciler Rick Leonardi is very talented, but unlike many artists I’ve seen over the years, he seems to be someone who bounces around a lot of titles. Looking at his Wikipedia entry, he never seems to stick to one series for very long; his most lengthy tenure was on Spider-Man 2099, which makes sense, since he co-created the character with writer Peter David.
The Vision and the Scarlet Witch mini-series took place in the aftermath of Avengers issue #211, where for the first time since the mid-’70s, the Vision and Scarlet Witch had left the team, which honestly was a good choice, because it allowed for a variety of team lineup changes, which included She-Hulk becoming an Avenger for the first time. And Hawkeye rejoining the team…for maybe the fifth time. Vision and Scarlet Witch have settled down in domestic bliss in Leonia, New Jersey on Halloween…
…and we find our heroes apparently haven’t gotten the hang of civilian clothing. And if you’re wondering where these two got the money to buy this house, it was established in an issue of The Avengers that the Maria Stark Foundation provides a stipend—a thousand bucks a week—to active members. Tigra got her first check and pretty much blew the whole thing in a day, which at the time I thought was hilarious. So, considering how long these two were Avengers, and if they didn’t spend much because they lived in the mansion and had all their meals and shelter needs seen to, I can imagine they saved up quite a tidy sum. Jarvis the butler shows up to help the pair unpack and settle down, and he gives Wanda a housewarming gift from Captain America: a book full of ancient runes.
Meanwhile, a trio of trick-or-treaters are transformed into monstrous forms by the new ancient evil on the block.
He’s Samhain, “eternal embodiment of All Hallows Eve!” Sammy politely provides Wanda with a bit of exposition, explaining how he’s been around through the millennia, feasting upon the forces of the dead. It turns out that book from Captain America was discovered in the walls of Graymoor Castle in Captain America #256 (also written by Bill Mantlo), and Samhain was trapped within it. Normally, it’d take a wizard reading the runes to free him, but the spirit of Halloween was enough to do the trick this time. As Samhain and the Scarlet Witch do battle, Vision is attempting to fight the trick-or-treaters transformed into an evil jack-o-lantern, a ghost, and a goblin. Unfortunately for Viz, he can’t use his full power on his opponents because they’re possessed kids, and no way would he—
Um… yeah. With a quick assist from Jarvis via a silver plate upside the goblin’s head, Vision is able to prevent the ghost and Samhain from double-teaming his wife. As the Vision and ghost engage in a de-solidified battle, Wanda realizes the only way to beat Samhain is to combine her mutant hex power with the magic that her mentor Agatha Harkness taught her.
It seems Samhain never stopped touching the book, and needed Wanda’s power to free him. In the end, the three trick-or-treaters are released from Samhain’s hold and things return to abnormal, just in time for Wanda’s dad to show up. No, not Magneto, but Robert Frank, the Whizzer.
Issue #1 is chockfull of exposition, with a brief explanation of how Vision and Wanda were Avengers and fell in love, then briefly explaining Wanda’s background before she became an Avenger, back when she was a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Then there’s Vision’s convoluted backstory, involving the original Human Torch, Simon Williams, and Ultron. Add to that Samhain explaining who and what he is, and on the surface, it feels like half the book is devoted to backstory, but I think Mantlo does a decent job of condensing the info to just a few pages and allowing for a fun tussle.
Issue #2 opens in media res, which is a fancy way of saying it starts in progress, with Vision’s hand melted, Wanda knocked out, the Whizzer (quite possibly the most inappropriate superhero name in the history of comics, and it doesn’t help that his costume’s yellow) arriving, and someone apparently sexually assaulting a character named Nuklo.
In under an hour, two Avengers are down and the Whizzer [snort] has suffered a heart attack while this mystery guy is draining Nuklo of power.
Cut back to earlier, when Wanda calls up her brother Pietro/Quicksilver, who’s enjoying domestic bliss on the Moon with his Inhuman wife Crystal. The Witch explains to yon sibling of the silver tresses that Robert Frank showed up to get her help to get his son out of government custody. His son? Nuklo. And he’s come to his daughter for help, not knowing that Wanda and Pietro discovered back in Avengers #185-187 that Frank isn’t really their dad, thanks to a talking cow that delivered a load of exposition hinting that some other powerful being was. But back to the story at hand before I get sucked into that quagmire of a soap operatic subplot, Wanda doesn’t have the heart to tell Frank he isn’t their dad, and she agrees to help. The plan is for them to get legal custody of Nuklo, who’s a walking nuclear reactor with the mind of a child, with the promise that he’ll be relocated to the Inhuman’s home on the Moon where a cure can be found. Pietro agrees to get Black Bolt to sign off on the deal. The gang heads to the hospital to see Nuklo… and didn’t they say he was at Project: Pegasus? Who the hell would send a walking atomic warhead to a hospital?
Why… Doctor Crazy Eyes, that’s who! This is “Dr. I.S. Bishoff” and he’s found a cure, and a means to siphon off Nuklo’s vast radioactive power. But where is he siphoning that radiation to? Oh God, it’s more exposition as Frank explains the convoluted backstory of his kids to Dr. Bishoff, who unbeknownst to Frank is suiting up behind him in the most boring supervillain outfit I’ve ever seen. I mean really, it’s almost all yellow and a little too functional. He needs a bitchin’ logo on his chest, like a melting atomic symbol. And maybe a belt with nodules on it. If Dave Cockrum had designed his outfit, I’m sure he would have added thigh-highs, too. Red ones. It turns out “Dr. Bishoff” is really…
Um… who? Jesus Christ, when I turn the page, please don’t let it be more exposition. Oh, it’s okay; I have to wait for the page after that to get more of that, where Wanda admits she’s not Frank’s daughter. You think you could wait until after the fight to explain all this? We finally reach the present, where Vision tries the ol’ hand-in-your-chest trick with Isbisa, only to have it melted off. Then Wanda gets knocked out and the Whizzer is shot in the chest while using his super-speed against doctor’s orders. The Vision uses his forehead gem to cut off his own arm and Wanda hex-bolts the baddie. Then, with his power temporarily exactly equal to Nuklo, Vision shoves the mad scientist into his unwilling test subject.
Nuklo’s cured, Isbisa’s defeated, and the Whizzer… dead! This another exposition-heavy issue, albeit I liked the framing, with the issue starting off with the action and us slowly catching up to it. But between this issue and the last, it showed that even by the early ’80s, Marvel’s twenty years of history could feel more like a narrative anchor, with new readers being exposed to a lot of history. I wonder what issue #3 will have in store for us?
Of course, they’ve got to involve the Vision’s “brother”. So… Simon Williams, AKA Wonder Man, to me is one of the most boring characters ever seen in print. No matter what writer handles him or what makeover he’s been given (and trust me, over the years the dude’s seen a lot of ‘em), you just can’t fix boring. They paired him up with the Beast which only illustrated how bland Wonder Man really is.
Simon gets a call from the Avengers, and after a subway mishap necessitating his dragging a train to a station, he arrives at the hospital. There, he meets the gang and gets exposed to a one-page synopsis of the last issue and sees Vision has lost an arm. Viz is in shock and low on power, and he only has one hope.
So now we have the Vision in a coma getting flashbacks to his origin when he was originally the World War II version of the Human Torch. Then we cut back to the lab where Simon is being hooked up to a machine for the power transfusion to the Vision. She-Hulk is conveniently on hand to have Simon and Viz’s origins explained, including how Wonder Man’s brain patterns were implanted into the Vision. And this was something that never made any sense, as for years Vision never, ever acted in any way, shape or form like Simon, until Kurt Busiek came along and actually did something with this background detail in the early ‘00s during his and George Perez’s run on Avengers. We get more Vision-in-a-coma scenes where Ultron shows up and things get surrealistic, with the Human Torch causing Viz’s arm to melt. Looking back, I’m thinking this issue was the sole inspiration for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, first published in ‘83, because you needed an encyclopedia to keep track of all of this. Things are going smoothly, but you know that’s not going to last.
So… I think the story is the Grim Reaper is Simon Williams’ biological brother, and he thinks Wonder Man isn’t really his sibling; that he died and whatever came back wasn’t Simon. Which isn’t too crazy a stance to take. Simon was flesh and blood, while Wonder Man is “ionic energy” and nigh invulnerable. Would it be too great a stretch for someone to think whatever Simon is is a lot like, say, Swamp Thing, a being who initially thought he was Dr. Alec Holland? But nope, everyone thinks the Grim Reaper is crazy pants. There’s more surrealistic dreamscape stuff with Wonder Man “dying” at the hands of Ultron, while in the real world, Grim Reaper attempts to kill Vision. But Viz doesn’t go down easy.
Back in the dreamscape, Vision and a resurrected Wonder Man take on dream Ultron, and we hear how they’re more brothers than Simon and the Grim Reaper ever were. If you say so, Bill Mantlo. The Grim Reaper attempts to kill the weakened Simon, but Vision does his de-solidified hand thing in the Grim Reaper’s chest and lays him out, but he’s not unconscious. Simon is able to warn Vision just in time that Grim Reaper is sneaking up on him, and fantasy and reality line up.
The Grim Reaper’s been beaten and the Scarlet Witch finds her husband and… brother from another mother, I guess… weakened, but whole. Man, this was an expositionally heavy issue and I can’t help but feel if you were in any way familiar with the histories of these characters, it would have felt like a waste of time. For me, I just never cared much about the soap operatic aspects of the Vision’s background. It doesn’t help that the Grim Reaper has one of the dumbest costumes out there. Can anyone explain those things behind his head? But okay, despite myself, I found the moments between Simon and the Vision to be actually touching. Maybe instead of pairing the Beast with Simon, it should have been Vision as his bromance?
We come to the final issue, issue #4, which opens on a snowstorm atop a mountain and a white-clad stranger seeking shelter from the brutal elements. He finds a cabin.
I bet some of you thought I was making the talking cow up, didn’t you? Bova has the traveler enter and sit a spell while she cooks something up for him, and at his feet is what’s left of Modred, the bad guy from Avengers #185-187, a fantastic tale that a modern Avengers writer like Jonathan Hickman could probably stretch out into thirty-six issues. These were the issues where Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch discovered their dad wasn’t really their dad, as well as other bits and pieces of their past.
Bova lays down a tale to the stranger regarding another stormy night like this, when a woman showed up with two babies, terrified of her husband who had displayed inhuman powers of some sort. Bova says the woman died and the stranger figures the babies died too, but no. Bova reveals they grew into two healthy kids and had powers of their own. The stranger especially freaks out when he discovers the woman’s name was… Martha!
Oh, my bad. I mean the name the man hears is… Magda! The stranger demands to know the identity of these siblings, but Bova now realizes this is the man Magda fled from and she refuses to give him what he wants. He then wrecks her living room, but when this display of power doesn’t work, he attempts other means. He says that “by controlling the iron content of your blood, I control your mind, as well.”
Controlling the iron content in her blood? Why, who could this be? It’s a telling clue and it would have been fun for this to end in a big reveal… but it was already totally spoiled by the cover.
It’s like movies where the director has no control over the trailer or movie posters, so key info from the third act is all there for people to see.
The “stranger” destroys the cabin, leaving Modred and Bova all but helpless to the elements. The cow-woman is able to get the man-child to use what little power he has left to send a warning to the twins. And this is another thing that pisses me off. Magneto was in the middle of a “face” turn. After X-Men #150 when he almost killed Kitty Pryde, Magneto had a bit of an epiphany and he stood down. We saw him later in the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, where he allied himself with the X-Men. It seemed Mags was finally realizing being the bad guy wasn’t getting him anywhere, and that he needed to change his life and goals. And then in the same year as that landmark graphic novel, we get this retro-characterization. The Magneto that Chris Claremont would have written would have appealed to Bova to explain that yes, he was Magda’s husband and she had every reason to fear him, and he would have asked—or even begged—her to reach out to the pair so that they could meet and reconcile. What we’re seeing here is sloppy writing and miscommunication between editors Louise Simonson and Mark Gruenwald. Okay, enough kvetching.
Back with our married couple, the pair head up to the Moon, where Wanda has brought her husband to the Inhumans get a new arm. I’m sure there’s going to be some difficulty involved, with some quest for some rare mineral perhaps, or a search for the notes of the original Human Torch’s creator, Professor Phineas Horton.
Or not. To quote one of my favorite Youtubers, it’s quite simple, barely an inconvenience! We see a happy moment as Crystal shows off their child Luna to Wanda and the Vision, and there’s even a nice reconciliation between Quicksilver and his android brother-in-law, a being Wanda’s brother always viewed with hostility because he considered him inhuman (note the lower case) and not worthy of being with his sister. It’s a nice moment. And then “the white pilgrim” shows up on the Moon, and we all know this is Magneto, and yet he’s got a whole new set of powers as he walks around invisible to everyone. Why? Because that’s how magnets work!
The Inhuman royal family are trapped outside as Magneto whips off the white outfit for the big non-reveal. A fight predictably breaks out, and it’s actually a pretty good tussle. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Crystal, and the Vision make a pretty badass team. But the fight ends when Crystal points out they’re scaring the baby and Magneto calms down. He takes the baby into his arms, and you’d think the parents would freak out, but nope. They let the maniac hold their kid. Then comes the actual big reveal.
And hey, it’s been a while since we had some exposition, so Magneto delivers some to the Vision, explaining his background with flashbacks to World War II and concentration camps and…wow, you know, this might be the first time Magneto’s past as a Jewish Holocaust survivor was ever mentioned. Magneto basically admits he’s a bastard but he’s trying to change, and okay, in this light, his behavior earlier in this issue is explainable. You don’t become a saint overnight, and he couldn’t drop the baggage of his arrogance and prejudice. So alright, apologies to editor Mark Gruenwald; I think maybe he really did have a bit of a pow-wow between Simonson, Claremont, and Mantlo as to the direction of this story. And so, the story ends with a splash page.
So, that’s the end of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch mini-series. Was it any good? Well, when taken as a whole it’s not bad. The main thrust of the series was to answer questions raised in Avengers #185-187 and to ultimately further Magneto’s transformation from full-on villain to anti-hero. It settled Nuklo’s story, killed off the Whizzer, and as much as I have no use for Simon Williams, he was decently used in the third installment. Yeah, there’s a ton of exposition to wade through, and issue #4’s cover is a sloppy spoiler that cuts the story off at the knees, but it’s still strong. I think Mantlo and Leardini’s purpose was to celebrate the history of Marvel Comics and these characters, and to point out that to enjoy the promise of the future we see on the last page, we have to at least understand and appreciate the past that made it possible.