Dec 14, 2020
WandaVision’s inspirations: 1985 to the present
So hopefully over the past couple of weeks, you read my articles regarding the two Vision and Scarlet Witch limited series that were published in 1982 and 1985. While I enjoyed the first series, I found the second series a mixed bag. There was a lot of fluff there, and I wasn’t crazy about the art, but I also enjoyed other elements as well. You see, I’m a big fan of a thing called “character evolution”. Characters shouldn’t remain static; they should evolve over time in interesting and believable ways.
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An excellent example of this is Wolverine. When he first appeared, he was simply an antagonist for the Hulk and Wendigo. Then in the pages of X-Men he was, well, a dick. He was short tempered and combative and Cyclops could barely control him. And then something happened.
Little bits and pieces of Wolverine’s past began to be filled in, and over time he became more interesting. And then after the X-Men’s first skirmish with Prometheus, Wolverine was badly shaken. Cyclops fought him and the other X-Men to get their heads back in the game. The result?
Wolverine admits he was wrong, and there’s a breakthrough regarding his relationship with Cyclops. And farther down the line, we see the character grow more into a modern-day samurai and a mentor to young adults like Kitty Pryde and Jubilation Lee. That’s just one example. We saw Peter Parker grow from a teenage nerd into something of a ladies’ man, becoming more self-assured as he entered college. Ultimately, he published a book, married a super model, and even became an Avenger. His relationship with Aunt May underwent a huge change when she discovered his secret identity. Of course, not all character evolution may be considered good; Parker ultimately became Tony Stark’s lackey and allowed himself to be manipulated, and we know how that turned out.
We may talk of Civil War at another time, when I’m suitably self-medicated. The point is, there was a forward momentum to take characters to places they had not yet been. Does that mean you can’t revisit old storylines? Of course not. Not if you have fresh ideas. For example, Denny O’Neil’s run on Iron Man explored the idea of what Tony Stark’s life would be like if alcoholism consumed him. It revisited the themes of Demon in A Bottle, but instead of a positive outcome, the worst possible calamity ensued, with Stark losing his business to Obidiah Stane. Not only was it compelling storytelling; it paved the way for War Machine, when James Rhodes first put on the Iron Man armor.
Okay, so you might be asking what the hell this has to do with Vision and the Scarlet Witch. What we saw in the second Vision/Scarlet Witch mini-series was character growth. The pair had become parents, the relationship between Wanda and her father was evolving, and the Vision now had an interest in his past when he was the original Human Torch. Who knew where these plot points might take us? What writer could usher in the next chapter of these two crazy kids?
That writer… would be John Byrne. Byrne had become one of Marvel Comics’ biggest talents, having epic runs on the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, as well as Alpha Flight and a short run on Captain America and an Indiana Jones comic. He had worked on other titles here and there over the years (one of my favorites being the Starlord one-shot) and I feel by the time he jumped over to DC it was time for him to move on and try new things. He started work at DC with a bang with the Man of Steel mini series that redefined Superman, then he worked on the six issues Legends series (which I recapped here, by the way) and had a run on two Superman titles. But after a couple years, he left DC after disagreements with management. To quote Wikipedia:
[Byrne’s] dissatisfaction stemmed from his perception that there was a lack of “conscious support” for him at DC. Furthering the rift between the company and the artist was the fact that the version of Superman which DC licensed for merchandising was contrary to Byrne’s representation in the comic books.
So it was back to Marvel, where he was given West Coast Avengers (later to be re-named Avengers West Coast). And what was his principal condition for writing/penning the title? He got to write his Vision story. What else did he do during his run on West Coast Avengers West Coast? He turned Hank Pym into an ersatz Reed Richards…
…and turned Hawkeye—who had experienced character growth and became a team leader—into a joke and Hank’s second fiddle, sending him to the (sigh) Great Lakes Avengers.
And he also gave Wonder Man a mullet.
But as bad as those creative decisions were, the worst was yet to come. Bobbi Drake, aka Mockingbird, was tricked into helping a multi-national covert agency kidnap the Vision because of the events in The Avengers a few years prior, when he took over the world’s computer networks. They literally took him completely apart:
When they put him back together, he was, well, pretty much his old self.
But Byrne wasn’t done yet, oh no! Wanda was offered help to restore the Vision by another shady organization, and they had designs on her. She was possessed by some ancient force…
…and hey, you know what this reminded me of? Why, that classic Avengers story from issues #185-187 when the Scarlet Witch got possessed by an ancient force!
Do you see a pattern here? Byrne turning Hank into the Avengers’ answer to Reed Richards? Other Avengers reverting to their earlier selves? Okay… the point kind of falls apart when you factor in Wonder Man’s mullet, so we’ll set that aside. The point is, we’re looking at a heaping helping of that element that’s good in small doses but can ruin franchises if indulged in too much. You saw JJ Abrams practically bathe in it with his Star Wars movies. I’m talking about nostalgia. Byrne was not only hearkening back to classic Avengers stories, he was also touching on a time when he was on top of the world writing Fantastic Four, arguably the high-water mark of his career. And Byrne wasn’t just satisfied with touching on some of the Avengers’ greatest hits. Oh, no; He had to go and introduce a massive retcon and rewrite the Vision’s origin, now asserting that Ultron lied and he wasn’t the World War II-era Human Torch after all.
But Byrne wasn’t done yet; the worst was yet to come. You see, there was the matter of Wanda and Vison’s kids. Those pesky babies simply had to go. But you just can’t go around killing babies, at least not in a Marvel comic. So Byrne had to find some other way to get rid of them. His answer? Master Pandemonium.
I think Avengers West Coast editor Howard Mackie was given money for hookers and blow and told to spend a week in Las Vegas while Byrne got to do whatever he wanted. Mephisto was involved and things get convoluted, but in the end, it turns out the twins were never real, and Wanda didn’t use magic to create life. All of this was explained to the Avengers by Agatha Harkness—wait a minute. Agatha Harkness died in the second Vision/Scarlet Witch mini-series! She had passed on. And now here she is, larger than freaking life.
Mephisto was defeated and all of Wanda’s memories of her kids were erased from her mind by Agatha, because that’s what loving mentors do to their favorite pupils: mind rape them. So, what was next? Well, Wanda went crazy (surprise, surprise) and pretty much became a supervillain. And she apparently sexually assaulted Simon Williams.
Classy, Byrne. But hey, at least Simon doesn’t have that mullet any more. Say, a superheroine going crazy and becoming a supervillain? What does this remind me of? Why, that Fantastic Four Story where Susan Storm Richards became Malice!
Magneto showed up and he was a bad guy again, and Quicksilver was with him and the trio left together. I’ll cut Byrne some slack here, because if I recall correctly, Magneto’s heel turn had been conducted by other writers, including possibly Chris Claremont himself. Actually, if memory serves, by this point Claremont had lost all pull at Marvel, and rather than plotting the X-Men titles, he was just writing and the artists at the time were doing the plotting. But back to Avengers West Coast: The Avengers tried to attack Asteroid M but were defeated. That was issue #57, Byrne’s last. The story had to be finished by Roy and Dan Thomas after a couple lackluster filler issues. Immortus got involved, but I had quit reading the comic by then. The point is, the damage had been done. Byrne’s run on Avengers West Coast had been an ego-fueled mess, with his actions barely constrained by editors who were afraid to reign the rockstar in. He wrecked the Vision, destroyed the Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye never recovered. Oh sure, you could say in recent years Hawkeye became more prominent with his own series, but he’s largely a joke now, and Kate Bishop’s comedic sidekick.
As for the Vision and Scarlet Witch, what became of them later down the line? Well, there was a little story written by another rockstar by the name of Brian Michael Bendis. It was called Avengers Disassembled. In it, Wanda discovered she had had children and after a ton of exposition (because Bendis loves to write walls of dialogue) from Doctor Strange, we find out Wanda’s gone insane and attacked the Avengers, and created her own perfect family.
The Avengers dissolved, and Magneto flew off with his daughter. Gone were the characters Steve Englehart had worked so hard to develop. This scorched Earth storyline allowed Bendis to recreate the Avengers in his image, by giving us House of M. Oh yeah, and Hawkeye died. But it’s okay, he got better. Oh, and what happened to the Vision?
God, it’s like Bendis read Byrne’s West Coast Avengers run and said, “Hey, I can top that!” Or more to the point, he saw how if you have pull, and if you have the power, you can get away with anything. So the Vision returned in Young Avengers, only he wasn’t the Vision we remembered:
We later found out that Wiccan and Speed, two members of the Young Avengers, were reincarnations of Wanda’s kids… and honestly, at this point I just lose track. The Vision got his own series where he created a new family, but it was written by Tom King, and I guess somewhere between the Young Avengers story where Vision came back but didn’t have his memories and King’s run, apparently Vision’s past was restored to him? I don’t know. I don’t care. I stopped caring about these characters because writers were allowed to do whatever the hell they wanted to them.
I look back at Steve Englehart’s twelve-issue series, and while there were problems, there was also a respect for the characters. It goes back to what I was talking about at the beginning of this article: there was character progression. John Byrne derailed that, and erased Englehart’s work because he thought he could create better stories by taking the characters back to square one, or rehashing old plots and slapping a new coat of paint on them, and then conducting massive retcons on their origins because he thought it was cool. And when things were no longer fun, he just walked away to leave other writers to clean up his messes. And Bendis didn’t do much better. All of the strength and confidence that Englehart had imbued Wanda with had been torn out of her by Byrne, allowing Bendis to come along and finish the job. I just don’t take the Scarlet Witch seriously any more, nor the Vision.
Modern comics just don’t interest me like they used to, and it’s because the past has become so malleable. Retcons have always been a part of comics, but it seems now that they’re used so freely that the foundation of these characters I love so much are now shifting sand: Wanda and Pietro are no longer mutants. Daredevil’s public identity is now secret through, I don’t know, magic or something. Jessica Jones has become an integral part of the Marvel universe going back years. One More Day: ’nuff said. Character development can be undone with a snap of the fingers, histories manipulated with casual ease with no respect for the writers who came before. I have no clue what the hell is going on with the X-Men, but their history has become so convoluted that I… say, didn’t Bendis have a run on that franchise as well? Well, that explains a lot, don’t it? Well, that’s enough fanboy whining for one morning. I’m going to go read some old issues of Marvel Team-Up. Peace out.