WandaVision’s inspirations: Vision and the Scarlet Witch vol. 2 (1985)
While I can’t fit three years of Marvel Comics history into such a short space, I can at least provide a bit of background to set the stage. Damn, all that fun-poking I was doing regarding Bill Mantlo and his infernal flashbacks and expositions last week now makes me look a bit like a tool. So, the Vision got hurt when the Fantastic Four villain Annihilus put up a field and our resident synthezoid walked through it. He was comatose and we found out there was this control crystal that stunted his social growth, but it also provided him with the means to get up to some mischief. With the core team gone during the Secret Wars event, the Vision expanded the Avengers by creating the West Coast Avengers, used mind control to convince the Wasp to step down from team chairperson, then tried to take over the world.
In a nice touch, the Avengers defeated Vision by talking to him, with various members speaking to different personas, and saving him from mental dissolution by ensuring he was able to return to his body. Once there, he decided to do something about the crystal that gave him all that power that he just abused.
With the crystal no longer a part of him, Vision was able to finally experience the full range of emotions humans enjoyed. So, the team forgave the Vision for screwing up, saying his intentions were noble but misguided. However, there would be consequences, and thus this is where issue #1 of this twelve-issue series begins, with Vision and the Scarlet Witch at Project: Pegasus, with the former being ceaselessly grilled by Marvel’s catch-all government dick Henry Peter Gyrich, while Wanda is left to stew in a waiting room. That is, until Wanda decides she’s waited long enough and tears through security to get to her man. Gyrich claims since the two are Avengers, he has tons of leeway in regards to the two’s civil rights, and so the two quit the team, with Wanda giving Gyrich a parting shot.
So after exposition regarding how the Vision got into hot water with the Feds and another trip down memory lane explaining his emotions, the couple go house-hunting, because their old home got burned down. You see, back then, it felt like all the Marvel editors were actually talking to one another and collaborating, and there was a wave of anti-mutant hysteria gripping the country that played out in all of Marvel’s titles at the time. With Wanda a mutant and her hubby a touch inhuman himself, they suffered persecution. So they get a new house. And then fight zombies. And Wanda gets captured by these guys.
Man, talk about Z-listers. I have my full run of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe to call upon to find out who these guys are but I. Just. Don’t. Care. The Grim Reaper shows up, so now it’s a trilogy of loser villains, but the Reaper AKA Eric Williams has a surprise up his sleeve.
Gasp! The real Simon Williams? Tied to a chair by a guy in a chicken suit? It turns out the villain behind this all is none other than the Grim Reaper himself, who’s also Simon’s brother. He knocks out Wanda and runs off with his allies, and presumably with “Simon Williams”. Vision calls the West Coast Avengers (to make sure Simon Williams/Wonder Man is there) and Hawkeye says they have to get together… And that’s when I discovered part one of this story took place in West Coast Avengers #1 and part three in issue #2. So… this limited series right away ties in with another series. It also involves Man-Ape and Goliath and Hank Pym coming back, and it’s all just a complete mess because honestly, by this point writer Steve Englehart just feels like his best days as a writer are behind him. I mean, look at this.
Why is Ultron paired up with this gang of losers? So the guy tied to the chair wasn’t Simon, but a zombie that the Grim Reaper found that looked like him, and he had plastic surgery done on him to make him look more like his brother. Would plastic surgery work on a zombie? Don’t you have to heal from the surgery so it’ll take? What plastic surgeon would actually perform the surgery? And is that surgeon still alive, or is he a zombie too? I’m so ashamed I actually bought this back then. There’s a sloppy fight, and then the Grim Reaper finally figures out Simon’s really his brother and he falls down a pit, never to return. Because supervillains never come back from the dead. Really.
Issue #3 opens up with Agatha Harkness being burned at the stake by Salem’s Seven.
Which is fitting, because I have an urge to burn this comic. I think the real reason Jim Shooter got forced out of Marvel is he greenlit this project. Salem’s Seven want the Scarlet Witch to join them, because they’re people mutated by magic, and Wanda’s a mutant whose powers simulate magic. You’d think that maybe the way to get someone to join your group is to send them a letter inviting them, maybe bring ‘em a cake to the housewarming party. Instead, they attack Wanda and her husband then tell her that no, Vision can’t join their magical Utopia. The Salem Seven attempt to sacrifice our heroes to the Corn God, or whatever pagan deity they worship, who as far as I know never gets shown ever again. And after the Vision defeats their leader Vertigo, Wanda takes the reigns on the power and blows the city to hell, with Agatha doing an Obi Wan and advising her from the Great Beyond. In the end, it seems Wanda has a little power left over for… something else.
That something else is revealed in issue #4.
Other than this big reveal, not a whole lot happens in this issue, other than a bunch of racist bastards get up to no good and are thwarted by this pair behind the scenes:
Ah, gone are the days of Mantis, or Shang Chi, or the Wendigo and Zzzax. Now we get lame characters like these (although to be fair, Steve Englehart did give us DC’s Kilowog a few years later, so I suppose the magic wasn’t entirely gone). Once this series is over, they don’t appear again until some series in 2004 where they get killed off. This issue is inoffensive, but boring as hell. But hey, as Agatha Harkness’ ghost pointed out, next month was All Hallows Eve! Maybe issue #5 would be better.
It is, but not by much. While Vision goes out on the town to the magic club at the invitation from his new friends Glamor and Illusion, Wanda’s at home giving Pietro a call to tell him he’s going to be an uncle. Then she conducts a magic ritual and winds up running into Agatha Harkness and the first limited series’ bad guy, Samhain. And what does Samhain want?
Bear in mind, this comic was published years before Ghostbusters II. Agatha Harkness ultimately defeats Samhain by splitting up his energy between different ghosts, and the story ends happily. Not entirely offensive, and it was nice to see Englehart use Samhain. Still, the use of Glamor and Illusion in the story to help the Vision find the remains of Samhain’s book felt like him trying to make “fetch” happen.
Issue #6 finds us the couple with friends and family at their home on Thanksgiving. We’ve got Quicksilver, Crystal and Luna, Captain America, the Wasp, Martha Williams (Simon’s mother… and technically The Vision’s), the guy who sold them the house, the Sub-Mariner, and (sigh) Glamor and Illusion. Oh, and a late arrival:
You’d think Namor would put on a goddamn shirt for Thanksgiving. Even his alternate blue and gold outfit; that at least covers up his nipples. You can joke that Aquaman was a Namor rip-off, but at least he can get waited on at Denny’s. Wouldn’t it have been a nice touch for someone to remark on how nice Namor looks, and he admits that fashion designer Janet Van Dyne AKA the Wasp picked out his outfit?
Later, Magneto pisses off Wanda because he doesn’t know how to talk to people like, well, people, and sometime after that, he leads Pietro and Vision outside to fight…
The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! It turns out they’re all robots except for Toad, who built them. He gets knocked out by Pietro, who switches costumes with his robot duplicate and blindsides the little bastard who did all of this to get Wanda. Magneto tells the pair not to tell Wanda, because she’ll just think he staged the whole thing, and that actually makes sense. So… actually not a bad issue at all. The art brings it down, but overall, it’s pretty decent. Will issue #7 maintain this level of quality?
Nope. Well, alright, we do have a very nice moment as the Vision, talking to Namor and Cap, wants to find out more about his past as the ’40s-era Human Torch. We get an amusing moment where Namor talks about those days.
Of course he would say that. Cap shares his memories as well, and Vision explains that he wanted to find out more about his past, and chapter of his life that’s an entire blank. Later, Vision fights the Toad again, and the issue ends with this bombshell, where the guy who sold Vision and Scarlet Witch the house is caught making time with Crystal.
Say it ain’t so, Crystal! If Pietro finds out, they’ll never find all of the real estate agent’s body parts. Oh, and the woman spying on them is Holly LaDonna, Wanda’s new student. I’m trying to care about her, but I really don’t.
Onto issue #8, where we discover Crystal is trying to find new excuses to stay on Earth while Pietro ignores her, but enough of that, because Sweet Christmas, it’s Power Man!
Some cat wants something called the “Idols of Zor”, and they can’t be all that important because they didn’t show up in the JLA/Avengers team up with all the other kewl artifacts. Later, Power Man shows up at the titular couple’s house to warn them about what’s coming, and then good-naturedly complains that he’s working on his day off: Martin Luther King Day (which at the time was a relatively new holiday. Damn, do I feel old now). Pietro’s response?
“Dusky skins?” Somebody please tell me this is really the robot from issue #5 and not the real Quicksilver. I know he’s a bit of a dick, but come on! Power Man, Quicksilver, Vision, and Wanda team up to go get the idols. These pages as well as the ones regarding MLK Day are out of out of order, which is inexcusable for what’s supposed to be the world’s biggest comic company. But there might be a reason for that, which I’ll touch on later. The gang fight their way across NYC to get to the idols that the Priest of Zor wants, and there comes the big showdown.
Psyche! Wanda had the idols at home the whole time, where Crystal uses Inhuman fire to destroy them, depriving the priest of his power. Actually, this is not a bad issue at all.
Now comes #9 and Fat Tuesday, where Vision and Wanda head to New Orleans and Mardi Gras with (sigh) Glamor and Illusion. Back home, Crystal is getting it on with Norman the real estate guy. Adultery must be contagious, because Vision is hooking up with…
Finally, an A-list villain. And no, Ultron doesn’t count. That had to be a fake Ultron we saw earlier, because no way would he team up with a dude in a chicken outfit. While Wanda hunts down her man, the magical duo of Glamor and Illusion put on a show and we discover something huge.
The pair are thieves! And… I still don’t care about them. It’s almost as if Englehart realized his new creations were lame and added a wrinkle to fill out the pages. Honestly, half this series feels like filler. It turns out the Enchantress is trying to use Vision to steal the same necklace, but his will is strong and he breaks free. Wanda gets some small measure of revenge and earns the Enchantress’ respect, and Vision salves her bruised ego by admitting if he weren’t a married man, she would be a true head-turner. There’s a mix of good and bad here, but frankly, I could easily see these parts of the story as backup tales in the regular Avengers comic. Again, more on that later. The comic ends with… holy Captain Planet! Crystal overdosing on the drug that protects her from Earth’s pollution and passing out in Norman’s arms.
It’s issue #10, a month later, and Crystal’s still comatose. She talks in her sleep and gives up the fact that she and Norman have a thing going on. Quicksilver freaks the hell out, and damn, am I missing the mature Pietro that Bill Mantlo wrote in the last Vision/Scarlet Witch series. Seriously, it feels like two completely different characters here. While the Inhuman royal family and Vision run down Quicksilver, Wanda does a witchy mind-meld on her sister-in-law.
Crystal wakes up, but Pietro can’t forgive her betrayal and he runs off. Later, he winds up taking on both the East and West Coast Avengers in a two-part story in both annuals that year.
On to issue #11, and it’s tax time. Doctor Strange makes a house call and assures the couple that Wanda’s pregnancy is coming along just fine, but Vision remembers how Sue Richards lost her second child, which implies that yeah, it could happen again here… if George RR Martin were editing this book. Peter Parker stops by to take pics of the couple’s house because the two need cash. Meanwhile, Pietro is running rampant through the Arctic, terrorizing some random scientist and talking about purity and whatnot. I… just can’t bring myself to care. Oh, the Toad shows up again, this time in some suit of armor. He attacks Vision, but Spidey swoops in for a save.
Damn, I forgot that Spidey and Toad became friends. Toad returns and temporarily bests the pair and he makes his way to the house, where…
Okay, that made me laugh. The Toad is defeated but he escapes.
Now we’re on our final issue and look who’s back!
Nekra (that’s her name, by the way. I thought for the sake of professionalism, I should actually find out who that was. Still don’t care about Chicken Man, though) has, ironically, raised the Grim Reaper, and it seems she and Eric were an item. I guess the whole point of this series was about the various relationships between people, both healthy and toxic? I wonder if Englehart was working through some personal stuff with his significant other back in ’85 which inspired all of this.
Wanda is experiencing contractions and heads to the hospital while the Grim Reaper, now looking more human, teams up with the zombie that looks like his brother (which, with almost plot breaking convenience, was a former hitman) as well as Nekra to go after the happy couple. Speaking of happy couples, Crystal shows up in town and tells Norm the homewrecker she’s getting a divorce. I. Just. Don’t. Care. Magneto’s in town, saying he sensed a disturbance in the Earth’s magnetic field, and naturally he figured out Wanda’s in trouble. Shoot, man, she’s your daughter; if you want to see her you don’t need to make up BS stories. He and Wonder Man wind up facing off against the Grim Reaper’s latest Masters of Evil.
God, that’s just… sad. How far the B-lister has fallen. The Grim Reaper discovers he’s a zombie and he kills Nekra for it, causing himself to “die” as well. Meanwhile, Wanda gives birth to two healthy baby boys. She and Vision name them Billy and Tommy, and all ends happily. The End. Thank God.
So that was The Vision and the Scarlet Witch and… damn, I’m looking back and I can’t believe I bought this series. I had so much crap placed in my pull box at my local comic book store and in retrospect, I think I was just buying it out of sheer inertia. With comics being only sixty-five cents or so, it was easy to not really think about the cost. The art was at best mediocre, and the stories largely forgettable. I did say “largely”, because there were a couple of elements that I think were decent. The first was Wanda’s pregnancy, which was a relevant development. Very few characters in comics had children, and when it happened it was usually a big deal, and giving Englehart his due, he took it seriously. But damn, did Quicksilver and Crystal’s characters take a beating, with the first coming across as an intolerant tool and the latter as an adulterous slut. Yeah, I stand by that statement. If your marriage is in trouble, then try to fix it or end it. She had plenty of people to turn to for help and moral support. In regards to Quicksilver, I honestly feel that writers like Bill Mantlo were trying hard to evolve his character from the hot-headed elitist to someone a bit more, if not likeable, then at least tolerable. You know, as if love, marriage, and the responsibilities of a parent were causing him to grow up? But nope! Years of character development were all pissed away in just a few short issues.
Could many of these stories have been told in subplots throughout the Avengers comics, and not needed a 12-issue limited series? Hell, yes. So why wasn’t it? Well, you have to look at Marvel’s business model at the time. In my last article, I talked about all the mini-series Marvel had produced, and many came out around the same time, around ’85. There were also other new series coming out like Moon Knight, a Cloak and Dagger ongoing, as well as several X-Men/New Mutants specials. Marvel went from publishing 16 titles in 1968 to 32 in 1981. Slow and steady growth, right? But then they went from releasing 32 titles a month in 1981 to a flooding the shelves with 64 comics in 1987, doubling their output in just a handful of years.
You see, there were a lot of independent comic publishers at the time: Comico, Mirage Studios, First Comics, Antarctic Press, Continuity Comics, Deluxe Comics, Matrix Graphic Series, and Renegade Press, as well as Aircel Comics, Arrow Comics, Blackthorne Publishing, Dragon Lady Press, NOW Comics, Sirius Comics, Strawberry Jam Comics, and Wonder Comics, which had all started in the early to mid ’80s. Not to mention already established companies like Eclipse. Apparently, Marvel’s response was to use its muscle to push them aside, churning out what I feel were a slew of largely forgettable, low quality comics. I’m not sure how effective that strategy was, or whether the dissolution of many of these independent companies was due to their inability to compete or simply a lack of overall interest on the part of comic consumers. Personally, the only independent comics I was buying regularly were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and 1st Comics’ Grimjack.
As to what became of our happily married couple and their kids? Well, that’s fodder for another article somewhere down the line. I hope you enjoyed this little peek at the history of these two iconic characters, and arguably one of comic’s most beloved couples. Peace out, y’all!