…I Had a Vision, and There Before Me Was a Man Made of Red…

Holy cow! I just watched Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s episode “The Magical Place” (season 1, episode 11; air date January 7, 2014)- and I need to talk about this! If you’ve already seen the episode, read on. If not, go watch it and come back. Seriously- don’t let me ruin anything for you. We’ll wait…

OK- you’ve been warned- SPOILERS and some geekdom ahead…

Still with us? Good. Fellow geeks (or geeks-in-training), do you realize what we’ve just seen? The next step in the evolution of the Marvel Living Universe’s evolution! (MLU? What’s that? It’s my phrase- better than the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” term being used. Here’s why.) I think we just saw the first definitive step in the MLU’s appearance of the Vision!

From The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Vol. 1, No. 12, 1983. Art by Paul Smith.

From The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Vol. 1, No. 12, 1983.
Art by Paul Smith.

OK- true to the pattern I’ve developed with the Geek 101 posts, let’s discuss Vision. Who is he, what’s his background, and how does he fit into the Marvel Living Universe?

First- disclaimers. I am not the original creator of this theory. From the moment it was announced that Agent Coulson would survive his apparent demise in The Avengers and star in the TV show, this has been one of the fan theories as to how to accomplish that. (To be fair, this has consistently been my favorite theory, though.) Let me connect the pieces and give you some background on the character should he reappear in Avengers: Age of Ultron– the sequel to the 2012 blockbuster currently slated for a May 2015 release. We should talk about Ultron as well. Better check out this installment of Geek 101 if you haven’t already done so…

In the comics, Vision first appears in Avengers #57 (October 1968). Readers of the comic discover that the red and green being pictured above- after first attacking the Avengers- is a combination of the physical android body of the WWII “Human Torch” (not Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four) and the encephalograms (think of this-in the comics, at least- as a digital version of  one’s consciousness- a downloadable version of our psyche) of Simon Williams, a one-time foe of the Avengers who repents before his death and saves the super team.This combination- android body, soon termed “synthezoid”, and human consciousness- is assembled by an arch-nemesis of the Avengers: Ultron. (Yes- see the link above if you’re asking yourself, “Who is Ultron?”)

Vision is a pretty potent foe- the original android body’s ability to burst into flame is replaced with control over the form’s density. He can turn as insubstantial as a ghost or increase his mass exponentially and become rock hard, thereby increasing his already incredible strength. He can fly and project a heat ray from the jewel on his forehead. Overall, he is a powerful combatant capable of holding his own against the entire team when Ultron sends him to destroy the Avengers.

Vision quickly rejects Ultron’s programming and, over the next few decades, serves as a core member of the team. Along the way, he will marry the Scarlet Witch. It’s complicated. He’s not a robot- he’s a synthezoid. (Apparently that means he can have sex.) Actually, when super-genius Henry Pym examines Vision, he announces that Vision is, “…every inch a human being- except that all his bodily organs are constructed of synthetic materials.” Yes- I realize the fact that he’s all human with the ability to make himself “rock hard” begs for some jokes about how unnecessary Viagra will be…

Like all long-running superheroes, the character will change over the years. The important pieces to take away from this post (to translate to the Marvel Living Universe) are these:

  • His form is created from the android body of the original Human Torch- a WWII-era hero
  • His consciousness comes from the “brain waves” of a dead hero
  • He is set into motion against the Avengers by Ultron
  • He is connected to the Scarlet Witch

This post is not about the comic book hero. How do we get from Coulson’s revelations in the last Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode to Vision appearing in Avengers: Age of Ultron? Stay with me…

First point- the physical  android body of the original Human Torch. Sharp-eyed audience members of Captain America: The First Avenger noticed a glimpse of a future hero. When Steve (pre-Super Soldier serum) and his best friend, Sergeant James “Bucky” Barnes, escort a couple of wide-eyed beauties through the Stark World Expo they pass a red-clothed form in a display tube with a “Synthetic Man” label above.

From the film Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011.

From the film Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011.

Fanboys- notoriously difficult to please- agree that this is clearly Professor Phineas Horton’s creation, the synthetic man that becomes known as the Human Torch and will fight alongside Cap in WWII as a member of the Invaders (nope, not in this blog post…) before going inactive in the ’50s. Why so conspicuous with this display unless it will mean something later on?

Second point- the being’s consciousness comes from the “brain waves” of a dead hero. I don’t expect Simon Williams- aka Wonder Man- to make an appearance here. That’s OK. The Marvel Living Universe’s architects seem comfortable with some reasonable restructuring of origins and links. We’ve already seen this in the announcement for Ultron’s origin. Tony Stark, not Henry Pym, seems to the the likely candidate for Ultron’s progenitor. So could we replace “Simon Williams”, a comic book character with no real likelihood of a movie appearance, with Agent Phil Coulson? Sure.

In Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s episode “The Magical Place” we see Phil acquiescing to his captors’ requests to examine the hidden memories that have eluded him since his return from Tahiti. (It’s a magical place.) The comforting beach cabana is replaced with a dark operating room in which, apparently after the events of The Avengers, the critically wounded Agent Coulson begs for death. We see a robot moving multiple laser-wielding-arms across the exposed surface of Coulson’s brain with a computer display underneath the activity. Whedon brings back a Firefly favorite in Ron Glass as a S.H.I.E.L.D doctor voicing morality by urging his peers to allow Coulson to choose his death over whatever horrific existence is being forced upon him. (Incidentally, we learn that Director Fury has ordered this procedure upon Coulson. If Coulson becomes Vision, could this help explain a motive for joining Ultron and attacking the Avengers? Revenge against the super group that Fury assembles? Maybe.)

I think what we saw in that episode was Coulson’s consciousness being scanned or digitized. Loki’s damage upon Coulson was catastrophic- and total. Phil Coulson- the man- died. I think that the being that we’ve watched weekly in the TV show has been a Life Model Decoy with Coulson’s consciousness. (Again, not in this post. It’s a longstanding device associated with S.H.I.E.L.D. in the comics. Human-like androids indistinguishable from people.) We already know that LMD’s exist in the Marvel Living Universe- Tony Stark makes a joking reference to Agent Coulson’s phone call at the beginning of The Avengers– “Sorry, you’ve reached the Life Model Decoy of Tony Stark…”

Third point- he is set into motion against the Avengers by Ultron. Well, there is the fact that the sequel is titled Avengers: Age of Ultron. Need I say more? Well- maybe a point or two.  🙂

In Iron Man 2 we see Tony Stark inherit and expand upon his father’s work. The android body appears at the Stark World Expo. Perhaps- in the MLU’s creative restructuring- that was a failed experiment of Howard Stark that his son uncovers in the archives and decides to tinker with. Ultron- Tony’s creation- becomes self-aware and makes off with the android. Plausible.

Fourth point- Vision’s connection to the Scarlet Witch. Joss Whedon, the man who is arguably building and executing the creative path for the MLU, confirmed last year that Scarlet Witch and her brother, Quicksilver, would be appearing in the Avengers sequel. There’s no guarantee that the Scarlet Witch will appear and marry Vision in a single film. But if you’re introducing a character wouldn’t you want to keep creative options open? Scarlet Witch and Vision- like Henry Pym and Janet (van Dyne) Pym before them- appear as both husband and wife and teammates. If the Pyms are out in the MLU, do Vision and Scarlet Witch offer interesting alternative storytelling possibilities? I think so.

So we’ve got what I think is a convincing collection of information that supports the idea that Vision may make the cut for next year’s Avengers film. Vision becomes a powerful member of the team after threatening them under Ultron’s control. It would represent a perfect utilization of the cross-channel capabilities offered by the big- and small-screen stories. And let’s face it- Coulson, appearing first as a rather generic government agent in the original Iron Man movie, has become a fan favorite representing a regular guy (OK- a very well-trained regular guy) witnessing the super-heroic events leading up to The Avengers. What greater way to use a popular character than make him a member of the team? (I will admit, though, one of my favorite moments in The Avengers is when Phil reveals his awkward man-crush to Cap on the way to the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier.)

Well- what do you think? What does Agent Coulson’s big revelation mean for the Marvel Living Universe? You’ve read this whole thing- now it’s your turn. Leave a comment below!

[August 2014: Well, clearly I was wrong. Even though Tahiti is a magical place, it’s not the place where Coulson becomes Vision. Read about how wrong I was here.]

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One response to “…I Had a Vision, and There Before Me Was a Man Made of Red…

  1. Pingback: Yes, I’ll Have The Crow, Please | TMPinSYR

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