There have been a few people in the Marvel Universe to be called "the Vision," so let's keep this opening introduction simple. In the 1940s, the original Vision was a man called Aarkus, a warrior from another dimension who came to Earth via gateways created by smoke. Decades after Aarkus was last seen, Marvel created a new hero called the Vision. This one was an android originally sent to destroy the superhero team known as the Avengers. Instead, he wound up aiding them and joining their ranks. For many years, the Vision was considered a cornerstone of the team. A few times when he took on a human guise, this android hero used the alias of Victor Shade. When most comic book fans start talking about a hero called the Vision, it's this guy that they mean.
During the story Avengers Disassembled, the Vision was destroyed. But his programming later came back and mixed with new brain-wave patterns to help create a new hero called the Vision (who also uses the human name of "Jonas"). This third Vision emulates the personality of a younger person and has spent most of his time serving with the team called the Young Avengers.
Got it? Great. And now, with the character soon to appear in the cartoon Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and with the comic Avengers Origins: Vision hitting the stands this week, let's look at the ethereal wardrobe that these three heroes have worn over the years.
AARKUS OF SMOKEWORLD
The original Vision was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the same team that created heroes such as Blue Bolt (not so popular after the 1940s) and Captain America (who just had an awesome movie get released on Blu-ray and DVD). The Golden Age of superhero comics (roughly 1938-1951) was a time for experimentation with these new wild and weird characters that could defy physics. So in Marvel Mystery Comics #13, in 1940, Aarkus was introduced as the other-dimensional hero with a strangely large head whom humans would call the Vision.
Aarkus is, when you break it down, a freaky and mysterious alien and so he definitely looks the part. The idea was that smoke could be used to give Aarkus access between Earth and his home dimension and so it makes sense that you would give such a character a dark costume and a big flowing cape that would make him look all the creepier when he was surrounded by smoke and mist. The muted tone of the red and the dark shade of the green prevent the combination from really bringing Christmas to mind. And wisely, Simon and Kirby made Aarkus' green skin tone a different shade than the green of his costume (although in a few comics, his skin took on a pale blue color instead).
But after that, a few details come in that seem to clutter the place. The belt isn't a bad design and has a nicely subtle "V" on it, but it's really damn big. It's sort of like a weightlifter's belt. We can dismiss this as a sign of the times, since a few other Golden Age heroes had similar apparel. But on the other hand, Aarkus has these blue gloves and the exterior of his cape is a bright yellow. Now when you're mixing all these colors together, Aarkus goes from mysterious, shadowy figure to a big primary color wearing champion. It's a little contradictory.
Even if you take the path of considering the gloves to be black and just giving it a bit of blue to indicate texture, it causes a problem because now it's too dark against the already dark green bodysuit.
Although Aarkus didn't really survive past the Golden Age of comics, he is still fondly remembered by some and so he's made a few reappearances in the modern age. A repilca of him appeared in the very famous Avengers story "The Kree-Skrull War". He was seen again in comics that presented stories taking place in the past, such as the 1990s Invaders mini-series where he was recruited by Nazi agents to actually fight against superheroes rather than with them. And in the past few years he's been showing up in Earth's dimension once again. Depending on the artist these modern depictions of him either rely heavily on the bright, clashing colors of his outfit or mute everything so Aarkus can still hold some air of mystery.
Of course, by that time, Aarkus's alias of "Vision" had been taken by a character whose popularity far exceeded his own.
THE SYNTHETIC MAN
During the late 1960s, Roy Thomas had taken over writing duties on the Avengers. The team had been created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as a club of sorts where various heroes who normally pursued solo careers would band together to fight enemies no single hero could take down. Roy Thomas wanted to introduce a slightly inhuman character to the mix to balance out some of the passionate heroes already on the team and to explore how an outsider might view (and try to join) humanity. He suggested bringing back the Golden Age character Aarkus the Vision, but Stan Lee apparently vetoed this and suggested Thomas come up with a different kind of character.
In a previous story, readers had learned that the Avenger named Dr. Hank Pym (AKA Ant-Man I, AKA Giant-Man I, AKA Goliath, and on and on) had created an intelligent robot named Ultron. But this mechanical life form turned against daddy and had taken off, building itself one new body after another until it became a powerful force. Ultron had then led a team of villains against the Avengers and had failed to destroy them. Through Ultron, Roy Thomas introduced his new take on the Vision. It was shown that Ultron had created this new android son, programmed with the brain patterns of the hero Wonder Man in order to give him intelligence, to aid him in his war against humanity and, perhaps, to have someone with whom he could share the glory. Of course, just as Ultron had rebelled against his creator, the Vision followed suit and wound up joining the Avengers.
The new Vision was introduced in Avengers #57 in 1968. From the start, he was a very different character from Aarkus but they had the same quality of seeming eerie and ethereal. Aarkus had relied on smoke often and had other-dimensional powers. The Vision was in no way magical but could definitely be mistaken for a ghost. The android hero could control his own density, becoming intangible as he floated through the air or becoming as durable as a diamond, giving him devastating strength against his enemies. His red skin, blank eyes and jeweled forehead (the jewel was a solar gem that processed solar radiation for fuel and could also release it as energy blasts) all ensured that, even out of costume and in normal clothes, he was a strange sight to behold. Most haunting about him was how he would attack some of his enemies. Often times, the Vision would make his hand intangible, pass it through the body of a villain, and then regain just a fraction of his solidity. This would cause severe disruption and intense pain, often causing the target to pass out as the Vision stood over them, his android face practically a mask covering any emotion.
At times, it was emphasized that the Vision was not an android in the usual sense of the word but was a synthetic man, with synthesized blood, tissues and organs. This led to some writers referring to him as a "synthezoid." In one story, the Vision explored his origins and discovered that he had once apparently been the original hero called the Human Torch, a synthetic man who operated during the Golden Age before being deactivated during the 1950s. Ultron had apparently had the Torch rebuilt and re-programmed into the Vision. Later writer/artist John Byrne complicated this story by saying that the Vision was not the Torch and that it was impossible for him to have ever been the hero since his technology was so different. But almost immediately afterward, Byrne then seemingly contradicted himself by saying that the Vision had been built from the original Torch's "spare parts." Later still, writer Kurt Busiek attempted to clarify some of the contradictory stories by saying that a duplicate of the original Human Torch's body had been created by the villain called Immortus and that this spare version of the android Human Torch had been remodeled to become the Avenger known as the Vision, thus making him more the original Torch's "brother."
In any event, we have a character whose costume is much more unified than Aarkus' suit was. The golden cape is a nice callback to Aarkus but now its solid on both sides of the fabric and it complements the gloves, boots and belt. The belt is interesting but again a little too large for my tastes. I'm also not wild about the shorts over the trousers (though I rarely am when it involves any character created after the 1950s). I'm also not sure if the Vision really needs that green headpiece.
An interesting look definitely and there's a reason why over the years artists keep trying to go back to it in some fashion. But I still think it could do with a tweak or two.
At the same time John Byrne was attempting to redefine the Vision, he put the android character through other changes. Since his creation, the Vision had been a character who, despite his occasional reluctance to admit it, did experience emotions and even shed a tear when he was first asked to join the Avengers. His programming was based on human brain waves so it made some sense (as far as sci-fi comic book logic goes) that he would have some semblance of humanity. He even fell in love for several years. But Byrne didn't care for this and so, in a 1989 story called "Vision Quest", he had the hero get his mind wiped. Although the information of his past was restored to his memory, the brain waves he'd been programmed with were gone, turning him into an emotionless android who didn't even realize he was supposed to miss what he had lost. In the process of all this, his skin went from red to alabaster white (and Byrne apparently decided that he had no actual genitalia, despite previous stories implying otherwise).
Although he initially protested wearing clothes (arguing that he was an android who had no sense of modesty), the Vision donned a new all white costume to go with his all white skin. I say "costume," but really it was a cape and Speedos. Seriously, he didn't even wear boots. On the surface, I understand that what this look is trying to do is to make the Vision look more spectral and ghost-like. It's attempting to make him seem like the kind of guy who you would think would be able to walk through walls and glide through the air by shifting his density so that he also becomes translucent. But it's too much. A white diamond against a white cape against white skin. It's boring. Initially, inkers made sure to give the Vision's skin tone a slightly different hue than his costume, but it didn't change the fact that it was not visually exciting at all and eventually this was dropped, making the Vision one solid color from head to toe.
During the 1990s, the Vision changed again. In a complex story involving visitors from parallel worlds and timelines, the heroic Vision was replaced with a villainous counterpart. This evil double had the same red-skinned body our Vision used to have. After defeating our Vision, the evil twin wanted to infiltrate the Avengers but obviously couldn't do so when his skin was a different color. So he mind-swapped with our heroic Vision. Thus the evil one was now rocking the all-white look and the Vision we'd known and loved for years was restored to a red-skinned body. He was also now wearing an updated version of his classic costume.
This look is actually pretty cool. It's sleek. It's strong. The red diamond is a nice complement to the red skin. The only thing I wonder about is that shade of yellow. Perhaps a deeper golden hue. Perhaps even a pale orange? Likewise, the green could go a bit darker. All in all, though, much more preferable than the all-white look.
Frankly, I'm just amazed and glad that the 1990s makeover of the Vision didn't include shoulder pads and a plethora of pouches, which had become the style of the time for many heroes and anti-heroes in comics.
After wearing this outfit for a while, the Vision and his fellow Avengers wound up temporarily sent to Counter-Earth, another version of Earth where they were reborn and led similar lives. The Vision had a slightly different costume in this reality. It's a sort of mix of the styles of his classic green and gold with the second green and gold version. Not bad, but not as good as the previous looks either. The shorts just don't need to be there, nor does the cord around the collar when the rest of the suit is so sleek.
On returning to the true Earth, the Vision had yet another version of his classic look, this one being a green bodysuit with a simple golden V belt. It's not bad but now you're in danger of making the Vision look as if he's wearing a body stocking. Boots can help with that, as can gloves. Or perhaps he can go gloveless. It's not like this android really needs to worry about his fingerprints leading back to his secret identity.
Very quickly, Vision returned to his classic costume but artists still played with changes to his look. When he used some of his powers, you'd now see circuitry through his skin. Later still, his body would become somewhat transparent whenever he became intangible, allowing readers to see servomotors and a mechanical skeleton peeking through. A very fun effect and it enhances the creepiness factor of this heroic character.
The Vision wore his classic original costume until he was destroyed in "Avengers Disassembled," a story that also saw the famous Avengers team disbanding for several months. But the hero wasn't quite finished yet...
In the pages of Young Avengers, we found out that the Vision's programming had a fail-safe that activated when in the event of his destruction and/or the disbanding of the Avengers. This holographic Vision protocol wound up summoning new heroes to take up the fight against evil. One of these new Young Avengers was a teenage version of the Avengers' long-time enemy Kang the Conqueror. This teen hero wore shape-shifting armor that he designed to emulate Iron Man, calling himself "Iron Lad."
After a major adventure, Iron Lad was gone but his armor remained and became inhabited by the Vision's old programming and by the brainwave patterns of Iron Lad. The armor's shape-shifting nature adjusted for the new sentient being inhabiting it, creating a new Vision, one who had the memories of the long-time member of the Avengers but who did not have the emotional maturity. His viewpoint was also different as his persona was involved brain wave patterns from a different person.
The initial look of this new Vision was a combination of the hero's style and Iron Man's. This definitely gave us a new emphasis on the character's artificial nature. Not bad, but not quite right for this particular character. Very quickly, the new younger Vision altered his appearance to seem more like his classic style. This is a great look but might be too streamlined. Again, a bodystocking only works on certain characters. Boots or a simple belt or clearly defined separation between shirt and trousers can all help.
Although the new Vision has gained his fans and supporters, many folks still miss the classic android hero. With his upcoming appearances in the popular Avengers animated cartoon, we'll see if he winds up making a comeback in the comics as well.
And that, friends, brings us to a close. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
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