Written by Josh Breidbart

The Politics of The Ultimates vs The Avengers

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/06/08/06082017-big-big-trouble/

A while back, my friend was writing a superhero pilot, and asked about developing the hero. He was surprised when I started talking about the setting. But after we talked for a while, he admitted that it made sense. Superhero tales almost always question what the hero’s role is in the world they inhabit. Are they protecting the serenity of the status quo? Are they dismantling a broken system? Are they just trying to be a glimmer of light in a dark place? Though all of these can provide a satisfying narrative, as I have grown older, I have become more suspicious of door number one. I find it especially unsettling given that it seems to point to the idea that the real-world status quo should be maintained at all costs – a state of affairs that is not just faulty, but can stoop to “alternative truths”, if you will.

Not that I want to talk about the real world here, of course. Well, not directly. The truth is, classic superhero tales have always taken a look at the psychic landscape of their day and reacted to it in any way that seemed to fit. Today, a crooked Captain America has seized power in the Marvel universe through lies and deception. The story was in the works while the election was still going on, but that chilling feeling was already in the air. Unrest. Distrust. An unending labyrinth of secrets, shrouded in darkness. Almost eighty years ago, Captain America got his start as a Nazi punching soldier when we needed one. And in the grieving, defiant, vengeful post-9/11 years, there was The Ultimates.

Ah, Mark Millar’s The Ultimates. A fittingly disturbing Bush II-era Avengers story. This was one of the more clever depictions of the world as it was then, interweaving uncomfortable political truths with humor, though for the life of me, I can’t tell if it was written as parody or the genuine article. Perhaps it’s both. But what’s even more interesting about this story of terrorist-fighting men from another time (in some cases more literally than in others) is how they retold it in 2012’s The Avengers. Combining both The Ultimates 1 & 2, the greatest difference was the tonal shift. Listing every difference between the two interpretations would take up a whole blog post, but a few of the changes are indicative of the whole. Gone was the warmongering; now, the theme was of protection, the assurance of a better tomorrow through the deeds of a band of heroes who were all different, but all dedicated to the same ideals. Kinda reminds you of a previous President, wouldn’t you say? As the world shifted, so did the story.

The world matters. The world is what the hero is fighting for. It might be a world that needs to be preserved, or redeemed, or saved, or seized. Whatever it is, the world is the hero’s reason for being. And knowing what makes the world worth it is what illustrates a hero. What the people need. What’s greater than the sum of their faults.

And I have to be honest, right now, I’m very curious what kind of hero our world will produce. Because, mark my words… they are coming.

An Easy Lay

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/06/06/06062017-the-inevitable-confrontation/

So, I have this Megazord pin I keep on my jacket. It’s silly and cute, and since I have to dress professionally at work, I like to find ways to liven my outfit up a tad. The thing is, though I have fond childhood memories of the franchise, the pin prompted weeks of the question, “Are you going to see the movie?” To which my response was and still is –

How easy a lay do you think I am?

I’ve mentioned this more than once on this blog, usually in discussing my standards for comic book movies (i.e. the fact that I have them). But I do have specific issues with corporate mandated reboots created solely because a property still has market value. They go through the tried-and-true motions, sometimes pandering directly to nostalgia, always applying Instagram filters to familiar visuals that give the franchise a fresh new flavor. By the film’s end, you’re covered in bruises from having so many producers elbow you and whisper “Remember that? See what we did there? You remember Tommy and Lord Zedd, right?” It’s embarrassing.

And I speak as though the source material here was pure. Most of my memories of the Power Rangers have nothing to do with my love of the show. I did love it, but it never taught me the kind of lessons that made other shows memorable: never giving up, standing up for the truth, or that with great power comes great responsibility. Instead I learned that fighting monsters is cool, and fighting them with a giant robot is even cooler. And so, when I think of the show now, I mostly think of the toys, and not in a positive sense. They were expensive and hard to find, and although we all wanted them, getting them was a letdown; they were clunky and just… odd. My memories of the actual stories and characters would hardly fill one episode. But I’m sure that whatever remains will appear in the new movie, part of one never-ending commercial.

I’m not sure what it is that makes people throw themselves at content based on nerd properties, no matter the quality. At this point, we’re lucky enough to have more out there just for us than we could ever get through in a lifetime. Why waste time on anything less than solid? I understand that people can disagree on what art is and how quality is determined, but for me personally, neither one is about finding something universal for a pre-disposed audience and milking it for every cent. Making good art is about revealing your truth to your audience and revealing theirs to them in turn. Telling a story about what’s important to you that shows someone else what’s important to them. And when a world that I fell in love with, that means something to me, is used to nickle and dime me, I resent it.

Am I too cynical? We have seen very recently how commercialized art can make a huge difference for some people. And their reactions are no less valid, which clouds the issue. I can’t fault people for having such genuine responses to a Power Rangers movie, or less recently, a Ghostbusters movie aimed at someone more like you. I get wanting to relive and experience or to feel more connected to it than ever.
But to me, it rings hollow and untrue.

Though, hell, I am wearing the pin which was clearly made to promote the movie I’m getting so indignant about…  if I’d willingly subject myself to that, maybe it does mean more to me than I admit.


Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/06/01/06012017-the-following-contest-is-scheduled-for-one-fall/

I got home just a few minutes ago, frankly starving. My lovely wife offered to make dinner, and to kill some time, I decided to bang a blog out (not this one… this came in between that and desert). I had mostly finished writing when dinner was done, and somehow, I was no longer hungry. What gives?

There’s this old cliche called the starving artist, who sacrifices material possessions (food is a material?) in order to dedicate more resources towards their art. I was a starving artist for a time, hardly able to buy what I needed, much less what I wanted, never able to afford nights out with friends. And that’s not the case now that I have a 9 to 5 of my own. And yet, when I write, the rest of me is…
Sated. That would be the best word. I don’t think appeased works. Quelled? The point is, hunger can’t touch me. Because I’m not there right now.

I become weirdly numb after firing on all cylinders. A similar thing happens when I’m in “day job” work mode, where I have to just be on and answering. This exhausting rigor of smiling professionalism that feels inhuman because you are trying to present yourself as better than human. It leaves me fried, and somehow hungry. The food I crave in that state isn’t sustenance, it’s excitement – the jolt of pleasure that flavor can provide. Something to do and enjoy. To revive my mind, which has become so burnt.

Considering that, it’s strange that after working just as hard on my writing, powering through, I’m so indifferent to food. It’s almost as though I dug myself into a hole and I’m too tired to even lift myself out. I grudgingly take bites of my dinner, and as delicious as it may be, it can’t hold my attention. This removal I feel from writing is far more potent than the one at my day job. Perhaps because it fires on other cylinders, located closer to my heart and soul. It allows an access to a form of clarity for a single moment. And instead of trying to return from it, I bask in it. I draw a different kind of satiety and comfort from it.

Artistic enlightenment is not so mighty as to eliminate the need for regular meals and a healthy body. It’s only nourishment for the soul, I’m afraid. But time and again, I starve in its pursuit, because there couldn’t possibly be anything more that I need.

Dark Souls 3 – A Ringed DLC

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/05/30/05302017-the-sister-of-mercy/

I find myself blogging about Dark Souls again, despite the fact that my journey with the series has come to a close (mostly… your time will come, Midir). The staggered DLCs, first Ashes of Ariandel, then The Ringed City, have served as an epilogue for both story and gameplay. Ashes was a fine romp, the most memorable aspect being the killer boss fight that caps it off. The Ringed City has served more as a “Best Of” compilation of all the touches that made the series so unique, revisiting the gameplay mechanics and challenges that made the original a classic. With the ramp up in overall toughness, one lesson has crystallized throughout my hours this universe:

If you want to win, keep your enemies close.

Now, granted, I have only ever played these games as a melee fighter, but I think the metaphor is apt no matter your class. A lucky shot or a killer spell cannot do all the work for you, and when it does, it serves as a special exception to the rules. For the most part, staying in close proximity to your foe, learning and understanding its attacks and patterns, and then punishing it when it presents openings, is the surest way to victory. There is no boss I remained stuck on when the prevailing change was normally “drop the shield, stop running away, and face these demons”. And that bit of metaphorical subtlety is why I fell for the series to begin with.

In the past, I have mentioned that Dark Souls came at a fortunate time in my life, when I had lost a friendship and the depression and darkness was overwhelmingly inescapable. Dark Souls created a outlet where, yes, the darkness and the challenges it presented were everywhere. And yes, it often seemed impossible to overcome. But that’s what made my ultimate conquering of its and my demons equally satisfying.

There was a sadness as I approached the final stages of the final DLC of the series. The franchise’s future is in stasis for the moment, not unlike the world of Dark Souls, where time itself perpetually shifts and changes, and the only guarantee is uncertainty. The difficulty of the game, and the emotional catharsis that resulted with each victory, do not need to be relegated to this game series alone. And yet, this farewell tour through my own past reminded me of how far I have come in my own life, in conquering my own demons. I played the original Dark Souls a little over 6 years ago, a blink of an eye in the grand scheme. And yet, it has been its own epoch to me, with valuable lessons of its own.

Don’t run away from your fears; face them.

Don’t cower at the size of your enemy; learn who they are, how they think and what they can do.

Don’t try to stop or resist an attack when you can counter it.

Don’t hang out with that guy with the English accent of dubious accuracy.

You are in the world of Dark Souls of your own volition. You can turn it off, never to return to the dying lands of Lordran, if you so choose. But getting one final chance to assail the darkness, to venture forth into the nightmare and strike back, reminded me of lessons that have become a core part of my being since Dark Souls first drew me in. That your enemies are scary, and powerful, and overwhelming. But they are not invincible. All you need is the courage to face them.

Mind the Chicken Scratch

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/05/25/05252017-it-was-over-in-5-minutes/

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* Translation:

I want to talk about something I usually avoid: handwriting.

If you haven’t picked up on it already, my handwriting is goddamn atrocious. But I also believe it’s illustrative in a way. It has a unique look to it, a frenetic and wild appearance only slightly resembling the letters and words it’s supposed to represent. As if they’ve been hurriedly pulled over an idea, like a shirt that you throw on and then realize is inside out, backwards or both. I think it’s because of how fast I think as opposed to how fast I can write (as opposed to how fast I can type – which is notably quicker). I am thinking of each sentence and the one that follows, each idea forming and exiting just as quickly, my hand barely able to keep up. Mot of the time when I’m writing, I just have to trust my instincts and hope Future Josh understands what the fuck Past Josh was talking about. It’s like time-travelling, only awful and lame.

I try to relegate my handwriting to notes I can retranslate later or to warm-up writing exercises. Never in my life have I written something by hand and thought, “That looks professional.” In a sense, seeing my handwriting is like seeing me without clothing on. I feel like you are all seeing me for the first time, my writing in its true form, rather than hidden behind the mask of Arial 11. It’s my own textual way of constructing the professional facade that most people get from putting on a suit.

I wanted to do a blog like this, I suppose because of the timing – this interlude on fantasy versus reality. On magnificent and awe-inspiring illusions thrown up against the jarring drudgery of the real world. I’ll probably never do a blog like this again; the fantasy of Arial size 11 is more appealing. Every time I look at my handwriting, I feel like I’m showing off how unrefined and “ugly” I am. It looks ugly to me, at least. And the worst of it is, the words are so hard to even understand sometimes that the intent is lost. The emotional core of what I’m trying to establish is compromised and imperceptible. A pre-prepared font everyone can understand bridges some of that.

I hate my handwriting. I hate it because it’s just so uninterruptedly me. Warts and all. And sometimes I like to pretend that I’m a little more…

Normal, I guess.

A Different Perspective on the Same Subject

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/05/23/05232017-anti-hero/

The world is a tricky place (or, if you believe Billy Corgan, a vampire). As I remember every time I review my own writing, the chasm between intent and effect is one of the most discouraging things about trying to communicate. It makes itself known in everyday life, but it can be exponentially worse when cultural differences come into play. This can be as life-and-death serious as war, or as seemingly frivolous as children’s entertainment. But considering how much more the latter influences me, as well as most people, I think it’s worthy of a closer look.

Japanese anime has always “stood out” to my senses, much more dynamic and engaging than American cartoons. In a great many way, anime “scarred me” at an early age; nothing else lived up to it, could match that hype and energy. Most people didn’t understand me as a kid as I waxed poetic about DBZ, Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop, and so many others; they smiled and nodded, but never “got it”. As an adult, I thought, maybe I could bridge that gap for children. And to an extent, I have. But some bridges are more easily built than others.

On a Saturday when I wasn’t feeling especially like an adult, Jena and I went to Grand Central, where Tamashii Nation was celebrating their new line of toys with a Dragon Ball themed event. As expected, the anime obsessed child re-emerged. And it was awesome.

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Like most of these events, this one was awash with promotional freebies – including the first issue of Dragonball. Immediately envisioning handing out copies at school, opening a door for other children looking for that same anime thrill, I snatched a handful of them…

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that I couldn’t give out a single one without definitely being fired.

Dragonball is definitely a kids’ book, but it’s a Japanese kids’ book. The content is not titillating, nor inappropriately violent. It’s all in good fun. That said, I would like to list some of the things that happen in this short issue.

•    Goku, a 12-year-old at this point, drop kicks a fish while naked. Multiple panels deliver uninterrupted shots of his penis.
•    Bulma, a 16-year-old, shoots Goku in the head at point-blank range with a handgun.
•    In an attempt to relieve Goku of his last memento of his grandfather, Bulma offers to flash him. Again: she is 16, he is 12.
•    After Goku saves her life, Bulma screams and pees herself. It’s shown in graphic detail. This panel is how the issue ends.

I am not here to pass judgement on any of the above – I just want to point out that all of the above is beyond the pale in this country, but beyond prosaic in Japan. This comic was and is marketed to kids. It’s been around since 1984, and 33 years later, it’s no more scandalous to Japanese sensibilities, nor the Dragon Ball canon (I mean, tell me that shit with Mai and Trunks isn’t just a teensy bit sketchy). You might be thinking that this is all sorts of weird, and I’m not going to say I disagree. But my point is that, even now, this comic is mass produced in Japan, handed out for free as an adventure aimed at kids. And you would be destroyed for attempting to depict a fraction of this in America, much less give it away  to children, intent be damned.

One last time, it’s important to stress that this blog post isn’t about what is and is not appropriate for children. It’s about cultural differences through the lens of childhood: what each culture has established as norms, as appropriate and inappropriate for its children, and how radically different they are. Anime in particular has a way of playing fast and loose with rules of nudity, sexuality, and mature content in a way that American cartoons don’t. And a lot of that plays into the wider culture that produces these forms of entertainment. We don’t even need to point at Japan’s incredibly problematic pornography subculture and low birthrate or America’s weird brand of slutty puritanism and onanistic violence to make this point. Neither culture produces children’s books to shock or make any grandstanding point. It’s just entertainment (though I know a great many politicians that would label it as “corruption”).

I’ve mentioned in the past that what I got into was Dragon Ball Z, not Dragon Ball. This is a different brand of content than what I fell in love with. This conversation about culture and the varying impacts on impressionable young children is one worth having. But even if, one day, I really feel like I have a grasp on it…

I don’t think I’ll be sharing these comics.

Can’t Look Back

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/05/18/05182017-a-handy-lesson/

Who here likes looking at their old work?

Yeah, me neither. Even reading more than a few pages of what I would once have considered my magnum opus rubs me like sandpaper now. I don’t see the accomplishment, but rather its shortcomings. What once was my everything now only strikes me as an embarrassment. A thing that can’t live up to its own hype.

I distinctly remember my first Comic Con, back when Unlife was only a few pages in. I had a table where I sold the first (and only) trade of Fenix Gear after what felt like agonizing years of production, not to mention a false-cancer diagnosis, a new job, and a new wife on the horizon. So much effort, all coming down to one event that I had hoped would be my big splash into the comics scene… where I sold hardly an eighth of what I had expected. I had truly believed that this would be the moment where my life would change forever, and then it didn’t. Upon that realization, I took a walk through the deep crowd, losing myself for a few moments, until I stumbled upon the promotional booth for Asura’s Wrath, a DBZ-like action game. They had set up a “scream tank”, where you were challenged to release your best Dragon Ball-like scream of fury. I reached into the depths of my soul…

And blew out the machine on my first try.

It’s been about 6 years since then, and a lot has changed in my life. But one of the greatest change is the way I look at my past work; what I once considered the pinnacle of my art now feels… lacking, I suppose.

That’s the real ephemeral quality about art, isn’t it? An expression of a moment, circumscribed by your current skills and outlook on life. And as life changes, and as you change, so does that viewpoint. It’s like going to school; at first, the place feels so big and mighty. As you grow, and as it grows more familiar and comfortable, it diminishes, eventually too small to hold you at all. I feel the same too about fictional worlds I once devoured, few of which survived the marathon of years, a very great many becoming indelibly scarred by an unmistakable corporate agenda. Many more of those remaining are, upon reflection, less sincere and less mature than I once believed them to be. Considering all that, and considering the canon of art that is considered “timeless”, it’s insane to believe that any work can make it 16 years, much less 16 centuries or more.

A lot of this carries into Unlife; both the art and writing have evolved heavily during these last six years. Though I still read the old backlog, I can only look at my mistakes as if I made them today, rather than recognizing them as markers of how far I’ve come.

It’s hard not to want that mark to last and feel like more. Something that matters not just in the moment, but eternally. Something I want to look at again and again and see the beauty, not the mistakes. But maybe I can’t because it doesn’t belong to me anymore. It’s on the page, or the web, for everyone else to see, react to, and engage with.

Maybe that’s why I can’t look at it anymore. Because it’s become something all its own. The meaning has changed. I still care about it. I still love it. But it’s not just mine anymore.

Maybe that’s what being a parent feels like.

Diversity Isn’t a Checklist

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/05/16/05162017-in-the-rye/

Now that Ghost in the Shell has tanked, and the point about whitewashing has been made, I kind of want to see it. In truth, it only looks visually interesting. My interest comes from the fact that it’s Hollywood’s largest budget adaptation of an anime property to date, which may start seeing new life when the superhero fad runs its course. But something interesting about this whole whitewashing controversy seems in a lack of understanding of what people want. If I had to boil this down to a single sentence, it’s this.

Diversity isn’t a checklist.

In this case I’m talking about race, but you can also sub in gender, nationality, creed, and so on and still understand what I’m saying. I once saw a movie where a fictitious kingdom with its own unique history and its own non-human population had token black and Asian warriors. And I do mean token. The insertion of American ideas of race was glaring and strange. Did this culture, too, have a dark history of slavery and racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia? Why? Where did the slaves and immigrants even come from when this is supposed to be the only place these creatures live? And don’t get me started on how it handled gender. Look – any story can be a place for any kind of person. But weaving them in as a natural part of the narrative requires an understanding of who they are and why they’re there. That happens pretty seamlessly with characters who look like me. Everyone else has a harder time.

In defense of the Hollywood monster, it’s a huge industry, people’s jobs are on the line, and going with proven star power is an understandable choice, even when it doesn’t actually work when you crunch the numbers (yeah, that happens). It feels nice and safe. It is also understandable that people used to seeing themselves reflected exactly and universally might feel slighted when that starts happening less. If you’ve always been assured that the whole pie was yours, every slice you have to give up is a letdown, even if you know it’s right.

So what is the grand solution, if it’s not just swapping in a pre-determined proportion of minorities? Well, I’d venture to say that both the question and the answer are wrong. It’s not about literal representation (or at least not only that). It’s about the larger sense of inclusion in society, both in the movies and in the culture that makes them.

A little anecdote: not long ago, I went to the theater to see Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection of F. I was excited, this being the first time I’d seen Dragon Ball on the big screen (we don’t talk about Evolution. We never talk about Evolution…). The theater was packed with fans, and a large majority were black. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen Dragonball Z, but most characters are Asian and white, with a few colorfully-complected aliens for variety (and Mr. Popo… but we also don’t talk about him). This obviously didn’t deter my fellow audience members; somehow, this stupid flick about a guy with blue hair fighting a lizard didn’t just transcend race, it appealed directly to another. Why? I posited this question to a friend of mine, previously the only black DBZ fan I knew, and without hesitation he answered.

“Because Goku and Vegeta are minorities.”

The concepts represented by these two characters, he said, was rich with themes important to African Americans, even if they didn’t realize it. Both separated forever from their true home, one embraces this new culture and becomes its protector and champion. The other, royalty in his own land but his circumstances now reduced, bitterly holds onto the pride of his culture, refusing to let it die, even though he suffers for it. And through willpower, through perseverance, they not only survive, but come together and succeed – not as humans, but as Saiyans.

Dragon Ball Z is by no means a model for how not to be racist, and telling stories that resonate with minority audiences is not a substitute for diversity. But it is important. I know this is a tricky issue to navigate, but ultimately it’s about a sense of inclusion. An acknowledgement that everyone’s part of the party, and everyone’s gifts are valuable, and maybe taking someone else’s gift and claiming it as your own because it’s a “send-up” and you “improved it” is a bad idea. You can set numbers for how many people in your cast will represent every race and nationality, but it’s just lip service until you invest your time in their unique story. And in the end, you’ll probably realize that their world is your world, their path looks a lot like your own; it’s just that the constellations at that parallel are a little different.

Diversity is not a checklist. It is the clipboard that holds the checklist. It is a foundation.
But without that support, your pen is going to punch a hole into your hand.

Behold, A Vision – Part 2

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/05/09/05092017-naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiil/

This is a blog post about Virginia. I think.

Last time, we talked about my general opinions about The Vision. I went easy on spoilers. But on reviewing the blog, I realized it was so spoiler-averse that it left out what I took from it. WHY I enjoyed it so much. So, this week, we’ll be taking a closer look at Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision. The TL;DR spoiler free version is “Please read this book. In an attempt to not destroy a mainstay Marvel hero, they may have accidentally made him a weird sexist crazy person”. You’ve been warned.

Though the book is called The Vision, the defining character for me was Virginia. Virginia refers to both the location where the story takes place – the Vision’s home, far from the perils of superheroics – and and his wife, a synthezoid he built based on the brainwaves of his ex-wife, Wanda Maximoff (aka: The Scarlet Witch). Both represent a sense of safety and comfort for Vision. They allow him to be like everyone else. Not just a machine Ultron built, but a real living person.

You may have noticed that I started that paragraph saying we’d be talking about Virginia, and ended up talking about The Vision. See, I’d really like to talk about this person who tried to live. She seemed to desire a normal life even more than Vision; though she was even further removed from humanity than her husband and creator, she tried to keep her family and life intact, even as it turned to dust in her hands, with unmatched tenacity. And she does so out of love, whatever her definition of it is. But my point is, it’s not really “her” definition of love. It’s Vision’s.

Think about that for a second. Virginia loves the Vision, the being who created her. She was made from someone else’s brainwaves, someone else who was the Vision’s lover, but who had her own separate existence as well. Virginia, on the other hand, exists only to be the Vision’s replacement companion. She was never a partner in a relationship. She’s merely a prop in Vision’s drama. She is at the eye of Hurricane Vision, and for a fleeting moment, the winds bring together the facade of a normal life, before dashing it all away again. Forced into the darkness by her husband, both in terms of plot and story structure, the story even implies domestic violence, though it’s never explicit. The one thing that remains clear is that Vision is the creator, the man of the house, and these are his lives to control. His wife and children exist to soothe his own obsessions, his perverted image of what a family is, their own unique experiences diminished and dismissed even as they discover facets of life that he, under his Marvel contract, cannot.

What drives me crazy, above all else, is that I feel Vision is constantly given “permission” to create these masturbatory fantasies for himself. He is GIVEN the brainwaves of the Scarlet Witch to use. He abuses his powers and his influence over his family to keep them with him, all under the guise of “right”. And he is still, somehow, the victim of these insane shenanigans. I know, because the plot told me. But there’s something there, something beneath the surface that feels all too real and harrowing. If Vision has found a semblance of humanity, it is definitely not in the positive sense.

Notable aside: Vision had twin boys with Scarlet Witch (who weren’t real, but creations of the witch’s magic). With Virginia, he has twins, a boy and a girl (who weren’t real, but creations of the Vision’s science). Do with this info as you will.

In the end, all I see is the Vision, unable to deal with the loss of how he defined humanity and emotion, spurning every opportunity to save himself. And the most masturbatory part of all of this is this is just ONE MORE ADVENTURE FOR THE VISION. Next time, he gets to fight a squid from outer space or something. A blip in the grand scheme of the character’s history, while Virginia had but a few fleeting issues to live. Her experiences are, ultimately, defined by this self-aggrandizing world the Vision built, a world that was always destined to fail as these comic adventures always do. And it doesn’t feel fair that that’s all Virginia had. It was disturbing, and upsetting, and mesmerising. It’s the way I felt during Ex Machina, ruminating over whether I witnessed a true reflection of humanity or a darker expression of it (also, if you haven’t seen that, please do because it’s incredible).

I wanted to talk about Virginia. But I can’t, because she’s a fantasy, never truly there.

Merely a vision.

Behold, A Vision – Part 1

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2017/05/04/05042017-go-from-there/

I am not a fan of the Vision. I never disliked him, but he wasn’t a hero I grew up on, nor one I related to in terms of story or arc, and I always found his costume off-putting. But he is an essential Avenger, and with his introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes a corresponding push to spotlight the character in the comics. Which leads us to the 12-issue 2016 series The Vision, by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta.

Unexpectedly, I found myself entranced the second I caught a glimpse of the “Leave it to Beaver” style covers or came across one of the (uniformly gushing) reviews. So when The Vision appeared on my Marvel Unlimited app, I started reading issue 1 – and almost immediately stopped. This was a book to be savored in full size. I bought both volumes as soon as I could get my hands on them, infatuated for the first time with the Vision, his arc, and even his stupid fucking costume. In no understated terms, I loved (almost) every single bit of this comic.

The Vision stars the titular superhero as he and his family adjust to life in the suburbs of Virginia. And by family, I mean the wife and kids that he built for himself in an attempt to achieve a human definition of normalcy. His wife Virginia is based off of another Avenger’s brain waves, and her CPU combines with the Vision’s to create two kids, Viv and Vin. In spite of their origins, all three have their own personalities, desires, and questions, particularly about humanity and their unique place in it. As the story progresses, it peels back the “perfect family” veneer and explores the damage done to and because of them in their pursuit of family, love, and acceptance in the face of a lot of… let’s just call it fucked up shit.

There is a bravery to this book and what it allows Tom King to do, though less so than “Truth: Red, White, and Black”. What’s good about new characters like Virginia and the kids is that they are a blank slate, and as disposable as one, allowing them to become flawed beyond redemption. But though the Vision himself indulges in his own share of badness, it never cuts deep enough to hurt Marvel’s brand. The Marvel master plan has its hooks embedded deep in The Vision, which unfortunately prevents the series from getting as dark as the surprising first few issues promise. For instance, when the Vision experiences a terrible loss, there’s a natural pain and anger you’d expect to follow. We see some of that, but the progression of his character is hampered by forced framing and unnecessary plot points that seem to have been squeezed in just to keep the character properly heroic for his next movie. Now, I’m not of the opinion that stories have to be dark to be good. I’m saying this book clearly wants to be dark and is being held back – and that’s a shame. Because when it doesn’t hold back…

It’s entrancingly dark. Especially Virginia, the Vision’s wife, who we see slowly unravel as the problems mount, unable to fix what appears broken, developing a “speech impediment” indicating her somewhat fractured state. It was also heartbreaking to see Victor again. Victor was a core member of The Runaways, one of my favorite comics from way back when. Another child of Ultron, the book acknowledges him and the Vision as brothers, bringing him in as the cool Uncle until his unfortunate fall from grace.

The writing in this series is so spot on. Tom King deserves extra credit for capturing the subtleties of a conversation between a husband and wife, while still applying the filter of synthesized human. The art is also beautiful, the red skin of the Vision and co. highlighted against more subdued colors and backgrounds. Both words and art paint a portrait of beings that stand out from the world, unable to be normal, too different to belong. This is a story that captures something much more intimate and profound than a Marvel book usually does.

And it does it so well that I went from complete indifference toward the Vision to rooting for him and his family to succeed. It takes a powerful story to make someone as stubborn as me do such a 180.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Go read it.

Because next time, spoilers be damned, we’re gonna talk about it in greater detail.