There are classic Spider-Man stories and there are classic stories with Spider-Man. This is one of the latter. But does it deserve its classic reputation?
With this issue, Spidey appears in three straight Avengers issues. But to fully appreciate this story, we have to look at an issue that has no Spidey in it: Avengers #57, October 1968. It is in that issue that the Vision first appears and attacks Janet (the Wasp) Van Dyne’s penthouse apartment. We learn from her that the Vision’s voice sounds “like something out of a grave.” When she shrinks and flees through the keyhole of a locked door, the Vision follows by passing right through the wall itself. The Vision attacks her with heat beams from his “thermoscopic eyes” but is suddenly struck with pain and collapses. At Avengers Mansion, Hank Pym examines the Vision as the Wasp, Black Panther, and Hawkeye look on. Hank discovers that the Vision is “every inch a human being except that his bodily organs are constructed of synthetic materials.” He is a “synthozoid.”
While being examined, the Vision wakes up and tears into the Avengers. He mouths off and tells them that he “can completely control his own density.” When Hank becomes Goliath and pins him down with a giant hand, the Vision declares that, “I was sent to destroy you…and destroy you I must! I must!” In spite of his vow, the Vision calms down. He has a feeling that he should be allied with the Avengers and he suddenly remembers “the one who created me…ordered me to destroy you! It was a metal being…who called himself Ultron-5!” I suspect that Avengers: Age of Ultron has filled everyone in on who Ultron is but, for the record, he is a robot that…well, that’s a lot of what our reviewed issue is all about. He first appears as the Crimson Cowl in Avengers #54, July 1968 so he is very much a new character and still a mystery at this time. “It is uncanny,” says the Vision, “but now that I have plumbed my dim memories back as far as they will go…I no longer feel any desire to attack you! In fact, if you wish, I’ll lead you to him who…created me!” The Avengers don’t trust him but they agree so they take an “air-cruiser” to Ultron-5’s “subterranean stronghold” whose secret entrance opens for them because, apparently, the Vision is amongst them. “Just who is he…and why is he so fanatical about destroying the Avengers?” asks Hank about Ultron but even the Vision does not know. The Vision also doesn’t know that Ultron “designed him to black out at that crucial moment so that he would be taken into the Avengers own mansion!” (Why didn’t he just attack the mansion to begin with?) Ultron adds, “He does not suspect that, alternatively, I had programmed a second reaction in him…that if he failed to destroy them, he would lead them here…where I could annihilate them!”
Ultron attacks them with “erupting flames” and androids. As Hank puts it,”Ultron-5 has more kinds of androids than Andy Warhol has soup cans!” One of those androids captures Hank while the other Avengers are trapped between two slowly closing walls. The Vision phases through the wall and confronts Ultron. They battle, with the Vision asking why he has human emotions and Ultron refusing to answer him. Finally, the Vision tricks Ultron into colliding with a machine that causes an explosion. With Ultron’s apparent death, the walls open up and Hank’s android captor collapses. The Avengers find Ultron’s headless body. They speculate that the heat disintegrated Ultron’s head but it is, instead, above ground in a landfill. A kid finds it and plays with it but then leaves it behind to menace the Avengers again.
Right. That’s what came before, with a “Next” caption, reading “Who is the Vision?” Maybe we’ll find out in our spotlighted issue, beginning now.
The Avengers have lately been the Black Panther, Goliath, the Wasp, and Hawkeye as shown in the last issue. Now, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America join them, beginning on the cover which is classic John Buscema; a pencil rendition of the Vision filling the white background while the Avengers, in front, are caught in poses that denote action and urgency. The splash page, however, is Buscema in an Eisner-Steranko mode as the Black Panther is perched on the wall of a building with the dark Manhattan skyline behind. His shadow extends down a wall that seems to be shot with a searchlight, illuminating it and the title, “Even An Android Can Cry,” that stands out in bold and brick from the wall’s surface.
The “Avengers Assemble” word has gone out (How, I don’t know.) and the Panther has heeded the call. He leaps down from the rafters in Avengers Mansion and is so surprised why what he sees that he yells out, “By the crags of Kilimanjaro!” (Because, you know, he’s African.) What has surprised him? That the meeting of the Avengers not only includes the Vision but Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man. In fact, the Wasp points out that the Panther hasn’t even met Thor and Iron Man before. So, what has come up that requires the presence of the “on leave” Avengers? Simply that the Vision wishes to join the group. The Panther thinks the Vision’s power would make a fine addition but Iron Man wants to know about the Vision himself. “Just who is the Vision?” he asks. Thor also wants to know. (So did last issue’s “Next” blurb.) So, Cap decides to do what super-heroes always tend to do in these situations. He attacks the Vision to get a sense of his powers, in spite of the Wasp’s plea that “there’s no need for any fighting…for reckless, senseless violence.”
Cap leaps at the Vision but the Vision turns intangible and Cap goes right through. The Vision says, “Had I so desired, I could have made my density many times that of a human…and you would have felt you had slammed into a brick wall!” For some reason, this gets Iron Man’s dander up. He attacks the Vision with his repulsor rays but they have no effect. When the Vision lifts Iron Man up in the air, Thor has had enough. Defending his colleague, he wades into the Vision. They go toe-to-toe until Thor finally knocks Vision across the room. He plans to follow up his attack until Goliath steps in and tells Thor that Cap was only “trying to goad you into fighting the Vision to graphically show what powers he had!” And, you know, it just shouldn’t be that easy.
The emeritus Avengers agree that Vision’s power would be a great help to the group but they still want to know who he is. But that’s something that even the Vision doesn’t know.
So, the group settles down around their large round table. Thor chairs the meeting. He pulls out a scroll and reads from it. “In all the annals of herodom assembled…in all the chronicles of courage written since the dawn of human memory…there be no figures more looming…no names more inscribed in untarnished glory…than those who have swelled the proud ranks of…the Avengers!” (Think they’re a little high on themselves?) He continues, “Both those who have been chosen and those who were but called…have served with distinction…and have earned themselves forever a place in the history of a strife-cursed world.” And this is our moment for Spider-Man. In a full-page illustration that looks like it was originally drawn as a pin-up, Spidey joins the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, the Black Widow, Goliath, the Wasp, Hercules, Hawkeye, Cap, Thor, Black Panther, Hulk, and Iron Man. (Goliath’s right arm is cut off by the panel border which seems a strange thing to do, unless this was originally one page of a two page pin-up. Only, if it was, then who else was in the pin-up?) Spidey gets to be in this group on the basis of his invitation in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #3 (Story 1), 1966, I suppose, but it seems strange to include him here.
Right. So, Thor carries on some more and Cap laments that they can’t vet the Vision fully because they can’t probe his memory. So, the Vision tries really, really hard and…guess what? It works. He remembers coming out of a big glass tube with Ultron-5 standing before him. Ultron tells Vision to call him “master” and Vision complies but he is also “consumed with curiosity,” which doesn’t please Ultron all that much.
Ultron instructs Vision in his powers but Vision complains, “You told me only what powers I possess…not what I wish to know! Who am I? What name is mine?” To which Ultron answers, “No name, clown! What need has an inhuman slave of a name…even a number?” Vision tries to resist but Ultron’s will is too strong and, in the end, he sets out to kill the Avengers. “The one I hate most will now be destroyed,” says Ultron, offering us a bit of a clue.
After Vision finishes, Goliath notes, “he’s a sun-powered android…a walking solar battery similar to an type of artificial human I worked on months ago…and termed a synthozoid.” Hawkeye remembers when Hank was working on that but Hank can’t remember what happened to that experiment. That seems a bit strange to the group so they head over to Hank’s lab in his now-boarded up house. Inside, he finds that all of his equipment is intact, although covered in dust. But his last memory is of the lab in ruins after a battle with Dragon Man, back in Avengers #41, June 1967. He places himself in his “electronic memory bank” and he recalls himself in the lab, saying, “Dragon Man and I really tore up this place the other day!” which implies that this scene takes place shortly after Avengers #41. The only problem is that Hank is wearing his red and blue costume that doesn’t replace the blue and gold costume until Avengers #51, April 1968. He uses the data he picked up from Dragon Man before the battle to create “a crude yet workable robot…a faltering step on the path to synthetic life.” But then the robot speaks, saying “Da da” and quickly maturing (from one panel to the other) so that he says, “No need to plug me in, Daddy…I’m alive just like you.” The robot then fires a force bolt at him, forcing Hank to grow to Goliath-size in order to defend himself. The robot moves on from “daddy” to “dad” to “father,” with its attempts to kill Hank growing more serious. “It’s like a living mechanized Oedipus Complex,” thinks Hank, and there, in that one sentence, is all the character development Ultron has ever gotten (or, perhaps, ever needs).
Hank tries to fight back but the robot defeats him with his “searing blasts.” Instead of killing Hank, though (which I thought was the point), it implants a hypnotic command to “forget this incident…and make immediate arrangements to abandon this dwelling forever.” The robot then plows through an outside wall, startling a bystander (who probably should have gone to the police or to Hank so that this all could have been explored sooner). It vows to “return and finish the task which you, a mere human, could merely begin…the task of my own flawless creation!” By the time Jan finds Hank sitting in the rubble, he can no longer remember what happened.
The flashback ended, Hank removes himself from his memory machine, just in time for another flashback. But, first, Cap has to explain it again in case anyone didn’t get it. “Your renegade robot later returned and repaired these very machines…and evolved itself into Ultron-5!” Iron Man points out that “the memory tape we recorded for Wonder Man is gone.” Hawkeye wonders “what is a Wonder Man?” and we’re off, back to Avengers #9, October 1964 where Simon Williams is given super-strength by Baron Zemo and his ionic ray, becoming Wonder Man. Why does Zemo never use the ray again? Because “the same ionic rays which gave him his power will also kill him within a week!” Learning that he needs a weekly antidote, Wonder Man decides, “I have no choice, I must be loyal.” Joining the Masters of Evil, now consisting of Zemo, the Enchantress, and the Executioner, Wonder Man pretends to want to join the Avengers, instead leading them into a trap. The Avengers are defeated but, when Zemo reveals that he intends to kill them, Wonder Man rebels. He saves the Avengers but, without Zemo’s antidote, soon, apparently, dies. This is all in Avengers #9 but what isn’t there is that the Avengers take Wonder Man to Hank’s lab where they “preserve his brain patterns” in that same electronic memory bank.
The Vision deduces the rest. Wonder Man’s brain patterns have been impressed upon his synthetic brain. He wonders, “Is it possible to be basically human?” but his voice is as “cold as a Christmas turkey” and Hawkeye muses that “Maybe ol-ruddy cheeks was human once but he ain’t now!”
Back at Avengers headquarters, Hank tells Vision that he is now an Avenger. “You accept me though I’m not truly a human being?” asks the Vision. “We ask merely a man’s worth…not the accident of his condition,” says Hank. The Vision coldly tells them that he will “return in a moment.” Iron Man notes, “For a second there, I thought I detected a trace of sentiment. But his voice is so unspeakably cold.” But Hank understands. “He can’t help that, Avenger,” he says, “And yet if you saw his eyes right now, I’m sure you’d learn that …even an android can cry!” That final phrase is paired with a full-page final image of the Vision, who has turned away from the others so that they won’t see a tear streaming down from his eye.
From this point, the Vision is a member of the Avengers. He even gets his picture in the cover box in the very next issue. We learn in this issue that his brain comes from Wonder Man. It is later revealed in Avengers #134-135, April-May 1975 that his body comes from the original Human Torch. In Giant-Size Avengers #4, June 1975, he marries the Scarlet Witch and she gives birth to twin boys (Thomas and William) in The Vision and the Scarlet Witch #12, September 1986. Then, it all comes apart for the Vision, as he goes missing and the Avengers find him dismantled (in West Coast Avengers #44, May 1989). He gets reassembled in WCA #45, June 1989 but without Wonder Man’s brain patterns, rendering him emotionless. Then, Thomas and William disappear, apparently taken away by Master Pandemonium, in the now-retitled Avengers West Coast #51, Mid-November 1989 where, according to Wikipedia, “The Vision and the Scarlet Witch’s children are then revealed to be fragments of the soul of the demon Mephisto, who had been broken apart by Franklin Richards shortly before the birth of the twins. The twins are absorbed back into Mephisto, which temporarily drives Wanda insane.” If you don’t like any of these changes, you can blame John Byrne for all of it.
And what about the Vision being created from the Human Torch’s body? Here’s Wikipedia again: “The Avengers later are told that the time lord Immortus used the power of the Forever Crystal to split the original Human Torch into two entities – one body remained the original Torch while Ultron rebuilt the other as the Vision.” This, in Avengers Forever #8, July 1999. Eventually, Vision regains his Wonder Man brain patterns but I’ve pretty much lost interest at this point. Is it possible to mess too much with a good character? Oh yes, and here’s the evidence.
Ultron-5 returns as Ultron-6 in Avengers #66, July 1969. He gets all the way up to Ultron-18 before giving up on the numbering but he keeps coming back after that, leading to Age of Ultron #1, March 2013 and beyond.
It seems to me that most of the acclaim for this issue comes in retrospect. It reveals, after all, the origin of Ultron who becomes a pretty big deal among Avengers’ villains and it reveals that the Vision gained his brain patterns from the believed-deceased Wonder Man. And unlike Wonder Man and the Swordsman who come on as heroes who want to join the Avengers and end up revealed as villains (in Avengers #9 and Avengers #19, August 1965 respectively), the Vision comes on as a villain and ends up being a hero, getting him into the Avengers immediately. His subsequent long history makes this significant and it is an important aspect of this story. Still, with all that, the issue is hampered by a senseless hero fight, a preponderance of flashbacks and a pretty quick vote. Ultimately, it feels padded and skimpy with the page 8 pin-up (that includes Spider-Man) being a prime example. The only things that make the issue rise above the average are the great John Buscema artwork with that last full-page shot of the Vision shedding a tear after Roy has done a nice job of setting up the coldness and emotionlessness of the character. That is powerful stuff. And also Roy’s somewhat subtle anti-racism line that he gives to Hank and which may be the point of the whole story: “We ask merely a man’s worth…not the accident of his condition.” This lifts it up to three and a half webs.
“Next: Yellowjacket!” according to this issue’s letter page and we will take a look at Avengers #59 when the time comes because Spidey makes a two-panel appearance. But first, it’s on to other things, beginning with more reprints! Marvel Tales #17!