Over the last decade, the MCU has done a lot of legwork for some of the more niche Marvel superheroes, elevating them from relative obscurity to household name status with just a couple of big budget blockbusters. But, unsurprisingly, the transformation from comic book character to A-list live action celebrity brings some changes and updates with it. Sometimes they’re relatively minor–solidifying more obscure or esoteric bits of origin stories or shaving off clunky bits of continuity left over from years and years of publication history–but other times, they can practically reinvent the character from the ground up into something almost entirely new.
This is exactly what happened with Vision, Marvel’s charmingly obtuse superheroic robot played by Paul Bettany. Since he’s going on to star in his very own Disney+ TV series, , by the end of the year, we figured now was a perfect time to blow the doors off the character’s lengthy and complicated history outside of the MCU. After all, if that first trailer is any indication, WandaVision is going to be jam packed with layers upon layers of some deeply arcane Marvel mythology, so it’s probably best to go in fully prepared to catch everything you possibly can.
For starters, let’s go over the pieces that you probably know already: MCU Vision was first introduced in the second Avengers movie, Age of Ultron, where he was sort of accidentally produced by hybridizing Tony Stark’s AI butler, JARVIS, with the Mind Stone–the infinity stone that once lived in Loki’s staff. The specifics here are a little wonky, but it boiled down to an effort to stop Ultron, another of Tony’s creations (in the MCU at least), who was trying to upload his consciousness into a synthetic body. The theory was that Ultron couldn’t take over a body that already had someone or something in it.
Of course, JARVIS-with-a-body gets the name Vision and winds up being a genuinely good guy who, unlike Ultron, wants to fight on the “side of life,” which gives the Avengers the advantage they need to finally take Ultron out once and for all. From there on out, Vision became a regular member of the team, struck up a charming little romance with fellow teammate Wanda, and provided some pretty solid situational comedy to lighten the mood when he could by being a bit befuddled by human culture. You know, standard robot stuff.
Things were a bit less cut-and-dry over in the comics.
Vision’s MCU origin story borrows pretty heavily from his publication history, but the actual story of Vision as he’s seen in the comics is much longer and more bizarre. He first debuted in 1968 after Stan Lee and Roy Thomas decided to add a new member to the Avengers, who at that point had only been in print for about five years.
At this time in comics history, there was a lot of change going on and most of it was extremely fast and loose–character rights and licenses were being bought and sold as publishers cropped up and disappeared and the concept of shared universe continuity was just beginning to really solidify across bigger brands. This meant a lot of the older, Golden Age characters in Marvel’s stable were being rapidly repurposed and reinvented for new stories where they could actually fit into the bigger picture as it developed. This is exactly what Thomas wanted to do with a character from the 1940s called The Vision that had been created at Marvel’s precursor, Timely Comics, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. This original Vision was an alien also known as Aarkus who was basically a space cop from another dimension.
That dimension was called “Smokeworld.” No, really.
Aarkus didn’t really do much in the ’40s aside from briefly team up and assist the Invaders, the team that Captain America originally fought with in World War II, making him an ideal candidate for a modern reinvention. But Lee and Thomas didn’t quite see eye to eye on the revival. Lee wanted a robot character, not an alien, because it was the late ’60s and that sort of thing was very in style. The two eventually reached an old fashioned compromise and settled on making a “new” Vision who would borrow heavily from the old Vision’s design and overall aesthetic, but would be an android rather than an extra dimensional alien law man.
Of course this didn’t, technically, delete the old Vision/Aarkus from Marvel continuity entirely–but you can worry about that some other time. Seriously, he lived in the sewers under New York at one point, it was a whole thing. Don’t let that distract you.
Anyway, because Vision was now an android–or, excuse me, a “synthezoid,” as he was called–it meant he needed a new android origin story. This is where things will start to sound very familiar. Vision was created by Ultron as a weapon against his own creator, Hank Pym. Pym’s wife Jan is the one who coined the name “Vision,” after encountering him and describing him as–you guessed it–“a vision.”
To actually give Vision sentience, Ultron copied the brain wave patterns of a (temporarily) dead former Avenger named Wonder Man, or Simon Williams. This inadvertently gave Vision a sort of proxy-history with the team and its members and meant that Vision was fairly easily convinced to betray his creator and team up with the Avengers instead.
Oh, and his body initially came from the android Human Torch after it was split in two by Immortus, a time traveling future version of the villain Kang the Conqueror, creating one version just called “Torch” and another that became raw parts for Ultron to use like super advanced, android-making legos.
At one point Simon Williams came back to life and basically claimed that Vision’s photocopied version of his brain had actually removed his soul and that he wouldn’t stand for it, turning Vision into a sort of lifeless black-and-white automaton for a while. At another point, he got a new brain pattern copy that merged with the parts of Simon he had left over, functionally rendering him a new and independently sentient artificial human.
Even before that, Vision became romantically involved with fellow Avenger Scarlet Witch, who used her reality-shaping mutation to allow for them to have two twin children named Tommy and William–both of whom eventually grew up to become Young Avengers themselves.
Also their kids died a few times, and at one point were revealed to be soul fragments of Mephisto, one of Marvel’s most common incarnations of the literal devil–it’s a whole situation. To say that Wanda and Vision’s love and family life has never been particularly stable or healthy would be a very dramatic understatement.
All the while, Vision and Ultron continued their game of endless cat-and-mouse rivalry, which resulted in plenty of kidnappings, brainwashings, and attempted re-creations or cloning. Vision’s “operating system” was even used to grant sentience to a suit of armor owned by Iron Lad (a member of the Young Avengers but also a time displaced version of Kang the Conqueror–the same guy who played a vague part in his early origin stories with the Human Torch’s robot body) that caused some chaos for a while.
More than once, he’s been forced to, willingly or otherwise, completely wipe his memory. More recently, he had to delete the “emotional data” he’s stored, resulting in a functional system reset for himself.
This sort of completely bonkers sci-fi nonsense is sort of a running theme in Vision’s publication history, so it’s really no surprise that the MCU went out of their way to simplify things. Basically any time he was thrust into the spotlight or featured as the central figure in a given plotline or story arc in the comics, you knew things were about to get really complicated and weird–from being killed and rebuilt time and time again, to being hacked and controlled by various villains, to being tangled up in all sorts of existential and cosmic insanity.
In more recent years, Vision received a bit of an overhaul with his very own solo series–one of the few in his nearly 50 years of being a supporting player on countless teams–called simply “Vision.” In this miniseries, he was “reimagined” (more in the sense that he was trying to reimagine himself rather than being reintroduced or changed in an by any editorial edicts) as a suburban “husband” and “father” to his newly created synthezoid family: wife Virginia Vision, son Vin Vision, and daughter Viv Vision. Together they lived in Virginia, the state, and did their level best to blend into their white picket fence neighborhood–though their human neighbors were less-than-thrilled and deeply suspicious.
Of course, this mundane existence couldn’t last long and, eventually, Vision’s past came back to haunt him in some very literal ways–almost all of them deeply tragic. But it did serve to emphasize some of the major themes in Vision’s long, strange journey through Marvel history, namely that while characters like Tony Stark may exist to emphasize things like responsibility and recovery, or characters like Captain America may interrogate things like patriotism and duty, Vision is a character meant to change and transform in stories about the nature of humanity. This makes for some messy, confusing, and altogether mind-bending stories, most, if not all of which are wrapped up in a healthy layer of comic book absurdity. But the point and the purpose is always clear, once you manage to uncover it.
So if you’re gearing up for WandaVision, a show that certainly seems like it’s going to be following that pattern with very deliberate intention, that’s probably the best thing to expect and prepare for. Sure, some of the more bizarre and confusing parts will likely be simplified care of Vision’s more streamlined MCU story, but there’s still plenty of potential for waxing poetic on his own humanity or lack thereof. Don’t forget, as far as we know, he ought to still be “dead” after Infinity War, so you know it’s going to come up.
WandaVision is set to premiere on Disney+ in 2020. get some more links down here to stories about upcoming mcu stuff