Okay, so obviously I’m late to the game with Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision. I started it when it came out but (honestly) it made me heart hurt a bit too much to read monthly. But thankfully Kalie got me both trade paperbacks for Christmas! Yay!!! I’m happy I read this in one sitting as a complete, beautiful, tragic novel. You know those novels that, once read, you can’t get out of your head? Well that’s The Vision. This story will haunt me, yes, but it also moved me – as we all need to be moved – by making me feel the experience of the other.
To begin, let us define our terms. When we look at the world, we see that which we believe is alike and as a result, comforting and safe (what we associate with ourselves, the subject) and that which is different and thus frightening and potentially dangerous (which we associate with the Other). As Paul Lakeland, Professor of Catholic Studies and Chair of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, writes in his primer Postmodernity: Christian Identity in a Fragmented Age, “The Other, then, is the suspect, the deviant, the path not taken, the darkness, the chaos, standing over against the surety and charity of the subject’s chosen practice. It is the female to the male, the black to the white, the East to the West, the native culture to the representative of the Raj, the homosexual to the heterosexual” (31). When we see the Other we see divisions as, by definition, that which is other is different/distant from us. We tend to presume those differences are natural. And from those presumptions the seed for all manner of prejudice and discrimination is planted.
We naturally won’t (and don’t) demonize ourselves. Sure, we may get upset with ourselves and those we know and love but we recognize, while flawed, we’re all human. So, in order to demonize someone an intellectual movement must be made to rob them of their humanity. If we don’t do so we’re forced to acknowledge we’re being horrible people in our prejudices. This movement happens by seeing them as the Other and it is the root of all discrimination, whether a personal experience of bullying or national problems of racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, and the like. The more we see someone as the Other the more we see differences. We begin to believe those differences are deficiencies and as a result the Other needn’t be afforded the same rights and privileges we have. Since they are Other, we can presume they are less than us and the door is open for us to “justify” our hatreds.
We then justify that otherness with the stories (or, to use French Postmodernist Jean-François Lyotard ‘s term, the metanarratives) we tell and accept as a people. Quoting from Lakeland once more, “Consciously adopted or unconsciously reflected, metanarratives shape a view of the world” (31). An example of a metanarrative would be the U.S.’s idea of Manifest Destiny. To justify the expansion from “sea to shining sea” with little regard for indigenous people, we built and bought the narrative that it was God’s will that we take the land. The same sort of metanarrative justifies imperialism. Rudyard Kipling gave voice to this metanarrative with the “White Man’s Burden” validating Europe’s rape of foreign lands for resources and oppression of indigenous people since it was for their own good. Metanarratives, both the good and bad, shape how we see and interact with the world.
The way to begin to fix this is to change the story. This is where The Vision comes in. Often the problem with the metanarrative is, “The voice of the Other is unheard, the presence of the Other, as Other, unnoticed” (Lakeland, 32). But Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s poignant series serves as a powerful tool to pierce the veil of Otherness. The Vision does this in two important ways. First, it makes you stare directly at that which is Other in the form of the Visions. From their appearance to their speech to their computer-driven logic, there is no question that this family of synthezoids are not like us. Yet while they are Other, we still connect with them because they are the stars/”superheroes” of the comic. Second, as we naturally identify with the Visions as the stars of the story and we see it through their eyes, it makes you feel what it’s like to be seen as Other yourself.
(Note, there will be no major plot spoilers of any kind here. If you’ve read The Vision yourself, you already know what happens. If you haven’t, speaking as someone who also came late to the series, you need to experience it yourself.)
The series opens in Arlington, Virginia. The Vision, in the wake of purging all of the emotions associated with his memories to allow his processors to keep functioning fully, built himself a family – Virginia, his wife; Viv, his daughter; and Vin, his son. They’ve moved to the Virginian suburbs, outside of Washington D.C., so the Vision can work with the President as the Avengers’ liaison in the White House. Vin and Viv begin going to high school while Virginia stays at home, trying to figure out what she wants to do for her career. They meet the neighbors. The kids go to school. Virginia takes care of the house and the Vision goes to work. They even get a dog. It’s a nice little slice of Americana.
However all is far from serene or successful. Despite this image of potential domestic bliss, the narrative tone is consistently ominous, foreboding. From the opening pages of issue #1, we are told this story will be a tragedy. We don’t know what will happen exactly but we do know there’s no potential for a happy ending. The tension mounts with each issue. While super villains do appear, they are mostly on the periphery during the moments the narrative shifts to Vision’s work with the All New, All Different Avengers. The battle in this series isn’t against monsters from space or the bowls of the Earth. Rather the battle is against the monsters within. As the Visions confront the prejudice and discrimination that keeps them in but not of the world of their neighbors, they also wrestle with loneliness, abandonment, and an oppressive feeling of ennui.
Vision, Virginia, Viv, and Vin struggle to find a happy, normal life while tragedy (existential and experiential) slowly spins around them. Some in the community greet them with the intrigue you’d offer a celebrity, others trepidation, others still outright fear and violence. While all the neighbors gossip and judge from a distance, a few neighborhood kids actually vandalize the Vision’s home. Many are interested in the Visions to a degree but no one really wants them there. Vision tells Virginia that the boys reaction to their being in the neighborhood was “normal” and that it would “take time” for everyone to get used to their presence. In this conversation I see and feel everyone who’s ever faced similar struggles to try and enter society from the margins – something I, as a white, college-educated, heterosexual, American male, have never had to live first hand. Whether fighting for rights due to reasons of race, gender, sexuality, religion, or age, I see that struggle echoed in the Visions.
It’s not just their neighborhood that wishes the Visions were gone. The principal of Vin and Viv’s school tells Vision and Virginia that a) he doesn’t want the kids there and b) sees them as mechanical weapons more than students. As a result of trouble at school and at home, Viv and Vin are forced to leave school for a little while. As they return at the beginning of issue #4 they enter the halls to students parting like the Red Sea, silently starring at them. The narration goes, “Naturally, Vin and Viv were anxious regarding their return. Viv became unusually quiet when the subject was touched upon. Vin voiced his concerns outright. ‘They hate us,’ Vin told his father. ‘They’ll always hate us.’ ‘Nonsense,’ the Vision replied, ‘You cannot hate what you do not know. They do not know you, therefore they are incapable of hating you. Perhaps I might concede they hate the idea of you. But if this is true, then your task is a simple one. You merely have to show them that you are not that idea.”
You cannot hate what you do not know. This is true. You merely have to show them that you are not that idea. This is an effective strategy. Communion, solidarity – this is how you disarm irrational hatred. Yet, sadly, it is not as easy to do as the Vision’s suggestion would make it seem. We hold on tightly to our hatreds. Even so, I believe we – as human beings – are naturally good. We are literally made for loving communion yet we often discriminate and divide. In 2017 we still live in a world where total equality for every human being isn’t a given. Even voicing the problem is often greeted with anger, intolerance, and a refusal to listen. We draw those divisions so we don’t have to embrace something we don’t understand because it scares us. We are also hurt ourselves so we feel the need to hurt others, to make them feel small or deny their personhood, in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. These are explanations but certainly not excuses. These methods aren’t healthy nor do they ever work.
When we honestly see the humanity in the Other they become instantly more familiar and thus less frightening. Once we recognize that shared humanity we are then forced to look at those we are hurting, judging, and excluding and realize they too feel pain in the same way we do. And, like us, they are deserving of something more. It is a long process but stories like Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision help the journey along. Through its entire twelve issue run The Vision was always challenging preconceived notions and forcing us to look behind the Other Veil. The Vision just wants to build a normal life for his family. Is that so different than what any of us want? No, of course it isn’t. We all seek happiness, inclusion, security, and a genuine connection to others. We see clearly, at times painfully, this is all the Visions want too. When we experience this connection the veil drops and we see not that which is Other but our shared humanity. We empathize with the Visions and we root for them.
This is exactly how we begin to disarm the forces of racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia. When we see that what we fear or hate is every bit as human as we are then it become much harder for irrational hatred to hold its ground. Logic and, more importantly, compassion have an easier chance to grow. To directly own and confront the reality of hatred, discrimination, and bullying in our world can be scary and seeing the truth certainly hurts our heart…just like reading The Vision does. Yet, when we do so, we find the road to authentic, healing, helpful communion which offers a powerful hope amidst the sadness…just as reading The Vision does. The stories we read, the stories we choose to believe, have serious, far-reaching consequences in our lives. As such, we must choose wisely. It is an important responsibility.