Every Friday in Panel Discussion, Jeremy Writebol considers how the latest comic book releases intersect with the Good News of Christ. This piece may contain spoilers.
What does a normal, peaceful life in the suburbs look like for a synthezoid? If you’re The Vision, you hope that a normal life looks something like what a normal, peaceful, suburban, human life looks like. That, of course, involves a few things. Specifically you need a family, a two-car garage home, perhaps a pet of some sort, jobs, schooling, and the essential amenities of middle class suburban life. And so, the synthezoid we’ve come to know in the recent Avengers: Age of Ultron movie has sought to live a normal life. The Vision has a synthezoid wife (Virginia), two synthezoid children (Viv and Vin), a job that requires a commute (the Avengers delegate in the White House), and a two-car garage home in the suburbs of Washington D.C. In a way, The Vision has become a normal person.
Except “normal” doesn’t have a super-villain attack your family and nearly murder your daughter. Normal doesn’t have a super-powered wife who kills the aforementioned villain, hides the body, and doesn’t say anything to anyone about it. Normal doesn’t have a son who nearly kills a classmate because he is strong enough (and robotically intelligent enough) to know the easiest way to “turn off” a human being. Normal isn’t being the target of human mocking, vandalism, and rejection. Normal isn’t the nightmare of a life out of control while you do everything you can to keep it under control. Nothing about The Vision’s attempts to be normal are normal.Tom King is giving us, through The Vision’s storyline, an opportunity to consider how the pursuit of our dreams could result in the destruction of our deepest values and convictions.
What makes The Vision’s pursuit of normalcy especially haunting in issue #3, however, is the side story of Agatha Harkness and her attempts to understand a particular nightmare she’s had involving the death of the Marvel pantheon of heroes at The Vision’s hands. As she undergoes gruesome measures to capture time and grab hold of the ephemeral nature of her dreams, it’s revealed that The Vision’s attempts to be normal are the catalyst for his friends’ deaths. As The Vision pursues his dreams, it’s possible that those dreams are really the nightmares of others.
Fundamentally, what The Vision seems to be chasing after isn’t so much the realm of normal as much as it is the realm of the ideal. Captured in his synthetic mind is the ideal of a normal, human, American, middle-class, suburban dream. Family, security, relative peace, harmony and progress all stand as the chief attributes of this desired world. However, the pursuit of that ideal world has become a terrible task-master for The Vision. Once he’s entered into that world, he must do everything in his power to protect it. Any threat, villain, or ripple in the water that would unseat this dream must be dealt with and destroyed. This is the midpoint of the story, but the trajectory towards the death of friends instead of the death of dreams is clear.
Rarely do we get an opportunity to stand outside of our own lives and consider the dreams and visions we’re pursuing. While we might desire to be known as a certain kind of person, the attempt to get there is altogether another matter. Tom King is giving us, through The Vision’s storyline — to this point, anyway — an opportunity to consider how the pursuit of our dreams could result in the destruction of our deepest values and convictions. C.S. Lewis called this the pursuit of the Inner Ring. Christian theology calls the nature of these pursuits idolatry.
Often we don’t see the way our dream-chasing will end, but there could be warnings enough within it of the destruction to come. While we might rationalize and comparatively analyze our way through our pursuits to give us a sense of justification (e.g. “I just want to be normal”), the reality is that, as John Calvin says, our hearts are perpetual idol factories. And as we create those idols, we do whatever we can to preserve, protect, and even promote them.
Consider the course our lives can take when we say “I just want to be accepted.” While that pursuit, inherently, is not wrong — we are created to be social beings in good relationship with others — the means by which we go about attaining that acceptance can be a deathblow to ourselves and others. We’ll perform a certain way around the people from whom we desire acceptance; we’ll change how we think, live, and interact with others. If we do receive their acceptance, even if for just a little bit, we’ll feel that we need to work hard to maintain and keep it. If we fail to receive their acceptance, we’ll sink into self-loathing and take up other means to either achieve their acceptance or to harm ourselves. The point is that we’ll become who we are not and, in a sense, put on masks of distortion to achieve what we so desperately long for.
The vision of this parable is wrapped up in our efforts to obtain and take hold of the identities and dreams of our future. What kind of person will they make us? What outcome and effect will those pursuits have on the lives of others around us? If we fail to recognize the idolatrous pursuits of our hearts at the midpoint of our stories, we’ll inevitably come to death. But if we take to heart the trajectory of The Vision’s story, we can have enough foresight to keep ourselves from those pursuits that lead to death.