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The history of Vision, the superhero making his film debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron

Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

In a movie that promises a sentient, malicious robot who amasses an army; a demigod who rips open the sky to call down lightning; a genius whose anger turns him into a green, invulnerable monster; two master assassins; a genetically enhanced super-soldier; twins blessed with the powers of super speed and magic; and a man who created armor that can fly, it's hard to stand out.

Yet one character in Avengers: Age of Ultron has managed to do just that. He has only recently been revealed in full, piquing the interest of comic book readers and mainstream fans alike. His name is the Vision.

The pink-faced character makes his first appearance at the end of the third Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer, flashing onscreen in the clip's final seconds:

Avengers: Age of Ultron. (Marvel)

Those eyes. That skin. They leave you with nothing but questions. As comic book fans will tell you, this close-up has been 47 years in the making.

When was Vision first introduced?

The whole saga begins in Avengers Nos. 54 and 55, printed in 1968. We know Ultron is a nasty robot bent on killing the Avengers, but we still don't know where he came from or why he wants to kill everyone.

When Ultron escapes at the end of issue No. 55, the Avengers get some breathing room but are then assaulted by the Vision in Avengers No. 57. It's actually Hank Pym's wife, the Wasp, who gives the Vision his name. "It's some sort of unearthly, inhuman Vision!" she yells out:

Avengers No. 57. (Marvel)

It's made clear by John Buscema's cover that Vision is supposed to be an imposing, awesome marvel of a being. He towers over the Avengers, emerging from the smoke like some kind of Teutonic prog-rock god:

Avengers No. 57. (Marvel)

Vision is supposed to be one of the most powerful beings ever seen. In this issue alone, he walks through walls, uses laser beams, and takes punches with the best of them. But just as Vision is about to vaporize the Wasp, he's hit with a sudden jolt of pain:

Avengers No. 57. (Marvel)

This push and pull of Vision about to kill everyone, then stopping, then starting over again is laced throughout the issue. What we eventually learn is that although Vision is some kind of robot, he has human feelings and emotions. Those feelings and emotions make him turn against his creator, who is none other than Ultron:

Avengers No. 57. (Marvel)

Because of the Comics Code, a mandate that handcuffed writer creativity and banned things like werewolves and vampires, comic book writers and artists had to figure out how to hide their heavy themes in stories that would get Code approval.

Writer Roy Thomas, cover artist Buscema, and penciler Marie Severin managed this via dueling robots.

With Ultron, the team got to play around with the ideas of Oedipus, creation, and nihilistic evil, all wrapped in a story about a bad robot. With Vision, they kicked around thoughts about humanity, human nature, emotion, and heroism. At the time (1968), the US was fixated on the Space Race, and technology was seen as both a wonder and an evil — which informs the Ultron/Vision narrative even more.

Vision's stories are about showing us humanity

Avengers No. 58. (Marvel)

The one defining characteristic of Vision that writers have constantly hammered home is the gulf between his physical, robotic self and his human spirit.

One of Vision's best moments — equal parts hilarious, silly, and touching — comes in Avengers No. 58. After rising up against his creator in the previous issue, Vision wants to try out for the Avengers. After giving him a hard time, they eventually come to trust the pink-skinned synthozoid, and it overwhelms him. Vision asks for a moment alone, and we're given one of the best comic pages ever created:

Avengers No. 58. (Marvel)

In a sense, Vision is not unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation's Data or DC Comics' Martian Manhunter. He explores what it means to be human and how that isn't, at times, very logical. We see him forgive, we see him find happiness, and we also see him hold ugly grudges. The foil to many of these moments is Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, who becomes Vision's primary love interest.

Avengers vs. X-Men No. 0. (Marvel)

In an arc called "Avengers Disassembled," the Scarlet Witch goes berserk and ultimately causes Vision's apparent death. When things eventually settle down and Scarlet Witch becomes stable again, it's Vision who rebuffs her plea to rejoin the Avengers, and he again sheds robot tears:

Avengers vs. X-Men No. 0. (Marvel)

Why Vision matters to Age of Ultron

To fully understand Vision's relationship with Ultron, you have to realize that Thomas and Buscema created a wickedly weird villain with an engorged Oedipal complex. Hank Pym (Ant Man) created Ultron accidentally, and within moments of his "birth," Ultron went from adorable baby robot to father-killing, nihilistic menace to society:

Avengers No. 58. (Marvel)

In a poetic twist, when Ultron creates Vision, he finds out he's made the same mistake as his father: he's created a being whose sentience is at odds with his own. The story, written by Steve Englehart, is complicated. It ultimately involves an android Human Torch and Ultron taking the Torch's inventor, Phineas Horton, captive:

Avengers No. 135. (Marvel)

Here we get Vision's red face, but we also find out heroism is in his synthetic blood:

Avengers No. 135. (Marvel)

Englehart's story was written in 1975, almost 10 years after Thomas first introduced Vision and Ultron. While Thomas and Buscema were dead set on playing with the idea of family, Englehart steered Ultron and Vision more into the territory of creation.

Englehart doesn't just drive home the idea of technology eventually betraying us, but also plays with the idea that where you come from doesn't determine your being. Good can come from bad, bad can come from good, and, obviously, Hank Pym is the worst.

This connection between Ultron, Vision, and Pym became an integral part of their stories throughout the years. We see it play out prominently in the 2013 Age of Ultron crossover event, written by Brian Michael Bendis. In this storyline, we see that Ultron has taken over the world, but we're not exactly sure how. After superhero lives are lost, we find out he's done so by taking control of Vision:

Age of Ultron No. 3. (Marvel)

Bendis' story is yet another twist on the idea Thomas and Englehart established. It's a macabre take on Vision. He ultimately can't escape his father's grasp, and even though he's lived a life as a hero, his fate isn't in his hands.

What we know about Vision's role in the movie

It's been established that though they share a title, Bendis' crossover event and the film Avengers: Age of Ultron are not related. We also know that though Marvel movies are interconnected, and there's a giant plan to get all of these characters in the same film, it's still a drop in the bucket compared with the rich history and endless stories that live in the comic books. Hank Pym doesn't even exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (yet).

The question then is: What role will Vision play in the new movie?

We know Paul Bettany will play Vision. That might raise some eyebrows, because Bettany voices Tony's Stark's computer interface, known as J.A.R.V.I.S. It isn't wrong to assume, then, that J.A.R.V.I.S. and Vision may be connected and that Tony Stark may be involved. In fact, that theory would go along with what we already know about Ultron — that in the cinematic continuity, Tony Stark created him.

It remains to be seen whether film Vision will have the powers the character has in the comics: laser beams, density manipulation, flight, and invulnerability.

All these questions and all this mystery is a testament to Marvel's slow rollout of the character. The company has been using Vision as an Easter egg of sorts, hiding him in the first Avengers poster:


And hiding him in plain sight in the second promotional poster:


Here's one more look:


In these promotional posters, you get the feeling the odds are stacked against our Avengers, and they need all the help they can get. Maybe that help will come in the form of a 47-year-old android that can cry.

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