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Committed: The Weird Life of Avenger Couples

After I saw the Thor and Captain America movies, I got pretty excited about The Avengers movie (that was the idea, wasn’t it?) Thor, Captain America and Iron Man all stand up pretty well, but after a while these solo movies feel like a complicated teaser campaign and we find ourselves gasping for the payoff of The Avengers movie. With this anticipation grinding away at me, I thought I’d look at some old Avengers comic books.

Having read quite a few retellings of their origin story over the years, and a fair amount of offshoot stories and New Avengers, I hadn’t really looked at the books I started out reading as a little tiny kid. One of the things that has stunned me in rereading things I enjoyed when I was small, is how much of the content went over my head at the time. Anything that was emotionally or physically beyond my personal experience back then didn’t even register. In retrospect I can now see that I was missing about 50% of The Avengers content, particularly the interactions between the couples of the team.

Theoretically, small children like me probably should have stuck to team books like Teen Titans or Super Friends (both of which I remember enjoying at the time, even if most of what stands out in my memory is the mystery of how useful the Wonder Twins could actually be? “Form of a bucket of water”? Really?) In my memory, The Avengers were serious grown ups, with serious villains to fight. Reading Avengers comics from the late ’70′s now, I’m shocked that these Comics Code Authority approved books managed to pack in so much emotional, physical ambiguity. Sure, it’s tame by todays standards, but today we freely admit that comic books are for adults. Back then, it must have been really intense to try and get a kids comic that dealt with such things.

When I went back and read about some ’70′s Avengers, I was surprised that Hank Pym (as Ant-Man and then Yellowjacket) had a massive nervous breakdown, impacting the entire team. His wife Janet (the Wasp) explained that she’d been changing her costume often recently to “try and keep him interested.” What do kids reading comic books know about keeping a marriage interesting? And what could they know about the role of clothing in that regard? And how was a kid supposed to understand that an interesting marriage might change Hank’s emotional state? At the time I questioned none of this, simply enjoying the turbulent ride of The Avengers.

The adult relationship that did stand out as a little more confusing to me at the time, was the marriage of the Scarlet Witch and Vision. Even now, dissecting it fascinates me. He’s an android, with the personality of Wonder Man (who was dead at the time he was built, but later came back, as comic book characters do.) So he’s not the same person as Wonder Man, (something both he and Wonder Man discuss), their personalities diverged through their disparate experiences. So far so good – strange, but it makes sense. But then there is the relationship with Wanda. She loves Vision, so much so that she marries him. She’s deeply in love with him, but not at all interested in the resurrected Wonder Man, who basically has the same building blocks to his personality. And he’s not an android, which has to help, right?

The whole thing was massively strange to me as a kid, very much in a “how does that even work?” way. As ignorant as I was about romance, I still didn’t understand why Wanda had feelings for Vision that she couldn’t have for Wonder Man (at that point in time), especially since the problems they had were often to do with him being synthetic… (and I’m not talking about physical stuff, that was far beyond my understanding at the time, but more to do with the empathic, emotional stuff.) Thinking about it now, it is possible that my attempts to understand the Scarlet Witch led to my youthful interest in Spock in Star Trek. The rational, unshakable Vulcan seemed a lot more attractive than the erratic Kirk. At the time, this was a big selling point because as a child, the world was confusing. The idea of an android husband made sense within the context of this desire – maybe Wanda liked the logic thing?

Now I look back on the way the relationships were described in The Avengers with more of a perspective of the era. The late ’70′s was still a time when a lot of people were reevaluating their own perception of what constituted a healthy relationship, in all sorts of ways. Clearly there were times when this approach bled through to the writer’s of comic books like The Avengers, as the authors indirectly used the medium to discuss issues affecting their own lives. The intimate team dynamic left it wide open to a kind of group therapy honesty that probably wasn’t out of place to adults of the era. The fact that this was part of a book I read as a little kid just meant it all went straight over my head.

This is a great example of a book so rich and varied in content that, even when I was missing half of it, I was still entertained. It is a great example of the ways in which there is space in much family-oriented entertainment for more non-violent, adult themed content. Widening appeal doesn’t have to mean more violence and pain, maybe this complex history will bleed through to the very modern Avengers that will be depicted in the upcoming movie. You never know.

24 Comments

gladi am not the only one who thought the romance between the scarlet witch and the vision was a little on the strange side mostly because the vision is a machine. plus factor in his brain came from wonder mans. makes it a little creepy . not to mention scarlet witch and vision having kids later. for when it comes to romance even the avengers seem not to have good ones.

Many women have long-term meaningful relationships with machines. Haven’t you ever looked in that drawer next to a woman’s bed?

Yes, Vision’s body is a machine built by Ultron, and his mind is based on Wonder Man’s brain patterns. Neither has negatively influenced his personality. If anything, Vision strongly overcame his “genes”, being neither a villain like Ultron or a total dickcheese like Simon Williams.

Back when I was buying lots of Marvel posters in the 80′s, I always wished they’d make a “Vision/Scarlet Witch Family Tree” poster, with Vision’s side filled with the likes of Wonder Man, Grim Reaper, Ultron, Jocasta, the Pyms…while Scarlet Witch had Magneto, Pietro, and a whole whack of Inhumans. It would get even more confusing factoring in the original Human Torch after Byrne brought him back, not to mention his creator Phineas Horton and Phineas’s daughter, Frankie Raye a.k.a. Nova, who would be Vision’s step-sister through father Phineas, making her the Wasp’s granddaughter and Black Bolt’s…who knows? It would get pretty crowded anyway.

Oh and speaking of stuff flying over my head…I recently re-read that early She-Hulk/Starfox hook-up and couldn’t believe that one slipped by me. Don’t know, maybe I had figured She-Hulk’s shower was broken?

Wanda did have a thing with Simon much later.

I do think, though, that the fact that Vision was a machine might even be part of the reason Wanda was attracted to him. I get the feeling she did fully trust herself to love a regular human. I’m not sure why that would be. Maybe it’s because the only male she really knew well was her brother, and we all know what a psycho he can be sometimes. If Pietro is her most familiar example of masculine emotion, you can certainly see why she might seek out the least emotional man she can find.

But as to why she never showed any interest in Wonder Man for so long, I think the answer to that is obvious. She was already married to the Vision when she met Simon. She most likely refused to look at any other man romantically at that time. She is a bit of an old-fashioned domestic-type.

I don’t think Zan ever actually turned into a bucket of water. That was a spoof ad that Cartoon Network made back when they still did good things like that.

FWIW I know that the “why would you fall for a replicant” question, overtly, in a few storylines.

At one point, during Wonder Man’s own series of the 90s, Wondy is going through an existential crisis over whether he’s any longer a “real, living human” or just a deluded pattern of electricity. Wanda, at the time, was showing him a lot affection, and at one point he snaps at her with something like “do you have some kind of thing for artificial men?”

I_Captain Blanco

August 18, 2011 at 7:35 am

As someone who also grew up reading more or less this “classic” Avengers period (the earliest issues I can remember reading were in the 150s somewhere), I still miss the *real* Vision and Scarlet Witch…not to mention the Hank/Jan marriage.

@Charlie Ward: Zan definitely turned into a bucket of water in actual Super Friends cartoons (and other early appearances). Typically their pet monkey produced the bucket and then rode around on whatever animal Jayna had turned into, carrying a bucket of Zan. A lot of the joke of the CN ads spoofing the Super Friends is that they could be made using primarily stock animation from the original shows.

This reminds me of something I wrote a while back in a discussion on another forum about unhappy comic book marriages. I summarized how Hank and Jan tied the knot. The circumstances were unhealthy enough to suggest to a discerning fan at the time that there was more trouble in their future! Such as the nervous breakdown which Sonia mentioned.

Here’s what I said about that Silver Age storyline:

**********************************

Doesn’t anyone remember how Hank and Jan finally got married in the first place?

It went something like this:

1. Hank was in love with Jan, and she was in love with him, but she strongly resembled his deceased first wife, and he couldn’t get over that. He refused to propose marriage to Jan, in part because he was afraid he’d lose track of which woman he was married to if he did. (I can see how calling her “Maria” when they were alone together would be, shall we say, tactless.)

2. One day a nut in a strange new costume, calling himself Yellowjacket, stormed into Avengers Mansion and explained that he had just defeated that wuss, Hank Pym, in a battle, and shrunk him down to microscopic size and left him to be eaten by a spider or something. The other Avengers reacted rather badly to this “news.”

3. However, Yellowjacket managed to abduct The Wasp and took off with her, and eventually kissed her vigorously.

4. It was Hank under the mask, of course. After he kissed her, Jan figured out who he really was and what was going on . . . approximately. As we later learned, all that repeated exposure to Pym particles, as well as some other chemicals he’d spilled just the other day, had triggered some schizophrenic tendencies in his mind. The really rough-and-tough, aggressive side of him that loved (and/or lusted after) Jan had convinced itself that it was a totally separate person from that wimpy “Hank Pym, still in love with his first wife” fellow, and that it had “replaced” him by “killing” him. Which really only meant that “Hank Pym, veteran Avenger and romantically conflicted worrywart” was “submerged” for the time being.

5. With all this in mind, Jan naturally decided that first she’d get Yellowjacket to marry her in a formal ceremony while he still consciously thought he wasn’t Hank Pym, and then, after she had the legal formalities completed so he couldn’t wriggle out again, she’d worry about such trivialities as getting him some psychiatric help or whatever it took to remind him that he really was Hank — as well as now being her lawfully wedded husband!

You can tell that this was a marriage which rested, from the beginning, on a strong foundation of mutual trust, honesty, and concern for one another’s sanity . . . can’t you? :p

The first time I read an Avengers comic I thought he was just another super hero. There was a scene when he and Scarlet Witch kissed. Finding out he was an android blew my mind.

“This is a great example of a book so rich and varied in content that, even when I was missing half of it, I was still entertained. It is a great example of the ways in which there is space in much family-oriented entertainment for more non-violent, adult themed content.”

That, right there, should be the editorial edict of “all-ages” comics. And those “all-ages” comics should be every mainstream comic. DC and Marvel are destroying themselves by making the bulk of their comics for only hardcore comic geeks, and then splintering off “niche” markets with dumbed-down comics “for kids.” We were kids who read complex comics like the ones Sonia describes, and we enjoyed them as much as the adults for all the reasons she said.

I’m sorry but I’ll always think that the Vision/Scarlet Witch relationship is a black eye on the Avengers franchise. Such a horrible idea that was taken too seriously too long. SHE MARRIED A TOASTER. A very nice toaster, sure, but he’s a freakin’ toaster. It felt like something out of a Silver Age DC story. Even stranger were the stories depicting Quicksilver and others as some kind of hateful bigots for opposing the marriage, when realistically, they were right.

T, I never saw the vision as a toaster, his reactions and emotions were always presented as more than just a series of computer programs, the purpose of scanning the brain waves is that it allowed independent thought based upon experience. I understand the animosity Quicksilver could have had towards him,but for all practical purposes, he was an independent, intelligent, thinking being. Outside of some outmoded belief in the soul, there is no reason that the Vision shouldn’t be considered a human being.

“What Measure Is A Non Human”

randypan the goatboy

August 19, 2011 at 6:58 am

I loved the storyline where the Scarlet Witch and the Vision went to get “help” from Dr Strange in getting Wanda pregnant. I always laughed at that one thinking…Magic spell huh? The Vision might be falling for that one, but if some dude offered to get my wife pregnant with magic, i would have to see the reciept from the hotel room that they performed the “magic” in…Yeah vision…whoa…legs are still shakey from all that spell castin…she should be pregnant now… You cant tell me that wanda wouldnt look at earths sorcerer supreme like a groupie looks at MicK Jagger…Yeah sure he is old and gross now…but thats still Mick jagger.

The thing that stands out about the Hank/Jan marriage is that they love to bring up that Hank hit her once, but never bring up the huge psychological damage she probably did to him by selfishly marrying him when he was in need of help. The other Avengers have stood by without questioning three clearly questionable marriages:

Hank/Jan
Ms. Marvel/Marcus (at least someone called them on it later)
Mantis/Coati (sure you’re going to be a brood mare for an alien cabbage, but he looks like your dead boyfriend).

Hank/Jan
Ms. Marvel/Marcus (at least someone called them on it later)
Mantis/Coati (sure you’re going to be a brood mare for an alien cabbage, but he looks like your dead boyfriend).

I’d throw in Vision/Scarlet Witch into the clearly questionable Avengers marriages.

Both Super Friends and Avengers were among the first comics I read (in English) and even as a kid I could see the world of difference between them (the art styles help, with the cartoony but wonderful Ramona Fradom on SF and ultra-detailed George Perez on Avengers.) On SF’s defense the comic was MUCH better than the TV show, still kid stuff but with inventive ideas and cool characters (including a few original ones.) Oh and Zan and Jayna rocked there (in one story they took the forms of a Frost Giant and a Sphinx, respectively!!) They also had their own adventures in backup stories, showing their personal lives, secret identities, going to school etc.

On Avengers, while some stuff did go over my head, I could TELL it was there, I just needed to read more to “get” it, which is probably why I’m still a comics fan to this day. ;) heck my first Avengers storyline was the Korvac Saga, with its unique “could the bad guy be right?” angle, not to mention utterly tragic ending (which they ruined years later, but that was a *total* retcon, possibly part of the “let’s destroy Jim Shooter’s legacy!” thing that some writers and editors at Marvel seemed to have after he left the company (see also: what they did with the Beyonder and Star Brand). Jerks.)

T. — in real life, I would object to a human woman marrying something that wasn’t even a member of the same species.

But in superhero comic books I’ve long since learned to suspend my disbelief in that regard. If we start ruling out marriages between humans and members of other species (or personalities inhabiting artifically created bodies), then we also have to rule out the marriages of Professor X and Lilandra, Colossal Boy and Yera the Durlan, Namor the Sub-Mariner’s parents, Red Tornado and Kathy Sutton, Superman and Lois Lane (not to mention cases we’ve glimpsed in alternate realities wherein Superman married some other non-Kryptonian female), Aquaman’s parents (in the Silver Age version of his origin story), John Stewart and Katma Tui, Ray Palmer and Princess Laethwyn, the time when Dick Grayson and Koriand’r got married (or nearly married, depending upon whom you believed at the time) . . .

I don’t see that any of those other examples are any better than Wanda Maximoff marrying a “synthezoid” who had a mind of his own instead of jst being programmed to respond in predictable ways to certain stimuli, over and over.

I’ve always understood Wanda being attracted to Vision and not to Wonder Man. Even though Vision’s personality was based on Wonder Man’s, the experience of being recreated as a synthethic man tempered Vision with a melancholy and self-awareness that Simon Williams never ever had.

If anything, it was Wanda’s later relationship with a resurrected Wonder Man that felt wrong, and also a bit forced. It seemed to be based on the mistaken idea that since Vision had been based on a certain point of Simon’s life, of course Wanda would be attracted to Simon too. But wasn’t it obvious that they weren’t really that similar at all?

Hell, Vision and Simon weren’t even physically similar – Simon was always a big cornfed musclehead, and Vision was always gaunter (not to mention his unique skin color). Beyond that we could look at how they actually behaved: Simon loved attention, with all those garish costumes that exposed his muscular arms, while Vision was always somberly using his cape to cover himself – a physical indication of a modesty that Simon (who was always proud of his body, because it’s not synthethic) obviously does not share.

It always made sense to me that Wanda was attracted to one but not the other because despite having a shared experience up to a point and probably many shared interests, Vision and Simon were in fact two different people.

Ronald Jay Kearschner

August 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Wanda marrying Vision always made sense to me mostly because Quicksilver her twin was an almost incesteuosly over protective hothead. But let’s look at the other men in her life:
MAGNETO her father who used and manipulated in his war on humanity
THOR noble and honorable, but when the central conflict of your life was the inferiority/superiority of mutants would you want to date a god?
IRON MAN playboy
CAPTAIN AMERICA 40 year old virgin
HAWKEYE almost as much a playboy as Iron Man, just as hotheaded as Quicksilver
HANK PYM mentally unstable and involved with Jan, Wanda’s friend (although I don’t remember them serving together that much)
BLACK PANTHER here my analysis hits a wall. T’Challa is perfect. Could marrying a black man be more controversial than marrying a machine?
VISION respectful and protective of Wanda as a fellow Avenger, he has deep feelings but is mature enough to be in control of them. Maybe boring to outsiders, but someone you could count on as a life partner.

Ronald Jay Kearschner — on the other hand, some superheroes have been known to date people, sometimes even marry people, whom they met outside the team.

Of course that requires the hero actually make a real effort to have a social life outside of the local superhero clubhouse. Some heroes do that better than others — I’m not sure if Wanda, in the 1960s and 70s, ever made much effort in that direction, come to think of it.

But in contrast: Ray Palmer, Barry Allen, Wally West, Peter Parker, Johnny Storm, and Scott Summers all spring to mind as characters who dated and eventually married someone who was not even a fellow superhero, much less a longtime teammate. (Of course those marriages usually get torn apart on one pretext or another, but at least the heroes had made the effort to broaden their horizons instead of arbitrarily limiting themselves to superheroic ‘co-workers.’)

That exact Avengers issue pictured at the beginning was one of the first I ever bought (maybe the first?). I’m not sure when it came out (although I’m sure someone here knows), but I reckon I was ~10 years old. In it, Hank goes off the deep-end and pulls the Ant-Man costume out of moth-balls, then proceeds to kick the Avenger’s asses before he collapses again. I recall feeling like I was reading something very adult. This was definitely not the Super Friends.

Jan’s peekaboo costume (with choker) made me feel adult in other ways, but I’ll skip that for now. :)

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