Marvel traditionally does suburbs much better than D.C. as part of writing “relatable” teenage super-heroes. Marvel’s heroes populate real cities (mainly New York, but not as much as the movies will have you believe), and their teenagers populate real suburbs. Peter Parker lives in Queens and commutes (flies) into Manhattan for work at the Daily Bugle and fighting superheroes. The X-Men traditionally live and study in Westchester (The Bronx), also cut off from the larger superheroes of Manhattan. Today, Kamala Khan is practically a Southerner as far as Marvel characters are concerned, living in New Jersey, so incredibly far south of Manhattan. She might as well live in middle America as far as the Avengers are concerned in her early issues, before being forcefully pushed into team books and crossovers.
Tom King and Gabriel Walta’s Vision is a uniquely suburban superhero comic. It takes place in the suburbs of Washington D.C., not Manhattan. Its title character is an adult (android), not the usual teenager. Vision chooses to live in the suburbs, unlike Peter Parker, brought up in the suburbs and often attempting to escape. Vision tells a story of the suburbs, but specifically locates itself within the suburbs of Washington D.C.
In this opening, the narration firmly establishes the setting. It gives us the entire address, but also locates it in relation to its immediate neighborhood and Washington D.C. The house and the yard around it are where upwards of 80% of Vision takes place. The house acts as a microcosm for the family’s universe but also the Marvel Universe itself with the address 616. The main Marvel Universe is officially numbered 616 in the Marvel Multiverse, and house 616 stands in as Vision’s universe. The use of a specific address sets the series apart from other Marvel books. No other Marvel series has been set in Arlington, Virginia (probably). No other Marvel series will be set in Arlington, Virginia (probably). This is a strange other world, yet it is also home. The traditional images of suburban homes and lawns are offset by shadows and strange angles creating an eerie tension. It’s also fitting to have Vision explore family outside of the main Marvel teams and locations with much of his history taking place in West Coast Avengers (largely explored in issue 7). Despite referring and flashing to other locations throughout the series though, the usual “SETTING” caption that would accompany is a scene change is never present. Many locations can be easily identified through visual iconography, but the 616 home is the only definite location. Everything else exists as an extension of the home. Also, by lacking traditional captions, the narrator’s voice remains uninterrupted.
This is an example of a setting change between panels that is not captioned, although it is obvious from the images. This also continues the association of the area with the government. Vision moves from being a superhero to a government contractor. Vision’s neighbors have “compromised” and left government work but Vision is uncompromising. The series actually shows the American government to be both corrupt and inept. The government contracts Vision and ignores his horrific side projects, happy to have him work for them. Even the Avengers, who launch the initiative into Vision’s family, do not stop him in the end. Vision stands above both of them and continues despite their attempts. Both the American government and the Avengers are concerned with outside threats and using superheroes and super weapons for good but they do not consider the danger around them.
Washington D.C. is implicitly linked to power both through Vision’s job and the American government, but also through the series’ larger surrounding superhero storyline. Scarlet Witch’s narration takes place in D.C. and controls the second half of the series. Vision’s actions are viewed, judged, and explained from D.C. by other superheroes, not by the American government. Even the final superhero battle in issue 11 takes place on the streets of Washington D.C., although the setting is only shown through one off-hand mention and not commented upon.
Viv and Vin’s football team, the Fighting Redskins, locates the story specifically in Washington D.C. and its suburbs, obviously modeled after the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Here, Jordie Bellaire’s colors associate Vision with the icon of the Fighting Redskins. The same (or very similar) coloring is used on the mascot’s face and Vision’s face. Vision’s skin is literally red. Their profiles are also set up in parallel, with Vision’s indignant face looking like a toned down version of the football’s caricature. This is noticeable in Vision’s arched eyebrows and the small diagonal lines above them, acting as a more realistic version of the exaggerated expression on the football. Even further, the power crystal on Vision’s forehead mirrors the diamond designs of the Native American headdress. This may be stretching it, but the lines below the caricature’s head, which I believe represent a football field, even parallel the crossed lines of Vision’s plaid shirt in this page. The use of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice throughout the school scenes points to a universal history of discrimination between groups, but the Redskins logo is a uniquely northern Virginia/Washington D.C. symbol of discrimination (and I say this as a Virginia native whose high school mascot was “The Indians”).
At the beginning of the first issue, Virginia kills Grim Reaper. It’s horrifying but seemingly just. Grim Reaper is a super-villain who attacks a family in their own home. In contrast, at the end of the fourth issue, Virginia murders Chris and hurts his father. She breaks into the home of an average person, threatens him and accidentally kills his son. Chris’s father is associated with discrimination, not just with his Redskins apparel, but primarily his xenophobic language. This acts as a major turning point for the character and the series, with the Visions now actively hostile and fighting back against the people around them. This is also the last appearance of the “Fighting Redskin” mascot, switching to the school’s new “Fighting Patriot” mascot. This change marks the Visions shifting power dynamic as they conquer their surrounding area.
Vision’s wife is named Virginia to create alliteration with Vision, furthered in Viv and Vin, but her name also roots her in the setting. She could just as easily have been named Violet or Victoria. This is a story about Virginia (the state) but also about Virginia (the character). Virginia is arguably the real protagonist of the series. Her tragic flaw is wanting to protect her family, which the plot centers around. She has a clear character arc, going from loving to angry to sacrificing herself for the greater good. Vision acts as an absent god, creating the family and furnishing the house and then going off to work while Virginia takes care of the children. In contrast, Virginia’s actions drive the plot forward, both creating and resolving the central conflicts. Vision learns nothing from the events, leaving the heart of the story with Virginia. Virginia is also cut off from the larger surrounding storylines, barely interacting with the Avengers and staying in Virginia, outside of Washington D.C.
There are some larger suburban ideas that Vision explores that are not specific to Washington D.C. or Virginia. The series operates over the course of one school year, from Fall to Spring, positioning the children’s schooling as the primary regulator of the suburban home. There’s an implicit comparison of the suburban patchwork of houses and peoples to a horrifying Frankenstein monster. It questions the role of the father in an explicitly patriarchal setting, with the book carrying the name Vision and the family being the Visions, despite Vision often being absent. It shows how the Marvel Universe is a horrifying intertwined family. All of these work with the brilliant use of setting and should inspire more Marvel/DC writers to set stories in different locations domestic and worldwide.
I apologize for being absent last week, I got sidetracked with school and travelling. Remember to follow me on Twitter and like Gutter Space on Facebook for more updates! New post next week! (And it’s about the King!)