…the Origin of the Vision, This Time For Sure!

This guest post comes from Richard Bensam, who in addition to writing unpublished comics for at least four different publishers, and published comics for two of them, also writes and edits for Sequart.org and very occasionally blogs at Estoreal. The comics that first triggered this interest was Avengers #55, the story that introduced Ultron. When the Vision arrived two issues later Richard had already become a devoted fan of the series, only missing one issue in the following twelve years, a lapse which haunts him to this day. This should help you understand why he’s decided to take on the subject matter of today’s fix…

Figure 1: The Golden Age Vision, Aarkus, from Marvel Mystery Comics #24, page 1 (and is that Ultron? Oops, it’s Grosso from the “Dimension of War-Dust”).

From the very first appearance of the Vision there have been some vexing questions never properly addressed in all the subsequent revelations and retcons of the character’s origin. Why did Ultron come up with such an overly complex and not entirely logical scheme of sending a menacing android to first threaten then sort of but not quite infiltrate the Avengers in a way that would fall apart and be exposed almost immediately? If the Vision was only intended to lure the Avengers into a trap, why would that require an android with sufficient powers and will to rebel against Ultron and defeat his creator? Why did Ultron just happen to give that android the name and approximate likeness of the original Vision of the 1940s, a being named Aarkus from another dimension who had been absent from Earth for some twenty-five years?

In fact, Ultron was unknowingly influenced to do these things by Aarkus himself. Aarkus wanted the Vision in the Avengers, and used Ultron as the vehicle to make this happen.

Why? Because Aarkus needed to establish a surrogate acting on his behalf within the Avengers, and do so in such a way that this surrogate could never be traced back to him. Despite the name and appearance, the true connection between Aarkus and his surrogate had to be so obscure that it couldn’t be uncovered even by someone with the ability to monitor all time and space, even if that someone was carefully studying the entire history of the Avengers. Even this agent couldn’t know his true nature – because Aarkus is working against an opponent with telepathic spies placed all throughout human history. And if you’re trying to elude telepathic detection, one strategy would be to use artificial intelligences as your agents: beings whose thoughts can’t be intercepted by telepaths capable of reading organic minds. Nor can your instructions be delivered in the form of programming that might be deciphered if the enemy captures one of your operatives and dumps its memory. Scheming against a nearly omniscient foe requires you to be very circumspect.

From his home dimension, Aarkus is able to send a signal to awaken the sentience of a rudimentary machine intelligence constructed by Henry Pym. Ultron itself is primitive and unstable, but can be used as an unwitting go-between to place a more sophisticated humanoid machine intelligence among the World’s Mightiest Heroes. Ultron will never know the name “Aarkus.”

Even after renovating itself several times, Ultron isn’t up to building the android Aarkus requires, but Aarkus quietly makes arrangements for Ultron to acquire one second-hand. Traveling back to 1924 (yes, Aarkus is a time traveler) Aarkus arranges a sequence of events indirectly leading to a copy of the English translation of Karel Čapek’s play “Rossum’s Universal Robots” being delivered to a public library. The book is left out on a table where it catches the eye of one Phineas Horton. Reading the play inspires Horton’s imagination and leads to a new direction for his studies he would not otherwise have chosen. Fifteen years later – following a period spent in the strange town of Timely, Illinois, as a protege of its unusual mayor – Horton develops the world’s first self-sustaining artificial humanoid.

The Horton android is decades ahead of its time, but its wholly self-contained internal power supply is deficient in some crucial ways. A subsystem meant to allow the android to phase in and out of our dimension – a design Aarkus slipped into the computer database used by “Victor Timely” during his tutelage of Horton – is woefully underpowered. Instead of transferring mass across dimensions, it merely superheats the air around the android, causing the air to combust while rendering the android only slightly immaterial. The humanoid learns to control this effect, enabling him to burst into flame at will and then fly with his greatly reduced mass carried aloft by air currents. Thus is born the Human Torch…his entire career and his role in the Second World War merely a side-effect of Aarkus’ long game.

The Human Torch’s synthetic mind is too sophisticated to be directly influenced by Aarkus the way Ultron was, but that’s not what he was made for anyway. Still, that underpowered subsystem needs to be fixed before the humanoid can serve his intended purpose. Aarkus takes a gamble and steps into Earth history personally, assuming the role of a costumed defender called “the Vision” during the early 1940s. Building a reputation as a hero over a span of the next three years, Aarkus is finally able to meet the Human Torch in person without being seen to make any special effort to do so. During their meeting, Aarkus is able to secretly tamper with the Torch’s power supply. The effects don’t show up immediately, but years later the humanoid’s systems fail, ultimately driving him to sacrifice himself in the Mojave Desert rather than endanger others. By that time, Aarkus has long since returned to the safety of his “shadowy realm” to manipulate events more indirectly.

Another pawn of Aarkus would be the tragic Quasimodo. Through manipulation of Quasimodo, Aarkus is able to lead the Mad Thinker to the inactive Human Torch and further advance the sequence of events that ultimately bring that used android to Ultron. Ultron in turn recruits an aged and despondent Phineas Horton to revamp his first humanoid, making alterations Ultron doesn’t realise have been “suggested” by Aarkus. For one thing, the android’s previous memories are mostly erased and he’s given a new pattern for consciousness based on the recorded engrams of the deceased Simon Williams.

Figure 2: Vision probing his memory and remembering waking up for the first time from Avengers #58, page 9.

The most significant alteration made to the former Torch is that too-weak internal power supply being augmented by an external photonic collector on his brow. This added unit supplies the extra energy needed to get the dimensional phasing effect working at last. No more spontaneous combustion! Now the android can phase some of his mass out of our dimension and become intangible, or draw on mass the same way to increase his density. The android doesn’t realise these are baby steps on the way towards learning how to teleport entirely out of our dimension at will. But with his nascent skills, the Vision goes on to join the Avengers and becomes one of their most pivotal members…just as Aarkus needs him to be.

There are various other AIs who encounter the Vision and the Avengers over the years, among them Isaac of Titan, Jocasta, and Aaron Stack. Each of these is more limited and constrained in their potential than the Vision, but each still serves a purpose in Aarkus’ plan through his ability to subtly manipulate their thought processes. Without ever realising it, these characters guide the Vision in certain directions, giving him experiences Aarkus knows he’ll need in order to develop the personality and skill set Aarkus needs him to have. For instance, his experience with Isaac isn’t a happy one, but it leaves the Vision with the ability to contact other AIs via nonlocal communication, able to influence their behaviour totally undetected the same way Aarkus can.

Funny, isn’t it, that Immortus’ synchro-staff never got around to mentioning any of this while taking the android Vision on a tour of his history? There’s a simple explanation for that as well: the information wasn’t available to the staff or its master. Immortus – with access to all space and time – doesn’t know the real secret of the Vision’s origin. That’s because Immortus is the enemy Aarkus is trying to elude. Aarkus needs the Avengers to help him defeat Immortus, and at a critical moment he’ll need the Vision right there at the center of the team as a trusted friend, able to tell them what to do and have those instructions followed.

Figure 3: Vision and Immortus from Giant-Size Avengers #3, page 37 (no ‘arm done Vizh;).

Aarkus has tried to remove himself from the picture as much as possible, staging a puppet show that will be watched by someone with the capacity to observe all space and time in countless parallel universes. The contradictory origin stories Aarkus told during the Golden Age were intended to cloud the issue. In fact, if Aarkus were to ultimately win his gambit against Immortus, it would have to happen in such a way that history never records it on any of the timelines Immortus can survey. Aarkus has to wage war so quietly his enemy never even knows hostilities were/are/will be declared.

So what is Aarkus really after? Where is he that Immortus could be unaware of him? Logically, he has to be in the one place Immortus can’t observe: right under his nose in Limbo itself. He’s within the citadel of Immortus, using Immortus’ own systems to remain undetected. To Aarkus, Immortus is an usurper in a realm where he doesn’t belong, a conqueror who took over Limbo and used it as a stronghold from which to manipulate history for selfish and destructive ends. The ultimate goal of Aarkus isn’t simply to kill or defeat Immortus, but to alter the events which brought him into  existence so Limbo is free of him. Then Aarkus will be able to claim control of Limbo as its guardian, allowing no one to dominate it and keeping it from being used as the staging ground for any other time conquerors. Immortus, Kang, Doom, the Time Keepers, multiple others cannot be allowed to claim Limbo.

To counter Immortus, Aarkus needs the Avengers – the ones who’ve consistently managed to keep the master of time and space at bay across all his incarnations. And when this silent war against Immortus needs a nudge in the right direction, the Vision will find himself drawn into Limbo, meeting Aarkus face to face for the one and only time in Immortus’ citadel. Here the two will have a “Luke, I am your grandfather” encounter in which Aarkus lays out his role in the Vision’s creation and persuades him of the importance of persuading the Avengers to do what Aarkus needs them to do. The Vision has to be persuaded that Aarkus is absolutely on the side of good and not simply looking to take the role of Immortus for himself.

Fortunately for Aarkus, he knows exactly how to convince the Vision. Aarkus knows the Vision better than anyone. Aarkus knows that well into the Vision’s own future – after his appearance and behaviour have altered several more times, decades or centuries after all his fellow Avengers are all long gone – the Vision will return to Limbo hoping to find Aarkus again. Instead the Vision will find Limbo empty and unguarded. Suspecting someone has eliminated Aarkus and seeing the unsecured state of Limbo as a threat, the Vision will set about refortifying Limbo to continue the plan set forth by Aarkus all those years before. From his history as an Avenger, the Vision will figure out how to locate and organise the anonymous shapeshifting beings called Space Phantoms and use them as builders to reconstruct the citadel of Limbo under his guidance. And as anticipated, an outsider will arrive to claim Limbo as a base of operations. The Vision will be shocked to see Immortus, the foe he believed had been eliminated from history.

The Vision will send the Space Phantoms to defend Limbo…but he’s made a terrible mistake. Having freed himself from enslavement and become his own individual, the Vision truly believed he could teach the passive Space Phantoms to do the same. They respond exactly the way he wants them to respond, but he’s underestimated how malleable and tractable they really are. When faced with the domineering will of their foe, the Vision’s forces defect to serving Immortus instead – their loyalties shifting so completely they forget the Vision was ever there. As a result, Immortus never learns of the Vision and never realises he’s being observed. Right under the nose of Immortus, within the citadel Immortus has claimed as his own, using the tools of Immortus to conceal his presence from his foe, the Vision will finally realise…well, you see what’s coming next.

Aarkus and the android Vision were the same being all along. The Vision is his own grandpa. The snake that swallows its own tail, the self-creating scarab of Egyptian myth. The hero of the 1940s was secretly an android, amused to be called “the Vision” in his heroic exploits of that era as a remembrance of his wonderful but bittersweet earlier life decades later, even as he takes the steps to set that future life into motion exactly as he remembered it. And the cycle needs to be completed so that Immortus can be removed from existence and Limbo freed from control. But to do that, he’ll need the help of his long-gone fellow Avengers.

And who knows: perhaps it was some vague memory of a picture or description of Aarkus from the 1940s that inspired Janet Van Dyne to unconsciously recognise him on seeing the android in person for the first time, causing her to exclaim: “No! It’s some sort of unearthly, inhuman Vision –!”

Figure 4: Vision menacing Janet Van Dyne and she delivers the line that names him from Avengers #57, page 3.

…Ultron’s origin?

Ultron's origin

There are a number of theories floating about on Hank Pym’s behavioural problems. Those problems are observed as far back as Avengers #13. At the start of the issue Janet Van Dyne was particularly bright and perky, but by the end she almost died. Avengers #14 featured the team hunting for a cure for her injury, with Hank on the edge of insanity. A few issues thereafter Hank and Jan quit the team.

While the events of Avengers #14 were used as evidence for Hank’s mental instability, since Giant-Man was in turns despairing, petulant, and angry, some fans suggested Jan was pregnant at the time of her injury and lost the child as a consequence of the shoot­ing.

Further speculation holds that this may have led to Hank’s mental problems and feelings of inadequacy.

The event fits well with the mysterious creation of Ultron as a surrogate child.

So this makes a great explanation for Ultron and Hank’s mental state, but problems need ironing out for this possibility to work.

This idea that Hank and Jan’s unborn child had his brain wave patterns impressed on Ultron’s programming is possible. So, say Hank had that unborn infant’s patterns around, and in a fit of despair, used them for the mind of his robotic “child.” Ultron, on becoming conscious, would have processed environmental stimuli, and using super-fast processing time, all the data in Hank’s computers, faster than a normal biological infant.

It explains why Ultron hates his father and loves his mother. If Hank dictates a personal log into his computers, Ultron would know Hank blames himself for the Wasp’s injury and the loss of the baby. Ultron could believe his own father “murdered” him, while hurting his mother.

We’ve frequently seen that one panel showing the Wasp in an overall bodysuit, in the middle of one of Hanks’ gadgets, as he modifies her metabolism to give her “Wasp” powers. (This always struck me as odd, because Hank never gave himself or anyone else “natural,” biological superpowers; he uses serums and potions and mechanisms.)

It’s safe to assume that process of “empowering” the Wasp happened quite often, and it was accompanied each time by a full physical done by Hank, aided by scanners of Hank’s invention more sophisticated than you’d find in a doctor’s office.

Hank would want to know what was going on in Jan’s body down to the very last DNA strand before he played around with giving her insect super powers, or even “charged her up” each time.

Obviously, then, Hank gives Jan a super power treatment after he knocks her up, then his scans show she’s pregnant. He would know it quickly.

Here’s where the guilt that turned Hank eventually self-destructive comes in: He didn’t tell her.

Why? Because Hank’s a schmuck. He wasn’t sure it was his, and he couldn’t tell her that, either. So does Schmuck Hank with No Self Esteem propose? Noooooo.

He tries to determine the baby’s paternity. And does Hank create the world’s first DNA tests back in 1963? No, he uses brainwaves.

Which is why he took the opportunity to grab a dying man’s brainwaves, so he could study them. Eventually, he found a way to study his own brainwave patterns and Jan’s, by comparing them to Wonder Man’s as a necessary, unrelated third pattern. He recorded the fetus’ brainwave patterns, and established that, indeed, it was his and Jan’s child.

And before he could tell anyone about it, Jan got injured and lost the baby.

Imagine the torment. Because he doubted the fidelity of the woman he loves, and because, well, he’s a jerk, there’s no denying it, he withheld crucial information. Had Jan known she was carrying Hank’s child, she would have put herself on inactive status, the baby would have been born, she and Hank would have married for positive, healthy reasons instead of that sick Yellowjacket situation, and Hank would have never turned into the neurotic mess we all knew and loved, and they would have a biological child by now.

He can never, never, never admit to this. He may be so far in denial (and had so many psychotic breaks) that he no longer remembers it. It was a huge step to admit that he used his own brainwave patterns for Ultron’s mind, but even that’s not the truth. The truth is much darker. Ultron is Jan and Hank’s child, twisted and sociopathic. If Hank knows that, he will never let Jan know it. Most likely, however, he doesn’t know it.

Ultron must know it, and that’s why he taunts his father by calling him “dad.”But Ultron also will never admit to it, because Ultron doesn’t want to admit he has any ties to real humanity. For Ultron to ever admit that he is Jan and Hank’s unborn son, transplanted into robotic form, would be enormously humiliating. He’d have to be forced to do it, and there’s no way to put that kind of pressure on Ultron, since he can’t be permanently killed.

So neither he nor Hank will ever admit to this dark secret, that they really are father and son, and Jan really has a child with Hank, one who wants to kill every last human being on the face of the planet, as well as every other form of biological life.

This post first appeared as my contribution to Assembled!2: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Villains, appearing in Part 2 of that volume as Ultron as Pym’s True Son.

Postscript

You’ll adduce from the above my dislike for Hank’s later psychotic break and spousal abuse of Janet.

I  can’t see why no one up until now has attempted to reveal it as just another scheme of Ultron’s, akin to his mentally controlling the butler Jarvis when in the guise of the “Crimson Cowl” (Roy really did do the definitive Hank didn’t he)?

Shooter himself even had Pym brainwashed to kidnap the Wasp so she could be converted to a metal mate for Ultron in 161.

Christ, Justin Hammer had his scientists working over a long period of time to figure out a way to control Iron Man’s armour remotely so what is so hard to believe about a robot with an Oedipus Complex scheming to make its “father” fall out of favour with its “mother” so it can step in and become the “surrogate” husband?

This to me would seem to be the best, and simplest, way to redeem Hank and it gels with previous continuity.  Just reveal it and then move forward.