SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Marvel's "The Vision," through this week's issue #9.
The greatest story in the Marvel Universe right now isn't taking place in the world-spanning event "Civil War II"; it's happening in the suburbs of Virginia, where the Vision -- a longtime Avenger -- has been trying to establish himself a nuclear family. Unfortunately for Vision, things get a little nuclear in "The Vision" #9, but in the wrong sense of the word. Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta deliver another emotional gut-punch this issue, in what is becoming the "Breaking Bad" of Marvel Comics.
The arrival of Victor Mancha -- brother, uncle, Runaway -- filled the last issue of "Vision" with hope. He acted like Vibranium near mechanics, soothing and pulling the family into a more functional unit. King made readers feel just safe enough that the revelation of Victor's undercover operation for the Avengers was shocking and thrilling; it felt like the moment Hank Schrader discovered Walter White's secret in "Breaking Bad." It's accidental, but it's the kind of moment where you can almost feel the Earth move out from under the characters. Vic reacts in a panic when he's discovered talking to the Avengers, and -- in a second -- the whole story changes.
As seen in "The Vision" #9, Victor isn't as straight and narrow as we'd thought. While he struggles to calm Vin in the present (we'll get to that kick in the feels in a moment), we flash back to Vic's recent past. As it turns out, his Vibranium thing wasn't just a random occurrence; he's an addict now, hooked on the calming effect of the precious metal.
Walta's work on Victor is unreal. He runs a gamut of emotions in these few moments, from fear to panic to frustration to anger to sadness. The contortion he puts on Vin looks painful, and the sythozoid's look of agony elevates King's dialogue -- just like watching Walter lead Hank to his fate, all because of planning based on fear.
The shocking ending is the biggest news coming out of this issue (pun definitely intended). When "The Champions" was announced and Viv was included in the lineup, everyone wanted to know where Vin was -- and we get our answer here: deactivated with no chance of recovery. Walta draws the moment wide, letting our eyes slowly drink in all of the pain and cold emotion of Vision's trancelike repetition and Victor cowering and tearful in the corner. Virginia reacts with abject horror as more death arrives at her doorstep; like the Skyler White of the series, Virginia is strong as hell, but the compound effect of the secrets and death she's hiding take their toll on her. Even Sparky lies dormant on the ground, just two issues after King asked readers to name him.
The last time death threatened Vision's family, he tore his damned house to pieces; in a stroke of genius, the creative team didn't show us this violence, only the aftermath. This feels like another catalyst moment, and I am terrified to see what is going to happen next -- but this is what King and Walta have done for nine issues. There are many layers to the characters and plot and situations, but Walta has grounded it all with great body language for everyone in the series. His art adds even more depth to the already thrilling scripts. If King is the Vince Gilligan of this series, then Walta is the entire acting ensemble, while colorist Jordie Bellaire is Michael Slovis, director of photography. Jordie's colors quietly guide the emotion of every scene. She excels at finding key colors for the page each time, like the yellow pop of Vibranium in the flashbacks. She makes the precious metal look like a fabled treasure which -- to Victor -- it is.
From the jump, King let readers know that this story was going to end badly. In the first issue, he told us the Visions' neighbors would die in a fire -- which is exactly what happens here. It's heartbreaking in that Chris Claremont way, which uses minor characters as fodder, collateral damage of the familial drama down the street. It's like making friends with a chicken, then having to kill and eat it.
The whole series has built towards what happens in this issue, which climaxes with the catalyst for the third act of King's story. He has dragged Vision through the muck, and for good reason. The idea of this series was for the Avenger to have a "real" life, but here's the catch: a normal life is unpredictable and full of as much tragedy as normalcy. While unpredictability has never been Vision's strong suit, it has been King and Walta's. Every time I pick up this book, I have absolutely no idea what to expect, and that's great storytelling.
While I'm sad we're rounding the final bend in this series, I'm so grateful this story will have a finite conclusion. This is the type of story fans should hand a friend that loves Paul Bettany as the Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's the kind of series you should hand a friend that loves nuanced television drama. It's the kind of series that should be winning Eisners and new readers alike. It's a series I didn't care about when it was announced, but jumped to the top of my must-read list by the second issue. The Vision's pain is our gain.