When Alan Moore was writing his legendary Saga of the Swamp Thing run in the 1980’s, DC started branding the words “Sophisticated Suspense” at the top of each cover. It was the perfect juxtaposition of descriptors, because Moore was telling a perfectly balanced tale. It was bone chilling and eery, but also beautiful and elegant, and it was somehow exploring the human condition through a character that was not technically human. The run was a pinnacle of storytelling, and Tom King has achieved that same level of excellence in his current run on The Vision.
When the story begins, Vision has literally built a family for himself: a wife, Virginia, and two children, Vin and Viv. They live in a quiet Virginian suburb within flying distance of Vision’s job at the White House. Everything seems perfectly normal, and it is at first. It’s too normal; it’s an unsettling amount of normal.
Slowly but surely, things begin to unravel for the Visions. While their patriarch is away, the family is attacked by the Grim Reaper, who proceeds to wound Viv and wreck the house. Virginia acts swiftly, protecting her family with a baking pan, killing the Reaper in the process.
The whole sequence is jarring, and that’s what makes this series great. It sets up these tranquil scenarios, lulls the reader into a false sense of security, and then swiftly pulls the rug out. The narration remains calm all the while, only adding to the creep factor.
The artwork aids in the rattling in a huge way. Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s pencils and Jordie Bellaire’s colors creates a subdued and unsuspecting atmosphere, which makes the shocking moments that much more impactful. And trust that the artwork doesn’t hold back; the horror sequences are just as gruesome as the dinner scenes are peaceful.
This volume would be a good enough prose novel on its own, but it makes a near perfect comic book when coupled with these illustrations.
The rest of this arc revolves around Virginia trying to cover up the murder, and the ramifications it has on both her family and the community as a whole. It’s an interesting story, but it’s one that’s been heard before. What elevates it is Tom King’s natural ability to take the cliché and shine a light on its deeper philosophical themes.
The story becomes about humanity, and the androids’ struggle to understand it and blend in with the world. As logical beings by design, their impulses don’t correspond with what they know as “normal” human behavior. The family clashes with their neighbors and peers in a way that’s both heart wrenchingly depressing and hysterically real.
This book is everything that good science fiction is supposed to be. It takes a concept and stretches it to fantastic lengths, making it unbelievable and yet totally relatable. The characters are holding a mirror up to the reader and asking, “Is this normal? Are you normal?”
The Vision: “Little Worse Than a Man” is the kind of work that validates comics as a legitimate art form. It’s the kind that could (and should) be taught in higher education’s english and philosophy courses. Tom King and company prove that this is a serious medium to deliver life lessons, and to dissect society’s flaws.