“For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;”

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Locksley Hall”

In a year that celebrated the imminent Singularity underlying the first season of HBO’s smash hit Westworld, Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and their cohorts at Marvel Comics took a somewhat quieter path. While the Gnostic parable of the Michael Crichton-based robot cowboy morality play unfolded, King and Walta also told a story about the interaction between artificial intelligence and human beings, and how such a relationship is bound to result, like clockwork, the way you expect any human interaction with “the other” to end.

Tonally more Primer-meets-Watchmen than a superhero Westworld, King and Walta’s The Vision, a quiet, twelve-issue allegory, was the ultimate suburban horror story. The Vision, a superhero and Avenger made a household name after his cinematic debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2014) and his strong second showing in Captain America: Civil War (2015), was something of a curiosity among members of the team. You see, like Lt. Commander Data or Caprica Six or even Maeve Millay, The Vision, despite being an artificial lifeform, was always the most human of the Avengers. But, like Data and Maeve, Vision never really had his own life outside of the job. Sure, he was married to the Scarlet Witch for a time, and their union ran into the ground fairly quickly, plagued as it was by Magneto, a pregnancy caused by dark magicks, jealousy and, of course, bigotry. So what if he branched out on his own? What if the Vision, the inarguable heart of the Avengers, went out into the world, on his own, and, to paraphrase Nikos Kazantzakis, “live like a man”? What if that man had to work a job? What if that man wanted to live like other people, and have his own family? What if that family’s own hopes, dreams and desires – even desires as simple as survival – became a twisted, horrific whirlwind that threatened to destroy not just the family itself, or even the simple suburb in which they lived – but the world itself?

King and Walta ask these questions right off the bat. And their answers, while honest, are far from comfortable. And they result, of course, in the finest comic of 2016.

As the superhero community’s liaison to the White House, The Vision and his family – his wife, Virginia, and their twins, Viv and Vin, who call to mind his earlier attempts at parenting with the Scarlet Witch – live in a suburb of Washington, DC. Every day, whether it’s in Washington or a planet in a far-off part of the galaxy, The Vision goes off to work, where every day is a chance for him to save the world yet again. Viv and Vin go to school, where they are met with bigotry, scorn and fear. And Virginia, one day while alone at home, is set upon by the murderous Grim Reaper, an old foe of the Avengers’ with intimate ties to Vision and Wonder Man, whom she kills in self-defense, burying him in the family’s yard.

And so the family, and the story, begins to unfold.

King’s clever, heartbreaking writing uses a twelve issue structure similar to the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic Watchmen, calling upon meta allusions to that series, as well as driving home his points and themes with quoting Shakespeare (most notably Romeo & Juliet and The Merchant of Venice) and calling to mind the original 1970s version of Omega the Unknown in a later issue. Narrated entirely as a series of past events, King isn’t afraid to spoil his own story; in fact, often doing so makes the series more effective, more heartbreaking, even scarier. It’s a rare and gifted author who can achieve such a feat, and King, a former CIA analyst who once served in Iraq, makes it look effortless. Every single Chekhov’s Gun the reader notices over the mantle in the debut issue has been taken down and fired by the last issue’s final panel.

Walta’s art has a sort of unique photographic quality to it; it’s not so much photorealistic, but it has the type of quality you would get if, perhaps, you could take a snapshot of your more realistic dreams. Walta’s art, then, combines brilliantly with King’s tense, funereal story, giving us the perfect image of a nightmare in progress that none of us are capable of stopping. If King’s writing forces you to fall in love with the Visions, Walta’s sly, subtle depictions of their genuine emotions makes their tragedies all the more painful.

In a year fraught with terrors and scares that seemed to emerge from an outlandish horror movie – a year where a misogynistic failed wine salesman was elected President after running a platform of ignorance and hatred, a year where heroes ranging from David Bowie and Prince to Carrie Fisher and John Glenn were taken by time or illness left and right, a year where cities like Aleppo caught fire and never seemed to stop – it seems odd to turn to what is inarguable one of comics’ greatest-ever horror stories for an escape. And yet, like Ingmar Bergman’s classic Persona or David Lynch’s melodic Mulholland Drive, The Vision serves a unique purpose: it reflects the terrors and pains of the real world, and tries to give us a guide for what to do next, and how to help those around us who we love more than anything.

But, like those stories, and like the ongoing and unfolding tragedies in places like Aleppo and beyond, The Vision shows us that, for good or ill, that the desperate, the angry, the scared and the hurt will almost always do whatever they think is right to survive – even when that move is objectively the wrong one to make.

And sometimes, that’s the most terrifying thing one can think of. Especially on an average street in a small, suburban town, where, as Rod Serling once warned, there are monsters due.

Vision Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man and Vision Vol. 2: Little Better Than a Beast, a paperback duology containing the whole series, are now available for purchase.