Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was even a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye, comic book writers were answering life’s most philosophical questions as they related to Vision and his lover, Scarlet Witch: Could a robot have a soul? Can a mutant and an android fall in love? But in the 1970s, the toughest question dropped in the lap of Avengers writer Steve Englehart occurred in a fan magazine called FOOM: Could one of Marvel’s most popular robots have children?
“It’s always been my opinion that the Vision could not be a natural father,” Englehart responded. “I had played with the idea and rejected it as being impossible to explain in a code-approved comic book. That the Vision could drop around to his local sperm bank and pick up a liter of stuff.”
In the intervening years, the “synthezoid” became the Chekhov’s gun of the Marvel Universe: If you give a robot a penis, then people will begin to obsess over the robot’s penis. According to The New York Times, there were debates on the Age of Ultron set over whether the android should be endowed. And the issue has come up again as Disney+ prepares to release WandaVision on Friday. In November, Paul Bettany, the actor who plays the robot, replied “he’s purple” when discussing Vision’s sexual organs with Comedy Central. But nearly 50 years ago, Englehart summed up why Vision and Wanda’s romance endured outside the mechanics of their sex life.
“We will say for the sake of Wanda that he is physically functional,” Englehart continued. “But I think that the reason I got them married in the first place is because they’re real good for each other, just the characters as established. She’s very understanding with a guy like him. She’s level-headed, very warm.”
In 1974’s Englehart-penned Giant-Size Avengers no. 4, Vision tells Wanda, “You are the only woman for me! I can make you happy! Forget all the human rules and please marry me.”
“To blazes with rules,” she responds.
Ever since that moment, the characters have embarked on a half-century journey that’s turned them into comics’ most turbulent couple. Since their debut, Vision and Wanda have been married, divorced, and separated. In different eras, Wanda dated the man Vision’s brain waves were based on, almost killed her soon-to-be husband, and then finally murdered him. In later years, Vision has come back to life, made a robot wife based off Wanda’s brainwaves, and had kids of his own. And at their story’s most convoluted points, they’ve been parents to children birthed by magic who were later retconned to contain the souls of demons, and who would eventually die and be resurrected as future Young Avengers. With the debut of WandaVision, it’s unclear how the show will adapt such a messy, convoluted, and horny relationship into the confines of the MCU’s inaugural TV show.
Vision and Scarlet Witch became the emotional center of those early Avengers comics, mostly out of necessity. Before 2012’s Avengers made the world care about Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes, they were often just a collection of also-rans. The team’s most popular heroes had solo books, which meant the majority of their character development never happened in the pages of Avengers. When Roy Thomas created Vision in 1968’s Avengers no. 57, it was mostly to fill a logistical need.
“Stan [Lee] kept taking Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor away from the Avengers,” Thomas told Yahoo in 2015. “Every few months I would request to bring them back to the fold. I would say, ‘You left me with a bunch of losers here.’ ... Then Stan suddenly said it was time to make up a new character, to bring in a new Avenger.”
In that first issue, Thomas described Vision as “every inch a human being, except that all his bodily organs are constructed of synthetic materials.” He was written as a man stuck in an android’s body, which made him one of the few characters that could have a complete arc since he wasn’t beholden to any other books. The dichotomy of the Wanda and Vision characters—witch vs. robot, magic vs. science, chaos vs. order, emotion vs. logic—made them a natural choice to become the emotional center of a depleted Avengers roster.
“I felt that a romance of some sort would help the character development in The Avengers, and the Vision was a prime candidate because he appeared only in that mag … as did Wanda, for that matter,” Thomas added in Back Issue. “So they became a pair, for just such practical considerations. It would also, I felt, add to the development I was doing on the Vision’s attempting to become ‘human.’”
Unfortunately, little of that ambition ever made it to the MCU versions of Vision and Wanda. Since their debut in 2015’s Age of Ultron, the two’s relationship has mostly played offscreen. When Thanos pulls the Infinity Stone out of Vision’s head in Infinity War, it’s more of a mercy killing for a character and relationship that always seemed too weird and unwieldy to ever play out on screen. And besides Robert Downey Jr.’s horndog performance in the first Iron Man and a stray joke about Chris Evans’s butt, the MCU has subsisted on a mostly sexless, relationship-free vision of the comic world.
The contours of Vision and Wanda’s relationship were always indebted to soap operas more than straightforward superhero stories. The biggest comic book stories of the late ’70s and early ’80s, like Chris Claremont’s X-Men and Marv Wolfman’s The New Teen Titans, often focused as much on unlikely romances, betrayals, and character swings. Wolverine, Cyclops, and Jean Grey were in a love triangle. The first Robin became Nightwing and railed against his mentor. Terra betrayed Beast Boy. Like most of those characters, Vision and Scarlet Witch could mirror the plights of real people, because they weren’t as iconic as superhero mainstays like Superman and Captain America. The sitcom-infused bliss of the duo’s 1982 and 1985 comics spinoff, Vision and the Scarlet Witch, is striking in how much of the story focuses on the domestication of the couple. In each series, Vision and Wanda embark on mundane tasks, such as buying a house or contemplating the idea of children, which makes basing WandaVision on sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show and Bewitched less of a farfetched proposition.
What will prove more difficult for WandaVision is doing what the comics couldn’t. Even at their most popular, Vision and Scarlet Witch never sold millions of toys, launched cartoons, or helmed multiple comics. Their relationship became so radical because they weren’t responsible for bringing in millions of dollars to stakeholders. Vision and Scarlet Witch could grow in ways Clark Kent and Lois Lane or Peter Parker and Mary Jane couldn’t. Like real relationships, they fell in and out of love, had children, got divorced, and remarried. A TV show—let alone a family-friendly one on a Disney streaming vehicle—will likely smooth over the rockiest parts of their comic book history. But if WandaVision can capture some semblance of the characters’ popularity over 50 years later, it will prove that even C-list romances eventually deserve to take center stage.