The Vision, his semen, and his friends

Foom #12

Foom #12

That’s the second issue I received in the mail upon becoming a member of Friends Of Ol’ Marvel in 1975. As you can see, it featured the Vision, introduced with great force & verve during the later stage of Roy Thomas’ Avengers run, and developed into one of the finest favorite heroes of the day by Steve Englehart, the writer on the book when this issue of FOOM came out.

In the featured interview, they’re talking about the Vision and Scarlet Witch, understandably, as during Englehart’s run, he brought the whole tortured-attraction thing to its end, first with much whacked soap opera involving the Swordsman and Mantis (who became the Celestial Madonna, instead of Moondragon; this was when cockamamie Marvel plots were written on the good stuff, or so I speculate) and then with them getting married. The story of this event had been published just weeks before.

giant-size-avengers-4That’s Mantis on the left there, getting married to some cosmic plant whatsis who’s taken the glowy semblance of the dead Swordsman which is creepy and gross. In this or one of the associated stories, they have sex, like actually on-panel, with a swirly Tao symbol in the background. See too how Iron Man, Thor, and an itsy bit of Hawkeye are wedged into the art to confirm that this is at least nominally an issue of The Avengers. For the life of me I can’t recall what Dormammu had to do with it, and since Celestial Madonna necrophiliac Tao sex is going on, who cares?

In the FOOM interview, the conversation turns toward whether the Vision and the Scarlet Witch can have a kid, what with the Vizh being basically made out of plastic.

You gotta love 70s interviews, there’s no attention to protecting a brand or selling oneself as a product. It’s like watching Soul Train and realizing that no, there was no wardrobe person who double-checked every stitch before someone went on camera, they just showed up and whatever they wore went on-screen with them. And as for what they said or might say, who knows? Roll’em!

Case in point: Englehart mentions artificial insemination as the obvious and only solution.

It’s more topical than you might think. Obviously livestock techniques had been around for a long time, and even using frozen sperm dates back to the 1950s, but the 1970s is when the commercial sperm bank entered the culture. It was a big topic of the day right alongside vasectomies, in tandem in fact, with much talk of storing one’s sperm and then getting snipped, for babyless screwing with the option of a screwingless baby later, if you wanted one. This sort of thing figured heavily in Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, a book which I am certain Englehart knew by heart.

For perspective, the Roman Catholic Church had pronounced the Pill impermissible in 1968 after over four years of deliberation, Roe vs. Wade went on from about 1970 through 1972, and IVF was as hot and undecided a topic between the legislature and the National Institutes of Health as cloning and stem cells are in recent memory. As with stem cells, genetic engineering, and cloning (completely different things), sperm donation was hopelessly entangled in the public mind with in vitro fertilization. The travails of a hapless showcase couple named John and Doris Del-Zio were in and out of the news for years, including one literal case of sabotaging their attempt at IVF. I think the term “test tube baby” emerged specifically from their media coverage, and again in an English woman’s pregnancy a few years later.

In the early 1960s, a donor insemination (DI) pregnancy was ruled legitimate (i.e. the child was not illegitimate) by a Georgia court. In 1968, a man named Sorensen was held legally accountable for child support for the DI child born to his wife. In 1973, the Uniform Parentage Act settled it federally that the donor is not legally the father, ever.

Consider the generation time too – this is when the people who were about ten when the Pill became available were confronting grown-up choices, even as both the technology and law were in flux. They were looking for economic options, but they were also trying to figure out what was right, at best, and at the very least, cool. Drs. Rothman and Sims opened the first commercial sperm bank, the California Cryobank, in 1977. Therefore Steve’s mention was not politically neutral, as a casual reference to an everyday technological convenience. In 90s terms, he might as well have talked about a Marvel character getting an abortion in an it’s-an-option way. In fact, much like abortion prior to Roe vs. Wade, sperm donation prior to the mid-70s was widespread but kept very quiet pending the settling of its legal status.

Anyway, simply, completely unstudied, an ordinary guy talkin’, riffin’ on the subject, Englehart muses about whose sperm would be used and suggests that Steve Rogers or Jarvis would be the obvious candidates. As a possible story in the Avengers. Thinking nothing of it, the editor of FOOM sends it to the printer and off the issues go to the eleven-year-olds like me.

Can you imagine the PR lawyers getting smacked with that kind of interview in the bona fide oh-ficial Marvel fan magazine today? Holeeee shit, I can see it now, the barrage of “our fine author didn’t mean that,” quickly changing to “our fine author didn’t say that,” and “speculation that semen or sperm exists in the Marvel Universe 616 or otherwise is completely unfounded,” “Marvel Entertainment, its employees, and all its affiliates have no idea what sperm, or this other thing, artificial insemination, actually are,” as heads quietly roll behind corporate doors, and a zillion injunctions fly to scotch the twittering and youtubes with bogus proprietary claims … countered of course by viral internet JPEGs of cosplay tableaux including turkey basters and a run on Jarvis-costume wear.

Better times, my friends. Those were better times.

There’s a sad ending for me here too. Sometimes it’s not good to revisit a beloved title. Exactly a decade later, somewhere in the mass of incomprehensible blithering that was the Secret Wars 2, in one of the V & SW miniseries, Wanda used a hex to mess with whatever it is the Vizh regularly squirted into her unmentionable, and got pregnant that way.

There's gotta be something in there to hex, right?

There’s gotta be something in there to hex, right?

I read that issue with some sadness, especially since it had been written by Englehart. The equivalent panels depicting the vial delivered to the grateful couple with some pride by Cap and/or Jarvis vanished from the realm of imagination, never to be seen again.

Next: At corporate, they just sell paper

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About Ron Edwards

Game author and publisher via Adept Press / Biology author and former professor

Posted on March 15, 2015, in Heroics, Politics dammit, The 70s me, The 80s me, Vulgar speculation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. If the CDC ever needs a cheap field test to determine who’s a Marvel Zombie or not, asking someone if they have strong views on Wanda’s Babies may be the best option.

    So: Captain America would refuse because he remembers that Wanda had a crush on him back in the early days and it would be effing awkward. Jarvis would do it because if an Avenger asks him to jerk off, his only question would be “Which hand, master?”

    But the obvious answer is to dig up ol’ Wonder Man (dead at the time) and use Super Technology to harvest his rotting testicles for sperm. Naturally, the only super scientist for the job is Hank Pym, whose main area of scientific expertise is doing creepy, psychologically twisted stuff to women.

    It’s true we didn’t go down that route. But Wanda’s use of hex powers did lead to her having Magic Babies, which in turn led to this (not sure if this blog allows links, but in this case it should)

    This, in turn, led to John Byrne recycling the “Women With Too Much Power Are Gonna Go Crazy” theme. Which was recycled 15 years later by Brian Bendis to do the whole “Avengers Disassembled” storyline, and the “House of M” and “Decimation” storylines. While these ended up pretty much defining the next 5-8 years of Marvel mega events in the mid-2000’s, they ALSO pretty much ruined the Scarlet Witch as a character for all time.

    I started reading the Avengers in the mid-80’s, a while after the Vision and the Scarlet Witch had left, and it was a huge surprise to me to discover that apparently the Vision was popular in the 1970’s, because he kind of sucks. But he was obviously Roy Thomas’s favorite dude, just as Mantis was clearly Englehart’s favorite gal. (She shows up later on in Englehart’s Silver Surfer run, which is by far the best of what Englehart was doing in the late 80’s.)

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  2. Like I said, better times.

    James, I’ll be interested in your response to the ‘Verse tag once it gets going.

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  3. “speculation that semen or sperm exists in the Marvel Universe 616 or otherwise is completely unfounded,” 

    Mama, where _do_ superbabies come from? 

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  4. Hexes, silly! (thanks Stephan)

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  5. Not completely unrelated, including our friends the Cotati Death Cocks:

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  6. The horror. I recognize every name in that thing, no Googly-woogly necessary. You’d think a Ph.D. in zoology would replace or crowd out at least some of it, but no.

    Even worse horror. I suspect Mark Gruenwald taped this diagram to the interior left wall of every Marvel cubicle in 1980.

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  7. Not being able to add to things on the comics side, I’ll poke at the cultural zeitgeist mention of Future Shock with the Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb”. Did the apocalyptic peril of overpopulation present itself in the Marvel/etc. universe?

    (Note: I wasn’t a comic reader, but I know to use properly profuse and persistent alliteration in the discussion. Which while maybe annoying, maybe also shows … something?)

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  8. I was totally going to come in and post the obvious comment about Wonder Man being the only sensible donor candidate here (Vision being based on his brain waves or something like that), but of course it being the obvious route to take, I’m too late. Shame, though – that seems like it could be a pretty good story (as in, capable of saying something about the human psychology and feelings involved in artificial insemination), for all that I don’t really understand the point of Avengers in general.

    That hex baby thing is just weird, though. Of all the big-name Marvel comics, Avengers just might feature the weirdest history of borderline offensively stupid soap opera plot twists. This is not nearly the first time I sort of feel bad for the Scarlet Witch, having to hang out with that sausage club in downtown NY instead of getting to live down at the Xavier ranch 😀

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  9. What a difference a decade (or two) makes, Eero. “My” Avengers was a decidedly female book: Mantis, the Scarlet Witch, and the Wasp, with the Black Widow on reserve, and later Moondragon and the Hellcat. They were not only present, but usually in well-defined and changing emotional situations, with understandable personal goals. I found, for instance, Claremont’s X-Men women of the 70s to be uncertain, emotionally unstable, and kooky by comparison.

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  10. I’m getting a scary notion that maybe you guys aren’t seeing the point. The mention and apparent near-inclusion of donor insemination in the mid-70s showcases three things: (1) the presence of ordinary human concerns as a topic for superhero comics events, (2) the presentation of current, politically and ethically sensitive technology as part of those concerns, and (3) the loose, others might say incompetent editorship that permitted such inclusion, or in this case mention, to occur ad lib, i.e., neither as policy and not stopped by policy. It strikes me that you’re equating “weirdness” of the 90s with “weirdness” of the early 70s, and I need to kill that awful thought dead. The baby-hands situation, for instance – where is any hint of the above #1-3? Nowhere. I’m not writing about the FOOM interview because I think it’s weird, but rather the opposite.

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  11. I think the #3 is the prevalent reason. Did you read some of Jim Shooter’s description of the state of old Marvel in his blog? Sure, it all about showing him as the savior of Marvel… but if even half of what is confirmed by others is true, I am not sure he wasn’t… the Marvel he describe was a company on the verge of being closed any day, with the common reasoning that comics will be dead in ten years, top, and nobody want to be stuck in a dead-end job as “editor in chief”… the writers (and artist) practically edited their own books, and they could publish the most strange shit (even for the times) they wanted…. for example…

    – Having God being a sorcerer from the future
    – Having every marvel superhero and every reader die. For real. And NOT being resurrected afterwards Every marvel character now is a clone.
    – Having a superhero get their powers from Satan, and being rescued by Jesus Christ.
    – Having Adam Warlock die on the cross, to atone for counter-earth people’s sins.
    – Having Dormammu rape mother earth to conceive himself in her womb
    – Having a celestial Madonna conceive a Savior with a pland-animated dead person
    – having Hercules drag Manhattan with a very big chain.
    – having Shang-Chi humiliate his father making fu manchu lick the floor.
    – having Dracula fight an Angel from Heaven. (notice how all these depiction of heaven and hell contradict each other, continuity be damned)
    – having an entire issue of Daredevil being a single car chase.
    – and these are only the things I remembered just now…

    These are the memorable things because they were daring, but there were a lot of simply contradictory and stupid things (like the Manhattan bit above) that almost nobody recall becase they were not memorable.

    It was a strange time. It allowed the development of books that would not even be conceivable under Shooter’s regime (Tomb of Dracula, Shang-Chi, Warlock, Ghost Rider, Don Mc Gregor’s Black Panther, etc., even Conan in a way) but for many books was their lowest point until the ’90s (another moment of total confusion, fueled this time by corporate greed and readers gullibility)

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  12. A late addendum: I am sad in finally re-reading that issue that my remembered Celestial Madonna necrophiliac Tao sex panel isn’t in it. It’s totally in my mind’s eye, though! Some other issue referring to the event, maybe. Perhaps one of you archival freaks scholars can help me on that.

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