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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Vision

Today’s guest bloggers are Thomas Shepherd and his twin brother William Kaplan. They were conceived by Steve Englehart for the maxi-series The Vision and the Scarlet Witch, which ended with their birth (#12, September 1986). John Byrne reconceived them in Avengers West Coast (#51, November 1989), retconning them out of existence. And then Brian Michael Bendis rereconceived them back into existence in New Avengers (#10, February 2006). Their genealogy is equally convoluted, but I’ll let the twins explain:

Our father used to be the Human Torch, a Frankenstein-derivative android who burst into flames in 1939 before fizzling in the late forties.

Two decades later, an evil robot rebuilt his burnt-out body, and he lived another two decades as the Vision.

But then the original Torch erupted from a secret grave, so now Dad wasn’t him but a copy soldered from his spare parts.

Only, no wait, that’s not it either, because next it turns out the Vision and the Torch really are the same person but split in two when a time-traveling supervillain manipulated their timeline. For a while the Vision half was dead and his identity may or may not have been inhabiting the sentient armor of the evil time-traveler’s non-evil teen-age self.

But that was before Iron Man reassembled the original Vision from the scraps She-Hulk made of him after he’d been reprogrammed by our mom to destroy the Avengers (our parents had a really bad divorce). And don’t get us started on whether his/their synthoid body is the kind with buzzing wires and clanking pistons or the kind with synthetic organs that gurgle and fart.

So does that mean our grandfather is Kang the Conqueror (the time-splitting supervillain), Phineas Horton (the Human Torch’s inventor), Ultron (the evil robot—in which case, Henry Pym, AKA Ant-Man, the guy who built Ultron, is our great grandfather), or Wonder Man? Sorry, forgot to mention Wonder Man. Ultron used his brain patterns to erase the Human Torch’s memories and personality from the Vision’s synthetic brain. There’s also that other Vision, some weirdo from another dimension who came here in the 1940s to fight crime, so I guess Ultron used his name and look for spare parts too.

Our mom is the mutant Wanda Maximoff, AKA the Scarlet Witch, and her side of the family is even worse. For a while we thought our maternal grandparents were Miss America and the Whizzer, two Golden Agers who ran with that other Vision guy. It made sense, since the Whizzer and our uncle Quicksilver have the same superpower, plus all that mutating radiation Miss America got hit with.

But then it turns out, no, actually Magda, the gypsy wife of Max Eisenhardt, AKA Magneto, secretly gave birth to Mom and her brother in some Eastern Block country called Transia. Magda died, and so they were nannied by a lady with a cow’s head, who the god-like High Evolutionary made. Bova tried to pass the babies off to the Whizzer after his wife died giving birth to a stillborn, but he freaked out and split.

Mom and her twin brother went back into suspended animation for a while, then High Evolutionary thawed them out for Django and Marya Maximoff, who named them Wanda and Pietro.

Villagers thought Mom was a real witch and drove her out with pitchforks, and then her real father Magneto adopted her and Quicksilver into the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Only, no wait! That’s not it either, because now it turns out the Maximoffs really were their parents, but instead of being mutants, they’re just normal humans that High Evolutionary experimented with. So that’s four sets of grandparents just on Mom’s side.

But if High Evolutionary is our grandfather, then the elder god Chthon is too. He was the Devil before Lucifer drove him out, but he preserved a part of his essence in Mom, which is how she got some of her probability-altering “hex” powers. Since it was her hex powers that allowed her to conceive us, we must be part-Chthon. Though some of that hex stuff must have been High Evolutionary’s mutant-like alteration, so, subtracting our temporary adoptive grandpas Whizzer, Magneto, and Django, we still have two different kinds of reality-bending grandpa magic in our genes. Unless it really was Mom’s channeling the “Magick” of the witches of New Salem when she got pregnant, like she thought at the time. Dad was holding onto her, so when the Magick circled them, his DNA was in the mix too. (Some of the witches of New Salem looked like High Evolutionary’s animal-people, but I think that’s just one of those weird coincidences.)

But, no, hold on, instead of Magick or Chthon essense or High Evolutinary’s mutant-like hex powers, it turns out my brother and I were really pieces of Master Pandemonium’s lost soul, the one he traded to get  superpowers from Mephisto (another Devil but not the same Devil as Chthon). Mom grabbed onto them by accident when she was wishing us into existence. When Master Pandemonium got hold of us again, he turned us into evil hand puppets and shot flames out of our mouths.

That sucked. But then Mephisto showed up, and guess what! We weren’t pieces of Master Pandemonium’s lost soul after all—Mephisto just made him think that.

We were really lost pieces of Mephisto’s lost soul, which got shattered by Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic’s little boy, Franklin Richards—a kid who, believe it or not, is even more messed up than we are. Since Franklin’s the one who fragmented us into existence as soul pieces, I guess he’s our grandfather too.

Anyway, we only existed when Mom was thinking about us, which meant when she was in the middle of a battle or knocked-out we would fade away—which apparently freaked out a few babysitters. Mephisto stole us back from the Master Pandemonium, but then our mom’s mentor Agatha Harkness came back from the dead and defeated Mephisto by erasing Mom’s memory of us. That didn’t last though, because after a version of Kang—not his teen-self  but another version named Immortus—filled her with even more superpower, she goes all crazy and de-mutants most of the planet because she’s so upset we never existed. That’s around when she reprogrammed Dad too.

Only, guess what? We do exist! Because when Mom rebooted things after going crazy, she unknowingly rebooted us too. That time she used the extra power Kang-Immortus gave her, so now he’s on both sides of the family tree, which sounds incestuous but isn’t. Instead of giving birth to us again, Mom sent our reincarnated selves out to be born to completely different mothers. That’s why Tommy’s last name is Shepherd and Billy’s is Kaplan.

So even though we are identical twins, we have three mothers, four fathers, five paternal grandfathers, six maternal grandmothers, eleven maternal grandfathers, and no paternal grandmothers.

Or at least we did until the Marvel universe was wiped out in 2015. Now we don’t exist again, and our parents don’t know who any of us are or were or will be next. How do you draw that on a family tree?

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I’ve been assembling an ur-team of Avengers for my book On the Origin of Superheroes, and my first-ever superhero award goes to the Golem. He’s super-strong, impervious to pain, and, when made from clay, can even shapeshift a bit. On the downside, he’s dumb in both senses and so requires close supervision. Sorcerers and programmers beware.

“There is nothing more uncanny than something that is almost human,” says Margaret Atwood. “All our stories about robotics are stories like that. It’s what we have always worried about. It’s the sorcerer’s apprentice story: He learns how to do the charm; he doesn’t know how to turn it off. It’s the Golem story: You make the Golem, you activate it, it’s supposed to do your work for you, and then it runs amok.”

Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy features a genetically engineered species of designer humans, but they’re too mellow to cause the survivors of her apocalypse much trouble. When it comes to magic brooms and water buckets running amok, I picture Mickey Mouse, but Goethe published his poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” while Napoleon was still waging France’s Revolutionary Wars.

Apparently Goethe cribbed the tale from Lucian’s Philopseudes, c. 150 CE, though the word “golem” is even older. It means “shapeless mass” in Hebrew, which is the description of Ben Grimm that Stan Lee typed up for Jack Kirby in 1960: “He’s sort of shapeless—he’s become a THING.” Kirby drew a giant bumpy rock monster that turned orange at the printer’s. I don’t know if either had the Golem in mind, but Fantastic Four writer Karl Kesel did when he decided forty years later that Ben’s full name was Benjamin Jacob Grimm.

thing jewish

Benjamin grew up going to synagogue as a kid and could still recite Torah passages from memory, so he probably knows that “golem” first appears in Psalms 139:16 (“my substance, yet being unperfect”) when David praises God for creating him. The Talmud (c. 200 CE) uses the term to describe Adam’s creation too: “In the first hour, his dust was gathered; in the second, it was kneaded into a shapeless mass.” But jump forward another couple hundred years, and a passage mentions the first living golem: “Rabbah created a man, and sent him to Rabbi Zera. Rabbi Zera spoke to him, but received no answer. Thereupon he said unto him: ‘Thou art a creature of the magicians. Return to thy dust.’”

Apparently they weren’t all that hard to manufacture. All Pygmalion had to do was pray to Venus to bring his ivory statue Galatea to life. Daedalus soldered his golem Talos from bronze. If you’re up on your Kabbalistic techniques, Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Formation) gives a how-to, but Aryeh Kaplan warns apprentices not to attempt it alone. Virgin dirt is also key. Marvel was still printing on pulp paper in 1974, which is why their Strange Tales Golem only ran three issues. Writer Len Wein gave the legend his best superheroic spin:

“In centuries agon, they had called him a myth, a creature formed of stone and clay and the blood of a people’s oppression—a moving monolith who rose before the yoke of  tyranny—shattered it in his monumental fists—then vanished into the sands of time—there to be almost forgotten—until today! Now once more he rises—summoned from his eons-long sleep to protect those he loves.”

marvel golem

Marvel tries not to take sides in the Palestine-Israeli conflict, declaring it

“a war of territory, of ideologies—fought with great fervor but with little gain—fought with loaned weaponry wielded by men—men charged with love of country and the courage of their convictions, but men nonetheless—aye, as in all wars before this, fought by men—imperfect, all-too-human men.”

But those the Golem loves are the family of Jewish archeologists who dig him up, while General Omar leads an army of marauding rapists who pillage the archeological camp and machinegun the grandfather. Uncle Abraham’s dying tear reanimates the creature. “Eyes of a camel!” shouts one of the keffiyeh-wearing soldiers. “The statue—it lives!”

Michael Chabon’s golem surfaces for far less dramatic adventures. His amazing Kavalier and Clay find its coffin filled

“to a depth of about seven inches, with a fine powder, pigeon-gray and opalescent, that Joe recognized at once from boyhood excursions as the silty bed of the Moldau . . . . The speculations of those who feared that the Golem, removed from the shores of the river that mothered it, might degrade had been proved correct.”

My wife and I sat along the banks of the Moldau (AKA Vltava) sipping Budvar in a Prague café in 1996. The ground was too paved to be termed virginal, but the city has a legion of statues and tourist shop figurines already prepped for animation. Prague is to Golem as Metropolis is to Superman. The tales proliferated there like magic brooms in the 1800s. One named Josef protected Jews from a supervillainous Emperor with the additional superpower of invisibility—so basically half of the Fantastic Four. Benjamin Kuras, author of As Golems Go, explains why Golem still adventures in the Czech Republic:

“After living through the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazism and decades of communism, the Czechs are drawn to a character with supernatural powers that will help liberate them from oppression.”


The Golem is also the original “robot,” a Czech word for “laborer” or “slave.” Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (AKA “Rossum’s Universal Robots”) unleashed them on the world, resulting in the extinction of the human race in 1920. Despite the nuts-and-bolts contraptions in promo shots, Čapek’s robots are the flesh-and-blood variety, more like clones or Philip Dick’s sheep-dreaming replicants. Carl Burgos had the same idea when he drew the Human Torch for Marvel Comics No. 1 in 1939. The flames were one of those unintended “run amok” side effects, but rather than burning Brooklyn to the ground, the almost human Torch gets his superpower under control (bringing our Fantastic Four tally to 75%) and vows to help humanity even though humanity tried to seal him in a steel and concrete cage.

marvel comics 1

The Human Torch fizzled in the forties and wandered out to the desert to die—the same fate Wein copied for his Golem. The evil robot Ultron rebuilt the Torch’s burnt-out corpse in 1968, and he was reborn as my favorite childhood superhero, the Vision. But then the original Torch erupted from a secret grave in the 80s, so the Vision was never really the Torch but a copy soldered from spare parts. Only, no wait, that’s not it either, because next it turns out the Vision and the Torch are in fact the same synthoid split in two when a time-traveling supervillain manipulated the timeline. Except then the Vision half was ripped apart by She-Hulk, and his identity may or may not inhabit the sentient armor of the time-traveler’s teen-age self, while his soul returned in a team of Dead Avengers before Tony Stark reassembled his body. And don’t even get me started whether that body is the kind with buzzing wires and clanking pistons or the kind with synthetic organs that gurgle and fart.


Human animation is simpler. My wife returned from Prague pregnant with our daughter. King David praises God for “cover[ing] me in my mother’s womb,” but we followed a very different nuts and bolts process. Though nothing like the Thing, my daughter has been running amok for eighteen years now. She looks a lot more like the clay statue Hippolyte sculpted and, with the help of her gods William Marston and Harry G. Peter, brought to life in 1941—making Wonder Woman the original comic book Golem. Sadly, she’s not available for my team of First Avengers.

wonder woman made of clay

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