The Avengers and Interracial Intimacy

A couple of years ago I started reading older issues of Avengers, specifically some written by Steve Englehart. Amid all of the superhero action and fighting, there is a commentary on interracial intimacy within the relationship between Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) and Vision (an android). Their relationship begins around Avengers 108 (Feb. 1973) as Wanda is in search of her brother Pietro (Quicksilver) and fears for his life. Over the next six issues, their relationship plays a role in the ongoing stories, and it serves, in many ways, as a commentary on the views towards interracial intimacy at the time.

Wanda and the Vision’s relationship appears only five years after the Loving v. Virginia decision in 1968 and Nichelle Nichols and William Shatner’s onscreen kiss in Stark Trek, four years after Raquel Welch and Jim Brown’s sex scene in 100 Rifles, and around the same time as discussions of interracial intimacy appeared on the small screen on shows like All in the Family (1971) and The Jeffersons (1975). Archie Bunker and George Jefferson expressed the fears surrounding interracial relationships that remained even after the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws, and it is within this cultural milieu that Wanda and the Vision’s relationship begins.

At the end of issue 108, Hawkeye complains about having a “hard day,” and Wanda responds by asking him if it has been harder than trying to figure out if her brother is still alive or not. As she turns and walks away, Vision looks at her and approaches. He tells her that the recent adventure has taught him about brothers and feelings. He consoles her and says, “I can offer no promises about your brother, but I can offer my shoulder, if you wish it.” Vision shows support for a grieving Wanda, and in that support, a relationship is formed. The final panel shows the two embracing with Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man in the foreground letting Wanda and Vision have their moment. This image foreshadows the Avengers’ acceptance of the couple and their role in protecting the couple from those who seek to tear the them apart.

In issue 109, Wanda and Vision’s relationship becomes readily apparent to the reader. Wanda tells Iron Man how Vision is “the kindest, gentlest man in the entire blinking world!” By offering a shoulder for Wanda to, as she says, “lean on,” he comforts her and begins to forge a romantic bond. After Vision talks about learning to feel, Iron Man makes his exit, and as he does, he thinks to himself, “And I’ll say a little prayer, too, because society isn’t going to go for this once the news gets out, and although young love can move mountains, I hope you know what you’re letting yourselves in for.” Iron Man does not condemn the relationship, but he does understand the obstacles facing the couple, obstacles from a prejudiced society that sees the relationship as a contagion and detrimental to progress.

One of the first indications of opposition comes in issue 110 when Wanda gets a call from her brother Pietro. Pietro is excited to tell his sister that he has fallen in love with Crystal, a member of the Inhumans. After he tells Wanda about how Crystal saved him, he informs his sister, “Crystal and I are in love. and we plan to be married!” Wanda is ecstatic and replies, “And I have equally good news for you! The Vision and I have declared our love for each other so. . . “ Pietro cuts Wanda off mid sentence and screams, “What?!! After my repeated warnings against such a travesty? Haven’t you any sense at all? Don’t you realize. . . “ Wanda asks how Pietro can respond in such a manner and whether or not he even cares about her happiness.

The next panel shows Iron Man, Thor, and Black Panther as witness to the scene as Pietro’s words scroll over their heads. Pietro proclaims, “What has happiness got to do with this situation? There is a right and there is a wrong! No sister of min may become involved with a. . . a. . . a robot!” This panel is important for a couple of reasons. For one, it shows Pietro’s harsh vitriol against Wanda and the Vision’s relationship, a corollary to interracial relationships. Pietro would not have a problem if Wanda had a relationship with someone like Crystal, another human with superpowers, but since Vision is a synthetic android, he sees the pairing as an abomination. The second point is the framing of the panel. Rather than seeing the participants of the conversation, we see those who overhear it and their reactions. What will they do? How will they respond? It’s as if the panels asks the reader, “How would you respond here? What would you do?”

Pietro abruptly ends the call, forbidding his sister from even loving “that thing.” Vision embraces Wanda, again comforting her, and the final panel shows the rest of the Avengers and Captain America as he thinks, “Pietro lived under the same roof with the Vision. How will the outside world hurt them?” After seeing Pietro’s outburst, Captain America, like Iron Man, realizes the ways that the outside world will view Wanda and the Vision’s relationship, and by thinking this, he also implicitly asks, “What will I do when they face the hate of the outside world?”

The Avengers do not have the luxury to sit around and work through the conversation between Wanda and Pietro because they must head to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to help free the X-Men from Magneto’s clutches. However, on the way to Xavier’s School, we see the team having conversations with themselves about the episode that just transpired. Wanda and Captain America ride together, and he tells her that she has done nothing wrong and that the choice to love her lies with Pietro, not herself. He finishes by stating, “You don’t have to play by his rules.” This line, of course, echoes the “rules” that deny Tee Bob and Mary Agnes a relationship in Gaines’ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

The next panel shows Thor as he flies through the air. He thinks about his love for “a woman of another culture: the mortal Jane Foster.” That relationship caused problems, yet, as Thor reminiscences, the relationship “did persevere” for a time until, it appears, the outside pressures causes their relationship to fall apart. He concludes by thinking, “A most unpleasant parallel to ponder.” When we see Iron Man, he thinks about all of the women he has loved, and in the process he thinks, “I’ve never seen love like Wanda and the Visions.” Thor and Iron Man, as they do earlier, note the obstacles in the way of the relationship between Wanda and Vision, yet they also know that the couple love one another. They do not stand in the way, and they ultimately stand in the gap.

The last two panels of this sequence show Vision as he flies above the city. We do not get his thoughts, but we do get a narration that asks us to think about his feelings: “And meantime, the object of all this Avengerial thought floats quietly across the teeming city, above the people who will soon judge him. Does he hope for their tolerance? Fear their anger? Despise their importance to his peace of mind in the first place? Or is he, in truth, above all that?” Rather than having Vision ask these questions, Englehart confronts the reader head on, making him or her think about the ways that prejudice affects the mind of an individual.

Notably absent from these reflections is Black Panther. He leaves for Xavier’s School in his own craft, alone with his own thoughts. What does it say that in a story arc about interracial intimacy we don’t see the thoughts of the one Black character in the book? Is that to placate white readers? I’m not really sure, and it’s something I need to think about more.

The beginning of Avengers #113 is symbolic in its own right. On the first page, we see the Avengers — Scarlet Witch, Vision, Black Panther, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America — rebuilding the Statue of Liberty after Cog tore the monument up in Astonishing Tales #18. Lady Liberty’s torch-baring hand breaks free of the statue and falls towards the ground, Wanda in its immediate path. Vision leaps into action, transforming his body into the density of a diamond, resulting in the falling arm breaking upon his back. Once they regain their composure, the couple embrace and share a kiss.

From the ground, a man gazes up at the couple as they share an intimate moment and angrily asks, “What in the world? The android kissing a mutant?” Even if the man has a problem with mutants, he recognizes, in his equation, that Wanda is human. This is the same argument that Pietro deployed against Wanda in Avengers #110. Both men see Wanda as human and the Vision as other, an android in the case, and not human. Thus, they perceive the love that Wanda and Vision share as an abomination and as a threat to their very existence. This, of course, are the same feelings that those opposed to interracial relationships expressed and, unfortunately, continue to express.

On the ground, Mike Williams, a reporter, interviews the crowd about “the recently revealed romance between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.” A young boy responds, “Who needs an opinion? They’re happy, it’s great!” A man lauds the Avengers’ saving the world countless times and adds, “Any joy that comes to any of them is richly deserved.” A woman then lists off multiple famous couples before stating, “I just love famous people in love!” Finally, the man we saw earlier proclaims, “They aren’t people! It makes me sick!” At this point, Williams tells his crew to edit this guy out of the piece.

The man gets his crew together and even sends a threatening letter to Avengers’ Mansion which Captain America opens and reads. The man writes that Wanda and Vision “will bring hellfire and Brimstone to america,” a sentiment echoed, again, in reality as Donna Pinckley’s photograph series Sticks and Stones shows. Captain America crumbles the letter up and hurls it into the fire, proclaiming, “Mister ‘frend,’ I don’t know about your God, but a God of love is mine!” (emphasis original).

At a meeting to plan the attack on Vision, the man plays upon the groups fears that Vision represents a contagion that will take over humanity. He tells his followers, “And mark my words, if Vision finds his place in society, there will be more androids , and more after that, until all humanity will become second class citizens, under a super-race of robots!” Just like individuals who oppose interracial relationships, the man argues that the contamination and contagion of Vision becoming “human” will ultimately lead to the downfall of the human race. Again. this is the same argument, as I have shown on this blog, that racists project in opposition to interracial intimacy.

As the fight begins, the narrator informs the reader, “Twisted: the only word to describe these people. Acting from deep-seated fears, they’ve chosen a path of hate instead of understanding. And isn’t it sad hat such people are not uncommon?” Like the EC Comics “preachies” in the 1950s, the Avengers’ arc of Wanda and Vision confronts the reader with the psychology of racism. The big difference, however, is that the Avengers presents its lesson through metaphor instead of reality. I plan to look at the letters’ sections of these issues to see how readers responded, and I wonder if the message came through.

One of the Living Bombs blows himself up and injures Vision. The Avengers take him back to the mansion and try to save him. During the battle, Black Panther comments on the Living Bombs’ leader: “The man’s a demagogue. He builds emotional arguments on illogical premises! All of his conclusions are wrong, which must be why he’s the vision’s natural enemy!” Interestingly, T’Challa thinks these lines, unlike the earlier instance where we see the other Avengers’ thoughts and not his. This is important because it links, in a way, T’Challa’s blackness with the relationship between Wanda and the Vision.

After the Avengers defeat the Living Bombs, Tony Stark tells the group that Vision will pull through. Wanda appears conflicted with the news as she says, “Of course! he hero never dies in the final reel!” An angry Captain American then asks, “Wanda! What are you saying?” This question prompts Wanda to respond in the final two panels of the issue. She tells the group,

I’m saying that the Vision is a hero. He’s helped save this rotten planet again and again! And more that that, he’s the best man I’ve ever met! But those humans only saw him as a threat! A threat!! Even my own mutant brother hates him. And he of all people should know what the Vision is like! All right, if it’s the two of us against the world, that’s the way it will be! But, look out, world!

Within Wanda’s comments, she refers to Vision not as the other or as an android. Rather, she calls him a “man.” This is important because it highlights the way that language constructs meaning. By referring to Vision as a man, she refers to him as human and equal to herself, not as inferior.

Along with this moment, there are two others that I want to touch on. The first is the opening scene I describe above. There, it’s telling to note that Wanda and the Vision kiss after part of the Statue of Liberty falls off. This presents a symbolic image of America and it’s ideals of equality, ideals that sadly we still have not achieved. By having the statute crumble, the message becomes that liberty and equality for all has not been achieved. On the opposite side, having Captain American destroy the racist letter is a symbolic act that the American ideal of equality is achievable and that the nation is striving towards that equality. This serves, in a way, as a comment on the progress of the Civil Rights Movement and Loving.

Here, you will find reflections on African American, American, and Southern Literature, American popular culture and politics, and pedagogy.

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