Do you require elaboration? In the series finale of Disney+’s Marvel Studios series WandaVision, Paul Bettany’s Vision engaged in a final showdown with, well, himself. More specifically: Paul Bettany’s White Vision. What unfolded was not a battle of fisticuffs but a battle of the mind as the Vision challenged his ghostly successor with a philosophical question: The Ship of Theseus.
Where did the creative solution to the Vision versus Vision match-up come from? Does it draw roots from the comics? As it happens, there is a fun origin to the Vision and his knowledge of the Ship of Theseus — and even if it’s not exactly why the philosophical debate wound up in WandaVision, it may nonetheless lead the way into the MCU’s Phase 4 future.
What Happened? — On Reddit, user u/lgconley3 shared a page from Avengers #6, from Mark Waid’s 2016-2017 Marvel comic book series. “WandaVision inspired me to read some comics,” u/lgconley3 wrote. “Imagine my surprise finding this in an issue of Avengers.”
In the comic, the Vision meets a distant, future version of himself, where the two discuss the Ship of Theseus. The philosophical question ruminates on whether an object that has undergone complete change and refurbishment is in fact the same object.
“It is... disconcerting to learn that I am destined to outlive all whom I know and love,” Vision says. Future Vision replies, “Or are you? Consider Theseus’ Paradox.”
In short, Future Vision says that he is both a brand new Vision, a synthezoid that “has been replaced over time,” as well as the same old Vision whose brain patterns “will forever remain based on an ex-Avenger named Simon Williams.” (Yes, it’s true. In the comics, Vision is not the creation of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, J.A.R.V.I.S., and an Infinity Stone, but a creation of Ultron and the borrowed brain patterns of a hero named Wonder Man.) This is basically the same conclusion the two Visions arrived at in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of events.
Cool, right? This surely has to be the origins of the Ship of Theseus in WandaVision. But in a recent interview, showrunner Jac Schaeffer says that isn’t the case.
What Actually Happened? — In an interview with Decider, Schaeffer reveals the Ship of Theseus does not come from Mark Waid’s Avengers, but from the mind of series writer Megan McDonnell (also the writer of the upcoming Captain Marvel sequel). No one on WandaVision, not even Schaeffer, knew that the Vision once debated the Ship of Theseus in an Avengers comic at the time.
“It felt very right early on that Vision ... and White Vision would fight, fight, fight, fight, and that it would essentially be a game of tic tac toe,” Schaeffer says. But the WandaVision team decided that simply wasn’t good enough as a resolution.
“We’re like, it's got to be a logic battle. And for a long time, it was like, ‘Okay, great. This is the logic battle part. And then we’ll write the logic battle part. And then when the rubber hit the road, we were like, ‘Is anybody here smart enough to do a logic battle between two Visions?’”
Schaeffer said that McDonnell “stumbled upon” the concept of the Ship of Theseus. “It was originally written in this way that it was enormous and really hard to parse, and we ended up sort of distilling it down in a way that it made sense. And then now, like, literally a week ago, or maybe a couple days ago, we found out it’s in the comics.”
Schaeffer is just a bit livid. “There’s a whole Ship of Theseus thing in the comics with Vision and we were like, ‘Well, that would have been a lot easier if we just knew that from the top!’”
The Inverse Analysis — In fairness, there are so many Marvel stories to glean from, and WandaVision has visibly demonstrated its comic book inspirations elsewhere. It’s actually fine the writers happened to not read a semi-recent Avengers comic that just-so-happened to have two Visions debate the logistics of their synthetic nature. (Still, it is funny Marvel apparently doesn’t give its writers a Marvel Unlimited subscription.)
But just because the WandaVision writers didn’t reference the comics at the time doesn’t mean Marvel can’t in the future. Avengers #6 was the conclusion to a multi-part saga, “Kang War,” where Kang the Conqueror scatters the Avengers throughout time and space. At the end of “Kang War,” Future Vision offers to wipe the memory of his meeting with present Vision, but Vision declines and chooses to keep the memory.
As we saw at the end of WandaVision, the White Vision regained access to his blocked memories, effectively allowing White Vision to slowly become the “real” Vision after some more offscreen soul searching. With Kang on his way to the MCU played by Jonathan Majors, “Kang War,” a mostly-forgotten Avengers storyline, could actually be one of the most influential stories for Vision’s future, and the MCU at large.