This week ended on a bad note for fans of Chelsea Cain’s writing. Two years after the novelist’s first Marvel superhero comic, Mockingbird, was canceled after just eight issues and inspired a toxic social media harassment campaign against her, Cain was all set to finally publish her second Marvel comic, The Vision, later this year. First announced in July at San Diego Comic-Con, The Vision was set to be a six-issue miniseries focusing on the titular synthetic superhero and his relationship with his young robot daughter Viv. But on Thursday morning, Marvel’s weekly mailer to Diamond Comics Distributors announced that the series had been canceled and would not be re-solicited; that news was soon broken wide by a Bleeding Cool report. Cain and her co-writer/husband Marc Mohan had worked on four issues — none of which will now see the light of day.
Reportedly, Marvel’s editorial plans for the Vision and Viv characters had changed to the degree that the series’ plan was no longer tenable. There has been a lot of editorial changeover at Marvel during the last year, but sources tell EW that this decision was not made lightly. For her part, Cain tells EW she found out the news on Tuesday, and is still just as shocked as anyone else.
“I was offered the gig in July of 2016,” Cain says. “At that point, Mockingbird had been (stealth) canceled after issue #3, but I had been asked not to make that public until the eighth issue had been published. They were allowing us to finish out the arc. Tom King’s marvelous run on Vision was still coming out, but he had left Marvel and signed an exclusive with DC, so Marvel obviously knew it was wrapping up. I was asked to tell a Vision story that focused on Vision and his teenage daughter, Viv, who, at the time, had just been introduced into the Marvel Universe. I pitched the idea of my husband co-writing it with me. Marc is a writer, and we once co-wrote an illustrated book called Does This Cape Make Me Look Fat? Pop Psychology for Superheroes. Also, we have a teenage daughter. So Marc brings a unique authority to the subject matter.”
Cain continues, “So by the time Mockingbird ended publicly and Twitter exploded, Marc and I were already working on The Vision. We spent months outlining and negotiating contracts and researching. We submitted an outline for the whole first arc. By September of 2017 — one year ago — we submitted the script for #1. By December we had an artist attached, the amazing Aud Koch, and editorial feedback, and we were off to the races. We’ve been working solidly for the last six months. The first three issues are inked. The first issue is colored. They all have amazing cover art. The series was announced in July. And officially solicited about a month ago. They put it in Previews. They advertised it. Why go through all of that, just to pull the plug?”
Marvel had no official comment when contacted by EW.
Cain says she and Mohan were drawing inspiration from their own relationships with their daughter for The Vision, describing the series as “a father-daughter story” about “the efforts of an emotionally-stunted man to reach out and connect with his ‘woke’ teenage daughter.”
“If that isn’t a metaphor for the comic book business,” she says, “I don’t know what is.”
For those who didn’t read King’s 2016 Vision miniseries with artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta, it featured the Avengers’ resident robot design an entire android family to live in the D.C. suburbs with him: wife Virginia, son Vin, daughter Viv, and dog Sparky. By the end of that story, only Viv and the original Vision were left; the others had been destroyed through various means, though Sparky was rebuilt. Viv has since gone on to appear in other Marvel comics like Champions, but this would have been Marvel’s first Vision-focused comic since King and Walta completed their series.
In Cain’s view, the sudden cancellation reflects the strange dynamics of the comic industry, where almost all creators are freelancers with limited power. In a tweet after the cancellation news became public, Cain wrote to her followers, “I want you to know that I am being truthful and transparent because most comic book freelancers can’t be. I am loud, for all of them.”
Talking to EW, Cain clarifies what she meant by that.
“The comic book industry is made up of freelancers. I think a lot of readers don’t understand the extent of that reality,” Cain says. “Certainly any comic book by Marvel or DC, those are the work of freelancers: Colorists, inkers, pencilers, letterers, cover artists, and writers. The editors work for the company. The freelancers don’t. Maybe some of them have exclusive contracts, which means that they get a little bit more money per page, and absolutely no benefits or protections, plus they don’t get to work for anyone else — but basically, every comic you pick up has been made by someone without health insurance. But these freelancers are still expected to behave like employees. They are told what to say and when to say it… I’ve said it before, but this whole industry is a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen. It’s astonishing.”
This left Cain with few institutional protections when she was targeted by the anti-Mockingbird harassment campaign. She says, “Marvel put me through a lot with Mockingbird. I faced that with zero institutional protections. All along, I tried to be a part of positive change from the inside — silent change, because I literally was told I couldn’t breathe a word of the project. ‘Hold tight,’ they kept saying. ‘Hold tight. It breaks my heart. Because I think it sends a terrible message. And I love this brand. And I love these guys. And I love comics.”
Cain is complimentary toward the people she worked with. She describes The Vision editor Wil Moss (who called her earlier this week to break the news) as “one of the most lovely, personable, talented people in comics.” Going even further, Cain says, “I’ve literally never had a negative interaction with anyone at Marvel. They have given me nothing but positive feedback.”
“The most shocking part of it is that the people who work in it, who support these institutional norms, they’re the best people you’d ever want to meet. They love comics,” Cain says. “And the freelancers? They’re held hostage by the work. When Marvel asks you to let something go, to toe the line, the implication is clear. DC and Marvel dominate this industry. Freelancers don’t want to make enemies of institutions, because freelancers depend on the next job that comes along.”
The limitations of freelance labor aren’t the only obstacle for a comic like The Vision. Female creators are still in short supply at Marvel and DC, where superhero comics are still dominated by men and few stories are told from a female perspective. Cain actually has another comic coming out later this month, Man-Eaters, that tackles this issue head-on (it is also published by Image Comics, and is thus owned by its creators). Illustrated by Cain’s old Mockingbird collaborator Kate Niemczyk, Man-Eaters doesn’t deal with superheroes at all, but rather a world where teenage girls’ menstruation starts turning them into murderous monsters. As Cain told EW back in July, it was partially born out of Cain’s frustration at the lack of comics that could appeal to female fans like her daughter.
“My experience? It doesn’t belong to me. It happens again and again and again. I’m just one of the few people crazy enough to say it out loud,” Cain says now. “I have a 13-year-old daughter who loves comics. I used to be a 13-year-old girl who loved comics. I see my daughter. I see her experience. I see you. We see you.”