With “Avengers: Age of Ultron” becoming a sure-fire hit, Marvel Comics is printing lots and lots of comics featuring the Living Robot. But how to find the great ones without being fooled by similar-but-not-so-great ones? Trust Captain Comics as your personal Sherpa, as we navigate the Top 5 Ultron stories:
5) “Avengers: The Rage of Ultron”
If you’re a regular reader of Marvel Comics, this new graphic novel might not make your Top 5. That’s because it may feel like you’ve already read it, as writer Rick Remender trots out the hobby horse he’s ridden on at least two other outings.
The pony in question is whether or not it’s murder to disconnect/destroy an artificial intelligence. If you’ve already read “The Ultron Imperative” (co-written by Remender) or Remender’s run on “Secret Avengers,” the déjà vu will be unavoidable.
That being said, the murder question is actually a difficult moral dilemma for the Avengers, who have an A.I. on their team (The Vision). Remender’s moral quandary is certainly worth one good story, and this is probably it.
Another plus is the scale of the story, with Ultron taking over the planet-wide computer that runs a civilization on Titan (one of Saturn’s moons). “Rage” also explores the psychology of one of the Avengers’ founders and Ultron’s creator, Henry “Ant-Man” Pym, and the art, by Jerome Opeña, is top flight.
One last plus: This book isn’t set in “continuity,” which means things can happen to long-running characters that won’t be reflected in the monthly comics. In other words, nobody is safe!
4) “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Despite the title, this story has nothing to do with the movie. “Age of Ultron” doesn’t follow the Living Robot’s attempts to conquer Earth and massacre most of humanity — because, in this story, he’s already done those things!
“Age of Ultron” was a 10-issue maxiseries published in 2013, written by Marvel’s ace, Brian Bendis, and illustrated by A-lister Bryan Hitch, in which Ultron conquers the planet in the first issue or two. Following issues — including some that appear in other titles — depict the heroic sacrifices of various superheroes around the globe as they fall, one by one. While Captain America leads the remaining Avengers in what will no doubt be a suicide run, Wolverine and the Invisible Woman (of the Fantastic Four) take an even more desperate gamble: They try to change the past with Dr. Doom’s time machine.
Like most good Ultron stories, this one’s more about what people do in response to him than what he himself does. (He’s sort of a one-trick Frankenpony.) How will Wolverine and Sue Richards live with themselves if they kill Henry Pym before he creates Ultron? And what will the present look like if Pym is erased from history? (Hint: Not good.)
The massive (504 pages) hardback is arranged oddly, with the complete “Age of Ultron” story printed in the front, followed by the individual stories, which occur earlier. But that’s not why this story, as good as it is, ranks only No. 4. Frankly, it’s a little depressing!
3) “The Bride of Ultron”
What fans seem to like about this 1977 storyline is how it completes the Oedipus complex established in Ultron’s earlier appearances. In the Greek myth, Oedipus kills his father, King Laius of Thebes, and marries his mother, Jocasta. In Avengers lore, Ultron keeps trying to kill his “father,” Henry Pym, and in this story tries to create another artificial intelligence to be his wife, based on the mental patterns of Janet “The Wasp” van Dyne, at that time Pym’s wife. Subtlety apparently not being part of Ultron’s programming, he named his robot wife-to-be Jocasta.
Of course, in addition to the highbrow allusion to the plays of Sophocles, the story also has more than a whiff of “Bride of Frankenstein.” And like Elsa Lanchester’s character in that 1935 classic, Jocasta isn’t too thrilled with the groom in her arranged marriage.
This story is available in a number of reprints, including “Avengers Visionaries: The Art of George Perez” (1999), “Avengers Epic Collection Vol. 9: The Final Threat” (2013) and “Avengers: The Bride of Ultron” (2014).
Warning: Avoid confusion with “Ultron Unbound”! That collection, which shipped earlier in April, features a bunch of early 1990s stories about Ultron’s second attempt to create a bride. That one is named Alkhema, and she isn’t as conceptually interesting as Jocasta.
2) “Behold … The Vision”
Not only does this collection, which shipped April 29, have one of the best stories featuring Ultron and The Vision, it delivers the origin of both characters.
“Avengers Epic Collection Vol. 4: Behold … The Vision” ($34.99) begins with the 1968 debut of The Vision, an amnesiac, artificial human — a “synthezoid” —who tries to murder the Avengers. But the android stops himself, which prompts an investigation into this strange apparition, who can shift his density from ethereal to diamond hard. It is here we learn the origin of Ultron (who had himself debuted only a few issues earlier), the mad artificial intelligence created by Avenger Henry Pym, who hates his “father” and created The Vision as a weapon for patricide.
This was the launch of the bizarre Oedipus complex that would come to bedevil the Avengers again and again. It also features the most fascinating use of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” you’ll ever find. Plus you’ll learn that “Even an Android Can Cry” (and why he does).
Warning: Avoid confusion with “Vision: Yesterday and Tomorrow,” which shipped April 22.
1) “Ultron Unlimited”
This four-part story by writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez is widely embraced as the best Ultron story. “Ultron Unlimited” is not only a well-crafted tale, it established Ultron as one of the most lethal of Avengers foes.
First published in 1999, “Ultron Unlimited” began with the Living Robot creating a body of pure adamantium, the unbreakable substance found in Wolverine’s claws. He then created an army of lesser Ultron drones that completely exterminated the entire population of the (fictional) Baltic nation of Slorenia. Why? Just to get the Avengers’ attention. Bad robot!
Ultron also captured his extended “family,” in order to record their brain patterns for use in programming a new robot family of his own. This included not just The Wasp, Henry Pym and The Vision, but also Wonder Man (a “half-son” whose brain patterns had been used to create The Vision) and supervillain Grim Reaper (Wonder Man’s half-brother). Because, after all, what’s an Ultron story without some uncomfortable family dynamics?
“Ultron Unlimited” first appeared in “Avengers” (second series) #19-22 only 16 years ago, and the original issues can probably be found cheaply. But it’s also available in two reprint collections, “Avengers: Ultron Unlimited” (2001) and “Avengers Assemble” Vol. 2 (2005).
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