Avengers: Rage Of Ultron works those daddy issues

  • Books
  • Wednesday, 22 Apr 2015

If you can't beat 'em, well, you can always annihilate everything.

Avengers: Rage Of Ultron

Writer: Rick Remender

Artists: Jerome Opena and Pepe Larraz

Publisher: Marvel

Just in time for what could well be the year’s biggest movie (sorry, Star Wars VII), this graphic novel by some of Marvel’s hottest talents of the day is both a gripping, ripping yarn – and also an overwrought, heavy-on-the-emo story.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has simplified things so that the iconic Avengers baddie Ultron is an accidental creation of Tony Stark. A:ROU remains firmly anchored in the mythology of the comics.

In print, Ultron was created by Henry Pym (aka, variously, Ant-Man, Giant-Man and Yellowjacket) and had, over the years, a complicated love-hate relationship with him. It was the Oedipus Complex brought to mainstream comics; Ultron wanted to kill his father and developed an attraction to Pym’s lover, Janet Van Dyne (aka the Wasp).

He even created a robotic mate for himself using Janet’s brain patterns as a basis for her personality, and named his creation Jocasta (in Greek mythology, the name of Oedipus’ mother).

Both Pym and Ultron find many occasions in the course of this 112-page hardcover to let out all that angst – spurned creation, misunderstood creator, and all things in between.

Avengers: Rage Of Ultron graphic novel cover
Avengers: Rage Of Ultron graphic novel cover

The fortunate thing about this tale is that it also gives the Vision – a synthetic person “created” by Ultron and who eventually betrayed his own Pops, too – a fair bit of room to do his thing and work out his own daddy issues.

It’s all very carefully calculated to tap into the near-unbearable anticipation being whipped up among fans by all the teasing as Avengers: Age Of Ultron’s (A:AOU) release draws near.

As with almost every encounter between the Avengers and the extermination-of-humanity-bent Ultron, this tale involves a pitched battle filled with enough destruction to make Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel visual effects team suffer a collective panic attack.

That battle opens the book, set some years before present-day Marvel continuity (such as it is). Taking a leaf out of the Illuminati’s book, the Avengers trick Ultron into a space-capable vessel and send him off into deep space. Which is kind of the worst idea in the history of bad ideas, if that ship isn’t aimed right at the Sun.

Years later, the vessel finds its way to Saturn’s moon of Titan – birthplace to Thanos and home to big brain Mentor, his touchy-feely son and one-time Avenger Starfox, and thousands of other, er, Titanians.

Its good to see the bantering Beast back in Avenging action.Oh, the alliteration ...
Its good to see the bantering Beast back in Avenging action. Oh, the alliteration ...

Soon, the antagonistic AI has “infected” and assimilated almost all of Titan. Only Starfox escapes and makes it to Earth to warn the Avengers, unfortunately arriving only just ahead of ... Titan itself!

So, this is where A:ROU becomes even more dramatic, and also a little boneheaded. Don’t you just love it whenever genre writers ignore the devastating gravitic effects of having a massive body (Titan is half the size of Earth) suddenly appear in close proximity to our planet? (I’m looking at you, Smallville series finale and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon ... among others.)

I had a few problems following the story here, some of them caused by my lack of familiarity with certain characters and situations, after losing track of Marvel continuity through its numerous reboots, retcons, and regurgitations. I knew about Falcon taking over as Captain America and Thor becoming a woman. But Sabretooth a good guy? Who are these “Descendants” bozos anyway? What’s with Ultron’s funky Borg powers (time to update his Wikipedia entry, Marvel)?

Mostly, though, I just found the second half of A:ROU to be rushed and muddled.

Damn is the right word, Falc ... er, Cap. And you havent even seen the tidal surges and earthquakes yet.
Damn is the right word, Falc ... er, Cap. And you haven't even seen the tidal surges and earthquakes yet.

Ultron not only tries to exact his vengeance upon his father for all his perceived “wrongs”, but even unleashes a galaxy-wide scheme of conquest/assimilation which is all but forgotten by the end of the story.

Remender is not one to shy away from dense plotting – his Uncanny Avengers stint really had my head spinning – and maybe this whole story would have played out better over, say, six or more regular comic issues just for Ultron’s return from banishment.

Remender just aims for too much to be contained within even A:ROU’s considerable 100-plus pages.

NEXT PAGE: Will it ever make sense? 

Where Remender really excels, though, is in his depiction of Hank Pym and how the “father” imprinted his fears and failings onto the “son”, and in some intriguing discourses on sentient AIs that the movie will have, hopefully (Neil Blommkamp’s recent Chappie missed the boat completely on that).

As Pym recalls in one tense scene, “I remember hearing Stark describe me to a new Avenger once when he thought I was out of the room. ‘Imagine if self-doubt was a person.’ It hurt.”

And it truly must have hurt a person like him all the time, to be so focused on his goals and compelled to help others, yet to be so misunderstood and underestimated. On the character exploration front, A:ROU is a fitting tribute to a man whose greatest achievement – the creation of an artificial life form – has been taken away from him on Marvel’s grandest stage to date (the upcoming A:AOU movie).

As abruptly as it is thrust upon us, the wrap-up of this graphic novel – an ironic “milestone” in the Pym-Ultron relationship – will still tug at the heartstrings.

Why would an AI want to stamp its face on a planet after assimilating it? More importantly, why didnt the Borg Queen do that in Star Trek: First Contact?
Why would an AI want to stamp its face on a planet after assimilating it? More importantly, why didn't the Borg Queen do that in Star Trek: First Contact?

Also worthy of note is the artwork by Jerome Opena and Pepe Larraz, who have no trouble conveying the story’s spectacular action but who both sort of stumble in showing us the human face of this colossal struggle. Both artists seem to have put their A-game into Pym and the Vision’s expressions, resulting in most everyone else having the same kind of hangdog look throughout.

One thing, though, A:ROU neatly encapsulates the main problem I have with Marvel’s comic-book tales these days (like Original Sin). Too often, the emphasis is on doing any old thing to keep the story moving forward, without much consideration for how this messes with established comics norms, or how it simply. Does. Not. Make. Sense.

The head-scratching moments aside, this is still an ambitious and mostly epic Avengers event, a good read that’s better than the average movie tie-in comic. It just remains to be seen how it will figure in the greater scheme of things now that Marvel is about to wreck and retcon its entire universe.

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