Avengers: Rage of Ultron is one component of the comprehensive product blitz in the lead-up to the opening of the new Avengers movie. Fortunately, the original graphic novel is also good.

Image provided by Amazon/Marvel

Rage of Ultron opens a few years in the past, with an Avengers squad based on the team’s late ‘70s roster. The team faces Ultron’s latest destructive rampage through Manhattan. Hank Pym (then in his Yellowjacket identity) tricked Ultron, imprisoning him in a specially-modified Quinjet that the team then launched into space.

In the present day, an Avengers team clashes with the Descendants, a race of artificial intelligences. Hank (now back to being Giant-Man) ends the fight by deploying a new weapon that “shuts off” the artificial beings, effectively killing them. Hank’s actions spark a fierce debate among the Avengers. Vision, himself a synthetic being, vehemently insists that Hank’s weapon amounts to murder. Hank, marinating in years of disrespect and resentment, refuses to see any ethical issues with “killing” artificial life.

On the Saturnian moon Titan, Ultron invades the Eternal colony, co-opting their world computer and infecting the population with a mechanical virus. Only the some-time Avenger Starfox escapes and rushes to Earth to warn his teammates. But a world-sized Ultron is on Starfox’s heels and he unleashes his “Ultron virus” on not only Earth, but the entire universe. The Avengers fight Ultron’s drones, as one member after another falls to the virus. Eventually, only Captain America (Sam Wilson), Vision, Giant-Man and Starfox remain free.

Vision and Hank debate whether or not to use Hank’s weapon, which Ultron hopes to co-opt for his own purposes. Hank’s inability to guarantee that the weapon won’t kill those infected by the Ultron virus gives the others pause.

With a plan for Vision to overtake Ultron from within, the remaining Avengers confront him. Ultron needles Hank, insisting that Ultron, as Hank’s creation, has always been nothing more than a manifestation of Hank’s hatred for the world. After Ultron somehow absorbs a shaken Hank, it sets up a final battle whose outcome rests on the soul of Hank Pym.

Image provided by Marvel

Rage of Ultron is an interesting use of the title villain. Writer Rick Remender’s focus on the familial conflict among Hank, Ultron and Vision produces some powerful drama and complex psychological and emotional exploration of the bonds among the three. Positing Ultron as Hank’s contempt for the world is an interesting and entirely logical evolution of the characters’ motivations. Remender crafts some intricate interplay between Hank and Vision and grapples with the nature of artificial life in a way that provides no easy answers. Sam Wilson, in the Captain America role, also gets a nice spotlight, demonstrating the growth in the character and how he’s stepped up into a leadership role. Remender gives a nice moment or two to a few other characters, notably Hank’s ex-wife, Wasp, and uses Starfox as well as anyone has. There are a couple of minor logic glitches (most notably, how Hank becomes “absorbed” into Ultron) and the final resolution was a tad ambiguous, but overall the plot and characterization accomplish the job of producing a timeless Ultron story.

It’s not clear that Rage of Ultron is considered to be “in canon.” Hank’s inferiority complex and resentment are on full display, but those aspects of the character had mostly been resolved and weren’t the focus in his recent appearances. The concept of a late ‘70s Avengers squad launching Ultron into space, not to return until the present day, is at odds with years of stories to the contrary. And Hank’s grim fate doesn’t seem to fit with Marvel’s plans for the character.

Marvel’s m.o. with its OGN line usually is to spotlight apocryphal stories with characters and settings that reflect the current state of the Marvel Universe. Rage of Ultron features Sam Wilson in the Captain America role and the female Thor is with the team. As is Sabretooth, who joined after the events of AXIS. The present day costumes all line up with the current MU looks for these characters and recent character history is referenced (i.e. Wasp’s lost daughter).

Image provided by Marvel

Jerome Opeña (with assists from Pepe Larraz and Mark Morales) handles the art and does some of his best work. Opeña’s dark, moody style fits the bleaker tone of Rage of Ultron. He alternates shadow-drenched, emotionally-charged scenes with big, bold actionscapes, communicating lots of drama and feeling in his dynamic character work. Memorable spreads include Starfox floating over Titan, transformed to reflect Ultron’s sinister face; the planet-sized Ultron bearing down on the Vision; and some really dynamic fight sequences. A crack team of colorists (Dean White, Rachelle Rosenberg and Dono Sanchez Almara) do some stunning work. They come up with some really cool effects and use shadows and contrasts very effectively to enhance the drama. The entire package has a lush, cinematic feel that justifies the sticker price.

Rage of Ultron accomplishes its mission of being accessible to readers not steeped in five decades of Avengers history. Remender provides all the background a reader would need in-story (though for those interested, former Avengers writer Kurt Busiek reviews some highpoints in the introduction). With a similar name to the upcoming moving, Avengers: Rage of Ultron is a savvy product offering that can appeal to movie fans and comic book devotees alike.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on April 2, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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