Marvel’s line of original graphic novels (OGNs) saw their most recent release a few months ago with Avengers: Rage of Ultron. While the title does resemble the comic book event (and the more recent movie which had nothing to do with said event), Rage of Ultron is a story in its own right.
I was intrigued when Rick Remender and Jerome Opena were announced as the team behind the project, as I have a great deal of respect for the work both men have produced. Still, I’ve never been that interested in Ultron as a character, and the last Marvel OGN I read (Avengers: Endless Wartime) was a major let down. Did this graphic novel impress me, or is it best left buried in the annals of comic history?
Rage of Ultron begins an unspecified number of years in the past where we see Ultron battling an older incarnation of The Avengers, consisting of Captain America (Steve Rogers), Hawkeye, Beast, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Thor, Vision, Wasp, Iron Man, and Hank Pym (in his Yellowjacket guise). Ultron’s inner monologue reveals that the artificial intelligence believes he is taking the logical option by ridding the world of humanity. Of course, the robot overlord is defeated when Pym tricks him by using promises of love to position Ultron on a Quinjet which flies the robot into space.
Years later, we witness a battle between the Descendants, a group of malicious humanoid machines possessing artificial intelligence, and the current Avengers, consisting of Captain America (Sam Wilson), the current female Thor, Wasp, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Sabertooth, Spider-Man, and Hank Pym (in his Giant-Man guise). Pym delivers the finishing blow thanks to a device that deactivates machines. The use of his contraption spurs debate among the Avengers some of whom, especially The Vision, liken it to killing their foes, an action the Avengers have sworn to never commit.
Far away on Titan, Ultron lands and erects his new empire. He gathers a new army and heads towards Earth, determined to confront his “father,” Pym. With their options running out, and their numbers dwindling as the battle commences, the Avengers will be forced to make a choice that may destroy one of their own.
Rage of Ultron shines in the art department. Opena is a highly talented penciller, and does exceptional work portraying such a wide and varied cast of characters. His skill is especially evident in the portrayal of Ultron, who he makes look deeply menacing. Pepe Larraz and Mark Morales provide additional art and inking, and their work supplements Opena’s beautifully. Though this comic has three colorists (Dean White, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Dono Sanchez Almara), their work is excellent, and especially helps make Ultron look vicious through the glow in his face and reflections in his armor. Lastly, Clayton Cowles does great lettering work, especially for both Ultron and Pym’s internal monologues.
Remender receives consistent accolades for strong character work, and Rage of Ultron continues the trend. Hank Pym, an often overlooked character, receives arguably the best exploration he’s ever had. Furthermore, Ultron and Pym’s relationship forms the core of the story, a deeply engrossing plot thread which shows the two figures have more in common than Pym wants to admit. Furthermore, the comic asks key questions concerning what defines life, and whether a thinking machine should afford the same consideration as a human. It’s also impressive that Remender insured every Avenger had his or her moment to shine in the action sequences; this is especially notable given the massive cast of characters.
And that’s where the problems begin. While this comic does pose exceptional questions about whether beings possessing artificial intelligence are truly “alive” and explores the inner workings of Pym and Ultron, these threads sadly become overshadowed by the action sequences. While action is fine in comics, every extended sequence saw me waiting for it to end so that we could see more of the intriguing questions and character work.
Furthermore, while the comic was promoted as being new reader friendly, it will likely cause confusion for those without knowledge of the Marvel Universe in the comics. The Descendants are a key feature early on, but they’re given barely any backstory. Additionally, those who may jump on the series after watching the film Age of Ultron will be even more lost, as the differences between the comic book universe and the film universe (especially concerning Ultron himself) are handled rather quickly. I don’t think a comic needs to be perfectly accessible, but given the release time to coincide with the second Avengers film and the title which mirrors the film, it’s clear Marvel wanted new fans to check it out.
Sadly, the problems continue through the ending. At a certain point, Ultron begins infecting living organisms and turning them into his unwitting slaves. Each time, the figure gains mechanized features that make him or her resemble Ultron to some degree. When this happens to thousands of people, and even some members of the Avengers, the debate about whether Pym should use his AI-killing gizmo rises again, and is, once again, a great debate. All of this gets thrown out of the window, however, at the conclusion when, ultimately, Ultron is beaten and everyone just turns back to normal, something that the plot seems to take for granted, especially as it’s never made clear that the infections would end if Ultron is defeated.
Avengers: Rage of Ultron is a good comic, and is certainly worth reading. However, I’d suggest borrowing it from a friend or checking it out of your local library rather than purchasing it. While the story possesses glimmers of genius, especially in its character work, these sections are sadly overshadowed by an over-reliance on action and a need to hastily wrap up the plot. The massive number of characters may be partially to blame, as well as the limited number of pages afforded to this sort of OGN. If you’re a fan of Remender, Opena, the Avengers, and/or Ultron, you’ll certainly enjoy this piece, but it is by no means a must-read.
-strong character examination of Hank Pym and Ultron
-every Avenger gets a chance to shine
-resolution involves hand-waving of earlier plot points
-would have benefitted from more focus on the character work, and less on the action
-not new reader friendly
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