The Geekery Guide: What’s This Ultron Thing?
Last time in this series we brought you up to speed with The Cthulhu Mythos. Now for something that mind be on the minds of non-comic readers: Ultron!
In a Sentence: Ultron is a long term enemy of The Avengers, a android built by Hank ‘Ant-Man’ Pym with advanced artificial intelligence who hates the human race and has a pesky habit of rebuilding himself.
In July 1968 the 54th issue of Avengers hit the shelves. It introduced the reformation of the ‘Master’s of Evil’, a recurring team of enemies that have been lead by different characters over the decades. This time around it was put together by the ‘Crimson Cowl’, who held New York to ransom. In the final pages it was revealed that it wasn’t really Crimson Cowl but an unidentified new foe. Although he wasn’t yet named, this was the first appearance of Ultron. More specifically it’s Ultron-5, the living automaton.
After hypnotising Jarvis as a method of infiltrating the Avengers it is revealed that Ultron was the creator of the synthetic human Vision, a core member of the Avengers. In a twist of fate it is Vision who, along with the Avengers, destroy Ultron-5. Through some deft retconning it is revealed that Ultron was originally built by Hank Pym as an experiment in AI. As Ultron’s intelligence developed he rebelled against his creator – developing a deep hatred for Pym – and becoming obsessed with Pym’s lover Janet (Avenger’s founding member The Wasp). To round out this sci-fi comic book Oedipus tale Ultron hypnotises Pym so he’d forget that he built the machine.
The next year saw Ultron-6 attack the Avengers, now with a body built of adamantium. After he was taken down again we had the rebuilt Ultron-7 attacking the Fantastic Four, Ultron-8 looking for a bride, Ultron-9, Ultron-10…between all the time travelling and alternative universes it’s hard to keep the count correct but we’ve seen about 20 versions rise and fall. Sometimes Ultron in female, sometimes he has multiple personalities, but he’s always evil.
Regardless of appearance Ultron is consistently extremely strong, fast and durable. Flight, energy blasts and hypnosis are among his most commonly used abilities but his many upgrades and rebuilds have resulted in varying abilities. Rather than attack the Avengers himself Ultron works through strategy and manipulation, making use of his genius level intellect. Without a shred of humanity there are no boundaries to Ultron’s cruelty. He even wiped out every living person in an entire country.
Why’s He So Popular?
For one of the most popular and well known teams of superheroes in the world, the Avengers do not have the most recognisable rogues gallery. Unlike Spider-Man’s foes the average punter wouldn’t know a thing about Major Zemo or Taskmaster. Let’s face it, creating a really good foe for such a team isn’t going to be easy. For comic fans Ultron sits alongside Thanos and Loki as one of the exceptions to this. He has a distinctively evil appearance, he can be easily updated for whatever state the Avengers are in and his complete lack of relatable humanity sits in stark contrast to the dynamic of his foes.
Considering the era he was created in to, Ultron somewhat predicted the future trend of technology being frequently updated. Along with his increasing numbers he’s essentially an iPhone if it started walking around killing people. Although this was a narrative necessity to keep the character in this mix it did put Ultron ahead of his time. At this point Ultron’s reputation is such that whenever he turns up you know that it’s going to be a rough journey for America’s greatest heroes.
As we’ve made clear Ultron is regarded by comic readers as one of the most dangerous and interesting foes the Avengers have ever faced. Unlike Loki, who has become a central figure in the cinematic universe, and figures like Doctor Doom who have wider pop culture recognition, Ultron does not feature much in the merchandise or kids shows. Even Thanos has appeared in the popular Marvel vs Capcom video games series.
That is all set to change with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The upcoming sequel to Joss Whedon’s mega hit The Avengers has the android as the central antagonist with motion capture and voice performance provided by James Spader. From what we’ve pieced together from the trailers it looks like Tony Stark is responsible for the creation of Ultron. He also doesn’t like strings.
His design sticks to the the familiar visage familiar to comic fans, although given the varied looks Ultron has sported over the years there might be more in store for audiences. Although he hasn’t been featured in the marketing, Ultron’s creation Vision is also slated to join the Avengers played by Paul Bettany (the voice of Jarvis). Although the background for the character has been changed, the spoiler text reveals that Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create him together leading to his classic red, gold and green colour scheme.
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Is it Worth Checking Out?
Hopefully the upcoming movie will see the release of more collected editions of Ultron stories, as the only easily available one is Age of Ultron. This, like most Marvel stories, become another chapter in the adventures of Wolverine. But yes, Ultron is certainly a villain worth checking out.