Avengers: Age of Ultron opens tonight across America, and has been out in most of the world for a week now. Not only the Avengers, but also their adversary Ultron, are everywhere, but what do we really know about Ultron? Who is he, what is he? Ultron has been called the Avengers’ greatest enemy, and he is, because it’s personal, he’s family. Meet me after the jump for the meltdown on Marvel’s malevolent machine messiah, Ultron!
Legacy of the Human Torch
Bottom line, Ultron is a machine, a robot, a killer robot, if you will, and robots, since the beginning of comics, are a superhero fantasy staple. Robots have been there since the start, usually the henchmen or ultimate weapon of criminals and mad scientists, but in the Marvel Universe, back in the 1940s when they were known as Timely Comics, a robot was even one of the original superheroes. I’m talking about the original Human Torch. One of Timely’s big three, along with Captain America and the Sub-Mariner, the Torch fought crime and the Axis throughout the decade, and into the 1950s, before disappearing, but eventually inspiring the Human Torch we know in the Fantastic Four.
The Human Torch was an android, looking and acting human in every way, sometimes more human than those around him, feeling emotions more deeply that he rightfully should. Robots that followed in the Marvel Age were of varying levels of that humanity – like Dragon Man, the Awesome Android, H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot, even Doctor Doom’s Doombots – but nothing like the Torch. That changed with the coming of Ultron, and his ‘offspring,’ the Vision, and that had much to do with the original Human Torch.
Doctor Henry Pym was one of the original Avengers, first as Ant-Man, then as Giant-Man, and later as Goliath, at the time of Ultron’s birth. A brilliant scientist, he discovered the Pym particle which allowed him to shrink and grow at will, he bio-engineered his then-girlfriend Janet Van Dyne into the winged Wasp, but in the Avengers, he was always struggling in the shadow of smarter, stronger, more higher profile superheroes. This weighed heavy on his soul, and may have eventually broken him, but this isn’t his story, not really, it’s Ultron’s.
At the time of Ultron’s ‘birth,’ Hank was frustrated by his relationship with Janet. They’d been together, married or not, so long they’d become an old married couple. What happens at that stage? How do you keep a marriage together and strong? You have kids. Hank, scientist he is, made a kid. Even though his initial areas of interest were in biochemistry and the microverse, Pym was also very interested in artificial intelligence, so creating a new thinking machine lifeform was very tempting.
Pym made the mistake of programming Ultron-1 with his own brain patterns, including his own fears, inadequacies, and mental instabilities. So in many ways, Ultron is not just the ‘son’ of Hank Pym, but Hank Pym himself. The saving of brain patterns is a creepy tradition among the Avengers that started with Wonder Man, a man imbued with superpowers and sent to infiltrate the team by the first Masters of Evil. When Wonder Man turned on the Masters to save the Avengers, they killed him. The Avengers recorded his brain patterns and cryogenically stored his body in hopes of restoring him to life at a later point. Wonder Man did come back, but not that way, but that’s where this brain pattern thing started.
So long story short we have Ultron, who recognizes Pym as his father, and like Oedipus from Greek mythology, hates him, and creepily, is attracted to his ‘mother,’ Pym’s then-girlfriend, Janet Van Dyne. So obsessed with the Wasp is Ultron that later in his career, he builds a ‘bride,’ with the Wasp’s brain patterns, and calls her Jocasta – who in the myth is the mother and lover of Oedipus. So in some insane way, Ultron does have blatant knowledge of his own twisted Oedipal complex. Because Jocasta turned on him, allying with the Avengers, he would later build a second bride, Alkhema, with the brain patterns of Mockingbird – no relation to the Pyms, but an Avenger, and wife to Hawkeye… so still in the Avengers family…
The fully formed Ultron-5, being essentially Pym, was plagued by the same issues as Pym. He too wanted a child. As we learned much later, the robot sought out individuals to give him a son, including Phineas T. Horton and the Mad Thinker. These men were respectively the creator of the original Human Torch, and the mad scientist who used the android as a weapon against the Fantastic Four. Ultron wanted the Torch for a son, and like a god, remade him with his own hands into the Vision.
Ultron sent his new creation to infiltrate and destroy the Avengers, unfortunately since Wonder Man’s brain patterns were used to program the Vision, he turned on Ultron, just like Wonder Man turned on the Masters of Evil. The Vision, in a final act of betrayal to ‘his father,’ then joined the Avengers. Further betrayal comes years later as the Vision romances and marries the Scarlet Witch, one of the few Avengers whose powers can actually harm Ultron. The family connections are complete.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t actually learn Ultron’s origin until after his first appearance. We see him first disguised as the mysterious Crimson Cloak who forms a second Masters of Evil, and then later we learn how he was created in flashback, as Ultron had erased the memory from Pym’s mind, perhaps doing more damage to him than was already there. Ultron learned to rebuild himself and upgraded four times into this Ultron-5. From then on he would use a number suffix to affirm his upgrades until around 13 or so.
Ultron-7 is gigantic and attacks the wedding of Quicksilver and Crystal. Ultron-8 gains his greatest weapon when he creates an adamantium shell for himself, and then rebuilds himself completely from the indestructible metal. And Ultron-12 after causing some mayhem, actually develops a different personality, calling itself Mark-12, and befriends his father. That does not last long. Later versions of Ultron take part in the original Secret Wars, create a cyborg son Victor Mancha, kill off the population of the entire nation of Slorenia, appear as a metallic clone of Janet Van Dyne, and even build viral empires in the depths of outer space. Ultron’s final incarnation succeeded in becoming Pym at last in Rage of Ultron.
Age of Ultron
The second Avengers movie, opening this week takes its name from the maxi-series Age of Ultron (you can read my review of the final chapter here with links at the bottom to all the reviews), but it should be noted that the movie Ultron is not the comics Ultron. Hank Pym has been removed from the equation, and it appears (of course this is only speculation because as of this writing, I have yet to see the film) that the villain is a creation of Tony Stark’s. That said, it doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t get the essence right.
From the previews, writer/director Joss Whedon seems to mine the major paradox of Ultron. The villain mandates the destruction of the human race to bring upon a revolution for robotkind like some sort of machine messiah. And yet, emotionally, Ultron is the ultimate human, so full of emotion, he is the ultimate spoiled brat. All he really wants to do is ‘show’ Daddy – whether it’s Hank Pym or Tony Stark. He lives for approval. I guess I’ll have to wait to see if he gets it.