Monday, June 29, 2015

'Avengers: Rage of Ultron' graphic novel review

Ultron, by far, is my favorite Avengers villain. I've said it before -- and I'll say it again.

He's just such a badass.

And as I said in a review of the "Hammer Time" trailer for this summer's "Avengers: Age of Ultron," he's also bats*** crazy. His evil smile and having him voiced by the ultra-creepy James Spader just adds to the menace of the robot that I've said has "a serious superiority complex paired with a full-on hatred for all humans."

Not only does Ultron have a vengeful and condescending attitude — essential to making a villain particularly nasty, he has a long, long history with Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

Ultron's creator is Dr. Henry "Hank" Pym, one of The Avengers' co-founders, who has struggled with the shame of creating an autonomous and destructive robot. This gives each showdown with Ultron even more meat and gravitas.

Ultron is the utlimate comic book version of Dr. Frankenstein's monster (a creation that turns on its creator). He calls Pym his father and wants to see The Avengers — indeed all of humanity — destroyed or at the very least, slaves to his master.

And all this heavy drama comes to a head in the AVENGERS: RAGE OF ULTRON graphic novel (reviewed below).

The Ultron vs. Avengers saga goes even deeper. He created Vision to destroy the superheroes, only to have the synthezoid rebel and face off against his own "father." Vision's betrayal cuts even deeper as he joined The Avengers. Ultron also made the female cyborg Jocasta in the image of Pym's then-wife, Janet Van Dyne (aka the Wasp), yet another rebellious creation that didn't become an Avenger, but was faithful to the superhero team.

But Ultron doesn't just have an Oedipal complex and homicidal and genocidal tendencies.

Oh no, it's much worse than that.

Each time Ultron returns from his last apparent trip to oblivion, he has found a way to upgrade himself.

To use the perfectly crafted prologue used in AVENGERS issues from the 1970s and beyond, "there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth's mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat." That was when The Avengers were born.

There's no greater "common threat" that requires The Avengers to assemble than Ultron. He indeed is one of those challenging villains that arise that can't be handled by one hero. In fact, the entire Avengers team always has their hands full with Ultron. …

Is it any wonder I consider Ultron The Avengers' ultimate foe?

Given all of his badass awesomeness, it was a no-brainer for director/writer Joss Whedon to make Ultron the focus of the second "Avengers" film. And it's equally no surprise that Marvel Comics launched a three-issue, time-hopping limited series ("Ultron Forever") and the AVENGERS: RAGE OF ULTRON graphic novel to coincide with the release of "Avengers: Age of Ultron."

Rick Remender is the writer of RAGE OF ULTRON, so Avengers fans should know their team is in capable hands. He has a great handle on classic characters and as the writer of ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA, Remender knows how to deliver exciting stories with characters in tense situations that stay true to their history.

This action sequence takes place "years ago" when The Avengers take on Ultron
 as seen early in the RAGE OF ULTRON graphic novel.
Artists Jerome Opena and Pepe Larrouz are inked by Mark Morales. Their art has a painted look and affect. The beautiful, finished product works best in action sequences and in shots that feature large objects from a bird's or worm's eye view.

Now how do I review RAGE OF ULTRON without spoiling it?

The concept is similar to other showdowns with Ultron. First, The Avengers pull a victory out of the jaws of defeat — as they tend to do, especially with this foe — in Manhattan "years ago." (This lineup is identical to the core roster from my favorite era of the original AVENGERS title — issues 100 to 200 — with the exception that Wonder Man isn't included.)

This victory is due to Pym's quick thinking. When one of quinjets gets wrecked, Pym (then masquerading as Yellowjacket) uses a device of his own creation that shuts down all artificial intelligence.

As you can imagine, such a decision enrages Vision and stirs a philosophical debate among The Avengers, especially years later when Ultron returns from exile in outer space with god-like potential. Needless to say, Pym and his "grandson" Vision are on opposites of the intense philosophical debate of using Pym's kill-gadget with some Avengers seeing both sides of their argument.

Just like the greatest Ultron stories, it seems as if the maniacal robot has the upper hand on the good guys. But The Avengers aren't called Earth's Mightiest Heroes for nothing. The team once again overcomes insurmountable odds and are victorious — but at a heavy price. Honestly, the ending of the battle is abrupt and it's unclear what happens. Van Dyne's extended postlude and monologue is beautifully written; it's fitting memorial to the fallen Avenger. (Yes, you need to read RAGE to know who it is. But you might be able to infer who is killed in the line of duty.)

Try to find RAGE OF ULTRON at a discounted price, which isn't easy to do. I used a gift card to buy my copy at full price (a rarity for me!) and I'm glad I did. RAGE is a must-read for any Avengers fan, especially those like me who love to hate Ultron. Grades — Story: B+; Art: B

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