I hate the film Guardians of the Galaxy. I hate it. I understand that my position is not a popular one; but then again, I never really was that popular. Need proof? Look me up in the high school yearbook.
I hate the film and everything about it, from its Kevin Bacon inspired jokes to its talking Raccoon. I have spent the better part of the last two years trying to convince the rest of you, that I am right. With the sequel arriving in theaters, I will give this one another go.
I hate Guardians for one simple reason: lazy storytelling. Essentially, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is a carbon-copy of the Avengers (2012) formula, just with a relatively obscure series from deep within the Marvel vaults. And yes, before you start questioning me and my fan-boy creds, I am in fact one of some twenty-five people who has ACTUALLY read the Guardian’s books.
Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!
Fantastic Four #94-104; Avengers #73-83; Captain America #121-133, Captain America and the Falcon #134; Iron Man #21-32; Incredible Hulk #125-134; Thor #172-181; Amazing Adventures (starring Black Widow) #1-4; years: 1970-71
The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion
Yellowjacket and Wasp are out so Hank Pym can do science for the government, but Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are back, thus filling the Avengers’ quota of unhealthy relationships. And then the Vision abruptly leaves shortly later…and returns almost immediately.
The Best of This Bunch – Iron Man #21-22
Archie Goodwin’s solid run on Iron Man continues with a tale of Tony Stark trying to quit his superhero life…and realizing he can’t. The story features tropes that have become too commonplace these days—a replacement for the hero, a replacement for an old villain, and the death of a romantic interest. But these tropes were fresher in 1970 and, in this particular instance, well-handled.
Iron-willed boxer and all-around decent guy Eddie March makes for a likeable potential Iron Man, though he has a medical condition of his own that cuts his super-heroic career short. Surprisingly, he survives the tale, but Janice Cord’s death comes out of nowhere.
Janice had been portrayed as a potential girlfriend for Tony Stark for the past twenty issues or so. Now, after an experimental medical procedure leaves Tony Stark’s heart healthy enough for daily life but not necessarily superhero life, he decides to pursue a normal relationship and pass the Iron Man armor onto a worthy successor.
However, Janice hasn’t sprung to life as a particularly memorable or compelling character…so she must die, naturally. In the story’s defense, back in these days, any character who lasted beyond his or her first or second appearance wasn’t likely to die ever. So at the time, this was a somewhat bold story decision on Goodwin’s part, even though to modern sensibilities, the automatic reaction tends to be, “Ugh, another woman killed to provide motivation for the male hero?”
Goodwin’s run ends several issues later, and the drop in quality is steep. (more…)
So I finally got around to seeing one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, Captain America: Civil War. In general, I’m not that into superhero movies, primarily because I find they’re often over-simplistic for my taste: These are the good guys. Those are the bad guys. Now watch them blow stuff up.
Luckily, Captain America: Civil War does not fall into that trap. There’s two opposing sides, but rather than a battle of good vs. evil, it’s a battle between two different interpretations of good. The conflict is introduced when the UN finally expresses discontent with the Avenger-caused destruction of previous Marvel movies, which is best summed up this way:
So the Avengers have a choice. Do they want to give the governments of the world increased control over their operations (#TeamIronMan) or continue to be as independent as they’ve always been, even if that makes them outlaws (#TeamCap)?
Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!
Avengers #64-72; Fantastic Four #82-93; Thor #160-171; Incredible Hulk #116-124; Captain America #114-119; Captain Marvel #15-19; Iron Man #15-20; years: 1969-70.
The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion
Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor are back in action…at least part of the time. And the Black Knight becomes an official Avenger though not an active one, as he resides in England, which would be quite the commute.
The Dawn of the ‘70s
As this read-through finally hits the 1970s, and after we’ve all been subjected to the super-serious monstrosity known as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, let’s appreciate how nice and innocent these old comics are. True, they are infected with the prejudices of their era (i.e. no shortage of sexism), but otherwise they depict many fine role models for the children who were reading them back in the day. These characters always try to do the right thing and make their world a better place. In the Marvel Comics Universe, superheroes err, but they tend to find their way back on track.
In DC’s rush to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and establish a different tone from the MCU, they’ve given us a Superman who’s not very heroic and a Batman who’s willing to indirectly kill criminals, and that’s a loss for today’s kids. Adults can enjoy superheroes, too (as I certainly do), but we shouldn’t take the classics away from children.
These comics, for all their faults, depict superheroes as originally intended, in colorful, action-packed stories that excite the imagination and encourage us to be the best that we can be. But enough with the soapbox—on to the comics!
The History of Galactus – Thor #160-161, 168-169
Some stories can only be told in the comic book medium—stories such as a big world-eating guy fighting a sentient planet. Galactus squares off against Ego the Living Planet, with Thor and others caught in the middle, and it’s epic indeed. Totally ridiculous, yes, and no other medium could do it justice, but it works wonderfully as an action-packed comic.
The fight puts Galactus on Odin’s radar, so shortly later he sends Thor to find and battle Galactus. But since we’ve just had a world-shattering Galactus fight, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby give us something different—the origin of Galactus. Turns out, Galactus is tired of fighting, and he just wants to tell Thor how he came to be. Why now and why to Thor? Because he’s Galactus, and his prodigious mind is such that we cannot comprehend, so don’t question anything that seems convenient or coincidental.
Anyway, Galactus is the sole survivor of his planet, Taa. Weird radiation happened. The Watcher observed it all and was tempted to stop this destructive being from coming into existence, but ultimately the Watcher takes his watching seriously. So if countless planets need to get eaten, fine, so long as the Watcher never interferes. Again, it would probably make sense to minds less mortal than ours. (more…)
Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!
Captain America #106-113; Iron Man #5-14; Avengers #57-63; Fantastic Four #80-81, Annual #6; Captain Marvel #6-14; Incredible Hulk #104-115, Annual #1; years: 1968-69.
The Vision joins! More on that below.
Otherwise, the membership stays relatively stable in this set, aside from a couple of identity adjustments. Hank Pym, already on his third superhero persona in less than a decade of stories, switches out his Goliath identity for a fourth persona, Yellowjacket. Maybe this one will stick for a few weeks. Meanwhile, Hawkeye realizes the flaw in being an archer superhero—if your bowstring breaks, you’re kind of useless—so he uses Pym’s growth serum to become the new Goliath.
The Best of This Bunch – Avengers #57-58
As the Vision arrives, The Avengers finally starts getting good. The Vision is the team’s first recruit who didn’t first appear in another book…unless you count Wonder Man’s one-issue stint way back in #9. Artist John Buscema creates a memorable appearance and suitably moody atmosphere while writer Roy Thomas crafts a compelling backstory that gives the Avengers their very own family tree of sorts.
The Vision is what they call a synthezoid, a being who is basically human-like but composed of synthetic parts. He was created by Ultron to attack the Avengers, and Ultron was created by Hank Pym, because what biochemist doesn’t dabble in robotics? (Scientists don’t specialize in the Marvel Universe—they all know all the science.) Ultron implanted the brainwave patterns of the late Wonder Man into the Vision’s artificial mind. Those brainwaves were conveniently lying around because the original Avengers decided to record the dying man’s brains way back when…because that’s a thing you do? Sure.
So, for those keeping score, Pym is the “father” of Ultron, who Oedipally wants to kill him. Ultron created his own “son” in the Vision. The Wasp, as Pym’s girlfriend, winds up as the mother figure here. Wonder Man, who will be back again someday, is sort of the Vision’s “brother.” This tree shall grow as time goes on.
In the Avengers: Age of Ultron film, however, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create Ultron and the Vision. That makes more sense. On the other hand, creating Ultron is the most interesting thing comic book Hank Pym has done so far, and as we’ll see, the guilt will give him some internal conflict (too much, actually). (more…)
Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #92-99; Captain America #100-105; Iron Man and Sub-Mariner (just the Iron Man story) #1; Iron Man #1-4; Avengers #51-56, Annual #2; Marvel Superheroes (Captain Marvel) #12-13, (Medusa of the Inhumans) #15; Captain Marvel #1-5; Fantastic Four #74-79; Incredible Hulk #103; Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1-3; years spanned: 1967-68.
Captain America can’t return to the team quite yet, but he invites the Black Panther to join in his place. And when the first black Avenger shows up at the mansion, the police promptly arrest him for the murder of the Avengers. It’s all very awkward. But he saves the Avengers from new villain the Grim Reaper (brother of the late Wonder Man and bent on vengeance), and all is well. That leaves us with a lineup of Hawkeye, Goliath, Wasp, and the Black Panther – a formidable but still low-powered bunch.
That Didn’t Take Long – Tales of Suspense #96 (Captain America)
Remember how Captain America quit last time? Made a big fuss, revealed his secret identity to the world and everything? Yeah, well, Cap decides never mind…all in the span of ten pages, because some imposter Caps get themselves in trouble and he has to leap into action to bail them out.
As I said last time, 60s comics burn through plot fast.
“You can’t give up bein’ Captain America…’cause you are Captain America. It’d be easier to turn yer back on Steve Rogers!” –Nick Fury
“I…think you’re…right…Fury! I realize now…a man can’t ever stop being…something that he was born to be!” –Steve Rogers (channeling William Shatner, apparently) (more…)
And we’re back—in a bold new direction! (Well, technically not bold, but 60s Marvel and hyperbole do go hand in hand.) As the Marvel Comics Universe continues to evolve, so must this column. I’m playing around with the format a bit, but one thing remains the same: We’re continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!
Fantastic Four #56-73; Thor #141-159; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #92-101; Incredible Hulk #102; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury and SHIELD) #150-168; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #89-95; Avengers #36-50; years spanned: 1967-68.
Lifelong Marvel fan though I am, I must confess I’ve entered into a bit of a slog here. By this point, Marvel has grown confident in its house style. The books have hit a comfortable rhythm, which was no doubt great for young fans at the time, but it doesn’t hold up so well against modern adult sensibilities. Dialogue is over-written. Captions explain more than they need to. And while everything is still brimming with wonderful imagination, it doesn’t feel as special as it did when most of the characters were making their debuts. And that makes perfect sense—these books weren’t built for long, multi-year narratives. They were disposable entertainment kids would get into for a few years before moving on to other hobbies.
But that’s just story-wise. Art-wise, however…
A broader palette
Jack Kirby dominated the art scene in the beginning and helped launch most of these characters. As this is a visual medium, Kirby deserves as much credit as Stan Lee for introducing these characters the right way. He had a kinetic, larger-than-life style that particularly suited the Fantastic Four and Thor, which he continued to illustrate in this batch of issues.
But other notable artists had begun emerging with their own distinct styles that suited the books they were assigned to.
The Internet clearly doesn’t have enough lists, so here’s another.
Many have attempted to rank the movies comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fewer have dared to add the four complete seasons of MCU television and Netflix series into the equation. I shall somehow rise to this challenge to ensure the Internet does not experience a shortage of lists. This was not easy, Internet. I swear, the top six were all neck-and-neck, and it came down to a photo-finish.
This ranking is from worst to best, not horrible to great. I’ve enjoyed all of these to varying extents, and the “varying” is what I’m measuring. None are bad. Conversely, none are works of towering artistic genius either. But it’s all damn fine entertainment worth revisiting.
So, with that warning out of the way…
Fantastic Four #52-55; Thor #131-140; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #80-91; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #146-149; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #79-88; The Avengers #30-35; years: 1966-67.
Captain America’s arch-foe the Red Skull arrives in the modern era (relative to World War II, anyway) in Tales of Suspense #79, and the story also introduces the Cosmic Cube—known to Marvel Cinematic Universe viewers as the Tesseract.
Marvel gets its first black superhero, the Black Panther, ruler of the African nation Wakanda, in Fantastic Four #52, and the next issue introduces his foe, Ulysses Klaw, who was seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The super-metal vibranium also debuts.
Sif is reintroduced as a skilled warrior, more along the lines of her movie counterpart (though comics Sif is Heimdall’s little sister), in Thor #136.
Future superhero (and future Goliath) Bill Foster first appears as Hank Pym’s lab assistant in Avengers #32.
The Abomination, the monstrous villain of The Incredible Hulk movie, gets his first exposure of gamma radiation in Tales to Astonish #90.
And several other recurring villains debut in this group of issues: the Super-Adaptoid, the Serpent Society, Ego the Living Planet, and the Living Laser, as well as neither-villain-nor-hero the High Evolutionary.
We also experience the first crossover between titles, as Iron Man’s battle against the Sub-Mariner directly continues from Tales of Suspense #80 into Tales to Astonish #82. And thus a trend began, one that has never ended to this very day.
The Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion
Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch abruptly take a break to fix their inexplicably diminishing powers—the effects of which we never see in action, but I suppose someone had to prevent the Avengers from having a stable lineup for more than a few issues. This also allows Goliath to be repeatedly referred to as the most powerful Avenger—even though he has no power aside from being ten feet tall. The team must really miss Thor and Iron Man. (more…)
Fantastic Four #44-51; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #124, 125; Thor (Hey, look, he got promoted!) #126-130; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #75-79; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #145; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #73-78; The Avengers #25-29; year: 1966.
The Inhumans debut in Fantastic Four #45. Viewers of the Agents of SHIELD TV series have met this hidden, ancient society of super-powered people—but not the comic universe’s main cast of Inhumans, who I suspect are being saved for the upcoming movie, which is slated for 2019. In the comics, we’ve already met Medusa, but in #44 we meet Gorgon and in #45 we meet the rest: Crystal (introduced as a potential love interest for the Human Torch), Black Bolt, Karnak, Triton, and dog Lockjaw. In #47, we meet their nemesis, Maximus.
Immediately after that adventure, Galactus develops his first craving for the Earth in FF #48, during which the Silver Surfer debuts, initially as the herald of the world-devourer. Yes, this is where the second Fantastic Four movie, Rise of the Silver Surfer, draws its inspiration, but ignore that film and read these instead.
And then, because the FF are on such a roll here, Mr. Fantastic visits the Negative Zone for the first time in #51.
Peggy Carter, the character Hayley Atwell has made famous in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, debuts in a flashback Captain America tale in Tales of Suspense #77, though she is never identified by name.
Many of the Olympus gods debut in Thor #129, including Ares, who will join the Avengers a long, long time from this point.
The Collector (Benicio Del Toro in Guardians of the Galaxy) first fights the Avengers in #28 as a pretty basic villain who uses his vast collection as weapons (using magic beans to summon giants to fight Giant-Man, for example).
Rest In—oh, never mind
The Black Widow, briefly presumed dead, is back in action—but brainwashed this time so she’ll remain loyal to those wicked Soviets. Hawkeye remains stupidly obsessed with her, and the fact that this hasn’t killed him yet is miraculous.
Retirement didn’t take for Giant-Man and the Wasp, so they’re back on the team—only now Giant-Man is calling himself Goliath, because Hank Pym needed a third superhero identity in the course of five of our years (starting with Ant-Man, for those just tuning in). Fortunately, the Scarlet Witch took the liberty of sewing a new costume for this man she hardly knows.
The Status is Not Quo
–In the Marvel Universe, secret identities are not forever. Happy Hogan learns that his boss Tony Stark is Iron Man. Thor finally says to Hel with his father’s wishes and tells his beloved Jane Foster that he and Dr. Donald Blake are one and the same (though Dr. Blake has been showing up less and less lately). Goliath and the Wasp reveal their true names to the new Avengers. And Rick Jones, thinking his buddy the Bruce Banner has died, blabs the secret of the Hulk to everyone. Clearly Rick hasn’t been a comic book character long enough at this point to have learned the big rule: No body, no fatality. Heck, even if there is a body, there might not be a fatality.
–Peggy Carter, however, has no idea who Captain America really is. (more…)
Fantastic Four #39-43, Annual #3; Journey Into Mystery #114-123; Tales to Astonish (starring Giant-Man & Wasp and the Hulk) #60-74; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury & SHIELD) #136-144; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #66-76; Avengers #15-24; years: 1964-66.
Thor is the first to fight the Absorbing Man (we saw a little of him in early season two of Agents of SHIELD) in Journey Into Mystery #114. He also takes on the Destroyer (that robot-like Asgardian weapon from the first movie) in JIM #118. In a flashback story in JIM #119, the Warriors Three first appear (Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg, who also all appear in the movies—Thor’s Asgardian warrior friends who aren’t Sif).
Captain America has his first battle with Batroc the Leaper (seen in far less cartoonish form at the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier) in Tales of Suspense #75. In the same issue, he meets Agent 13, a young woman we’ll later learn is Sharon Carter, the sister of Peggy Carter who we know well from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (The familial relationship will change as World War II grows more distant.)
For the sake of democracy, Iron Man tackles evil commie the Titanium Man for the first time in TOS #69.
Jasper Sitwell, another familiar face from the cinematic universe, joins SHIELD in Strange Tales #144, though here he’s young, idealistic, and obnoxious.
Future Avenger the Swordsman first appears in Avengers #19. He’s in the bad guy camp at this point, but the seeds of future heroism are planted.
R.I.P. For Now
Captain America’s Nazi foe, Baron Zemo, the guy who killed his WWII sidekick Bucky Barnes, dies in battle in Avengers #15. Cap doesn’t lose any sleep over this.
In the next issue of Avengers, Hawkeye reports that the Black Widow has been killed by communists for trying to desert them. Nevertheless, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Madame Natasha…
Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, and the Wasp are out (amicably), leaving only Captain America to lead newcomers Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch.
The Status Is Not Quo
–The Hulk can’t seem to settle on a status quo. For the first time, the traditional “dumb Hulk” persona emerges, where he’s always referring to himself in the third person and is portrayed as being generally mindless…at least until Bruce Banner is accidentally shot in the head, which soon results in Banner being trapped in Hulk’s body with his own mind, unable to switch back without the bullet killing him (a more extreme version of Iron Man’s situation, basically), at least until the villainous Leader saves his life and coerces the Hulk to join forces with him.
“Then together, you and I…the only two green-skinned humans on Earth…can rule the world!” For a supposed genius, the Leader sure is fixated on skin color. (more…)
Fantastic Four #31-38, Annual #2; Journey Into Mystery #110-113, Annual #1; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #60-64; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch and Thing) #125-134, (starring Nick Fury) #135; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America in separate stories) #59-65; Avengers #8-14; years: 1964-65.
The Avengers battle time-travelling villain Kang for the first time in their #8, though technically the character already debuted as Rama Tut over in Fantastic Four. Then they meet Immortus in #10, who we’ll later learn is another version of Kang from a different point in time (pesky time-travel shenanigans).
Future Avenger Wonder Man is introduced in Avengers #9, though he’s not entirely a good guy yet. Then they meet Count Nefaria in #13, and with a name like that, you know he’ll always be a bad guy.
Thor is the first to utter the famous catchphrase “Avengers Assemble!” in #10, uniting the team against the Masters of Evil.
We meet Sue and Johnny Storm’s father in FF #31. (He’ll be in the upcoming movie, but it looks like he’ll be an entirely different character than the disgraced surgeon who appears here.)
The Fantastic Four first encounter the Frightful Four in #36. The group includes previously established villains the Wizard, Sandman, and Paste-Pot-Pete (now Trapster) and new character Medusa, who is the first of the Inhumans we meet, though she’s not yet identified as such.
SHIELD debuts and recruits Nick Fury in Strange Tales #135, where we’re introduced to SHIELD staples such as the Helicarrier, life-model decoys (LMDs), a flying car, and recurring enemies Hydra.
Avengers’ mansion butler Edwin Jarvis first appears in Captain America’s story in Tales of Suspense #59. Like his television counterpart in Agent Carter, he’s in the employ of a Stark, but unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no computer is named after the guy.
Golden Age villain Red Skull is reintroduced in TOS #65, though it is a World War II flashback story, so he hasn’t yet appeared in “modern” continuity by this point.
Norse and Greek mythology cross over when Thor accidentally visits Olympus in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 and gets into a wee little misunderstanding with Hercules (another future Avenger).
The Hulk’s new solo series in Tales to Astonish features several notable first appearances, including Major Talbot (Adrian Pasdar’s character in the Agents of SHIELD TV series) in #61 and the villainous Leader in #62.
R.I.P. For Now
Wonder Man does not survive his first appearance. But we haven’t seen the last of him! (Don’t expect to see him in the movies, though. It’s possible, but I suspect Warner Bros. would object to another “Wonder” character floating around Hollywood.)
Dr. Storm, the Invisible Girl and Human Torch’s father, makes it to a second appearance in FF #32, at which point he’s killed by the alien Skrulls. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he ever rises from the dead—a rarity in the Marvel Universe. (more…)
Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man) #45-49; Tales to Astonish (starring Ant-Man) #47-51; Strange Tales (starring the Human Torch) #113-119; Fantastic Four #19-24; Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) #97-104; Avengers #2-4; years spanned: 1963-4.
Iron Man finally gets a supporting cast in Tales of Suspense #45, where we meet Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan (Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau in the movies). He ditches his clunky original armor for a more recognizable design in TOS #48.
Ant-Man becomes Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish #49.
The X-Men were introduced in their own series, which we’re not covering here, but they make their first guest appearance when they meet Iron Man in TOS #49.
Though he first appeared in the World War II–era Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Nick Fury makes his first modern-day appearance in Fantastic Four #21, where we learn he now works for the CIA.
The Lady Sif first appears in a flashback story of Thor’s youth in Journey Into Mystery #102, although she’s nothing more than a damsel in distress with zero lines of dialogue. Sif the warrior, like we see in the movies, is yet to come.
The Invisible Girl gains a more useful power—invisible force fields—in FF #22, and unless I missed it earlier, the Thing first utters his famous catchphrase, “It’s clobberin’ time!” in FF #23. The intended target of clobberin’ is Dr. Doom, and the Thing, still relatively inexperienced at clobberin’, swings and misses.
Captain America joins the modern world in Avengers #4. However, earlier, the character had a “tryout” in Strange Tales #114, though that was a villain in disguise messing with the Human Torch (an gauging reader interest in the dormant World War II character).
Notable new villains include Rama Tut in FF #19, the Crimson Dynamo in TOS #46, the Molecule Man in FF #20, the Human Top (later Whirlwind) in TTA #50, Mr. Hyde (who Kyle Maclachlan plays in Agents of SHIELD) in JIM #99, and the Enchantress, the first recurring female villain, in JIM #103.
RIP For Now
In Avengers #4, we learn that Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s teen sidekick, apparently did not survive World War II.
How Captain America grieves: He notices that Rick Jones, former sidekick of the Hulk, looks almost exactly like Bucky. “I was wasting time—mourning him—but you’ve suddenly made me realize that life goes on! In a way, Bucky can still live again!”
No pressure, Rick. (more…)
Welcome to Super Comics, where we take a look at the books that inspired the movies and TV shows. And where better to start than a great Avengers storyline featuring the titular villain of the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film?
Avengers stories are at their best when the stakes are both huge and personal, and that’s what we get in the “Ultron Unlimited” storyline that ran in The Avengers (vol. 3) #19-22 in 1999, written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by George Perez—two top, veteran talents in the comics industry.
The cast includes a few Avengers moviegoers have already met—Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor—as well as some they’re about to meet—the Scarlet Witch and Vision—and even a couple whom they might meet versions of in the upcoming Ant-Man movie—Hank Pym and the Wasp. The Black Panther, who’s got a film in the works, rejoins the team for this adventure. And then there’s Wonder Man, who filmmakers will probably get around to eventually if the super-hero trend keeps up long enough; Firestar, who ‘80s kids might remember from the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon; and Justice, who…well, they can’t all be in the pictures, can they?
In this storyline, Ultron is taking another shot at his usual goal of replacing organic life with robotic life. But this time includes some twists. He actually does destroy an entire small country as his opening salvo, which gives tremendous gravity to the proceedings. And he kidnaps his “family” so that he can use their brainwaves to generate unique personalities for the robotic life he wants to take over the world.
This story draws on the 35-plus years of Avengers continuity that comes before it, something the movies simply don’t have time to do. While it enriches the overall experience, it also bogs down some parts with exposition so the newer readers aren’t lost.
In the comics, Ultron was created by Hank Pym, who began his super-heroic career as Ant-Man, is most often identified as Giant-Man, and has even called himself Yellow Jacket at times. It looks like Tony Stark will create Ultron in the movie series, which is a logical revision. Pym’s scientific specialties were always biochemistry, insects, and size-changing. Creating artificial intelligence was a significant deviation.
In fact, in this storyline, Iron Man says, “Ultron always hits close to home for me, Firestar. He represents the dark side of technology, the soulless coldness of it—and even though it was Henry Pym who first built him, he always reminds me of the times my armor’s been used to kill others—and what a danger I can be.”
Then again, Pym has often been portrayed as an insecure, sometimes even unstable character trying to prove himself, so it’s not entirely out of left field in the grand scope of comics continuity. But writer/director Joss Whedon is correct not to be a purist in this instance.
Ultron, as he explicitly points out here, has always been something of a “family man,” and he is connected to an impressive family tree. In “Ultron Unlimited,” he kidnaps his “father,” Pym; his “mother,” the Wasp, who at this point is Pym’s ex-wife; his “son,” the Vision, whom he programmed with the brainwaves of the then-deceased Wonder Man, who’s alive again and also gets kidnapped; his “daughter-in-law,” the Scarlet Witch, who was married to the Vision for a while, though they’re long since divorced here; and the villainous Grim Reaper, the brother of Wonder Man.
That’s a family tree that took many years of comics to build. This story is even missing a couple of notable “relatives,” including Scarlet Witch’s brother Quicksilver, and the robotic Jocasta, whom Ultron created as a wife for himself by programming the Wasp’s brainwaves into her.
This storyline can be read by tracking down the individual issues or the out-of-print trade paperback Ultron Unlimited. Your best bet, however, is probably the Avengers Assemble vol. 2 trade paperback, which includes several other issues that come before (just make sure it’s written by Kurt Busiek. There’s another Avengers Assemble series by another writer, which I haven’t read). You can also subscribe to Marvel Unlimited’s digital library, which has this as well as most, if not all, of the earlier storylines it references.
Busiek’s entire run is full of good, solid super-heroic stories that balance character and action, and Perez’s art in the first couple of years is a treat. These guys are two of the best in the business, and it shows in “Ultron Unlimited.”
I got a chance to check out an advance screening of Marvel’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, and I am not ashamed to say it actually made me proud to be an American – and not in the ways you might expect.
The film opens with Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans, who remains impeccably cast as the moral conscience of the Marvel cinematic universe), working for the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division – or S.H.I.E.L.D. for short.
For the five of you who haven’t seen any of the Marvel universe movies until this one, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a government agency that is more or less the equivalent of the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, and the CIA combined into one horrifyingly powerful super-agency run by an unaccountable version of the UN Security Council.
In Captain America’s world – much like in our real one – privacy, freedom, and even congressional oversight are a thing of the past. All that matters now is “security” at any cost.
Steve Rogers is clearly uncomfortable with the future he’s been dumped into, but as a 95-year old super-soldier, he doesn’t really know what else to do with himself except work. Unfortunately, at this point he’s more black-ops agent than superhero.
Even his new darker costume reflects the change.