At Comic-Con yesterday, Joss Whedon announced that the sequel to the blockbuster The Avengers will be titled The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The inevitable response to this: who is Ultron and why do I care?
Let’s take a look at Ultron as a character in Marvel comics.
Ultron is a long-time foe of the Avengers. He first appeared in the comics in The Avengers #54 in 1968. Ultron is a self-aware artificial intelligence created by Henry Pym (a founding member of the Avengers, brilliant scientist, ex-husband to the Wasp, and potentially, the subject of an upcoming Marvel Universe movie). In the comics, Ultron refers to Pym as its father- and hates Pym.
This hatred of its creator- and by extension, all organic life, makes Ultron an implacable foe. Ultron’s brilliant intellect allows it to continue evolving and improving its form and capabilities. Later in Ultron’s existence, it develops a body shell made of the fictitious adamantium (the same substance that Wolverine’s unbreakable skeleton and claws are made of) which provides the perfect lethal physicality to match its deadly intellect.
Ultron becomes one of the Avenger’s arch foes- long after Pym leaves the group (and returns, and leaves again, etc.). Like any great nemesis, Ultron never really is defeated- at least not permanently. It’s ability to change and adapt amplifies its threat- the Avengers may foil its plans now, but inevitably Ultron will be back.
The recent comic storyline Age of Ultron involves an apocalyptic future in which Ultron has gained control over the entire Earth. Beyond the title, we don’t yet know if any elements of this storyline will make it to the movie. (Interestingly, the next X-Men movie involves a post-apocalyptic future based on the Days of Future Past classic storyline from 1981.)
As a foe, Ultron plays off a number of interesting themes. In some ways, Ultron is similar to a zombie. Its one goal is to eliminate life, it is relentless, and is impervious to most injury. Ultron also evokes themes from Frankenstein- a creation that opposes its creator. Ultimately, I think Ultron can be seen as a modern day equivalent of Pandora’s Box. As Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, was said to evoke a Hindu text, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”, Pym is similarly the creator of a technology that could ultimately destroy all life.
Ultron’s existence and actions pose a couple of interesting question. What responsibility does the scientist have for the applications of a discovery? Does “Knowledge-with-a-capital-K” contain intrinsic value or must it be considered in the light of its uses?
Every fanboy, myself included, was excited about the appearance of Thanos in the closing shot of The Avengers. There are no real points of connectivity between Thanos of Titan and Ultron in the comics. They do, however, share the common theme of hating Life and seeking to bring Death to the universe. It may be tough to develop both villains in a single film, so my guess would be Thanos is out for the sequel. In choosing Ultron as the Avengers’ opponent, Whedon has picked a character with a rich history and wealth of story possibilities. The themes Ultron evokes are large enough for a suitably epic storyline for the movie.
So what do you think? Does Ultron make sense as the villain in the sequel? Any lingering questions about Ultron? Ready for the sequel? Avengers 2 hits theaters in May 2015 so we’ve got some time to share a beverage and talk about it!