Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Episode 6 - "Of Ants and Androids" part 2

Last episode I touched briefly on the convoluted relationship between the various members of the Pym family. Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man, also Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket) was married for a while to Janet Van Dyne. Hank created the android Ultron, who became one of the Avengers most terrifying foes. Ultron created the Vision to destroy the Avengers, though our hero quickly came to his right mind and joined the ranks of his intended targets. Ultron also created Jocasta, who shared Janet's brain patterns, to be his robotic bride. Things get even more awkward later when Jocasta becomes attracted to the Vision, Ultron takes on a female form based on Janet's body, and Hank almost has a relationship with Jocasta, but later marries her off to Ultron as a kind of peace treaty arrangement.

We discussed the "Ultron Unlimited" story arc in Avengers volume 3, by Kurt Busiek and George Perez, where Ultron planned to wipe out the human race with an android army and to replace humanity with artificial duplicates based on his extended family. In part 2 of "Of Ants and Androids" we'll be exploring the graphic novel Rage of Ultron, by Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña.

Given that this book was published in the last year and is only recently available on Marvel Unlimited, I don't want to go too deeply into the details of the story (there are tons of sites that will give you spoilers if that's your thing). The basic premise, though, is that an iteration of Ultron was launched into space some years and has recently taken over Titan (a moon of Saturn and home to a branch of the Eternals) with a nano-cloud that infects all life with copies of his personality, then uses the entire moon to invade Earth. Hank Pym has a plan to defeat Ultron, though it very much has a "scorched earth" factor to it, causing the rest of the Avengers, particularly the Vision, to object. The Avengers fight Ultron's horde of converted humans both on Earth and on Titan, with the team getting picked off one by one, either converted themselves or otherwise  taken out of the action, until on Pym and the Vision remain. The story climaxes with Pym and Ultron merging into a single being, with the Vision's phasing powers as a catalyst. 

I'm going to flat out say that I  completely loved this story. Rage of Ultron focuses heavily on how unappreciated Pym is (at least in his mind), both by his teammates and the general public, despite his genius and the fact that he is a founding Avenger. Remender returns to the concept established by Busiek in "Ultron Unlimited", that Ultron's brain patterns are based on Pym's own, that all of his violence, murderous rage, and hatred for humanity is a reflection of Hank's insecurities and resentment. The Vision is portrayed as deeply passionate, especially regarding Pym's initial solution of the Ultron invasion, at Pym's demonstration of its effectiveness earlier in the book, and at how humans often easily dismiss artificial life as disposable (I took this last bit as a meta-commentary on how quick writers sometimes are to destroy the Vision as a means of pushing a plot forward). The scenes of the different Avengers being taken out as the story progresses have an eerie, horror-survival feel to them, especially in a moment when Sabertooth, who throughout the book has been questioning his decision to be a hero, sacrifices himself so that the others can get that much closer to Ultron.

In addition to the story, the art by Jerome Opeña is absolutely beautiful. Given that most of the 90s was influenced by the style of artists like Jim Lee, and that much of the costume designs of DCs New 52 and now Rebirth are either created or inspired by Lee, it's always refreshing to find an artist that has a more gritty style, who can make the characters look less than pretty but still bold and heroic, and Opeña has those qualities in abundance. I fell in love with Jerome's art in the first story arc of Avengers volume 5, especially his rendering of the robotic Aleph, and every bit of what I was enamored with in that title carries over to Rage of Ultron.

I simply cannot recommend this book enough. In terms of the Pym family dynamic, this story brings it to its pinnacle so far. Ultron is evolved into a completely new being. Hank Pym is taken to what feels to me like the inevitable progression of the character. The Vision is given a tremendous amount of focus, in terms of both characterization and action. I read Rage of Ultron on Marvel Unlimited, but I guarantee I will be buying a hardcopy for my personal collection.

As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions, concerns, or (dare I say) compliments. You can also drop me a line at stormchaser2162@gmail.com, or on Twitter @grantrichter9.

Check in with me next time for a special episode featuring my interview with comic book legend Steve Englehart.

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