Marvel’s latest original graphic novel, Avengers: Rage of Ultron, is an unabashed attempt to take advantage of the buzz surrounding the impending release of the destined-to-be-a-mega-blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron. Nothing wrong with that. This is business, after all. And it’s not like Marvel just slapped something together. No, they paired two of their headline creators for the project, Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña, who’ve collaborated on critically-acclaimed runs on Uncanny X-Force and the creator-owned series Fear Agent. What’s strange is how imbedded in current Marvel continuity it is; which, for those unaware, is starkly different from their film universe. For example, in Rage of Ultron, Captain America is Sam Wilson, who previously went by Falcon; Hank Pym is Ultron’s creator; the Avengers team consists of Spider-Man, Wasp, Sabretooth (what?!), Thor (now female), Vision, and Scarlet Witch. So those jumping from the film to this OGN are in for a surprise. Not necessarily a bad one by any means, because Avengers: Rage of Ultron is a damn fine story. It just strikes me that Marvel would’ve been better served providing a graphic novel more in tune with the universe they’ve built in their films; particularly as they’re so close to blowing up (or something similar) the comics universe in the looming monumental story arc Secret Wars.
To be fair, Avengers: Rage of Ultron starts with a kick-ass battle scene featuring the classic team up against the mechanized menace of Ultron. There’s something reverent about these first twenty or so; a perfectly rendered depiction of the Avengers taking down a villain threatening Manhattan. Ultron is disposed of – a narrow victory, as the Avengers’ wins often are – and the story flashes forward several years. Cue the ‘new’ Avengers!
Ultron has conquered a new world, Titan, and plans to use its inhabitants to crush Earth; in particular his ‘father,’ Hank Pym, and ‘son’, the Vision. Pym wants to ‘kill’ Ultron, which is obviously against the Avengers code, but brings into question whether his mechanized creation is truly alive. Can a machine have a soul? Does its deactivation equate to murder? Vision – a cyborg entity himself – certainly thinks so, which leads to an interesting conflict. Pym is haunted by his failure, both as a scientist who created a flawed robotic killing machine, and as a father, who couldn’t overturn the beliefs of his son. He’s a man who constantly strives to do the right thing, but inevitably ends up causing more harm than good.
Opeña’s art is stunning, as always; the looming threat of a planet-sized Ultron is suitably terrifying, and few illustrators are better at choreographing epic battles. It’s just a shame he wasn’t able to pencil every page of the book; while Pepe Larraz is a fine substitute, his art lacks Opeña’s spark. Remender’s tale is tightly plotted, utilising the real estate of the graphic novel form. He’s penned several hundred pages of Avengers comics now, so he’s a pro, nailing the character voices, and presenting a fearsome Ultron.
Avengers: Rage of Ultron is a highly satisfying Avengers story. Its open-ended finale begs for a sequel – but with Secret Wars imminent, will we get one?