An Avengers: Age Of Ultron primer

Feature James Hunt 22 Jul 2013 - 09:30

Ultron. Who is he? What is he? Where does he come from? James delves into the history behind the Avengers: Age Of Ultron title...

Warning: this article contains spoilers for the Age Of Ultron comics.

At SDCC this weekend, Marvel Studios announced the title of 2015's Avengers sequel, and in doing so upended what people thought they knew about the film. The sequel will be called Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and with that title, it's a safe bet that the villain isn't going to be Thanos the galactic warlord, as virtually everyone expected, but Ultron, the genocidal AI with daddy issues.

It now seems as though the appearance of Thanos during the end credits of last year's Avengers movie wasn't a tease for the Avengers sequel - rather it was more of a lead-in to Guardians Of The Galaxy. It's possible that Thanos may return in Avengers 2, or even Avengers 3 – but while we can only speculate about that, it's less likely now than it was last week.

But there is one character we now can expect to see in the Avengers sequel, and that's Ultron himself. A name familiar to any Avengers fan, Ultron is the creation of Henry Pym (aka Giant Man, aka the original Ant-Man). An artificial intelligence who, unfortunately, lacks the moral restraint and conscience of humans, wanting nothing more complex than to eradicate all biological life.

Ultron frequently finds himself in conflict with the Avengers and his 'father', Hank Pym, for whom he harbours a special grudge. However, he's able to improve himself after each defeat, making him historically difficult to kill. As well as constructing himself a body out of pure Adamantium, the character's plots have seen him accomplish such feats as slaughtering the entire European nation of Slorenia, and installing himself as the ruler of the techno-organic alien race, the Phalanx. As villains go, he's not exactly hands off. 

However, the Avengers sequel references one specific Ultron storyline: Age Of Ultron, an event comic that was published earlier this year. Indeed, it released its final issue mere weeks ago. Although the announcement of Ultron is a fan-pleaser, the reference to this storyline isn't quite so universally celebrated. To explain why, we'll need to discuss some plot points. If you're worried about spoilers, turn back now.

Age Of Ultron saw Ultron attacking Earth using the distant future as a staging ground. Marshalling his forces, Ultron was able to send back such overwhelming numbers of his robot troops that no hero had a chance of defeating him. With many of their number dead, a rogue group of Avengers attempts to defeat Ultron by erasing him from history, travelling back in time and planning to kill Henry Pym before he can create the first Ultron android. This screws up the timeline even more, prompting those Avengers to return to the past, stop themselves from killing Pym and instead convince him to insert a backdoor that'll allow them to shut Ultron down. This works, and Ultron is defeated before he can ever escape to the future.

As stories go, it's something of a mess, opening with two issues of characters standing around talking, and featuring a resolution that relies on an inconsistent and confusing take on time travel. But worse than that, despite the title, it barely even features Ultron. There's no climactic showdown between the Avengers and Ultron. They don't even get a chance to come face to face with him because he's hiding where they can't reach him. 

For this reason, it's likely that the title of the Avengers sequel isn't an indication that it'll adapt the story of the same name. Whatever you think of it as a comic, it's no insult to argue that its storyline doesn't easily translate into a movie. Title aside, we wouldn't be surprised to see that the story was almost completely unrelated.

But enough of what we probably won't see. What can we expect from an Avengers movie guest-starring Ultron?

Well, it's hard to do Ultron without using Hank Pym in some capacity. The fact that Marvel is making an Ant-Man movie can't be ignored at this point, given that Pym was the original Ant-Man, but it's unclear as yet whether he'll will feature at all in Edgar Wright's Ant-Man movie. Wright has, in the past, stated that the film will focus on Scott Lang (the second Ant-Man) and might only feature Pym as a supporting character. Even if that's the case, Pym and/or Lang could easily recur in Avengers 2 - maybe we'll get both Ant-Man and Giant Man! We think this weekend's news makes it more likely that we'll see Pym in the Ant-Man movie, and a near-certainty that he'll be in Avengers 2, whether super-powered or not.

Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, has scotched one train of thought, though: he's confirmed that Ultron will be introduced in Avengers 2 – so those of you who (like me) wondered if Ultron might first appear as the villain in Ant-Man before going onto bigger and better things, well, it looks like we're wrong. Unless, of course, Feige was lying… 

As for the story, as we've already said, we don't think that Age Of Ultron will prove a particularly suitable template for an Avengers movie, but here are a few Ultron stories that might get you started:

Avengers (Vol. 1) #54-58 & #66-68 – The first appearances of Ultron, revealing his origin and showing his first encounters with the Avengers. Sure to be a major influence on Avengers 2.

Avengers (Vol. 3) #19-22 – The Ultron Unlimited storyline in which he creates an army of duplicates and uses them to conquer an entire nation, coming closer than ever to victory.

Annihilation: Conquest Vols. 1 & 2 – A huge cosmic saga in which Ultron, exiled from Earth, assumes leadership of the Phalanx and engages in a war with the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Age Of Ultron #1-#10 – The storyline that shares the title of the new Avengers movie. Ultron conquers Earth prompting the Avengers to head back in time to stop him.

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