This is the week we fans have been waiting for… By Thursday night, we will all be able to get tickets to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron in theaters. If you’re lucky to live outside North America, like the UK for example, you have already been able to see it and those of us in the Western Hemisphere hate your guts for it. Anyway, to round out the Ultron Handbook, I saved my all time favorite Ultron story, “Ultron Unlimited”, to start the same week of the film’s release!
Before we dive into this issue, allow me a moment to explain something first. In 1996, the Avengers, X-Men, and Fantastic Four battled a monster named Onslaught. This monster turned out to be half Professor X and half Magneto (well, their psyches that is manifested by psionic energies). At the end of the story, the Avengers and Fantastic Four were believed dead, but, thanks to Franklin Richards (son of Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four), had been thrust into an alternate reality. This would create a second volume for the FF and Avengers titles, all with a controversial “Heroes Reborn” banner adorning the tops of the books.
This experiment would ultimately come to an end after 13 issues of each series. These heroes would be returned to the Marvel Universe proper and, for many of these titles, it would start a third volume of stories. Arguably, the most popular of these relaunches would be The Avengers. Writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez would put together nearly 3 dozen issues that would explore not just the heroics of the team, but also their personalities and their relationships to one another. The run was so successful, you could say this was when the Avengers’ rise to their present-day super stardom began. During these early issues, the roster contained Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye (until he left to lead the reformed villains of the Thunderbolts), Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, and Vision. Others on the team included Ms. Marvel, who was kicked out due to her alcoholism causing her to be reckless on the job, (a tad bit later) a new hero named Triathlon, placed on the team as a media stunt as a follower of a cult that Cap was suspicious of, and former New Warriors-turned-reserve-Avengers Firestar and Justice.
Okay, so in the first 18 issues leading up to this, the Avengers topped bad guys, alternate realities, the Squadron Supreme, and became aware of that cult I mentioned above. All of it superbly written by Busiek with eye-popping art by Perez (to the exception of two issues just prior to #19 in which Busiek and Perez took a vacation). When I think of the Avengers, this is the era I think of. I’m also not too proud to admit that if some kind of crazy science came along to make this all possible, I would have the Busiek and Perez run’s babies and be the best damn housewife I could be for it.
So, let’s jump into #19, shall we?
At a Wakanda Design Group facility on Long Island, the Black Panther is responding to an alarm that went only to the Wakandan Embassy. Inside the Quinjet manufacturing plant, he sees death and destruction. When he’s surprised by an explosion, he sees a metallic being at fault for all he sees…
Meanwhile, at Avengers Mansion, things are a bit happier. Boyfriend/Girlfriend and reserve Avengers Justice and Firestar are moving into their new home. Justice is still recovering from injuries he’s suffered, including a broken leg. When they bring some of their things inside, they are met by Captain America, who invites them to a press conference being held at the mansion. This plays to a subplot of Justice feeling inadequate, so Cap is working on bringing up his self-esteem. The members of the press were also hoping to see Wonder Man, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision as well. Cap explains that Wonder Man and Scarlet Witch are out to lunch, but the Vision… Well, he’s just simply out.
At Cafe Transia, Scarlet Witch performs a gypsy dance from her childhood – much to the crowd’s pleasure (not to mention Wonder Man’s). Wanda was nervous at first, but as the dance continued and the resulting reaction to the crowd helped her feel happier and prouder than ever before. Since bringing Simon back from the dead (earlier in the series), she’s been less introverted and more encouraged. Simon, though, is bothered. He believed his brother, Eric, was looking for a fresh start and finally break free of being the villainous Grim Reaper, but only recently, he was seemingly sprung out of the sanitarium by a horde of robots. Wanda believes he may have simply been kidnapped, but Simon doesn’t believe that to be the case. Suddenly, Wanda spots a man watching them from across the cafe and realizes it is Vision in his Victor Shade alter ego.
Back at the press conference, Cap and Iron Man are being grilled about their distrust of a cult called the Triune Understanding. Some believe the Avengers are guilty of religious intolerance. Another accuses the Avengers of being racists citing that there have been very few black Avengers in the past, and certainly none on the roster currently. Additionally, another reporter adds that Justice is a convicted murderer, there are mutants on the team, and their past debacle with Sandman is starting to sow the seeds of public concern with the Avengers. As Thor starts to lose his temper, Wasp suddenly smashes through the window begging for help and saying Hank Pym has been kidnapped. Cap calls an end to the press conference, but it takes a stern look from Thor to finally get them to leave even though they believe the Wasp created an awfully convenient diversion to their question.
Jan tells the team that she went to have a lunch date with Hank and when she got to his lab, she was told a horde of robots came and smashed up the place, and took Hank. Worse, the robots looked like “Jack-O’-Lanterns”. So, Jan flew as fast as she could to the mansion. Soon, Jarvis comes in saying there is another problem at the Wakanda Design Group plant. Metallurgical sensors reveal the intruder to be robotic, humanoid, and made of adamantium. Cap gets all the active Avengers into a Quinjet and they head out to the WDG plant. On the way, Vision gives a history of Ultron (which I have already provided you in past Comic Book Classics Revisited articles – you’re welcome), and Iron Man adds that Ultron has dabbled in other ways too, creating Vision, Jocasta, Alkhema, and funded the Grim Reaper and giving him better equipment.
They arrive at the plant. They expect to find Ultron, but instead find Alkhema (now upgraded and calling herself Alkhema-2). When Alkhema asks where Hawkeye is, Jan tells us that Alkhema’s brain patterns are based on Mockingbird, Hawkeye’s then-late wife. The lady-bot tells the Avengers she is not in league with Ultron, but he is indeed back and looking forward to tormenting the Avengers. Because she hates Ultron, she looks to spoil his fun by killing the Avengers herself. Firestar pours all her powers into Alkhema but she is nearly killed when Alkhema fires a deadly blast of energy back at the newest Avenger. Thankfully, Black Panther is able to save her before the deathblow lands. Scarlet Witch arrives, and with her powers, causes Alkhema terrible pain inside her adamantium frame. Wanda ultimately wins, and Alkhema points the Avengers in the direction of what Ultron has planned.
Just then the news reports are trickling in from Slorenia, a small Baltic nation, where an unknown, and deadly, force is attacking the country. A reporter on the scene of the destroyed capitol city of Tblunka shows images of bodies and bodies of dead Slorenians with a single, victorious figure standing above the destruction. As the cameraman gets closer for a better look at the figure, he’s noticed and just before the feed cuts out, the unmistakable face of Ultron stares back at the quieted and horrified Avengers.
This issue is chock full o’awesome. The greatest thing about the issue? It’s that this isn’t even the best issue of the story arc. This may be the worst of the four and it’s still miles ahead almost every other comic that is published today. But you may be asking why I think this is so awesome… Oh man, let me tell you why.
First, Busiek knows how to write a group of characters with complex relationships. Through his entire run on the series, he knew exactly how to write how character A would react and interact with character B. He knew how to mold characters’ feelings and thoughts on certain situations. These were written in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but Busiek was able to keep a Silver and Bronze Age feel to the stories and characterizations. He wrote the comics that were fun while still had serious implications. I mean, hell… He had Ultron slaughter an entire country, but still had a humorous moment with Thor threatening a turd of a reporter and still gave space for us to understand that Jan and Hank had a lunch date or Wanda and Simon did too that involved Wanda dancing…
Yeah, that brings me to my second point. This:
This is just one page of Wanda and Simon’s lunch date. This isn’t two Avengers tracking down and fighting Ultron. No, this is everyday life. But that’s not really want I want to talk about in my second point. This is going to be multifaceted, so stick with me.
Part the first… Check out how much care Perez gives to drawing Wanda. In an interview once, he talked about how sexy he enjoyed making Wanda Maximoff. Here, he certainly came through. It’s not her splayed on a bed with sheets just covering bits of her naughty bits. This is more passionate. It’s expressive. It’s beauty in motion. Earlier in the article you see a sexy Wanda in a badass stance. Here, you see her being a woman full of life and passion. It’s all under the surface what’s going on in her and Simon’s loins. It’s a truly spectacular page in its sensuality.
Part two… George freakin’ Perez, man. While he had worked on the Avengers book before (in the 70s), by the time he came around to this run, he was at the top of his game. He was one of the very very top artists ever already, so to see him on a series that was a pretty big deal only helped in the transition of the Avengers becoming Marvel’s flagship team. Yes, the X-Men were still the top team, and they were also about to make their big screen debut, but the years of disappointing crossovers was starting to set in on the X-Men’s overexposed popularity. The Avengers were building steam behind the Busiek/Perez creative team. This arc would certainly not hurt that steam.
Thirdly, Busiek and Perez would make the Avengers something of a superhero soap opera that was compelling. This would all be thanks to how they handled Ms. Maximoff. Scarlet Witch was hardly a weakling, but Kurt Busiek would take a look at what her mutant powers were – the ability to alter the probability of any outcome to any situation. Think about that for a moment… If the Avengers were up against certain death, and there was a 0.1% chance they would survive, Scarlet Witch’s power was the ability to change that chance of survival. Instead of it being 0.1%, she could make it 30% or turn the tide completely to where the Avengers were victorious and, thus, made their survival chances 100%. That’s pretty freakin’ powerful. Busiek would make Wanda a central character in his run by ultimately making her one of the very most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. Ultimately, this would be her undoing as her reality altering abilities would drive her crazy, but for now, keep this power in mind as we continue this story.
Finally, thanks to these two fellas, I am full on in love with the Scarlet Witch. How Perez drew her, how Busiek wrote her… She is pretty much the most perfect woman that ever existed. Seriously, if I could be a comic book character, I would pretty much do all I can to find her and try to woo her. I mean it, she’s by far my comic book crush, but I think it’s actually quite a bit beyond that. I’m fairly certain, if it was all possible, that I could drop everything today and run away with her. I’m utterly in love wi…
Oh… Oh my. I’ve said too much. I’ll, um… *ahem* Just you know… Back out of the room carefully and wrap this article up for the day. Uh… Come back on Friday (also known as Avengers: Age of Ultron Day) for part two of the “Ultron Unlimited” story.