Oh my are we really getting into some comic book, superhero goodness with today’s Comic Book Classics Revisited! What better way to enter into the last two comics in my Ultron Handbook than to have a reminder of how exciting these stories used to be? As The Avengers (1998) #21 starts, we are getting a recap of Ultron’s brutal invasion and decimation of Baltic nation Slorenia. The United Nations forces taking part in “Operation Metalstorm” are experiencing heavy resistance from the cybernetic/zombified former citizens of Slorenia. Just when the U.N. forces are sure they are about to be utterly wiped out…
The Avengers are sickened by the sight of seeing the Slorene victims turned into weapons. The young Firestar is horrified by seeing so many of the U.N. forces killed so quickly. She suggests that maybe they should stay behind to stop the killing, but Captain America counters with the logic that the only way to stop all this is for them to find Ultron and shut him down.
Meanwhile, in Ultron’s lair, he reveals that the shackles holding his six guests hostage are all dampening their powers, except for Scarlet Witch. Because of her hex powers, she cannot be permitted to awaken. Jan asks Ultron about the new race that Ultron wishes to build using the six prisoners. Ultron reveals that he’s always had the burning drive to reproduce by creating the Vision, then his wives, Jocasta and Alkhema. He says that while he should simply be creating drones, he would grow bored and would like to have beings with their own ability to think for themselves and have their own ideas (though that has never worked out for him). He thinks the key to making this work is Pym’s new experiments on being able to communicate based on hive structures of the insect world. The idea is to link all his new “children” to himself as a hive-master. To rid the world of humanity, he will launch chemical weapons from Slorenia, then use Pym (his “father”), Janet (his “mother”), Vision (“his son”), Wonder Man and Scarlet Witch (his son’s “kin”) as the blueprint for his first wave of his “children”. He’ll then rework it all and recombine the different minds into more unique patterns. For the Grim Reaper, Ultron revealed that he was the first human he met after Pym. The Reaper’s obsession with his then-dead brother (Wonder Man), led him to create the Vision.
Outside, Black Panther and Firestar are looking for where Ultron, and their friends, are located. As they find some patterns in the wreckage that would indicate something other than what the cyborg zombies could make. Suddenly, they are greeted by Ultron-16. Ultron-16 gestures and large metal chunks fly out of the ground and surround Ultron-16. Panther orders Firestar to send up a flare to notify the other Avengers of their whereabouts and what they’ve found. But before the Avengers can come to their aid, a flying death machine (very similar to the older Ultron-6 design) finishes his transformation.
In a brief break from the action in Slorenia, the high-security military facility holding Alkhema has alarms going off. Soldiers used to secure the facility are easily killed as an army of robots work their way to where Alkhema is being kept. This story would ultimately play out elsewhere. This will be the last you’ll see of the lady killer robot until the epilogue on the final page of the arc. If you’re interested, go check out The Ultron Imperative to find out what her big part in all this is.
The Avengers converge on Ultron-16 and beat on the mechanical monster. But that only makes Ultron laugh as he easily shirks four Avengers from his flying machine. Why? Because Ultron is made of adamantium and that’s pretty tough stuff. As Ultron celebrates, he seemingly forgets about the Black Panther who leaps on the robot and shoves one of his energy daggers into the robot’s eye. Back at Avengers Mansion, Justice is pouring through the Avengers files on Ultron and learning all the different ways he’s been fought and defeated. In Slorenia, Cap has moved Ultron into position and orders Panther to give a small attack with energy daggers that threw the internal shielding out of phase. Iron Man uses a device to try to destroy Ultron-16’s inner workings, but it’s only leaving a limited effect. So Cap transforms his photonic shield he was using at the time into a quarterstaff, and shoves it down the robot’s throat to block the ionic shielding so Thor’s lightning can get through to blow the robot to pieces.
The Avengers take a brief break to discuss how truly lucky they were. Black Panther picks up the sent of living humans in the tunnels below their current location. They follow the scent down, only to be greeted by Ultron-17. Inside the lair, Hank Pym drops a hint about something only he and Ultron know that makes everything much, much worse in this situation. In the tunnels, a frustrated Iron Man states that took so much to bring down Ultron-16, he’s not sure they have enough to take on 17. To their shock, another voice tells them he’s sorry to hear that they may not have anything left for him. The voice comes from Ultron-23! When Firestar asks how many there are, that’s when we are introduced to Ultron-458!
And that’s when they hear the skittering metallic footprints overhead…
Now, there’s very little to discuss in much depth in this particular issue. We are given that breakdown of why Ultron is particularly interested in the captives he’s collected, and we’re given some historical flashbacks of other battles against Ultron (like the one in which Daredevil actually took the murder-bot down – who wouldn’t love to see THAT on the Netflix series?!?). Let’s not forget that little bomb Hank drops about that secret he’s keeping as he’s freaking out and Janet, as always, is trying to keep him together, but this issue is mostly about ACTION!
Yes, previously, I talked about the frustration of decompression in comics. It’s a weird thing. Comics now would have had this been the fifth part of six. Parts 3 and/or 4 would have been Ultron discussing his plans to his captives, and Iron Man and Black Panther building the thing that should have weakened Ultron-16 but didn’t quite do the trick they expected. Screw all that. This one issue, Part 3 of 4 of the story, covers all that. The greatest enemy of decompression is word count. We are given so much info in such a fast paced issue that it is truly masterful how pace and word count can provide everything we need to know and all the excitement of what SHOULD be expected out of a comic called The Avengers.
That’s why, when I’m asked, I point to this volume of The Avengers as my all-time favorite comic. Kurt Busiek was so caring and loving with the history of the team and weaving the histories of the characters, and their relationships, into the stories he told. Then, holy cow, did he have some artists working with him. George Perez is already my favorite artist ever, but he also worked with Steve Epting, Alan Davis, and Kieron Dwyer. Moreover, the stories were fun and exciting while still carrying some more adult themes (you know, like MURDERING an entire country). It’s what’s kind of missing from comics. We’re not dealing with the grim and gritty of the mid-90s (thankfully) anymore, but there’s still a disconnect between having fun and being serious or mature to match the readership. I’m not one who will rant and rage against comics because they aren’t exactly what I want like a spoiled brat, and do you want to know why?
Because these classics will exist forever and will always be there when I want to enjoy those good ol’ days.
Come back on Friday and we’ll wrap up the Ultron Handbook. Then, we’re taking a little trip over to DC for a couple classics before we head into our July special, spectacular, star-spangled series!