In a bit of corporate synergy, Marvel released the graphic novel Avengers: Rage of Ultron in anticipation of their blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, but while the graphic novel offers an interesting tale, any casual consumer looking for a movie tie-in is bound to be disappointed and confused.
The story by Rick Remender explores the Avengers’ war with the robot Ultron, spanning across many years. Featuring two different teams of Avengers, Rage of Ultron is mainly concerned with the relationship between creator Hank Pym and his creation Ultron. Pym is no Tony Stark, and it’s that fact for better or worse that sets the novel away from tying into Marvel’s blockbuster. Pym has been portrayed in many conflicting angles over the years from angry wife beater to pragmatic scientist, but here, he’s drawn as an empty broken man, tortured by his past invention.
Rage of Ultron is very much a battle for Pym’s soul and Ultron’s as well. The two share a special relationship that rivals that of Frankenstein and his creature. Both are two sides of the same coin, and the graphic novel plays on the idea of who is truly evil: the creation or the creator. As such, the graphic novel is slower and more methodical in its approach, debating the nature of morality in quiet moments.
In these moments, the book raises an interesting topic on the nature of robotics and artificial intelligence and whether they have a soul. The main conflict of the novel comes from the reveal that Pym has a machine that can turn off and destroy robots and whether he should use it against Ultron, who’s slowly assimilating the Earth and the entire universe. It is in these debates over morality that the graphic novel becomes something more than the average superhero tale, and Pym’s damaged psyche is at the forefront.
Fellow Avenger, the Vision, becomes an admirable foil to Pym, siding with that of life. As an android, the Vision counters with the belief that there is a ghost within machines and that whether or not they have souls, they are alive. This psychological debate over whether machines are soulless creatures becomes somewhat muddled in the third act, but the last panel of the graphic novel really ties together the book’s theme in a large question mark that’s sure to leave fans debating.
This is arguably Pym’s and the Vision’s novel, with the other Avengers playing various degrees of importance. It is fun to see how the Avengers of the past
, (consisting of Steve Roger’s Captain America, Ironman, Beast, Hawkeye, Thor, with mainstays Hank Pym, Wasp, the Vision, and Scarlet Witch) contrast the new team , (consisting of Sam Wilson’s Captain America, the new Thor, Spider-man, Starfox, Sabertooth, and Quicksilver). The new Captain America and Starfox have the biggest supporting roles with the others regulated to small parts. It is through the debate with these two as well as the Vision that Pym wars for his soul.
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver stand out in a few cool moments fighting against Ultron drones. The speedster here seems to partially be inspired more by Fox’s X-men: Day of Future Past than Avengers: Age of Ultron. The new Thor also holds her own in a fight before she’s quickly assimilated off screen. The less said about Spider-man, the better. Spider-man is little more than a bit player in these proceedings and his fate will leave many scratching their heads.
Barring a few panels, the artwork done by Jerome Opena, Pepe Larraz, and Mark Morales is truly remarkable, drawing the reader into the action. The clearness of the world and characters’ realistic features make for a beautiful adaptation of the Marvel Universe and really set the tone for the story. Scenes are portrayed in contrasting whites and darkness, creating a strong visual palette. Moments of action are claustrophobic and emotional. Debates of morality and philosophy fly off the page. Pym’s thoughts and emotions stand out through the panels, creating a sense of his inherent loneliness and callous calculations. Likewise, the Vision shows moments of anger and sorrowful resignation, brought to life on the page.
The biggest sin of Rage of Ultron is that it’s never better than the sum of its parts, leading up to a somewhat anti-climactic third act that ends on a cliffhanger. Just when the story feels like it’s getting interesting, it abruptly stops. Set in the Marvel main universe, Rage of Ultron could have easily been a chapter or volume in a larger branching story, but with Secret Wars changing the Marvel Universe, it’s hard to see where Rage of Ultron fits in. Perhaps, it would have been better as a one off. Likewise, if it’s meant as a movie tie-in, it’ll leave many new readers confused. It is a shame that the story couldn’t wrap up better because what’s presented here is an interesting look into the psyche of Ultron and his father, Hank Pym.