Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Jerome Opeña, Pepe Larraz, Mark Morales, Dean White, Rachelle Rosenberg & Don Sanchez Almara
Matt C: There was clearly no way Marvel were going to allow the release pass by of what may well be the biggest movie of the year, featuring some of their premier characters, without an attempt to cash in on the buzz (and we’ve come a long way from direct comic book adaptations making much of an impact). The most obvious method for doing this was, as we've frequently seen over the last few years, to introduce a storyline that in some way utilizes the exposure the movie is getting, usually by featuring a villain making their nefarious return. This option was off the table as Jonathan Hickman’s magnum opus running through Avengers and New Avengers was barrelling towards its conclusion in Secret Wars and there simply wouldn't be time to take a detour at this stage. Uncanny Avengers was the other possibility, but the mix of X-Men and Avengers in that title probably dilutes the potential to feed off the hype (and we’ve all heard the rumours about Marvel not wanting to push the X-Men franchise while 20th Century Fox retains the cinematic rights to the property). The canny thing to do would be to use one of the aforementioned writers to produce a one-off story featuring the homicidal robot, Ultron, and with Hickman a little busy setting up Marvel’s major comic book event for 2015, Remender is wisely allocated the task of penning something new (but in continuity) for the publisher’s latest original graphic novel venture.
Subtitled Rage Of Ultron (thus putting it just one letter away from the title of the latest Marvel movie), the bulk of this 112 page hardback deals with Ultron taking over the moon Titan (the birthplace of Thanos) and how Earth’s Mightiest Heroes deal with the moral quandary of potentially exterminating a sentient being. Central to this is, unsurprisingly, Ultron’s ‘father’, Hank Pym, who is now of the opinion that Ultron needs to put down, positioning him in direct confrontation with Ultron’s ‘son’, The Vision, with the rest of the Avengers being caught in the middle. After an extended opening featuring a team more familiar to the mainstream (Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, et al) - one that’s primarily designed to set up the conflicted emotions Pym has for his ‘boy’ - we jump forward to the current team roster, which includes Sam Wilson as Captain America, Spider-Man, Sabretooth and the female Thor, placing the tale firmly in the contemporary Marvel Universe (another canny move from the publisher, easing newbies into existing status quo).
It rattles along very briskly, and perhaps the lack of more contemplative sequences harms its potential impact as the reader is given very little time to digest the themes before another action scene thunders into view. There are some undeniably powerful moments peppered throughout, and Remender does excel at handling damaged characters attempting to deal with their demons on a grand scale, but again, a little breathing space would not have gone amiss. Fortunately the art goes a long way to alleviate any residual disappointment caused by the lack of weightier content due to the clipped pace. Arguably the combination of Remender and Jerome Opeña set the tone for the initial few issues of the first volume of Uncanny X-Force so forcefully that it quickly pushed that series into the realm of classic status from which it rarely strayed, so putting the two together again is an absolute treat, particularly as Opeña has no difficulty in relaying the speed of the unfolding calamity with some moody panels that bristle with sizzling energy. It’s a shame he doesn’t make it all the way through the book without assistance, but there’s a visual steadiness that means his absence, when it comes, doesn’t jar.
As with many other Ultron stories from the past, the hurdle for me is always his one-dimensionality, something that few creators ever manage to get around. By focusing on how far Pym will go to correct the issue his son presents, it succeeds where others have failed in bringing convincing pathos to the proceedings, although again, if there had more time to dig deeper into that element it would possibly have packed more of an emotional wallop.
Some will understandably baulk at the price tag, others may see it as a missed opportunity to explore the character of Ultron more fully than ever before, but putting that aside and looking at it as an entertaining read with some incredible art, Rage Of Ultron is worthy addition to the canon. 7/10