When Marvel revealed that the 2015 Avengers movie sequel would focus on Ultron, there was much rejoicing. He's a hell of a villain. The malevolent artificial intelligence is one of the Avengers' toughest foes, one who Earth's Mightiest Heroes barely manage to defeat when they win. In the newest comics series featuring Ultron, he's already victorious. Tough luck, that.
If there's any comic-book supervillain whose eventual domination of Earth seems inevitable, it's Ultron. He's an ever-improving, super-advanced artificial intelligence wrapped in a shell of indestructible metal. And every time he gets defeated, the heroes know — deep in their hearts — that it's just a matter of time until he comes back.
There's a reason that Ultron has always been one of the scariest villains in the Marvel Universe. You can't just punch him into submission and it's damn hard to out-think him one-on-one. A monster like him requires a multi-vector strategy that mixes smart and strong. Threats like him are the reasons that the Avengers exist. Even when Marvel's premiere super-team has had rosters that co-ordinated like well-oiled machines and stocked with super-genuises, it's always felt like Earth's Mightiest Heroes needed a lot of luck, too, in their encounters with Ultron.
It doesn't seem like a slapdash Avengers team could have much chance against an Ultron who already rules the future. That's the set-up for Avengers: Ultron Forever #1, the first issue of a three-part storyline that debuted from Marvel comics this week. The series is focused on the evil robot who's the big bad of the upcoming Avengers movie sequel but shuffles the line-up with time travel.
This is a squad of Avengers who've never worked together:
- an early version of Hulk from before the Avengers formed
- future Captain America Danielle Cage, the daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones
- present-day versions of the Black Widow, the Vision and the new female Thor
- a male Thor from the recent past of the 1980s, when he wore a masked helmet
- an Iron Man also from the recent past of the 1980s, when Tony Stark's best friend Jim Rhodes wore the armour
One of the best things about the issue is the spectrum of human behaviours this motley Avengers crew exhibits with each other. The Hulk is cocky, Doctor Doom is alternately mysterious, aloof and protective and The Vision, of all (artificial) people, cracks jokes in the midst of all the drama.
This comic is built to defy expectations. The person who's assembled these Avengers looks and acts like archvillain Doctor Doom but early on, it becomes clear that something else may be going on.
The same goes for the classically structured action sequences in the book, which split the group up into smaller teams, each with a few pages that advances the world-building a bit more. The various missions go horribly awry, culminating in a cliffhanger that drives home how fearsome Ultron is as a threat to human life.
I've enjoyed writer Al Ewing's work before in books like Mighty Avengers, because he uses a deep knowledge of Marvel Universe continuity to leaven his plots and dialogue. When Vision comments on the rocket-powered skates that used to be part of old Iron Man armours, that works as a standalone comedic beat and as a wink to readers familiar with such minutiae. Artist Alan Davis shows why he's a mainstay of the elite class of superhero artists, rendering everything spectacularly in his signature curvaceous linework.
Avengers: Ultron Forever #1 stands out as a great, slightly subversive way to do a first issue, especially for a comic that could be crassly dismissed as an attempt to cash in on the characters appearing in a hotly-anticipated movie. It generates a nice sense of scope without seeming overwhelming. It succinctly establishes character relationships and stakes. And it folds in a bit of mystery to keep readers coming back for the next issue. You may not be getting Tony Stark or Steve Rogers here, but the issue is so much fun that you won't care.