Classic Comics: Ultron Unlimited

Matt Streeter takes us back to 1999 for a review of Ultron Unlimited.

Avengers 2: Age of Ultron has come out recently on video, a follow-up to the awesome first Avengers movie.  Unfortunately, I've heard mostly mixed reviews peppered with disappointment about this sequel, and it makes me think about my favorite run of Avengers comic books.  If you want to know how to produce all-time great superhero drama, the best place to look for inspiration is the first 50 or so issues of Vol. 3.  Starting with an other-worldly battle with Morgan Le Fay and culminating in Kang's greatest invasion yet, it was a run full of great stories with beautiful art and tight continuity; they even went out of their way to tie up some Bob Harras threads from years earlier that were basically forgotten in the whole Heroes Reborn thing.  Perhaps the best of this 56-issue run was Kurt Busiek and George Perez's Ultron Unlimited storyline.

"Even The Avengers are scared."

Ultron Unlimited ran four glorious issues, from 19 to 22, and every time I read it I find it just as intense as the first time.  Ultron lives up to his billing as the greatest of Avengers foes, capitalizing on his intimacy with the group (he was created by Hank Pym way back in Avengers Vol. 1 #55 in 1968) and his savage nature with his opening move against the tiny, Marvel-Universe-only nation of Slorenia.  Chilling is about the only word I can think of to describe it.

This was my first encounter with Ultron.  My collection to that point was almost completely X-Men comic books.  Being a high school student with a meager part-time-job income it was hard to branch out and collect other things, but I managed somehow to start picking up Avengers with the whole Heroes Return thing.  Busiek's stories and Perez's gorgeous pencils made an immediate impact on me and their run is still one of my favorites.  Anyways, at the time Ultron meant very little to me.  He was a second-rate bad guy to a second-rate team (go and read early to mid 90s Avengers, they were mostly awful) who starred in second-rate stories.  There was even an Ultron who evolved into a helpful good guy!  Aaaaand he appeared in West Coast Avengers.  He wasn't even badass enough to warrant the big boys showing up in New York.

Look at how dynamic these pages are
and all they're doing is talking. 
But that all changed when I reached the final page of #19.  As I said, it was chilling, and it only got better.  The Avengers fear Ultron, and Busiek and Perez make sure you do, too.  He is a maniacal robot bent on replacing all organic life on earth with perfect robotic life.  This evil robot is also physically indestructible, having armored himself with adamantium.  When he comes at the Avengers, it should be a foundation-shaking event, and that is exactly what we got in Ultron Unlimited.

The books are full of stuff that flesh out the story and tie the continuity together, helping the whole thing make sense.  Kurt Busiek pulls not just story points but obscure side characters from the darkest corners of Marvel lore.  A researcher working with Hank Pym pops up in issue 20 whose only prior appearance was a panel in an old Iron Man comic.  How does Busiek remember this character well enough to give her a sizable speaking part in this epic story?  Then he goes even further and manages to wrap all the subpar Ultron stories into this one in a way that not only makes sense but makes them awesome on top of it.  Kurt Busiek is amazing and he's amazing at making lame things seem amazing even through the lense of flashbacks.

That is not to say that these books are full of exposition.  Four issues of history lessons, even messed-up Avengers history lessons, would be an absolute waste of George Perez's work with the pencils.  His art is breathtaking.  The characters are drawn with detail and love, and they look anatomically feasible.  That's only part of the battle though, Perez really shows his skills when you look at how he displays the story.  They're merely pages in a comic book, but Perez makes all his images so dynamic, everything is full of movement and action, the panels propel you through the adventure in a way that the old X-Men animated series could only dream of.

This is what Avengers 2: Ultron Boogaloo would have to live up to for me.  I know it won't because I've seen the Cinema Sins and I've heard the criticisms from my friends, but that's probably okay.  Not every story can be Busiek and Perez's Ultron Unlimited just like not every hot dog needs to be a Tony Packo's hot dog.  Ultron Unlimited stands to remind us that a robot can be a compelling, terrifying villain, even when your backstory has been decided for you and your developing plot lines will be taken out of your hands.

-Matthew Streeter

Note how his mouth DOESN'T MOVE.

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