Rage of Ultron and the True Origins of the Avengers Villain
The last two episodes of What If…? Season 1 (read our What If…? season finale review) saw Ultron, or at least a variant thereof, return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, the Avengers villain made his big-screen debut in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, a debut that was greeted with mixed reviews.
Still, if the second Avengers film didn’t quite do the robotic baddie justice, the graphic novel Avengers: Rage of Ultron – which was published to promote the then-forthcoming film – managed to surpass it, while also reminding us not just why Ultron is such a great character in the first place, but also how the robot’s origins lie even deeper than the Marvel comics in which he first debuted. Scripted by Rick Remender, with art by Jerome Opeña, Pepe Larraz, and Mark Morales, Rage stands as one of the definitive Ultron stories. Let’s examine why.
The True Origins of Ultron
Springing forth from the minds of Roy Thomas and John Buscema, Ultron debuted in Avengers #54, but it wasn’t until his fourth appearance – Avengers #58 – that his origin was revealed. He turned out to be a rogue creation of the Avengers’ own Hank Pym, aka Ant-Man/Giant-Man. After trying to murder his father, Ultron settled for wiping his memory.
Though Ultron is destroyed by his own creation the Vision shortly after this revelation, he has returned countless times, becoming the bitterest foe of the Avengers and Pym in particular. The android’s relationship with his creator is often depicted as Oedipal – the desire to murder one’s father and wed their mother. The first story to call attention to this was The Bride of Ultron (Avengers #162, script by Jim Shooter, art by George Pérez), wherein the villainous android abducts his “mother,” Janet Van Dyne, aka the Wasp. His intention? To use Janet as the basis for a mate, one named after Oedipus’ mother Jocasta, no less.
Ultron’s desire for companionship overlaps with another story of creation gone wrong – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. It’s a common joke to say, “Actually, Frankenstein was the scientist, not the monster.” This joke misses the forest for the trees, though. Victor Frankenstein is both the scientist and the story’s monster. He deserted Adam, his son by intent if not blood, at the creature’s birth because Adam didn’t conform to Victor’s expectations; Adam’s rage against his father is the rage of an abandoned child. It is this same rage that burns within Ultron.
The robot’s declaration soon proves truer than he’d intended. The Vision uses his phasing powers to merge with Ultron, hoping to shut his own father down from the inside. Hank, moved by the sight of his son in agony, pleads with Vision to release Ultron. The resulting scuffle sees Hank and Ultron merged. As one, the two finally know harmony.
Neither Vision nor Captain America can defeat this new being, and their appeals to Hank’s now non-existent humanity fall on deaf ears. The more the fused Pym-Ultron speaks, the harder it becomes to know which words come from which half, especially when Pym-Ultron declares “I was born hollow into a world I didn’t belong to!”
Hearing these words, Eros of Titan uses emotion-swaying powers on Ultron, attempting to turn anger into love. He fails, replacing rage not with self-acceptance, but with guilt, and a repentant Ultron flees. The tragedy of father and son is intertwined; Hank could never move past his mistakes, while Ultron can’t believe his father’s love for him. Both would mean Hank Pym doing the one thing he was never able to do: love himself.
A funeral is held for Hank as the merged Ultron drifts alone through space – Hank’s heart is the one organic part of his body which survived the melding. It’s an ending on par with The Killing Joke, the last word that needs to be written about a rivalry between a superhero and their archenemy. Just as that story ended with Batman and the Joker holding each other in the rain, sharing a laugh at their mutual madness, Hank and Ultron’s rage has subsided, but is intertwined always and forever.
For more on What If…?, check out our ending explained for What If…? Season 1, dig in on the most shocking moments from the show, hit up our guide to which MCU actors came back for the show (and which didn’t), or read up on the craziest What If…? comics stories!