The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the 2015 movie sequel to the hit 2012 original, was a huge success – if not critically, then definitely financially.
This original graphic novel is the most accessible to a new audience, as it was released to coincide with the release of the movie. This makes it sound like a commercial tie-in, something Marvel has spat out without a second’s thought to get an easy buck, but that’s an unfair assumption. Yes, the publisher is grabbing the attentions of the movie-going public, but they really plan on keeping those new readers by delivering a quality tale that even well-weathered fans will enjoy.
That statement of intent should have been obvious when the creative team was announced. AsRage of Ultron is the work of Rick Remender and Jerome Opeña, the pair responsible for one of the best comics this decade, Uncanny X-Force.
Rage of Ultron is a non-stop ride that cements current events in a significant Ultron battle of the past. That makes for a healthy dose of nostalgia with Tony Stark in an older Iron Man suit, the X-Men’s Beast as part of the team, and Steve Rogers behind the Captain America mask. Zoom forward and Sam Wilson (aka the Falcon, played on-screen by Anthony Mackie) is Cap, Thor’s a woman, and Sabretooth is part of the roster. Oh, and Spider-Man. You can never forget Spidey.
The book is a treat to look at, and has beautiful emotional depth as Hank Pym (Giant Man), who created Ultron in the comic universe, comes to grips with his feeling for his metallic “son”. It might sound like an inconsequential tale, but it really isn’t.
The Vision was a fantastic addition to The Avengers: Age of Ultron, largely as an as-yet-unexplored character who can control his own density and become intangible. This 456-page collection marks not only his first appearance in The Avengers #57, but also his acceptance as part of the team, and their battles with Ultron.
You can feel the writer, Roy Thomas, shaping the MU with every tale, and he’s joined by a bevy of artistic talent including John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Gene Colan, their early work obviously taking more than a little inspiration from the legendary Jack Kirby.
You also get to see Black Panther (whose 2018 movie was foreshadowed in Age of Ultron with the inclusion of Ulysses Klaue) as an important member of The Avengers, and the graphic novel concludes with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver rejoining them. The language is much more poetic than a modern-day audience may expect, but there’s real beauty in its sentiment and deftness.
Turning away from comics for a second, your first port of call should be Isaac Asimov’s thought-provoking 1950 short story collection that began his Robot series. It famously establishes the Three Laws of Robotics, which have since influenced science fiction literature and the use of artificial intelligence in films (including Doctor Who, RealHumans, and Star Trek: The Next Generation).
You will, of course, know that Ultron wildly misinterprets the first two laws…
If you’re interested in science fiction or AI (perhaps having some of the same concerns as Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates), this is an essential masterpiece.
We’ll return to AI shortly, but it’s worth noting one reason why The Avengers, and indeed the MU in its entirety, are so special: Heroes fight each other.
They bicker, they undermine, they brawl. In those early days, Stan Lee (who you can catch on Twitter, alongside loads of other comic book names) realized that heroes aren’t necessarily going to recognize each others’ altruistic intentions, and that their means and motives aren’t going to be the same all the time. Take the film versions of Captain America and Iron Man: very different people who are bound to grate on each other. So yes, they think differently, and as such, get into a scuffle or two.
One of the best scrapes in recent years is between Tony Stark and Thor. This tale, written by Geoff Johns, Dan Jurgens, and Mike Grell, pits the pair against each other after Thor decides divine intervention is the answer for suffering worshipers in a foreign land. Meanwhile, Iron Man, as Secretary of Defense, is more concerned with political boundaries. This sparring leaves one Avenger out in the cold for many subsequent years…
The Avengers: Standoff is book-ended by great character pieces focusing on two often overlooked heroes, the Falcon and Jack of Hearts.
The Hulk came out very favorably from The Avengers movies: you’ve got to love his scraps with the Chitauri, Loki, and the Ultron hordes. And who can forget Tony Stark donning the Hulkbuster armor to take down the jolly green giant?
The Avengers #1 featured a Loki-induced fight between him and the other Avengers, but if you want all-out rage, you should check out World War Hulk. Bruce Banner’s friends shoot him into space, trying to get rid of the Hulk once and for all. Then he came back, and wanted revenge. The Hulkbuster armor came out of the wardrobe, but when even a demon can’t stop him, what can halt the Hulk’s rampage?
It may not be the most critically-acclaimed event in Marvel’s history, but it’s unadulterated fun – and there’s some stunning art by John Romita Jr. too.
People want more Clint Barton. Marvel understand this and so gave him considerably more airtime in Age of Ultron. A substantial factor in his popularity is this recent hit comic, penned by Matt Fraction with art by David Aja.
Aja can always be relied upon to deliver first-class visuals (inspired by the true classics – Kirby, Ditko, et al.), so each page is a joy to look at. The dialogue is sharp and real, and the stories brilliantly mix heroics with everyday worries.
You really should read this, okay?
Whatever your age, you should know all about The Matrix. Well, this book is its inspiration.
William Gibson’s ground-breaking 1984 novel is so influential it spawned its own genre: cyberpunk, perhaps best described as high tech for the lowlife. It does away with fanciful notions of future technology being something everyone is perpetually in awe of; instead, it’s adopted by millions, viewed as the everyday, and used by the seedier sections of society. Just like the iPhone.
The immersive world shown in Neuromancer is a glimpse into the complex network Ultron and JARVIS are ingrained into, and the potential Tony Stark sees in his work. Among Gibson’s admirers is Tim Maughan, a sci-fi writer who recently said:
“[Cyberpunk visionaries] predicted the interaction of people and technology. And Gibson famously did it by not knowing anything about technology. He didn’t know anything about computers and he wasn’t interested in them. He didn’t watch computers; he watched people and the way they reacted around computers and he got so much of that right.”
You’ll probably know Michael Crichton best for writing Jurassic Park, a franchise arguably stronger than ever after the Chris Pratt-fronted Jurassic World topped box offices worldwide (whoever said cinema was dead?!). But he also wrote a number of great tech-inspired thrillers.
With Prey, Crichton toyed with the scarier sides of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Created with military applications in mind, self-replicating micro-machines behave like predators – so their parallels to Ultron are obvious!
What’s more, Michael provides a thought-provoking (and chilling) introduction, in which the late, great writer warns:
“We think we know what we are doing. We have always thought so. We never seem to acknowledge that we have been wrong in the past, and so might be wrong in the future. Instead, each generation writes off earlier errors as the result of bad thinking by less able minds – and then confidently embarks on fresh errors of its own.”
This is true of Tony Stark and, to a lesser extent, Bruce Banner as they decide to play God.
You need to know another difference between the regular MU and the cinematic universe: the Vision might have been created by Ultron, but his brain patterns were based on another hero, Wonder Man, and his body is that of the original Human Torch.
The Human Torch was an android that burst into the world in the very first Marvel comic – in 1939. It’s a credit to both the publisher and its ever-enthusiastic fans that this 76-year-old character is still, in some ways, affecting modern storytelling.
Geoff Johns’ take on the Vision is compelling and imaginative, introducing his ‘brother’, a failed experiment called the Gremlin. Ivan Reis’ amazing art is another reason to pick up Yesterday and Tomorrow: his page layouts are smart, and few artists let you see beyond the Vision’s humanoid appearance, and certainly not in so much detail.
These art books have become a solid range you can always rely on to give you a quality glimpse behind the scenes. As ever, there’s stunning character studies, set designs, and storyboards, most accompanied by some sort of commentary.
Of particular interest in this volume are the numerous pages examining the various stages of Ultron, the creepiest of which is that first creation made from broken bits of other armor. Paintings of the Vision are surprisingly life-like (you’ll recognize Paul Bettany here from The Da Vinci Code and Wimbledon), while the Hulkbuster Iron Man suit also gets a turn in the spotlight. I love the intricacies of Hawkeye’s arrows too.
These hardcovers normally sell out pretty fast and increase in price even faster, so grab yours while you can.
Ready for More?
The wonderful thing about Marvel is the in-depth world: once you start, you’ll never stop. The Avengers in particular have got more of a focus from the publisher in recent years: Marvel has just announced four series starring new team members in their post-Secret Wars schedules.
So why not start here, and move onto… Avengers-Defenders War, for example? Or learn more about Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver with their debut X-Men tales? Or discover how manipulating Pietro can be with House of M? Just jump down the rabbit hole and see what you can find.
What storylines do you recommend for people who have recently watched The Avengers: Age of Ultron? Which comic book movies are you most looking forward to seeing over the next few years? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!