With "Avengers: Age of Ultron" a surefire hit, Marvel Comics is printing lots and lots of comics featuring the Living Robot. But how to find the great ones without being fooled by not-so-great ones? Let's navigate the top five Ultron stories:
"Avengers: The Rage of Ultron": If you're a regular reader of Marvel Comics, this new graphic novel might not make your Top 5 list. That's because it may feel like you've already read it, as writer Rick Remender trots out the hobby horse he's ridden on at least two other outings.
The pony in question is whether or not it's murder to disconnect/destroy an artificial intelligence. If you've already read "The Ultron Imperative" (co-written by Remender) or Remender's run on "Secret Avengers," the déjà vu will be unavoidable.
That being said, the murder question is actually a difficult moral dilemma for the Avengers, who have an A.I. on their team (the Vision). Remender's moral quandary is certainly worth one good story, and this is probably it.
Another plus is the scale of the story, with Ultron taking over the planet-wide computer that runs a civilization on Titan (one of Saturn's moons). "Rage" also explores the psychology of one of the Avengers' founders and Ultron's creator, Henry "Ant-Man" Pym, and the art, by Jerome Opeña, is top flight.
"Avengers: Age of Ultron": Despite the title, this story has nothing to do with the movie. "Age of Ultron" doesn't follow the Living Robot's attempts to conquer Earth and massacre most of humanity — because in this story he's already done those things.
"Age of Ultron" was a 10-issue maxiseries published in 2013, written by Marvel's ace, Brian Bendis, and illustrated by A-lister Bryan Hitch, in which Ultron conquers the planet in the first issue or two. Following issues — including some that appear in other titles — depict the heroic sacrifices of various superheroes around the globe as they fall, one by one.
The massive (504 pages) hardback is arranged oddly, with the complete "Age of Ultron" story printed in the front, followed by the individual stories, which occur earlier.
"The Bride of Ultron": What fans seem to like about this 1977 story line is how it completes the Oedipus complex established in Ultron's earlier appearances. In the Greek myth, Oedipus kills his father, King Laius of Thebes, and marries his mother, Jocasta. In Avengers lore, Ultron keeps trying to kill his "father," Pym, and in this story tries to create another artificial intelligence to be his wife, based on the mental patterns of Janet "The Wasp" van Dyne, at that time Pym's wife. Subtlety apparently not being part of Ultron's programming, he named his robot wife-to-be Jocasta.
Of course, in addition to the highbrow allusion to the plays of Sophocles, the story also has more than a whiff of "Bride of Frankenstein."
This story is available in a number of reprints, including "Avengers Visionaries: The Art of George Perez" (1999), "Avengers Epic Collection Vol. 9: The Final Threat" (2013) and "Avengers: The Bride of Ultron" (2014).
"Behold … the Vision": Not only does this collection, which shipped April 29, have one of the best stories featuring Ultron and the Vision, but it delivers the origin of both characters.
"Avengers Epic Collection Vol. 4: Behold … the Vision" ($34.99) begins with the 1968 debut of the Vision, an amnesiac, artificial human — a "synthezoid" — who tries to murder the Avengers. But the android stops himself, which prompts an investigation into this strange apparition, who can shift his density from ethereal to diamond hard. It is here we learn the origin of Ultron (who had himself debuted only a few issues earlier), the mad artificial intelligence created by Pym who hates his "father" and created the Vision as a weapon for patricide.
Warning: Avoid confusion with "Vision: Yesterday and Tomorrow," which shipped April 22.
"Ultron Unlimited": This four-part story by writer Kurt Busiek and artist George Perez is widely embraced as the best Ultron story. "Ultron Unlimited" is not only a well-crafted tale, but established Ultron as one of the most lethal of Avengers foes.
First published in 1999, "Ultron Unlimited" began with the Living Robot creating a body of pure adamantium, the unbreakable substance found in Wolverine's claws. He then created an army of lesser Ultron drones that completely exterminated the entire population of the (fictional) Baltic nation of Slorenia. Why? Just to get the Avengers' attention.
"Ultron Unlimited" first appeared in "Avengers" (second series) 19-22, 16 years ago, and original issues can likely be found cheaply. But it's also available in two reprint collections, "Avengers: Ultron Unlimited" (2001) and "Avengers Assemble" Vol. 2 (2005).