Marvel Comics’ Avengers have acquired a diverse and interesting collection of adversaries over the years, with foes hailing from Earth, other times and planets, and even divine mystical realms. The recurring foe with a the most distinctly personal connection to the team hails from a place all to close to home — the mind of Hank Pym, one of the founding members of the Avengers. Pym’s brilliance gave birth to one of the darkest adversaries to ever plague the Marvel U, the homicidal robot A.I. known as Ultron. Ultron was last seen in the comics during Marvel’s “Age of Ultron” event miniseries and will make his cinematic debut next May in writer/director Joss Whedon’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
The villain’s ultimate goal is to eradicate all organic life and his quests to accomplish that often result in his own destruction. But like any great antagonist, and much to the horror of his “father,” the murderous automaton always seems to find a way to return from oblivion. Next April, Ultron will return once more to menace Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in “Avengers: Rage of Ultron,” an all-new original graphic novel from the “Fear Agent” & “Uncanny X-Force” creative team of writer Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opena. CBR spoke with Remender about the book, which Marvel announced yesterday at their “Avengers & X-Men: All-AXIS” panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, and finds the consciousness of the titular robot inhabiting the central computer core of Saturn’s moon, Titan.
CBR News: Rick what made you want to take on an Avengers story in this format? What’s it like writing an original graphic novel for Marvel?
Rick Remender: I wanted to tell an Ultron story that was accessible to new readers while making a huge status quo change like the kind that we saw in “The Killing Joke” [Alan Moore & Brian Bolland’s seminal Batman OGN]. I think the joy of an original graphic novel is that you’re not going to have to wait months and months. You’re going to get a big chunk of Jerome and I doing what we do. You’re also going to get an easy entry point for new readers to be reintroduced to who Ultron is and his relationship with Hank.
We’re going to see the Avengers as they were in the past, and something that happened in the past with Ultron will help reintroduce him in the present. We’ll use that to really examine the character and his motives and then take things to their natural conclusion by exponentially increasing what we’ve seen in the past. By seeing some of the Avengers dealings with Ultron in the past, you see that something they did to rid themselves of Ultron once upon a time is going to carry a fantastic consequence in the future.
â€¨That deals with a lot of changes with the Avengers that come out of “Avengers & X-Men: AXIS.” Those changes and the way the team has ended up means that they’re going to have deal with something the Roger Stern-John Byrne era team did to Ultron back in the day. That will lead to what I believe to be not only a high velocity, exciting Ultron story, but one that will completely redefine the character, and by the end of it absolutely give us a look at a whole new kind of Ultron.
It will also have huge ramifications for a number of Avengers that will then carry over into continuity the same way the Joker shooting Barbara Gordon did in “The Killing Joke.” This is not just a side story. This is a big Ultron story in continuity. It’s going to have huge, lasting ramifications and change the landscape of that character as well as the Avengers.
Why do you think Ultron has become one of the Avengers most enduring foes?
It’s his issues with his father/creator, Hank Pym. What’s very interesting about Ultron as one of the first artificial intelligences in the Marvel Universe, is that he has rage. He has emotional baggage.
That’s something that could very easily be moved over as his origin, but in my mind there is a lot there that hasn’t been told yet. So the story also ties in and deals with a lot of what I dealt with in “Secret Avengers” with Father, the Descendants and the Adaptoids, who have some inclusion in this story as well. They all tie in so wonderfully into Ultron, the Vision, who also plays a nice role in this story, and those characters. So a lot of the Descendants storyline informs this one.
We examine what artificial intelligence means, what it means to the future going forward, and if it as life has the same sort of value. I find the examination of artificial intelligence, things like the singularity, and other ideas like that quite fascinating. So I’m building upon a lot of what I did in my “Secret Avengers” run and moving it forward a little bit. I find it to be a really compelling topic.
Speaking of your “Secret Avengers” run, I believe Hank Pym also played a role in that book, correct?
Yes, he was a full fledged member of the team. Marvel NOW! came around before I got to examine Hank and his relationship with the idea of artificial intelligence. As someone who has created artificial life his story is quite interesting. It was one I had begun to examine, but did not get to finish. So this is where I’m finishing that in the most spectacular way possible. It’s just that instead of doing that with Deathloks, Adaptoids and the Descendants we’re doing the story with his son, Ultron.
We recently learned that Hank suffers from Bipolar Disorder. Will we see him wrestling with that in “Avengers: Rage of Ultron?”
Yes, the Bipolar aspect of Hank and his propensity towards oscillation between rage and depression and his bipolarism in general plays a huge role in where we end up in this story.
Hank of course won’t be the only Avenger in “Rage of Ultron.” You mentioned the Vision plays a role, but I’m curious about some of the other team members involved in this story. This graphic novel comes out in April which is right around the time the Marvel Universe catches up to the events of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers books, which jump forward in time in September in “Time Runs Out.” Will the other Avengers in this story include the ones that we’ll see in those books, like, say, Sam Wilson as Captain America?
This takes place right around the end of the eight month time jump we’ll see in the Avengers books during the “Time Runs Out” storyline. It happens just prior to that. So we’ll see the new Avengers, and members of the new Uncanny Avengers as well, which is a lineup we have yet to reveal.
â€¨Again, there’s many changes coming out of “AXIS” that are huge. Some of those huge changes lead to a number of cast members that will be featured in this as well as the return of Starfox.
Let’s talk about the setting of “Rage of Ultron.” I understand much of this story takes place on Saturn’s moon, Titan, the birthplace of Thanos and also the site of his attack on his fellow Eternals of Titan. Is Titan sort of a world of ghosts in this story? Is there a techno-horror vibe to “Rage of Ultron?”
A bit. Titan is not entirely desolate. It’s still a living city when we catch back up with it. Mentor, Starfox and some of the other characters who lived there have repopulated and rebuilt the world. All of that stuff is moving ahead. There’s connective tissue to Thanos there, which we will touch on and that will then be examined later on.
There’s many things coming out of this graphic novel that tie it into a lot of the big Avengers stuff, a lot of the big characters, and will ultimately interconnect with a lot of what’s coming down the road.
You mentioned connective tissue between Thanos and Ultron and it feels like one of the biggest traits they have in common is contentious relationships with their fathers. Will the relationship between fathers and sons be one of the major elements of “Avengers: Rage of Ultron?”
Fathers and sons for sure — both the emotional baggage that comes from fathers and sons that don’t see eye-to-eye and have different perspectives on things, and a son who feels betrayed by his father and the lengths he’ll go to to close that loop and ultimately have some sort of closure.
â€¨We’ll look at Ultron as a living, thinking entity and what he wants from Hank. So we’ll examine the relationship between fathers and sons in hopefully a universal way that everybody can have some connection with.
We’ve talked about story and characters. Let’s move into art. “Avengers: Rage of Ultron” is being brought to life by your “Fear Agent” collaborator, Jerome Opena, which means it’s the two of you doing what you do best: big action sci-fi stories. What can people expect from Jerome on this?
The work of his career. The pages are absolutely outstanding. I’ve watched Jerome grow over the past decade and I don’t ever think he’ll get better. I think, “There he goes. That’s the best Jerome is going to be.” Then these pages started coming in and they’re an elevation of what he can do. These pages are beyond words. They’re just incredible.
â€¨They come in and I spend the entire night just staring at them. I have to be careful what I write because he’s so committed to ensuring that what is in the script is on the page. If I write some colorful background stuff or if I write a detailed scene just to give him some ideas he’ll draw every single thing in the script. He’s a masochist. [Laughs] The end result is that he takes every idea that I have and he’s one of the few guys that can produce something that is so much better than what your imagination is capable of coming up with.
It’s Jerome’s book. I’m writing something with a lot of heart that I’m very excited about, and has a lot of great character moments, but it doesn’t need a single bit of text on it. It could just be a silent graphic novel and it would still be well worth the cost of admission.
Finally, a project like this might make fans curious about what you and Jerome did on “Fear Agent” (which also features art by Tony Moore) or some of the other creator-owned science fiction books you’re currently doing for Image like “Black Science” with Matteo Scalera, “Low,” which debuts next week and has art by Greg Tocchini. What do you want readers to know about those books?
“Black Science” is a family book and it’s something I’m trying to break all of my foundation habits with. With that book I want to do things that are unexpected and visually interesting that allow Matteo and Dean [White] to do what they do best and allow me to try and examine new things. Whereas “Fear Agent” really developed the character of Heath Huston and his supporting cast were very secondary, “Black Science” is very much about the entire ensemble.
Then obviously with “Fear Agent” you’ve got an examination of a damaged man; an alcoholic haunted by the actions of his past and the choices that he’s made that are behind him. The story is about how he moves forward and finds his way out of that black pit. It’s not the cheeriest story I’ve ever written.
“Low” is sort of both of those things inverted. It’s another strange sort of science fiction conceit where we are farther in the future than anything I’ve ever done before. We’re dealing with the remains of the human race living in giant blast-shielded orb cities at the bottom of the ocean waiting for some kind of rescue; some kind of hope that there’s another planet that mankind can move to if the sun expands and our solar system is in danger of being wiped out. So that story is about unbridled optimism in the face of insurmountable odds.
“Avengers: Rage of Ultron” at its core is an examination of fathers and sons and artificial intelligence. I always try to find something interesting that I can write about so that the action is a byproduct of character in that the action then informs interesting concepts and examinations that might lead people to seeing things in a different way. It hopefully also leads to an exciting, fun, and wildly imaginative comic book that has a mission statement beyond just the conflict of the characters.
“Avengers: Rage of Ultron” is Jerome and I back together doing what we’ve been doing from “Fear Agent,” to “Punisher,” to “Uncanny X-Force.” Fans of all of those books will find things in “Rage of Ultron” that they’re used to getting from us. And obviously the responsibility of writing something for somebody as gifted as Jerome is that it feels like I’m on my A-game and hopefully people will agree.
“Avengers: Rage of Ultron” by Rick Remender & Jerome Opena arrives in April, 2015 from Marvel Comics.