As was expected, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was massive. Joss Whedon’s follow-up to his 2012 record-breaking “Avengers” debut was packed with almost as many characters, reveals and action scenes as the rest of Marvel Studios’ Phase Two movies combined. And more so than any Marvel movie before it, the mega-dense “Age of Ultron” built upon character arcs and mythology established in pretty much every film that preceded it. This movie has a lot going on, and odds are it leaves you wanting a lot more.
With that in mind, we’ve combed through our back issue bins in search of the best storylines to provide context and clues for “Age of Ultron’s” big developments. But heads up — we’re gonna get into spoilery territory in this article, so shield your eyes and float away like the Vision if you wish to remain in the dark about some of “Age of Ultron’s” big moments. For everyone else, get ready to learn a lot more about alternate realities, the X-Men connection and robot love!
AVENGERS #16 (1965)
The only thing constant about the Avengers’ lineup is that it is always fluctuating — but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, aside from Captain America switching places with the Hulk on the team, the team’s lineup remained pretty much the same for the first year. Then, in an issue titled “The Old Order Changeth,” the team experienced the first of many massive roster shakeups. The entire team left, leaving Captain America with three former criminals — Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Hawkeye. “Age of Ultron” pays homage to this in its final scene, when it’s revealed that every Avenger other than Cap and Black Widow has retired, leaving the remaining duo behind to turn War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch and Vision into Earth’s Mightiest.
VISION AND THE SCARLET WITCH #1-4 (1982)
Spoiler alert: Vision and Scarlet Witch totally hook up in the comics! That’s right, Wanda Maximoff totally falls for an android — which is a development that is heavily foreshadowed in “Age of Ultron.” Elizabeth Olsen’s character gives Paul Bettany’s Vision a number of intense looks and the android Avenger even saves Scarlet Witch’s life in the final battle. The two have a real Marvel-style meet cute. This limited series takes place after Wanda and Vision’s wedding and their retirement from the Avengers; the couple traded their Avengers Mansion keys in for a home in Leonia, New Jersey. This story is also known for revealing Magneto as Wanda and Pietro’s father, a development that couldn’t be part of “Age of Ultron” due to complicated film rights.
WEST COAST AVENGERS #-14 (1984)
When the Chitauri invaded Manhattan at the end of “Avengers,” many fans wondered why Don Cheadle’s War Machine didn’t join in the fight. Whedon squashed that potential question in “Age of Ultron’s” third act by having James Rhodes shows up and provide air support for the ground team. By the end of the film, ol’ Rhodey’s been recruited into the Avengers’ ranks just as Tony Stark steps away. Rhodes originally joined the Avengers in the first issue of the first volume of “West Coast Avengers,” a spinoff title starring the team’s Los Angeles counterpart. At the time, Rhodey was actually wearing the Iron Man armor, a development that came about because of Stark’s alcoholism. This storyline will also give you a taste of Hawkeye the husband. There’s one difference: Hawkeye’s married to fellow Avenger Mockingbird, a character currently played by Adrianne Palicki on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
X-FACTOR #71-75 (1991)
This entry contains a spoiler so spoilery that it requires a “Inception”-style spoiler alert within the spoiler alert. You sure you want this? Okay — Quicksilver dies! What?! As shocking as that development may be, it’s kinda sorta in keeping with the comics. After joining in 1965, Pietro stayed with the team until 1972 and only returned for guest appearances and brief runs after that. Scarlet Witch, however, stuck around became one of the team’s most integral members. But if you’re bummed about Quicksilvers quick death, you can cheer yourself up by reading his debut adventure with his other super-team — X-Factor. Yep, in the comics, Quicksilver was a prominent member of an X-Team for a number of years, and writer Peter David fine-tuned the character into the cocky, snarky, jerky hero that both Avengers and X-Men fans have grown to love.
ULTIMATES 2 #1-7 (2005)
“Age of Ultron” surprised fans with more than just character death and departures; it also revealed that Hawkeye has a wife — and he’s had one for a while. Linda Cardellini appears in the movie as Laura Barton, the wife the Avengers — and possibly many Avengers comic fans — did not know existed. Laura actually does come from the comics, albeit the Ultimate Universe line of comics. In that alternate reality, Clint Barton is married to Laura and has three children. Whedon paid homage to that during the trip to Hawkeye’s farm, but the similarities between that and “Ultimates 2” end there. If you’re a fan of Cardellini’s character or Hawkeye in general, just know that Mark Millar doesn’t play nicely with the Barton clan in this story.
HOUSE OF M #1-8 (2005)
With telekinesis and mind manipulation, one could argue that the “Age of Ultron” Scarlet Witch is the most powerful being in the movie. After all, she hurt Thor and the Hulk in ways no one else has yet — quite a feat for a newbie like Wanda! But no matter how powerful she is on film, the character has actually been depowered significantly compared to her comic book counterpart. In “House of M,” Wanda Maximoff cuts loose with her reality-warping powers — yeah, reality-warping — and recreates the entire planet in her father Magneto’s image. This story followed hot on the heels of “Avengers: Disassembled,” the story that established Scarlet Witch as one of the most powerful — and dangerous — characters in the Marvel Universe.
AGE OF ULTRON #1-10 (2013)
First off, no, this series is not what the “Avengers” sequel is based on. They do share a title and a villain, yes, but Whedon reportedly just liked the way the name of this limited series from writer Brian Michael Bendis sounded. Still, if you want to read a great, modern-day Ultron story, this ten-part mega-event is your best bet. Set in a post-apocalyptic near-future where Ultron and his drones have taken over Earth, the Avengers and the rest of the surviving Marvel heroes prepare to make on last attempt to stop the inciting incident and set things right. This series demonstrates exactly why Ultron is such a massive threat and features a few big twists of its own.
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