In this feature we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore. Not major stuff like "the first appearance of Superman," but rather, "the first time someone said, 'Avengers Assemble!'" or "the first appearance of Batman's giant penny" or "the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth" or "the first time Spider-Man's face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter." Stuff like that. Here is an archive of all the When We First Met features so far! Check 'em out!
With Avengers 2: Age of Ultron out tomorrow, I thought it'd be a good idea to take a look at the introductions of each incarnation of Ultron so far (this is basically a visual counterpiece to this loooong history of Ultron I did for the main site last October)...
NOTE: Updated with the Ultron from Rage of Ultron included!
In 1968's Avengers #53 (by Roy Thomas, John Buscema and George Tuska), a new Masters of Evil was formed and managed to actually capture Earth's Mightiest Heroes. The team consisted of a number of familiar bad guys (The Melter, Klaw, Radioactive Man and Whirlwind), but they were led by a mysterious new villain known as the Crimson Cowl. At the end of the issue, the Cowl is dramatically revealed to be none other than the Avengers' own butler, Edwin Jarvis! But in actuality, that cliffhanger was a fake -- Jarvis was actually being hypnotized by the real brains behind the Crimson Cowl, the seemingly simple robot who shares the page with Jarvis. Yes, in Ultron's dramatic first appearance, he was not only not named, he was not even spotlighted.
Next issue, we learn Ultron's name, right after it is revealed that he is the actual brains behind the Crimson Cowl. It is surprising to note that when Ultron first appeared, he was already referring to himself as Ultron-5 (years before "Short Circuit's" Johnny Five). Not only did they quickly establish a trend of Ultron re-numbering himself every time he upgraded, but they chose to start the process with him already on his fifth incarnation. The Avengers defeated the Masters of Evil, but Ultron-5 escapes, leaving the heroes in the dark about who wanted them dead so badly.
It is not until Avengers #58 (by Thomas, Buscema and George Klein), however, that we finally discover Ultron's origins. The Vision wants to join the Avengers, and naturally, they want to know as much about him and Ultron as they can find out. They soon discover that Hank "Ant-Man/Goliath" Pym actually knows more than he realizes. His memory is refreshed and he recalls that he actually built Ultron. (Yes, Hank is a smart enough biologist and chemist to come up with a way to shrink a human being, make another shrunken human being grow wings and build a sentient robot!) After Ultron gained his artificial life, he turned on his creator and used the same brainwashing abilities he used on Jarvis to force Pym to forget his role in the villain's creation. With their worries about the Vision assuaged, the Avengers allow him to join the team -- and upon telling him the news, they famously learn that even androids can cry.
Ultron would be reborn in Avengers #66 (by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith) at the hands of his own creation, the Vision. Ultron left hidden programming in the Vision, forcing him to help rebuild his master. The problem was, that that same issue saw the debut of the unbreakable metal known as adamantium, so when the Vision rebuilt Ultron, he used it -- making Ultron-6 the most powerful Ultron to date.
Ultron was gone for a full five years -- an eternity in comic book bad guy time -- before returning for a two-part crossover between Avengers and the Fantastic Four, just in time for the wedding of former Avenger Quicksilver with former FF member Crystal. "Avengers" #127 (by Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema and Joe Staton) featured the Inhumans, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four all attacked by the giant android enemy of the Inhumans known as Omega. But at the end of the issue, we discover that Omega has been taken over by Ultron-7. In "Fantastic Four" #150 (by Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott), we learn that Ultron was alive due to Maximus (the mad brother of the Inhuman's king, Black Bolt) salvaging Ultron's brain box after he exploded, and implanting it in Omega's android body. Ultron quickly betrayed Maximus and began to use his now amplified mental powers to kill everyone around Reed and Sue Richards' son, Franklin, who saved everyone by seemingly using up all of his mysterious powers to destroy Ultron.
Ultron-8 debuted in "Avengers" #161 (by Jim Shooter, George Perez and Pablo Marcos), where he actually teamed with Hank Pym, who suffered a mental breakdown and believed that Ultron is his ally and the Avengers his foes. Ultron kidnaps the Wasp, planning to transfer her mind into the body of a robot designed to be his queen. The process is halted by the Avengers, as Iron Man threatens to destroy Ultron's new "bride" unless Ultron gives up. Forced to retreat, Ultron leaves Iron Man to wonder if he would have actually gone through with his threat if Ultron had not backed own. Less than a year later, in #170-171, Ultron's "bride" -- Jocasta -- comes to life and seeks out Ultron, only to follow in the Vision's footsteps and turn on Ultron as well. The Avengers arrive, intent on destroying her, and end up helping her as the Scarlet Witch destroys Ultron with her probability altering powers, forcing his built-in molecular arranger (which allows him to build his body out of adamantium) to malfunction.
Here now lies my best attempt to make Rage of Ultron fit into continuity. The basic conceit of Rage of Ultron is that Ultron was sent into outer space after a battle with the Avengers and he returns in the present to fight them. This allows writer Rick Remender to avoid the "end" of Ultron at the conclusion of Age of Ultron (more on that at the end of this piece, of course). In Avengers #161, Ultron introduces the concept of him having previously hypnotized people recreate him after his destruction. Avengers #161, though, specifically references his previous defeat in the Inhumans/Avengers/Fantastic Four story. However, when he returns in Avengers #201-202, there is no specific reference to him rebuilding himself from his last defeat, except his specific insistence of taking out Scarlet Witch first (since she led to his defeat in Avengers #171).
So that gives us a chance to slide in Ultron into this spot, let's say it takes place roughly #172, right before The Korvac Saga but before Hawkeye and Yellowjacket leave the team (yes, Hawkeye didn't have his Sky-Cycle yet, but whatever, that's a minor thing). You can even have it some point in the #190s, if you'd like and just say Hawkeye and Yellowjacket are helping out. The key is that it has to be after #171 and before #201.
With that in mind, we get the Ultron from Rage of Ultron (by Rick Remender, Jerome Opena and Pepe Larraz)...
This Ultron never actually dies, but is sent off into outer space, where he comes back in the present to get revenge. However, we'll presume that Ultron's programming deemed him effectively destroyed, which set into place his back-up plan of having a pre-hypnotized person rebuild him (of course, this opens up the problem of the numbering now being off, but, well, eh, what are you going to do?) So then, in Avengers #201-202 (by David Michelinie, George Perez and Dan Green/Mike Esposito), Tony Stark is revealed to have been pre-hypnotized, so he rebuilds Ultron-9. This time, he also has Tony incapacitate the Scarlet Witch and deliver her to Ultron so he can kill her. He is terrified of her powers, believing she is the only person who could stop his plan to brainwash the human race and be part of Ultron's new hypnotized army. The Avengers ultimately defeat him by dropping him into a vat of molten adamantium. In what must have been a particular embarrassment for Ultron, it was the weakest Avenger, Hawkeye, who delivered the final blow that knocked him into the vat.
In "Marvel Two-in-One" #91-92 (by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson and a bunch of different inkers), Ultron used his connection to Jocasta to force her to save him from his frozen state by helping him transfer his consciousness into Ultron-10 (NOTE: This is why Rage of Ultron has to be before #201, since Marvel Two-in-One #91 picks up from where Ultron was in Avengers #201).
One interesting possibility is that the Ultron from Rage of Ultron was Ultron-9, somehow bringing itself back to consciousness. That would avoid the numbering problem. Maybe we should just go with that.