Today, Ethan and Taylor are discussing Ultron 1, originally released April 10th, 2013. This issue is part of the Age of Ultron crossover event. Click here for complete AU coverage.
Ethan: In the aftermath of terrible, unexpected events, it’s good to find comfort in familiar places and situations. Ultron’s instant and total takeover of the world qualifies as a pretty terrible and unexpected event. For the lead character of Ultron #1 – Victor Mancha – this catastrophe is a unique blend of insult and injury. Not only has Ultron killed off Victor’s former teammates the Runaways, but Ultron is also Victor’s father. Add to this the fact that a visitor from the future once warned that Victor would bring about the destruction of the world and the death of its heroes, and you’ve got a pretty complete package of misery. Writer Kathryn Immonen and artist Amilcar Pinna explore how Victor copes with all of this by returning to his roots as a teenage hero.
The series begins with Victor Mancha leading a kid named Jamie back to the hideout. Before they can reach it, they spot some Ultron sentinels. Victor makes sure that Jaime is hidden and then prepares to fight off the drone, but after it scans him and doesn’t find human life signs in him, it leaves. The pair of boys finally arrive at safety, which turns out to be the old Runaways safe house. Victor introduces Jamie to the other kids he’s found and saved – Cait, Cloudy, and Marcus. Victor shares the spoils of his foraging with the others (Twinkies: the go-to food in all of the best post-apocalyptic fiction) and then heads back to his room. He plugs in to recharge, and starts calling up the memories of his dead Runaways friends to comfort himself. Cait walks in while he’s talking to himself/the projections of Nico and Karolina and Cait discovers his robotic nature when she sees the jack in his arm. Before she can run tell the others about Victor’s secret, there’s a cave-in and Victor is finally forced into direct confrontation with a swarm of Ultron sentinels.
I’m glad that Marvel didn’t forget about Victor when it came time to tell a story about Ultron. Yes, he was a latecomer to the Runaways series, so he doesn’t have the star power of the Avengers, but come on – Ultron’s his dad. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Victor, here’s a quick recap. The Runaways were a group of teenagers who found out that their parents were secretly a group of supervillains called The Pride. The Pride was trying to wipe out all life on earth in service of a group of incredibly powerful, ancient giants called the Gibborim. After this discovery, the kids banded together and dubbed themselves the Runaways – some stole weapons from their parents, others discovered their own latent super powers, and they fought back to defeat their parents and thwart the Gibborim’s plan of genocide. A future version of one of the kids (Gertrude, the daughter of two evil time travelers) came back in time to warn them that Victor would one day be The Biggest Bad. The Runaways abducted him and after discovering that he wasn’t so evil yet, gradually accepted him onto the team after discovering that his electricity-based powers were starting to manifest. While Victor was still trying to puzzle out the origin of his powers, Ultron arrived on the scene, momentarily hijacked Victor’s brain, and made him fight his friends. Ultron was defeated, Victor overwrote Ultron’s programming inside his own brain, and the Ultron run-in became just a bad day he had that one time.
In Ultron #1 we see that, for Victor, the whole Ultron thing turns out not to have just been a bizarre little origin story. Daddy is back.
I know that we’ve seen a lot of tragedy in the Age of Ultron arc already, but this issue drove it home in an especially poignant way – the death of the child heroes, the Runaways. Whereas the Fantastic Four crossover saw the death of everyone except the kids, this issue shows Victor as the sole survivor of his team of teens. It starts out with a glimmer of hope – when I saw the wreckage of the Leapfrog and the familiar scene of the Runaways subterranean HQ, I started getting excited to see the whole gang together again. This seemingly light-hearted panel was the beginning of an especially cruel awakening:
Maybe it’s just an unintended mental echo, but… one of Victor’s teammates (Karolina) was a lanky blonde alien-slash-Valley-Girl from the planet Majesdane. Another member of the group (Gertrude) was a shorter girl with brown hair. So for a split-second, seeing these two people — obviously friends, sharing a moment of silly competition — seemed to be a return to normal. Victor’s been out risking his life helping people, but now he’s back with the crew and we can relax. That hope slipped when the girls introduced themselves as Cait and Cloudy, but caught a brief updraft when a silhouette at the bottom of the same page seemed to show the youngest and spunkiest Runaway, Molly. When we find in the following panel that it’s in fact a boy named Marcus who just found Molly’s hat, the reality becomes clear. Victor’s holographic reminiscences of his recently deceased teammates drive the point home: despite the fact that he has begun to find, rescue, and care for a new group of kids, Victor is in one important sense very alone. The Runaways had become his family, and while he is clearly trying to begin again, their loss weighs on him.
Taylor – Had you read much of Victor’s past? Perhaps you had a fresher perspective on this one – what are your thoughts on this one as an individual issue or as part of the increasingly grim Age of Ultron event?
Taylor: Ethan, you are much more well-versed in the Marvel universe than I am, so basically all of the backstory involving Victor and the Runaways is new to me. I think credit is due to Katherine Immonen for having this background remain relevant to readers such as yourself but not overbearing for new readers, like me. While your synopsis of the Runaways back story is interesting, it’s nice that I didn’t need it at all to understand what was going on in this issue. In fact, I was able to pick up on what the Runaways were about from the plethora of context clues sprinkled throughout this first issue. Again, those who read Marvel titles frequently can enjoy these tidbits of information with a knowing wink from Immonen. For others it’s simply just interesting to learn about an implied history. In either case, it’s refreshing to see a title strike a nice balance in its content that engages both new and old readers alike.
In regards to a fresh perspective on Victor and his past, I can’t speak with much authority. However, the whole idea of the Runways is neat to me and naturally that includes Victor’s story so I’ll give it a shot. Victor naturally wants to break away from his father and what is essentially his assigned fate. This is something most of us can sympathize with whether we have completed this process with our own parents or if we are still undergoing it today. We don’t want to become our parents because, in some way and for some reason, we are horrified by what they are. On the one hand, we all love our parents and recognize what they have done for us, but at the same time we want to do become something different. We want to be unique. Always in the back of our heads, we wonder if we are fated to become just like our parents despite all of our best efforts. Every time I have an awkward interaction with someone, I feel if like I have become more like my own father. My dad is the king of bizarre interactions with others so when I have a similar experience, I feel as if my DNA is dictating those actions. That’s not actually the case — obviously — but the fear still persists. Anyhow, at least my becoming like my father isn’t as bad as Victor becoming like his.
Adding to the appeal of Victor’s story is the mystique of the outsider, banished from society by necessity. Victor is basically alone in the world now now that the Runaways have all be killed. This is tragic, as is evidenced by the fact that he only feels comfortable being himself when he talks to his own memories.
Fom a narrative standpoint, I really dig this aspect of his character. Sure, I want the kid to end up happy and have friends and not wipe out humanity, but the idea that he is a curse on whoever he comes into contact with is pretty neat. Maybe it’s a distinctly American sentiment, but the rebel vigilante with a dark secret is just such an appealing concept. Perhaps this is why we even invented superheroes in the first place, I’m not sure, and now’s not the time for that. Regardless of the reasons, Victor fits this profile to a T, joining the likes of Dirty Harry, Han Solo, Jim Stark, and Pee-Wee Herman. It will be interesting to see just how dark and depressing Victor’s story will become. Will more innocents die because they are associated with him? Will he fulfill his dark fate? Will he destroy all humans?
Speaking of which, I feel like this title is a nice little add-on to the larger Ultron narrative. Sure, it’s more of the same bleak material we’ve seen in the five issues of Age of Ultron so far, but that doesn’t mean it is without hope. The very act of Victor’s rebellion against his father is evidence enough that not all is lost. Having a machine fighting on the side of humanity is nothing to scoff at, and it seems like Victor would rather die than become like his father. The end of this issue sees him beginning to realize that he has to fight both his fate and his father, which ultimately will probably be a good thing for all the intelligent species on Earth. Also, it will be interesting to see if Victor’s story line collides with that in the Ultron series proper. What if a robot named Victor, who is the son of Ultron, is the savior of humanity?
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