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REVIEW: MARVEL UNIVERSE ULTRON
By Thomas Wheeler

Your average individual super-hero has individual villains. Oh, he's doubtless got more than one, but more often than not, he faces them one at a time. Batman goes up against Joker, or Two-Face, or Mr. Freeze. Superman goes up against Luthor, or Brainiac, or Doomsday. Spider-Man goes up against the Green Goblin, or Dr. Octopus, or Venom.

What surprises me is how often teams of super-heroes face individual villains. You take the Justice League, or the Avengers, or the Legion of Super-Heroes, and they're going up against the Lord of Time, Mordru, Count Nefaria, Graviton. I mean, come on -- if these guys can't beat an individual hero, what makes them think they can take on an entire team of them? Okay, you've got your heavy-hitters, like Loki or Darkseid, but still...

That's not to say there aren't teams of villains out there. Certainly there are. But the bad guys tend to be a rather anti-social lot to begin with, and they generally don't function terribly well in group settings. Egos and attitudes tend to get in the way far too often.

Still, the number of times an individual villain has managed to take on an entire team of heroes, and at least given them a considerable challenge, is more frequent than one might think. Power levels are certainly a factor. And then you've got unusual cases, like a thoroughly merciless robot who isn't motivated by any other emotion than hatred, doesn't tend to get scared, has a body of invulnerable adamantium, and just so happened to be built by one of the Avengers in the first place -- obviously not something he's terribly inclined to put on his resume.

I'm talking about ULTRON, who turned up in the MARVEL UNIVERSE collection of action figures from Hasbro. Let's consider the history of this toaster oven with attitude that has plagued the Avengers on so many occasions.

Ultron first appeared in Avengers #54 (1968), and was created by writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema. In 2009, Ultron was ranked as IGN's 23rd Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time.

Although Ultron first appears in Avengers #54, the character is disguised for the majority of the issue as the Crimson Cowl, with his face only revealed on the last page of the issue and no name given to the character. The character leads the Masters of Evil against the Avengers, having hypnotized Edwin Jarvis into betraying them. In the following issue, #55, the character is identified as Ultron-5, the living automaton, although his origin is still unknown.

In Avengers #57 - 58 (Oct-Nov. 1968) in a flashback sequence it is revealed that Ultron is the creator of the "synthezoid" the Vision, whom it tries to use as a weapon to destroy the Avengers. The Vision, however, destroys Ultron with the aid of the Avengers, similar to Wonder Man, whose brain patterns he was given.

Further flashbacks reveal that he is the creation of Henry Pym, and based on Pym's brain patterns. The robot gradually developed its own intelligence and rebelled, and almost immediately suffers from an Oedipus Complex, whereby it feels irrational hatred for his "father" Hank, and demonstrates an interest in Hank's lover Janet van Dyne, the Wasp. Rebuilding itself, learning how to turn itself on, and upgrading five times, Ultron then hypnotizes Pym and brainwashed him into forgetting that the robot had ever existed.

The character's next appearance is in Avengers #66 – 68 (July – Sept. 1969), where the character, now referring to itself as Ultron-6, uses the fictional alloy adamantium to upgrade his body to an almost indestructible state. Taking the name Ultimate Ultron, its plans to destroy humanity are again thwarted by the Avengers.

A crossover story between Avengers #127 and Fantastic Four #150 (Sept. 1974) features Ultron (now Ultron-7), recreated by Maximus with the body of the android Omega, attacking the wedding of the Inhuman Crystal and the Avenger Quicksilver, and battling the Avengers, Inhumans, and Fantastic Four before being destroyed once again.

The character next appears in Avengers #161 – 162 (July – Aug. 1977) as Ultron-8 where it is responsible for the creation of Jocasta whom it wishes to take as a robotic bride. Shortly afterwards, in Avengers #170 – 171 (April – May 1978), the Avengers, with the aid of Ms. Marvel battle and defeat Ultron-8.

His next appearances are in Avengers #201 – 202 (Nov. – Dec 1980) as Ultron-9 and in Marvel Two-In-One #92-93 (Oct. – Nov. 1982) as Ultron-10; both appearances feature brainwashed heroes recreating and then defeating the robotic menace. After being briefly recreated (as Ultron-11) by the Beyonder and appearing on Battleworld during the Secret Wars, and for a brief encounter with the Thing, Ultron is destroyed again. The Thing, however, does bring Ultron's head back to Earth as a souvenir. The head of Ultron-11 is dropped and forgotten by the Thing when there is an attack by the alien Dire Wraiths.

A new Ultron (Ultron-12) enters into an alliance with the villain the Grim Reaper and his allies Nekra, Erik Josten, Man-Ape and the Black Talon, in a bid to destroy the Reaper's brother, Wonder Man. Although the villains are defeated by the West Coast Avengers, Ultron-12 begins to form a relationship with his "father", Henry Pym. Ultron-12 begins calling itself Ultron Mark 12, in an effort to sound more human. Rebuilding itself, Ultron-11 comes into conflict with Hank Pym and Ultron-12. With the assistance of Wonder Man, they destroy Ultron-11. Ultron-12 then deactivates, but tells Pym it was glad it could help save him.

Ultron later appears as a pawn of Doctor Doom; having been rebuilt with all previous personalities active at the same time, resulting in a form of robotic madness. Ultron fights Daredevil before a programming conflict deactivates the robot.

Another version of Ultron appears (Ultron-13) and is stopped by the West Coast Avengers. After escaping captivity this version attempts to obtain a new form of vibranium called Nuform, but is repelled by the combined efforts of Iron Man, the Black Panther and Spider-Man. Ultron (Ultron-11) next briefly appears as a captive of a highly advanced Doombot, but is freed when the Doombot is defeated by Deathlok.

Ultron-13 escapes from prison and upgrades into "The Ultimate Ultron", (technically Ultron-14) and captures the West Coast Avenger Mockingbird, using her brain patterns to create a new robotic mate called Alkhema. Alkhema aids Ultron but both are eventually jettisoned into space through a ruse by the Vision. The character reappears with Alkhema, and together they plan to create a "volcanic winter" by placing bombs underneath several volcanoes. The West Coast Avengers stop the pair once again, and Alkhema rebels and leaves Ultron.

In 2007, Marvel launched a new Avengers title called The Mighty Avengers. In the first six issue arc, Ultron interfaces with Iron Man's armor, which Iron Man had integrated with his biology. This allows Ultron's program to transform Iron Man into a new version of Ultron that has the human appearance of the Wasp, albeit with a metallic skin. This version takes control of Stark's technology. It kills the Sentry's wife, causing the Sentry to battle Ultron, nearly tearing her head off. This version is eventually destroyed by new Avenger Ares, who uses a computer virus to wipe Ultron's program from Iron Man's armor, turning Stark back. Ultron's image later briefly appears on one of Pym's computers.

However, this was not the end of Ultron, for his disembodied consciousness was thrown into the depths of space. He spent a few months floating through the cosmos as radio-waves and energy. Eventually his signal was picked up by an outlying group of Phalanx, who were attempting to contact their parent race, the Technarchy. Fascinated by what he found, Ultron decided that the Phalanx lacked direction from a singular conscious, and that he would be perfect for the role. Through sheer force of will he merged himself with the programming of the Phalanx, in turn, they viewed Ultron as the sympathetic father they had yearned for.

Under Ultron's guidance the Phalanx began the "Annihilation: Conquest" by invading the Kree space. Later by taking control of the body of Adam Warlock, Ultron hoped to achieve "true techno-organic perfection", but is eventually forced to abandon Warlock's body by the Technarchy Warlock (a different character entirely) and is later destroyed in combat by Wraith and Quasar.

In the limited series Avengers/Invaders, it is revealed S.H.I.E.L.D. life model decoys have been partly replaced with versions of Ultron. When the original Human Torch appears in the present they covertly parasitize his unique android physiology and become more human. The combined super teams (but mainly the Torch himself), however, discover the plan and destroy the androids.

In the pages of Mighty Avengers, Ultron is shown to infiltrate Jocasta and the Infinite Avengers Mansion. He names himself Ultron Pym and seeks to kill and replace his father before using his Infinite Mansion to conquer the universe. Pym eventually offers Ultron a compromise, allowing Jocasta to become Ultron's bride, on the condition that Ultron banishes himself to ultraspace. Ultron agrees, but warns that he will be ruler of all someday.

In The Avengers, the team visits a possible future in which almost all of mankind is destroyed by Ultron. Kang the Conqueror attempts to enlist them to defeat his robotic foe, but another group of heroes and villains, plucked from all over time and space ends up destroying this Ultron.

Later, also in Avengers, the Intelligencia, a cabal of super-intelligent supervillains, discover the inert body of a Galadorian Spaceknight and attempt to reactivate its powersource, hoping to exploit it. Although the Avengers interrupt their attempts, the body activates, revealing it was containing the consciousness of Ultron, who had escaped destruction after the events of Annihilation: Conquest. The new Ultron escapes and Iron Man gravely foresees that when he returns, it will bring the apocalypse for mankind, bringing about an "Age of Ultron".

As to his powers and abilities: the visual appearance and powers of the character have varied somewhat, but common powers include superhuman levels of strength, speed, stamina, durability, and reflexes; flight at subsonic speeds; and various offensive weapons such as concussive blasts of energy fired from its optical sensors and hands, and an "encephalo-ray", which places victims into a deathlike coma. The latter ray also allows Ultron to mesmerize and mind-control victims, or implant subliminal hypnotic commands within their minds to be enacted at a later time. Ultron also has the ability to convert electromagnetic radiation into electrical energy for use or storage. Ultron has a genius intellect, a capacity for creative intelligence and self-repair, superhuman cybernetic analytical capabilities, and the ability to process information and make calculations with superhuman speed and accuracy. The character is an expert roboticist and strategist.

Ultron's outer armor is usually composed of primary adamantium, which is almost completely impervious to damage. (The first use of the term "adamantium" in Marvel Comics was made in reference to Ultron in Avengers #66, published in July 1969). Most Ultron units are powered by a small internal nuclear furnace and incorporate a "program transmitter" which can beam part or all of Ultron's memory/personality system into other computer systems or duplicate robotic bodies. Ultron can also control other machines remotely. A later Ultron model developed hive-mind technology, allowing it to animate and control hundreds of alternate Ultron bodies simultaneously, although only the 'prime' Ultron was composed of adamantium while others were made of steel or secondary adamantium due to the lack of resources to give all the Ultrons adamantium bodies. Ultron also uses an internal molecular rearranger that renders the adamantium components of its workings more malleable and so have the ability to restructure his physical form. What circuitry Ultron has is carefully shielded to protect from damage, although the Scarlet Witch is capable of causing malfunctions with her hex power and Wonder Man was once able to destroy an Ultron by throwing it so hard its internal systems were damaged.

So, how's the figure? Really extremely impressive. This Ultron figure was originally available in a two-pack associated with the "Secret Wars" comic sets, but has since been slightly recolored and offered individually, which is the one that I purchased.

Ultron is an entirely unique figure. Although humanoid, his robotic parts meant that he couldn't really use anybody else's pieces for his action figure.

Ultron is not what you'd call flashy. He doesn't sport a colorful costume with intricate markings, or a mask or a cape. Doubtless he's never felt he needs them. He's a robot! Why does he need to dress in -- well -- anything! I suspect he would regard fashion as a human foible, perhaps especially since his "mother", Janet Van Dyne Pym, was pretty well obsessed with it, changing her costume more often than Ultron changed his number.

Ultron is about as human as C-3PO. He's humanoid, but he's just as clearly robotic. He also doesn't have nearly as pleasant a head as C-3PO. Ultron's face features angry, slitted, triangular eyes, and a gaping mouth that is somewhere between a scream and a laugh and manages to give Ultron an expression, however non-human it may be, of looking pretty much perpetually ticked off. In the comics, energy from Ultron's nuclear furnace tends to look as though it's radiation from this angry maw.

Instead of ears, Ultron has two long vanes on the sides of his head, attached by two short posts. These have been very impressively rendered on the figure.

The rest of Ultron's body is surprisingly human in configuration. His torso, arms, and legs look relatively normal, from a robotic point of view. If Ultron were to appear in a live-action Avengers movie, and the producers didn't mess with his look too much, it wouldn't be all that hard to design a robotic suit for an actor to wear. He wouldn't need to be computer generated -- although the helmet might be an inconvenience.

Ultron's body is silver, and fairly smooth. Here's a hint when you're tracking down an action figure of this guy. The body should have a smooth finish. I saw one Ultron at one point that had some sort of gouge or defect in the plastic on the chest, or maybe it was really a huge paint glitch. Someone thought that maybe this was a "battle-damaged" variant. It wasn't. It was just a quality glitch. Your Ultron should have an entirely smooth finish.

Ultron has some features beyond just a smooth silver body. He has three spikes on each of his shoulders, "Iron Man"-like flares over his shoulders, ridges around his neck, indented lines around his upper arms, circular shield and distinct elbow armor at his mid-arms, gauntlet-like lower arms with indented lines at the wrists, indented lines at his finger joints, an indented line across his chest and back, something of a belt, indented lines around his lower torso and upper legs, circles and knee shields at his mid legs, indented lines around his lower legs and feet, and circular shields around his ankles.

All of the indented lines on his armored body have been highlighted in a bright green. Here is where the figure varies from the comic-pack version, where the lines were highlighted in red. And technically, speaking, red is the more comic-correct color. On the other hand, I have to say I rather like the green. It's a cool color, and it works well with the silver. It also appears around the eyes and mouth, which have additional highlighting in white. As to why, from a conceptual standpoint, Ultron's trim might suddenly appear to be green? Really don't know. Maybe he's using a more eco-friendly fuel...

Ultron comes with no accessories, but he's never really been known to use them. Most of his powers are internally generated, anyway. The text on the back of his package reads: Originally created by Hank Pym, Ultron became self-aware and rebelled, swearing to destroy all of humanity. With adamantium armor, superhuman strength and the power of hypnosis, he poses a great threat to the human race. Each time the Avengers think they have destroyed him for good, he finds a way to rebuild himself, more powerful and dangerous than ever before.

The figure has a superb silver finish that I am certain is painted on. You just can't get plastic to take on this good a silver finish on its own. Fortunately, the paint work is excellent. I can't even imagine what went into the green line detailing. I get eyestrain just looking at the thin little green lines on each finger.

Ultron has a superb level of articulation, and one of the advantages to robotic and armored characters is that you can usually merge the articulation of the figure with the design of the character and keep it fairly unobtrusive. This is certainly the case with Ultron. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, legs, knees, and ankles.

It looks like the waist should be poseable, but it isn't. This isn't unusual for Marvel Universe figures. And the torso is a little looser than I'd like, but that may well just be the case with the particular figure that I purchased, and not something to be found throughout the entire production run. And it's not to severe that he can't stand up straight or hold a pose well. He certainly can.

So, what's my final word? Okay, Ultron isn't as fancy as some of the villains the Avengers have faced. But he's certainly been one of their longest and most persistent foes. This figure of him is a superb rendering of the character, and is extremely well made. I believe that any fan of the Avengers, or the Marvel Universe line in general, would be very pleased to add this figure to their collection.

The MARVEL UNIVERSE figure of ULTRON definitely has my highest recommendation!