Review: Avengers: Ultron Forever trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

For a mini-series thoroughly rooted in Marvel history and trivia, Al Ewing and Alan Davis's Avengers: Ultron Forever was in a sense an outreach to new fans. It was released to coincide with the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie and features familiar faces from the films, but moreover, it was also separate from Secret Wars. By moving it out of time and space, Ewing was able to tell the story he wanted while the rest of the Marvel universe exploded. At the same time, Doctor Doom does feature as a major villain, and his plans seem vaguely similar to Secret Wars's events. The release of Ultron Forever came on the fifteenth anniversary of its namesake, Avengers Forever, and it's a shame that Ewing and Davis didn't have a full twelve issues to tell their tale.

The opening of Ultron Forever plays out similarly to its predecessor by putting together an Avengers team from various timelines. The Vision and Black Widow are from the present, and they have their own subplot concerning Natasha's distant relationship with the android Avenger who always seems to be rebooting himself. When the hodgepodge of Avengers reaches the future, they're also the only two on the team who still exist in Ultron's warped utopia. The female Thor technically comes from the future since she only became an Avenger earlier this month, and unfortunately Ewing wasn't able to capitalize on her secret identity as it hadn't been revealed yet.

Also from the future is the new, female Captain America in the form of a grown-up Danielle Cage. We only get glimpses of her timeline, which involves a flooded New York and a team with, among others, an elderly Black Widow, a grown-up Hulkling, Iron Mer-Man, and a shrunken version of Nova. These would be one-time curiosities if not for Ewing mentioning that this team will return in his New Avengers run. Danielle Cage was a fantastic choice as the new wielder of the shield; by not having a version of Steve Rogers present, the story feels like it's more willing to go off into unusual tangents.

However, the three most interesting characters are the past Avengers. The first is the Hulk from a time before the team even existed, when his powers were new and ever-evolving. The second is Iron Man -- in this case, it's Jim Rhodes during Tony Stark's descent into alcoholism. He's on edge for much of the story due to the armor affecting his nervous system. Rounding out the team is a second Thor: in this case, he's from issue #371, having just gained his suit of armor to protect him from Hela's undying curse. Having Walter Simonson's incarnation of Thor in the story is what got my attention in the first place. All three of the past Avengers were picked due to their unusual circumstances, and the issues explaining their quirks are reprinted in the rear of the trade. It's especially nice that they included the Incredible Hulk issue, because Ewing pulls off a trick involving the Hulk, Bruce Banner, and decapitation that some readers would call foul on if they didn't have proof of a precedent.

Doctor Doom takes on the roles of both Rick Jones and Kang from Avengers Forever, being both an ally and a threat. There's a specific quirk about his design that gives away the true identity of "Doom" to those well-versed in recent Marvel books. All the same, there is still a lot of speculation that could be made about his real identity, so the surprise isn't completely ruined. While he doesn't do quite as much as the title implies, Ultron does at least appear more than he did in the actual Age of Ultron comic book.

The enslaved remnants of humanity and their robotic Avengers overseers are signs of his work. In another weird precedent to Secret Wars and the role of the Allfather being taken over by an unusual candidate, Ultron is the Allfather of the future Asgardians. With the other Asgardians imprisoned, he has used a futuristic sentient computer code version of Loki to take over Thor. I'm almost surprised that Code Loki didn't make an appearance in the final arc of Loki: Agent of Asgard -- another reason why this book should've had more issues to work with.

Alan Davis has never really stopped penciling, but all the same, I hadn't seen his work in a while and his artwork adds a lot to Ultron Forever. Davis is the second-best artist to have around (after George Perez) when you need epic crowd scenes rendered in detail, and the freeing of the Asgardian prisoners is one of his artistic highlights here. Ewing and Davis worked together again on Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders, another all-too-brief miniseries that tied into Secret Wars. That story is collected in trade with a lot of other small storylines from the event, but seek out those two issues in particular. The two 2000 AD alumni pit a utopian superhero team against an on-point spoof of Judge Dredd, down to Emma Frost taking on the role of Judge Anderson.

With Ewing entrenched as one of the architects of the All-New All-Different Marvel, it's worth getting Avengers: Ultron Forever as a look into what he brings to the table. At this point, he's Marvel's equivalent of JSA-era Geoff Johns. Next week, I'll take a look at an intriguing independent that I picked up on Black Friday.
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