Review by Tony Keen
1999’s five chapter Ultron Unlimited is the high-water mark of the Kurt Busiek and George Pérez Avengers. It pits the Avengers against the indestructible robotic psychopath of the title, as he takes over and destroys a small Baltic nation. The recent movie Avengers: Age of Ultron owes as much to this as it does to the more recent graphic novel of that title.
The story is shocking – millions of people are killed – very tautly told, and resolves itself excellently. This resolution, though, has subsequently been undone by Marvel’s inability to leave a good villain alone (indeed, it’s clear that Busiek didn’t actually intend this to be the last ever Ultron story). It focuses on Hank Pym and Vance Astro/Justice, both of whom draw a line under personal subplots. Pérez’s highly detailed artwork matches his personal best, and he revels in the opportunity of drawing multiple Ultrons, all slightly different. There is also a prelude drawn by Stuart Immonen – he’s competent, but he’s not Pérez. The colouring looks a bit dark in this printing, but that’s a minor quibble.
It’s also quite a slim volume, and perhaps a few of the pages from previous issues of Avengers setting up the coming story might have been included profitably. Again, this is a minor issue.
The worst thing about Ultron Unlimited is the long-term consequences on both Avengers and on other superhero comics. A lot of the impact stems from it being an unusually dark story, but since then many other foes have become mass-murderers. Where beforehand the Avengers would usually prevent the villain wiping out large numbers of people, in subsequent years villains have been defined by the body count they build up. Arguably this is more realistic, but it sucks a lot of the fun from the genre, making superhero universes harsher places.
It is unfair to blame Busiek and Pérez for not foreseeing what would follow. As it stands, Ultron Unlimited is a really good superhero comic. It can also be found within The Avengers by Kurt Busiek & George Pérez Omnibus volume one, and volume two of Avengers Assemble. In the UK this also formed the bulk of the introductory volume of Hachette’s Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes partwork, spotlighting the Avengers.