Ultron’s coming back to comics in April 2015, just in time for his movie debut the following month in the Avengers: Age of Ultronmovie. Whereas the movie is about the “Age” of Ultron – in comics, it’s all about the rage.
In April, Marvel will publish Avengers: Rage of Ultron, an original graphic novel by Avengers & X-Men: Axis writer Rick Remender and Infinity artist Jerome Opena. Announced at Comic-Con International: San Diego in Thursday’s Avengers & X-Men: All-AXIS panel, the OGN pits robotic overlord against not one, but two teams of Avengers – one from the past, one from the future. Remender tells Newsarama.com that the story is more than just a “big Avengers story,” saying it deals with the singularity and the arguments about artificial intelligence as a form of life. Inspired by the writings of Ray Kurzweil, Remender calls Avengers: Rage of Ultron an ideal primer for those wanting to know (or update themselves) on Ultron in advance of May 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
For this project, Remender is reteaming with his long-time collaborator fromFear Agent, Punisher and Uncanny X-Force, Jerome Opena. The Russ Manning Award-winner has kept busy since he last worked with Remender, relaunching Avengers and being one of the illustrators of the event series Infinity. They are joined by their Uncanny X-Force collaborator Dean White, whose colors they both say helped make their work on Uncanny X-Force a game-changer for all of their careers.
Newsarama: Rick – what can you tell us about Avengers: Rage of Ultron?
Rick Remender: Avengers: Rage of Ultron is an story that is an entry point to new readers, and something for existing readers to be reminded of who Ultron is and how he came to be. At the same time, it tells an exciting story that focuses on the Avengers not just of today but of the past as well. This takes place in two time periods – modern times, post-Avengers & X-Men: Axis, and then in the past – sort of the Roger Stern / John Byrne era of Avengers. It’s an untold story from that era that has consequences in the present. In the past, Ultron was dealt with in a specific fashion which will lead to complications in the modern Marvel Universe because of the way he was dealt with.
And beyond just playing with old toys, Avengers: Rage of Ultron will establish the heart between Hank Pym and his “son,” Ultron, and deal with the complexities inherent with Ultron being one of the first artificial intelligences in the Marvel U. It also asks the crazy, greater question, “are artificial intelligences ‘alive’ or ‘not alive’?” How the Avengers have dealt with that in the past has ramifications in the present.
So it’s not just an opportunity to tell a big Avengers story, but to re-examine Ultron, the idea of the singularity, artificial intelligence, and some elements of my run on Secret Avengers with the Descendants. We do a couple things in Avengers: Rage of Ultron which will have huge and lasting ramifications on the Avengers and the Marvel Universe as a whole coming out of this graphic novel. It’s comparable to Batman: The Killing Joke, in that it’s a wonderful “done in one” graphic novel that moves over into continuity of comics with what happened to Barbara Gordon. When Tom Brevoort, Jerome and I were building this, we wanted to achieve something like that; a great story, and also one that has two or three incredible moments that changes things and, basically, evolves Ultron.
Nrama: Jerome, what are you excited about for this Avengers: Rage of Ultron project?
Jerome Opena: Well, the first thing was the opportunity to work with Rick again. That was the foremost thing.
Also, the fact that this project would be tied into the movie was something. It’s not tied in story-wise, but it’ll come out around the same time and I thought it’d be a great opportunity.
Nrama: The subtitle of this, “Rage of Ultron,” sounds like a play on “Age of Ultron” – the name of a previous comics event series and the upcoming Avengers movie sequel. How intentional is that title to playing on one of those, which one, and is it just a surface tie or something deeper?
Remender: Well, I didn’t choose that title; my title was “Avengers: The Evolution of Ultron.” Tom selected “Rage of Ultron” because it fits the story and plays off of “Age of Ultron”. The story deals with the emotions and human components of artificial intelligence, and examines the ethics of it and how it should be viewed. We’ll be dealing with Ultron, who set out and achieves a good deal of revenge against Hank Pym on a scale which we haven’t seen before. I think both titles work equality, but “Rage of Ultron” builds on the idea of Ultron as this emotional creature. “Rage of Ultron” is a smart play on words, and given that this will come out a month before the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie in both comic book stores, bookstores, and worldwide, I think it makes it an even easier access point for new readers.
With either title, the story is looking to redefine Ultron and other characters for big things coming out the other end.
Nrama: Let’s talk Ultron – what were your go-to texts to get a grip on Ultron? It can be previous Ultron stories, or even just thematic things like perhaps Stanley Kubrick. What informs your Ultron, Rick?
Remender: Well, I read a lot of Ray Kurzweil. This all comes out of Ray’s writings on the singularity and what’s coming. Rays done a lot of thinking on the idea of what consciousness can be in the future. He said that in 20 or 30 years it could be downloaded into something the size of a BB. This idea of consciousness and awareness, be it a computer or a biological computer such as our brain, merging together, as a natural stage of evolution. It could allow us to live forever, and to spread our consciousness around the cosmos.
Avengers Rage of Ultron is a continuation of my examination of themes from Secret Avengers dealing with the Father and the Descendants. The role Hank Pym played there is one he’ll play with this as well. It’s perfect connective tissue, and when I came back to it I dug further into the research there was more to do. The Vision’s relationship with Hank, Hank’s relationship with Ultron, all becoming wonderful connective tissue with the writings of Ray Kurzweil.
Nrama: Which Avengers will be at the core of the battle against Ultron in both past and present?
Remender:The story from the past has the Avengers line-up of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Yellowjacket, Wasp, and Beast. When we open in the past, those characters are dealing with Ultron in a way we haven’t seen before.
We’ll also re-establish who Hank Pym is in relation to Ultron. While some comics fans know their connection already, most who read this graphic novel don’t; and even if you do know, it’s good to be re-acclimated with the father/son nature of their relationship. What the opening does is give us a look at who the Avengers were in the past and how they play off each other, and then fast-forward to the present and how it is now.
Nrama: It seems like for every Ultron story, Hank Pym is inevitably brought in given his ties. Can you talk about hitting on that and using that for you as a storyteller without just making it cliché of an inventor coming back to stop his mad creation?
Remender: This is the ultimate Hank and Ultron story. What I cooked up for the ending will change their dynamic forever. It’s one last examination of them as father and son, when the son is questionably not alive. It’s about the guilt Hank has over Ultron. When we open the story, Hank’s perspective has changed – he is in a bad place. It’s something we started in Secret Avengers, and I’m glad we get to play it out here. Where Han is at is not where people to expect him to be. Once you see what he’s doing, readers will realize he’s a haunted person. He’s created something in Ultron that he both fears and loves, and makes a decision which will ultimately play out into something that will change both Hank and Ultron.
Nrama: Jerome, one of the best parts of your comics work is you tweaking, and in some cases re-designing totally, characters when they come in. How are you taking on Ultron? What are you pulling from in previous Ultron looks, and what are you adding in yourself?
Opena: There will be several characters I’m tweaking, as you say, but I can’t talk about them yet. There will be a few – I can’t say that much. It’s something where I can make them a little more my own, but that’s as much as I can say.
Nrama: Rick, you seem to write some of your most memorable work when dealing with otherworldly settings, be that in Fear Agent in outer space to Dimension Z in Captain America and the various locales of Uncanny X-Force. This graphic novel sees Ultron take over the moon of Titan – what are your views of that?
Remender: The idea for using Tian came when we were discussing what we were doing with Ultron, and how we could escalate the danger. Ultron is able to control technology, and technology is something Titan is built on – its interior is a giant, science fiction city. Titan is unfortunately the place where Ultron sets his sights for being a pertinent player in the Marvel U, which unbeknownst to him connects him to Thanos – who was born and raised on Titan.
Beyond that, there are a number of new Avengers in this coming out of Avengers & X-Men: Axis. At the end of that, a lot of things will change – and a couple of those lead to the modern-day Avengers cast we see in this graphic novel. Avengers: Rage of Ultron will reflect on these two eras of the Avengers, and how they deal with the complexities of Ultron and what he is.
Nrama: So is the modern-day team the “Avengers NOW!” line-up, including Sam Wilson as Cap, the still as-yet-unnamed female Thor, and the others?
Remender: Yes, the “Avengers NOW! line-up as well as a couple of things people are not aware of that’ll be coming out of Avengers & X-Men: Axis. By March and April all those fun things will be revealed, and there’ll be plenty of surprises in the line-up.
Nrama: You’re writing this at the same time that you’re writing Avengers & X-Men: Axis – two very different kinds of books, one a major event book and the other a standalone larger story. What’s it like bouncing forth between serialized event comics and this one big chunk of comic?
Remender: Well, they’re both “events” in respect to what they aim to accomplish, the artistic goal, and what we do at Marvel. Avengers: Rage of Ultron will do as much as Avengers & X-Men: Axis does in terms of changing the landscape and evolving the characters. It’s very similar in that sense.
The major difference between the two is cliffhangers and how we break it up. When I do a graphic novel, it’s a 100 to 120 page story. I don’t need to concern myself with establishing a cliffhanger every 20, 21, or 22 pages. So it means not having to move things around, to shift beats, and making sure to have that big “bum bum bum” moment. So I get to tell a story with a beginning, middle and an end without the concern of monthly plot beats. There’s pros and cons to both sides, but ultimately both are “event” stature things.
Nrama: Jerome, you’re coming this fresh from your work on Infinity, and before that the equally core Marvel book Avengers. What’s it like going from the intense, “event”-style comics at Marvel to something like a big graphic novel where you’re not hitting individual issue deadlines and other books aren’t all leaning on yours?
Opena: The biggest thing for me is that it felt like there was more pressure doing Infinity; the deadlines were a little tighter. With Avengers: Rage of Ultron, the deadlines aren’t as tight as this isn’t coming out until April of next year.
Nrama: How does the fact that you’re working on one big chunk of a book versus a bunch of single issues change things for you?
Opena: Well, Rick and Marvel have made it a little easier for me. If I was just to think about how many pages I have to do to complete this graphic novel, it’d get to me. I admit that I still think about it, and it makes me nervous. But what Rick and Marvel are doing is giving me 20-25 pages of script at a time, almost like doing individual issues, which helps break up the larger project into smaller portions my mind can handle.
Nrama: One of the big draws to this book will undoubtedly be you two getting back together. How’d the band, so to speak, get back together?
Opena: That’s how it was proposed to me: “If you want to work with Rick again, we have this.” Any chance I have to work with Rick I’ll jump at.
Remender: When “Marvel NOW!” came along, part of that initiative was to shake up the creative teams. It all played out well, and we were all split up and put on different books. That’s over now, and as Jerome and I enjoy working together it was only a matter of finding the right project. When Tom came to me with the idea of this is something we could do, it seemed perfect. So we got Jerome and our colorist Dean White back on board, and it fell together quite easily. Seeing Dean White’s pages role in now, it’s better than anything we’ve done before. It’s not just a continuation of what we did on Uncanny X-Force, but an evolution.
Nrama: Since the last time you’ve worked with Rick, you’ve relaunched Avengers and then did some major lifting with Infinity, both with Jonathan Hickman. How do you think those years have tempered you as an artist?
Opena: Honestly, working with Jonathan was a lot like working with Rick. I talk to them both about the projects we’re working on, but I’m closer with Rick. They both give me a lot of artistic freedom, and Rick especially asks my opinion on things and what I’d like to draw. That makes the story more fun for me.
Nrama: How do you think you’ve grown since the culmination of Uncanny X-Force, your last major collaboration with Rick?
Opena: I hope like all artists I continue to improve; not just in my drawing ability, but my storytelling.
Nrama: How do you go about improving yourself in that way? Is it test pages, studying other artists, what?
Opena: Honestly, I’m not sure. The only thing I consciously think about is attempting to improve my storytelling. That’s the thing I struggle with the most, and I think it’s the most important part of the artistic side of making comic books. Everything else, I think, I can let happen organically.
For storytelling, I’ll look at some comic books such as David Mazzucchelli, who is a master of storytelling. I’m kind of bad at describing this part of my work, but it’s just kind of studying masters like him. Mazzucchelli makes it look so easy and simple, whereas for me, in the past, I maybe overcomplicate stuff. Mazzucchelli chooses the best angles of everything, and makes it look like it all makes sense – even without dialogue. Hopefully, I’m learning stuff like that from his work and incorporated it into my own.
Nrama: Rick, how has Jerome changed since the last time you worked together?
Remender: I think Jerome is one of those rare artists in a constant state of evolution. His storytelling is pitch perfect; he tells story like nobody else. It’s rare that he’s able to illustrate better than most anybody else, and he also gets across the nuances and subtext of facial expression.
And the amount of detail he can do is astonishing. We have a scene where Ultron takes over Time Square, and for a half-page panel I wrote things as color if Ultron were to take over; just throwing out ideas. Jerome went and drew every single one of them in a single half-page panel, and it’s literally Geoff Darrow-level work. You have to stare at it for hours.
Jerome is a master who’s constantly refining who he is. There’s not a single line on any of his page that isn’t there for a reason; there’s no wasted pencil or ink. He’s a concise perfect storyteller, and keeps getting better.
Nrama: As you mention, your Uncanny X-Force colorist Dean White, who also colors some of your Image work, is rejoining you as well here. What’s that like, getting the whole team back – including Dean?
Remender: Dean is amazing. When you guys see what Dean and Carlos Pacheco did on Captain America #23 in a couple weeks, it’s an artistic statement. It’s high art and so getting to work with Dean along with Jerome helps me scratch that itch of what we did in Uncanny X-Force.
When I get a bunch of pages with Dean back over Jerome, it makes me smile. It just makes me happy, because we all elevated our careers with Uncanny X-Force in a way that no one could have anticipated. While Jerome and I did amazing work on Punisher which I’m proud of, and Fear Agent which I’m incredible proud of, having Dean with us on Uncanny X-Force push things forward and moved the needle in a way which launched our careers to another level. Having him back, and back coloring the best pages I’ve ever seen from Jerome, and it makes me all the more comfortable for people putting down the price of admission for this book. I’m comfortable now it’s going to be good book; if not the story, then the art.
Nrama: This is being announced well in advance of publication – nine months in fact. I assume that’s done due to doing the whole full-length OGN at once, but also because it looks like an ideal companion piece to May 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron movie. What’s it like to have something on the record books so far in advance, and working on such a massive scale book – in size, and dovetailing so closely to the Avengers movie sequel?
Remender: It was frightening for me until I saw the art. I worked my ass off on the story. Tom, Jerome and I spent about a month on the outline, and we couldn’t be more confident, proud and excited to have people read the finished book. There’s fear and trepidation at such a big spotlight, but that’s gone now. Now I just can’t wait until it’s done. To be able to do this on a stage that’s global and feeds off the excitement of the movie is great with Jerome and Dean with me to do the book.