The evil AI known as Ultron is one of the Avengers' most powerful and dangerous foes, with a murderous drive to replace all organic life on Earth with robots and androids like him and the raw power to challenge the entire team of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
Now, as of January 31's Avengers Inc. #5, he's back in the mainstream Marvel Universe in a surprising new form that ties into the series' overall mystery. What's more, Ultron also rears his head in Avengers: Twilight #2, also out on January 31, bringing a double dose of Ultron to the Avengers and potentially setting the villain up for an even bigger return in the near future.
Spoilers ahead for Avengers Inc. #5 and Avengers: Twilight #2
Avengers Inc. #5 by writer Al Ewing, artist Leonard Kirk, colorist Alex Sinclair, and letterer Cory Petit, picks up where #4 left off, with the apparent reintroduction of Ultron in the form of the new Vic Shade. And while that does turn out to be true, it's not in the way that was implied in the previous issue's cliffhanger ending.
Here, it's revealed that the Hank Pym that's been appearing in Avengers Inc. is indeed the original Hank Pym, but from the future, where he was able to extricate himself from Ultron's physical form with the help of his past self and Scott Lang, as seen in Al Ewing and Tom Reilly's Ant-Man limited series.
As seen in Avengers Inc., Pym has been recruiting low-level villains into an all-new Lethal Legion with the intent of tracking down the last remnants of Ultron that he believes escaped into the present day with him. However, it's revealed that the reason Vic Shade rendered him unconscious in the end of the previous issue is because the Ultron code is hiding in Pym's own psyche, waiting to be reactivated by bits of the AI's code that have been planted in Pym's Lethal Legion.
Vic reveals that he knows all about Ultron's plan because he's an Ultron himself - but not just any Ultron. He's Ultron MK. 12, also known simply as Mark, an Ultron who developed the capacity for good, and actually allied himself with the West Coast Avengers against his own fellow Ultrons.
In the end, Janet Van Dyne, Hank Pym, and their allies aren't able to stop the evil Ultron from coming online, but Pym is able to redirect control of his systems to Mark, who shuts them down and ends the Ultron threat. He sends his AI consciousness into the new robotic Ultron body that his evil counterpart planned to inhabit, leaving Whirlwind to return to consciousness in his own body, joining the Lethal Legion.
Mark vows to remain with Janet and her Avengers friends to fight Ultron if and when he returns, while Pym takes his Lethal Legion to go hunt down any remnants of the evil AI that may remain in the present day.
So that's the return of both Ultron and Hank Pym to the present day - both the evil, villainous Ultron, and the heroic Mark Twelve. Keep in mind that in Avengers Inc., both Ultron and Pym are technically from the future, as that could hint at a connection with Ultron's other big appearance in Marvel's January 31 titles.
Over in Avengers: Twilight #2 by writer Chip Zdarsky, artist Daniel Acuña, and letterer Cory Petit (who also lettered Avengers Inc. #5), the elderly Steve Rogers returns to action only to find that the world isn't quite as ready for him as he hoped.
Meanwhile Kyle Jarvis, the current CEO of Stark Enterprises, guardian of James Stark (son of Tony Stark and Jane Van Dyne), and supposed younger brother of the Avengers' former butler Edwin Jarvis, convinces a reluctant James to step into a new version of his father's armor to become Iron Man in order to oppose the returning Captain America, reasoning that Steve would never really hurt James, who he sees as family despite their differences.
But it's also revealed that Jarvis is not who he says he is. He's actually the Red Skull in disguise (a trick he's pulled before), and what's more, he's got Ultron's AI code stored on a special computer, where Ultron is helping Skull take over the world, with Skull promising that he'll bequeath Earth to the machines once he dies.
That means that there's a future Ultron out there waiting in the wings to challenge a reforming Avengers under the watch of Steve Rogers - a fight that's been brewing for decades by the time the story takes place.
So, is it a coincidence that the concept of a future Ultron AI is central to both Avengers Inc. (which seems to be teeing up a potential sequel series), and Avengers: Twilight, Marvel's big prestige Avengers limited series?
In all likelihood, probably - Avengers: Twilight seems more like a speculative future story along the lines of The Dark Knight Returns than a tie-back to a specific present day story. But there's definitely something interesting in the coincidence, especially since Ultron has largely been relegated to the background for years now.
If nothing else, the ending of Avengers Inc. seems to be setting up a larger Ultron story to come, including the presence of Mark Twelve, the new incarnation of the heroic Ultron MK. 12. We'll have to wait and see.
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