Jamil Scalese: All roads lead to Ultron, right, Mr. Hill? After our exhaustive coverage of last year’s Age of Ultron crossover we return to again focus on the robot code with so much charm it weaseled itself into the main villain role of the hotly anticipated Avengers movie sequel.
What If? has always been one of my favorite Marvel flavorings, a celebration of one of the great idiosyncrasies of the medium — the ability to delve into alternate paths and outcomes with relative ease. The bend here is on the general premise of the second half of the Age of Ultron, where Wolverine travels back in time and kills Ultron’s creator, Hank Pym, resulting in a dystopian world where the Avengers don’t exist, Tony Stark is a technological overlord and magic is the major threat.
The first issue of this miniseries reveals what happens when Janet van Dyne dies early in her career as the Wasp and Joe Keatinge does something unexpected by reversing the entire premise of AU. Instead of a world without of Pym and Ultron we get a planet devoid of all human life save for those two. Keatinge examines the relationship between the creator and his creation in a manner that I think we both expected from Age of Ultron but found lacking. It’s a better examination of Pym overall, his genius, his madness, his burden, and it did it in fewer pages.
The art emulates Age of Ultron‘s primary artist Bryan Hitch and Raffaele Ienco does a very nice job of presenting us with a different incarnation of a robot-infested world. We see the domination of the planet in a slightly different way, and given his similarity to Hitch there’s inherent accessibility. This is a cousin world to what we saw last Spring. My favorite touch ,whether be Ienco’s or Keatinge’s inspiration, was to make later iterations of the Ultron-bots in the model of Iron Man, implying that even a world conqueror like Ultron bows to the genius of Stark’s design.
It’s a shame that Janet’s role is shrunken in favor of Pym but it’s a good start to the miniseries.
The weirdest part, though, is that we have no idea how things got this bad. The only thing that mattered in the original Age of Ultron was Wolverine’s mistake: he should not have gone back in time and killed Hank Pym, in order to prevent Ultron’s world domination. He and Sue Storm eventually figured that out. It only made things worse. Without Hank Pym, several calamities he helped prevent weren’t held in check, and an apocalypse of a different nature arose.
It was all about Wolverine learning that murder isn’t always the answer in other words. It was about the only thing that series actually handled well. “What if it was Janet who died instead?” is a good question, but this issue doesn’t answer it. How exactly did she die? When? Who came back in time to kill her? How could her death alone have led to a worse Ultron than ever before? She gets all of two scenes in this story, and one of them is when she croaks for no discernible reason. That undoes any value this story would have had as a comparison to the original. It goes to show how hard (if not pointless) it might be to What If? the less important questions of the Marvel universe, which is the reason this title usually peters out I think.