Monday, January 19, 2015

BAB Firsts (the 1st Versus): Who ya Got? Kang the Conqueror or Ultron?

This post was originally published on February 17 2010

Doug: The New Year brings with it some new features here on the BAB blog. Today we'll begin a semi-regular series called "versus", where we'll pit two opposing yet similar entities against each other -- not in some faux battle, but more along the lines of who we've liked better, why one is better than the other at "X", and so on. Today it's the two greatest nemeses of the Avengers, but who knows? Next time it could be Elton John versus Billy Joel! Maybe later it'll be Karen's favorite baseball player versus my nominee. So let's get on with the debate.

Doug: I guess any discussion like this can't help but start with one's personal preferences -- hey, throw objectivity out the window! So I'll begin by saying that I like the "Celestial Madonna" storyline better than I like the "Bride of Ultron" (but close -- how does one choose between two masterpieces?) -- those would be my favorite Avengers stories involving these two do-badders.
Karen: Well, you already know I'm biased! I mean I did write a whole article on Ultron for Back Issue! (on the shelves now! -Doug). Both Ultron and Kang are great adversaries for the Avengers, but I give the edge to the mad robot because of the emotional response he always evokes from the team. He's definitely the black sheep that no one wants to talk about. The son of Hank Pym, father of the Vision, and he's tried to make wives out of both the Wasp and Mockingbird. There's a lot of twisted history there! On top of that, throw in indestructible adamantium skin, and you've got a heck of a threat.

Doug: Yeah, I wouldn't discount any of that, and I would never say that I don't like Ultron. I don't know... there's just something about Kang, time travel, and the possibilities. I will admit that I've read some bad Kang stories -- the "Council of Cross-Time Kangs" that ran in the Avengers #290's didn't do much for me. I think the intent was good, and there were some good elements, but overall I didn't like it.

Doug: I really like "Celestial Madonna" 1) for the scope of it and 2) for the little extras: the Legion of the Unliving (good Kang add-on), the origin of the Vision, as well as the origin of Mantis. Kang's certifiably maniacal, he has an interesting goal, and scribe Steve Englehart executes a grand tale. I'll admit that the story ends on a clunker in GS Avengers #4 when Kang is ridiculously shoe-horned back into the story, but there's redemption in the pages of the "Serpent Crown Affair" that ran shortly thereafter. Kang's the star of the substory involving the Wild West heroes and Hawkeye, Thor and Moondragon, and meets a memorable end in combat against Thor. Really good stuff, with art by a young George Perez.

Doug: I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to two fine Kurt Busiek stories -- the "Kang Dynasty" and Avengers Forever. Although Perez was not along for either ride, the art in both stories was ably handled by Ivan Reis, Brent Anderson and Keiron Dwyer and Carlos Pacheco (respectively). While "Kang Dynasty" is a bit long (I believe 16 issues total), either would be recommended as two latter-day Kang classics.

Karen: Kang has given Earth's Mightiest a huge heaping of trouble time and again (no pun intended). Doug, you know I am also a fan of the "Celestial Madonna" saga, and it was fascinating how Englehart explored the different identities of Kang -how he connected Kang, Rama Tut, and Immortus. That's one of the cool things about time travel stories: you have endless possibilities to play with.

Karen: That being, said, I think I can toss out some of Ultron's greatest moments here and find that they measure up nicely. I think his rebirth as an adamantium-coated nightmare in Avengers 66-68 is a great early example of just how devastating he could be. The "Bride of Ultron" storyline upped the ante quite a bit; now, instead of just wanting to kill Pym, we saw Ultron also wants to supplant him and take what is his - his wife! Disturbing on a lot of levels, and it certainly left the Avengers shaken.

Karen: But Kurt Busiek -funny how that name has popped up again, isn't it? - came up with the most dangerous and devastating Ultron story yet, "Ultron Unlimited", in the third volume of Avengers. Not only does the maniac take over an entire nation, slaughter its people and turn them into cyber-zombies, he kidnaps five Avengers with plans to use their brain patterns to create an entire android race under his dominion! The remaining Avengers have to battle their way through hundreds of Ultrons to get to the true villain, giving Thor a chance to utter the famous line, "Ultron, we would have words with thee." Besides the thrilling battles, we also learn a startling fact, one that makes absolute sense, of the kind where you slap yourself in the head and say, "Of course! Why didn't I see that before?" It is revealed that Pym used his own brain patterns when he created Ultron - in effect, Ultron really is Pym's son, he has a piece of him inside him. No wonder these encounters always weighed so heavily on Pym - Ultron's actions were reflecting something inside of Pym!

Doug: That Thor line you cited is one of the all-time greats! You're making a great argument here -- were you a lawyer in a former life?? But seriously, let's evaluate: both characters have evolved through different incarnations involving technology as well as personality, both have taken on Avengers teams showcasing line-ups that could truly be called Earth's Mightiest Heroes, both have raised some serious Cain on the Earth in terms of destruction, human casualties, etc., and both seem to keep popping up every few years. You could argue, too, that Kang's constant pining after Ravonna creates a love interest somewhat akin to Ultron's quest to make himself a complete man/robot by fulfilling that need with Jocasta, etc. Kang and Ultron are head and shoulders above any other nemesis the Avengers have faced, based on longevity alone!

Doug: So if our faithful followers determine that your argument was stronger, should I feel badly? Negative -- because in this "versus", could one really go wrong on a rainy day with a stack of comics featuring either super-baddie?


Steven R. Stahl said...

I favor Kang over Ultron. Kang is more complicated and has more storytelling potential. Ultron has the Oedipal complex, a Berserker-like desire to destroy human life, and that's pretty much it. Any story that features Ultron as the sole villain will unavoidably have trite moments in it because the heroes attack the robot. Englehart's Ultron story that started off WEST COAST AVENGERS and continued as a subplot was good because it involved fights against Ultron's allies and featured a "good" Ultron.

The best Kang storyline, IMO, was the last one in Englehart's AVENGERS. Busiek's Kang War storyline was damaged by the weak ending and its overall predictability.


Anonymous said...

" Ultron.. we would have words with thee "

Still one of my favorite lines.

Nice to be reminded of it.

Hu said...

Gosh, I can't believe this post got such meager response the first time around (although I guess it does have a certain appeal to the more Avengers-centric contingent-- but maybe not to everybody).

Short answer for me is Ultron, 'cause for most of his appearances he's sort of "made sense" in how he was used, even maybe when not being written so well. Kang has that incredibly long history with the Avengers, but the character has become so impossibly hyperbolic and far-reaching and ridiculously powerful over the years that he's become completely impossible to buy on any level whatsoever. Sure, plausibility is a fleeting, malleable thing in comics-- but the whole "Conquerer of a thousand thousand worlds" schtick is, well, stupid. Logistically stupid. He's still one man, and since we tend to witness his martial, military style of conquest, it's clear that all of his accomplishments (apart from simple "conquest") would take him, literally, a couple of million years of working 60-70 hour weeks (say). And that's just his "Kang" incarnation. No, honestly he's just too big and broad and represents a villain-option well that has been dipped into too often (boy, and sometimes by writers that have not a great grasp of his history or of conventional time-travel fiction dynamics).

And c'mon, the man has supposedly conquered trillions of people throughout the multiverse-- worlds that surely had their own heroes banded together-- and yet time & again he is defeated by (and thus obsessed with) a varying group of 4 or 5 or 8 or 12 heroes from Marvel Earth? I guess Kang Dynasty did at least paint a more realistic picture of how that kind of scenario really should have played out much earlier on. . .

HB (now I'm off to work!)

Edo Bosnar said...

Much as I like all of the Kang stories I've read (including, yes, Celestial Madonna and also Stern's Time and Again), I think I prefer Ultron as well. He's just such a worthy, and scary, adversary who needs the Earth's mightiest to take him down. And the best Ultron stories, like the one in which Vision is introduced, the Bride, or This Evil Undying, are among my favorite Avengers stories in general.

J.A. Morris said...

I'm going to pick Ultron, but it's a close call, let's say the robot wins 51% to 49%. I think the Kang stories have been better, but Ultron is more of a menace all by himself, whereas Kang always needs minions.

Having said that, I think Ultron works best as an enemy of Pym or the Vision rather than a straight-up Avengers villain.

Humanbelly said...

Although I don't remember its particulars, I do remember being mightily unwilling to buy into the Ultron vs Daredevil ACTS OF VENGEANCE arc in DD's book. Ann Nocenti, around issue #275 or so, I believe.

DD eventually beats Ulty by knocking (or prying) his block off.

There is Just.


Anonymous said...

I kind of gravitate toward Kang, but his overall story is so convoluted it's almost impossible to follow.

Eventually, I predict it'll be revealed that Ultron IS's the only logical conclusion :)

Mike W.

Humanbelly said...

Boy, remember during the Celestial Madonna arc that they almost worked in an even closer Dr Doom angle? Like, that Doom was also part of that whole Rama Tut/Kang/Immortus sequence?? GS Avengers #3's original cover concept even hi-lighted that (near) twist!

My experience is very similar to Doug's. GS AVengers #4 really had me going "Oh, come on, already" with its extremely poorly-thought-out, sit-com worthy level of momentary timestream hopping. And then Crosstime Kangs was pretty a much a point of no return for my disinvestment in the character. 'Cause he wasn't even a character anymore-- he was a rather idiotic, fractious Congressional Body. A perfect example of how making the universe ever bigger and more complex does absolutely nothing for raising the storytelling stakes.


Redartz said...

I will tilt J.A."s 51%/49% the other way. Give the slight edge to Kang, on the strength of Englehart's Kang wars. Loved the whole Wild West adventure, and Giant Size Avengers 2 is just a classic. Not to neglect Ultron, though; his appearances elicit the creeps in me like no other...

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