Avengers: Age of Ultron is here! How many secret comic book connections did they slip in and what future movie hints were dropped? Let’s assemble the facts, shall we? THERE BE SPOILERS HERE!
It cannot be stated enough that there are real spoilers here – seriously, if you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t read this. You have been warned.
This film is really faced paced, but seems to balance the pace of with larger-than-life scenarios and a heck of a lot of fun. It altered a lot from the source material, but enough remained to make comic book geeks happy. Let’s check some of these Easter eggs out.
Hydra, built up as the Big Bad threat in both Captain America movies, has been defanged severely. They regularly get routed over at Agents of SHIELD (AoS) and the Avengers, quite naturally, mop the floor with them. That being said, Hydra does get a few impactful hits in before going down each time, enhancing the Twins, killing major players in AoS, messing with various heroes lives. And, in the comics at least, that is very much Hydra’s role. Several Hydra agents wore flying suits of some kind. That isn’t unusual in the comics, as Hydra – like Cobra – tends to have all kinds of specialized agents with specialized gear. It’s likely the tech is based on Tony Stark’s designs, and it was armor technology getting into the wrong hands that sparked Iron Man’s “Armor Wars” storyline way back in the day.
Sadly, Baron Strucker (the bald, monocle-wearing leader) is the most severely defanged here, as he may not be the most successful, but he is definitely one of the most deadly villains in the Marvel Universe. Here Strucker seems rather ineffectual and quick to surrender. The other Hydra leader talking with Strucker before the Avengers take down the base is Dr. List. He’s been causing trouble over in AoS and will likely do so for the rest of this season.
On to the main team for a minute, Hawkeye is the first member of the team to get seriously injured (surprising no one). The others joke about pretending to need him, and he seems to get beat up more than the rest – heck, he spent most of the first movie under mind control. On the upside, Hawkeye does get in quite a few one-liners this time, something sorely missing from the first movie. In the comics, Hawkeye is something of a lovable loser – an everyman on the same team as gods and monsters. As such, he does get beat up a lot, but he always gets back up. He’s also the eternal heart of the team, except for those few times when he quit. They preserved this in the film by introducing his wife Laura, his daughter and son (well, two sons, including young Nathaniel Pietro Barton). In the comics, Hawkeye has never had that much stability, and has tried dating several of his co-workers over the years, even marrying Mockingbird (currently hanging out with the crew at AoS).
EDIT: Nicole, who is more familiar with the Ultimate Universe than I, reminds us that Laura Barton was Hawkeye’s wife and mother of his son on Earth-1610 (Ultimate U), even if Hawkeye of Earth-616 (Marvel Comics) never married her. It seems Hawkeye of Earth-199999 (Marvel Cinematic Universe) has more in common with the Ultimate Universe than the Marvel Universe. Let’s hope she doesn’t share the same fate as her comic book counterpart.
When talking about fixing Hawkeye up, Dr. Helen Cho of the South Korean company U-Gin offers to use her new flesh-printing machine to rebuild him. He worries that will make him “plastic” (something that does kind of happen in the alternate reality of Earth-X). It’s interesting that they would choose Helen Cho, as there’s a more prominent cyberneticist associated with Tony Stark named Suzi Endo (she was even, in a very round about sort of way, sort of an Avenger), but Helen is very important for a different reason: she’s the mother of an Avenger. Even as a teenager, her son Amadeus Cho is the 7th Smartest Person on Earth (pictured above), making so-called “Prince of Power” a match for the science bros of Tony and Bruce. What are the odds Amadeus rocks the Avengers (or SHIELD) in some way soon?
Anyway, the Avengers get ahold of Loki’s Scepter, and upon investigation, Tony discovers that it is housing a “gem,” later confirmed as the Mind Stone. Brief aside, as a comic geek, it’s refreshing to hear them actually call it a “gem” instead of a “stone” for once, since that’s what it was called in the comics. Inside the gem, Tony finds what his understanding of science must be a computer of some kind, of course he copies it. In the comics, the Infinity Gems (stones, whatever) were created with the universe, and possess a strange kind of sentience that can, if one is not careful, overwhelm a host. Once, following a battle between the Avengers of Earth-616 and the Ultraforce of Earth-93060, the gems actually gained humanoid form, but whatever its intentions, the gem was soon reverted to its original form.
In what is possibly the worst choice of quote to paraphrase ever, Tony Stark decides to use the Mind Stone to create “peace in our times” (alluding to the infamous speech by Prime Minister Chamberlain as he hoped Hitler would just be a good chap and not do any more invading). But Tony has nothing if not hubris. He and Banner – the aforementioned Science Bros – use the alien gem to redesign their world-armor program. Tony had been using JARVIS, his artificial intelligence named after the Starks’ trusty butler (and Agent Carter’s best friend), to run the Iron Legion, essentially all the empty suits from Iron Man 3 (which he blew up to prove to Pepper he could retire from superheroing only to rebuild immediately afterwards?). In the comics, the short-lived Iron Legion was made up of several former Iron Men (like Jim Rhodes) and other Stark allies.
Of course, the program Tony and Bruce create is Ultron, which quickly evolves, seemingly merging whatever intelligence the gem had with the basic “protect the world” program Tony created. Ultron quickly commandeers the Iron Legionnaires, then takes over some robotic bodies Hydra had been developing in Europe (you can see them briefly when Tony goes into the secret Hydra room to get the scepter). In the comics, Ultron was the sole creation of Hank Pym, the Astonishing Ant-Man. Like Stark in the film, Pym was trying to create something good when he made Ultron, but Ultron kept upgrading himself, eventually deciding to wipe out the human race. It’s unfortunate the forthcoming Ant-Man movie can’t benefit from the Ultron plot, because the pathos surrounding Ultron’s creation has led to some of the best Hank Pym stories.
Movie audiences may be surprised by just how human Ultron seems, but all of his anger, jealousy, and even his lonely and apologetic moments are well within the character as shown in the comics. Each time Ultron would upgrade himself, he’d create a new body (just as the Ultron in the movie) – by the time he got to Ultron-5, he was ready to take on the Avengers. But, much like the Doctor from Gallefrey, each new body came with a slightly different personality. Ultron-12 wanted to be the son to make daddy Pym happy, Ultron-14 wanted to destroy all biological life, Ultron-15 was a drunken dead-beat dad to the Vision (more on him in a bit), and by the time you get to Ultron-458, all hell is breaking loose.
Ultron in the film also desperately wants a human (or humanoid) body, and really wants some kind of companionship (particularly female companionship as he dotes on Scarlet Witch and Black Widow). This also ties in with Ultron of the comics, who has one of the most acute and well-documented Oedipal complexes in fictional history. Aside from generally wanting to kill and replace his father, he also desires his father’s wife (his “mother”?), Janet Van Dyne, the Winsome Wasp. He copied her brain patterns into the body of his robotic mate Jocasta (who eventually became an Avenger), and once even took over Tony Stark’s body, transformed it into a metallic version of the Wasp’s body, and walked around naked like that until the Avengers eventually stopped Ultron again. Jocasta was also briefly given biological limbs in an attempt to become more human. When Jocasta (inevitably) betrayed him, Ultron tried creating other brides, like Alkehma the War Toy.
It’s with that in mind that Ultron returns to the fictional nation of Sokovia to team up with the Twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (though neither is directly called that on screen). These two have a long and convoluted history, but suffice to say, they are two of the most powerful Avengers ever. Quicksilver, aside from being the fastest man alive (in his reality), has been directly responsible for multiple wars and disruptions of reality, destroyed the lives of millions and yet still gets to call himself a hero at the end of the day. Scarlet Witch destroyed the Avengers, the X-Men and her children are destined to destroy all reality – and yet she too is a hero. Go fig.
Scarlet Witch has very nebulous powers in the comics. Put most simply, she “hexes” targets, causing things to go wrong. This has been described as accessing Chaos Magic (which despite rumors to the contrary, does exist in the Marvel Universe) and as messing with the laws of reality. In this week’s SHIELD #5, Agent Leo Fitz (yes, the Earth-616 version of the TV character) describes her powers as a form of mathematics. The movie simplifies this by describing her powers as akin to telepathy and telekinesis (or perhaps that’s just how SHIELD understands them). Putting a hex on most of the Avengers, each team member experiences a different horrible dream.
Captain America dreams of finally meeting Agent Carter for that dance while listening to the Big Band sounds of the Roy Thomas Players (named for the co-creator of Ultron and the Vision, among many other things). Meanwhile the Black Widow has distorted nightmares of her training in the Red Room, the secret training camp that turns young Russian girls into deadly assassins. The Red Room featured prominently in many of Black Widow’s recent comics, and TV viewers got a glimpse of it in the Agent Carter series.
We don’t know what the Hulk saw, but Bruce Banner snapped, going from Code Green to full-on rampage. In the comics, Hulk has (almost) never killed, even in his most mindless rages. The working theory is that Bruce’s analytical mind examines all of the variables and subconsciously stops Hulk from causing major injuries or fatalities. This forces the still (comparatively) sane Iron Man to call out “Veronica,” aka the Hulkbuster armor. In the comics and movies, Tony has all sorts of specialized armors (even a Thorbuster!), but the Hulkbuster has a special place in fans hearts even if it has had relatively few appearances. It’s just fun to watch heroes fight! Sadly, the Hulk still doesn’t talk much in the movies.
EDIT: LightningLouie points out that Whedon made the “Veronica” joke as an off-hand reference to Archie Comics, which makes perfect sense, but tying this back to Marvel for a second, Tony Stark has dated a few girls named Veronica, most prominently his physical therapist Veronica Benning, who wouldn’t take no for an answer and forced Tony to walk when he thought he’d be paralyzed for life. He was with Veronica when he first created the Hulkbuster armor.
EDIT: LightningLouie adds another interesting detail, so let’s just quote LL, “the figure of Mercury atop Grand Central Station, which was crushed by an overflying Chitauri space behemoth in Avengers, has been replaced by a ‘Heroes of New York’ memorial statue depicting cops and firefighters.” All true, and on a thematically related note, both Marvel and DC (and other comic companies for that matter) put out really thought provoking, really affecting tributes to 9-11. If you can find them, give them a read.
A few quick throw-away lines that are worth noting. There’s talk of reinstituting “prima nocta,” the ancient (some would say apocryphal) practice of kings selecting young women to sleep with, and “Invaders create the Avengers,” an obvious reference to the alien invasion from the first Avengers movie, but also a slight tip-of-the-hat to the Avengers World War II predecessors, the Invaders.
The Avengers do some sleuthing and figure out Ultron might be after Strucker’s old partner Ulysses Klaue, better known to Marvel readers simply as Klaw the Master of Sound. The South African arms trader has his arm cut off by Ultron and bears a punitive Wakandan brand marking him as a “thief.” This guy’s going to be pretty important in a few years, as he is Black Panther’s archenemy. He murdered Panther’s father, and after his body is destroyed, uses an artificial hand shaped like a speaker to create a body out of living sound.
Ultron escapes, but Tony uses a (secret?) facility called NEXUS in Europe that can access all of the internet at once (?), enabling him to locate the remnants of JARVIS’s program. JARVIS was thought lost to Ultron, but he saved himself and worked to protect the internet’s secrets from Ultron’s program. NEXUS seems like a future SHIELD episode setting, but time will tell. There are several different things called “nexus” in the comics, most notably the Nexus of All Realities, usually accessed through the Florida swamp, that allows travel between dimensions.
Thor, meanwhile, accesses a strange well called the Waters of Sight (with the help of Erik Selvig from the Thor movies) that grants him access to the dream Scarlet Witch awakened earlier. He saw glimpses of the Infinity Stones and saw what seemed to be the first hints of Ragnarök, the death of the gods. Interestingly, Thor’s friend (and Sif’s brother) Hiemdall seems blind in the prophecy, and according to legend the end times are sparked by the actions of a blind god (albeit a different god).That god-death thing could be our first hints at Thor’s upcoming threequel, but the well seems like a callback to the Infinity Well, accessible through the land of Death. Thanos famously used that well to learn the truth behind the Infinity Gems.
While all this is going on, Ultron has mesmerized Helen Cho into using stolen Vibranium to make him a synthetic-but-living body. In the comics, Synthozoids were created by Dr. Phineas T. Horton, the first successful model being the original Human Torch (glimpsed in Captain America: The First Avenger as the “Synthetic Man”). In the comics, Horton was able to create artificial humans in 1939 (using 30th century materials) so advanced that they actually had functioning organs and tissues. The time-traveler Immortus helped Ultron gain a temporal copy of Torch’s body to create his “son” the Vision. Having Vision be an artificial-but-living being in the films makes sense.
The Vision is fitted with the Mind Stone, placed on his forehead (as the gems are traditionally worn in the comics), and given a mind based on that of Stark’s JARVIS program, and yet he repeatedly states that he is a new being. This too, is in line with the comics. Vision (and the Torch, for that matter) has an artificial gem created by Horton in his forehead, the Solar Gem. It is the secret that allows life, and through it, Vision can access all sorts of energy powers. Vision’s mind was based on the mind of another Avenger, Wonder Man, but like his movie counterpart, Vision was more than the sum of his parts, and is his own person.
Interestingly, after a repeated motif of “the Avengers are monsters” (even Captain America describing himself as the product of a German scientist’s strange experiments), the movie goes full-Frankenstein in giving Vision an origin. The mad doctors Banner and Stark experiment in the dark before their equipment is destroyed, then lightning from on high – or from Thor at least – grants the spark of life, and Vision is born. Debate of whether Vision is worthy of trust is quickly ended when Vision picks up Thor’s hammer. Earlier in the film, Cap almost picked up the hammer, but only Vision seems to pick it up with ease. While it’s true non-living things (like elevators) can lift the hammer, robots and androids generally can’t unless they too are worthy. In the movie-verse, it seems, Vision is worthy.
With JARVIS gone, Tony activates another program called FRIDAY. In the comics, FRIDAY was one of the first artificial intelligences young Tony Stark designed, and over the years she developed a life of her own, even serving as his operating system for a while. Tony has had several other AI OSes (all with acronym names), like HOMER, PLATO and the evil VIRGIL.
EDIT: On second viewing it’s clear that Jocasta the Bride of Ultron also appears in the movie! Jocasta’s program is one of the other potential AI’s Tony considers before picking his girl Friday.
Ultron’s plan? To fly the Sokovian city into the air and drop it on the Earth like a meteor. Moving a city is a Herculean task, but there’s some quick science mumbo jumbo to excuse it. Plus, why worry about science when a flying city looks so bad ass?!
In the film’s final battle, War Machine and Nick Fury (wearing an eye patch again?!) join in with an old Hellicarrier that survived the SHIELD/HYDRA purge from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and most unexpectedly, Quicksilver dies! Now, there are a dozen ways Quicksilver could be brought back to life, from Scarlet Witch manipulating probability to Helen Cho’s body-building machine, but Marvel will probably keep him dead this time – first because, frankly, Quicksilver is already kind of a deal in Fox’s X-Men universe, and secondly, because some death needs to be lasting for death to have any meaning at all in Marvel movies. Falcon isn’t present yet because he said earlier in the movie he was on the “missing person” case (i.e., looking for Bucky/Winter Soldier).
In the battle’s conclusion, Vision and Scarlet Witch seem to share a moment, but given her tragedy, she’s in no mood for romance just yet. That said, these two have one helluva romance. Despite everything the universe throws at them, they remained together for years. They are currently on the rocks, but still serving as teammates, and with these two it’s always just a matter of time.
Black Widow and Hulk also share what seems like an unlikely romance, but what might seem out of place in the comics universe fits well in the movie world. Cap jokingly says they wouldn’t break any “by-laws” if they decided to date, and in the comics this would be a big deal, as the Avengers actually have a charter, voting members and a series of rules for membership; not so much in the movies. That being said, Hulk still leaves the Widow behind because Hulk still doesn’t feel at home around others.
In the denouement we see the New Avengers Facility in upstate New York – presumably this is part of Coulson’s Theta Protocol, given all of the construction and living quarters involved. Some of the old Avengers leave, as Hawkeye returns to his family, Iron Man once again says he’s retiring and Thor leaves to investigate the Infinity Stones. Interestingly Thor says four stones have appeared recently – that means Thor is aware of the Guardians of the Galaxy, so that’s interesting. We also get to see what may be the “New Avengers”: Captain America, Black Widow, Vision, Scarlet Witch, War Machine and Falcon (with new red in his wings). The changing of the guard is a tradition with the Avengers, with the most famous shake-up being “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” in Avengers #16 when Cap led former villains, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver into battle.
Cap begins to say, but still does not finish the iconic phrase.
Aaargh! Just say it!
The big purple guy is Thanos, and he’s going to be a really big deal when the next actual Avengers movie comes out. He spent the first Avengers movie, Guardians of the Galaxy and this film letting others try and collect the Infinity Stones. Some have asked why he doesn’t just do it himself or why he trusts others with that power – it’s possible Thanos wasn’t aware of the powers or dangers of the gems yet. In the comics he used the gems a few times before the Infinity Well told him of their true power. Once he realized this, he battled or outwitted numerous immortal beings in his quest to retrieve the gems and form the Infinity Gauntlet. With it, he would become for all intents and purposes, God.
Dang, heavy stuff.
Kevin Garcia is a professional educator and freelance writer whose work has appeared in Marvel Comics, the Associated Press and on various blogs. As a fan, he doesn’t get paid to write Secrets of SHIELD posts about Marvel shows – or any other geeky posts for that matter – but hey, wouldn’t that be nice?