Okay, I’m not going to review this film. Because, if I were to review this film, you’d get about 1800 words, all of which were various combinations and permutations of these: “Oh”, “My”, “God”, “This”, “Film”, “F___ing”, and “Rocks.”
This is my favorite Marvel Studios film to date. None of them have been bad. A couple (Iron Man 2, Thor 2) were not what I wished they could have been. I’ll still watch them any day over, say, Ben Affleck in Daredevil or Man of Steel and any of its ill-begotten spawn. But Age of Ultron is my dream Avengers movie.
Apparently, Joss Whedon was not entirely enthused about doing this film. The first Avengers exhausted him. You can imagine just keeping up with Robert Downey Jr. alone would probably be a chore. (I love that a guy my age has that much energy and looks that good!) Keeping up with all that amazing talent? I bet he was exhausted. But, per my sources (my sons know far more about the Marvel cinematic universe than I ever will), Joss said he’d make Avengers 2 if and only if it could be with “his Avengers,” which means, for someone of my generation (which Joss is) that it includes the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the Vision. The studio said “OK” to this condition, and the rest is, happily, history.
But, for the uninitiated, who are these colorful new people who haven’t appeared on any Marvel merchandise since the 7-11 Slurpee cups of the 1970s? (Okay, that’s an exaggeration. There have been some great action figures. There have also been some not-so-great ones. In particular, ToyBiz released a Scarlet Witch that gives kids nightmares.)
Well, I’m glad you asked that question. Last week I got heavy and political, and I don’t feel like doing that again… yet. So here’s a little blog-based cotton candy which will change your life in no way at all. Here’s everything you need to know about the three new kickass Avengers. And, while I’m at it, a capsule history of the film’s big bad, Ultron.
The Scarlet Witch
Wanda the Scarlet Witch first appeared in 1963 in X-Men #4. She wasn’t a hero. She wasn’t named “Wanda Maximoff.” (That surname came 17 years later, and is only one of four she might be entitled to use.) She wasn’t even scarlet, on the cover of that issue. She was green. Why? Probably because the cover already had enough red. And she was a new character, so who knew it was wrong?
Wanda could affect probability by pointing. When she pointed at a person or thing, something happened to it that defied the odds of probability. A wall might just happen to crumble. A person might trip and fall. A meteor might change course and fall from the sky. Trouble is, Wanda had no control over her mutant power. So it might help or hurt her team’s cause in battle. Good thing, too, because her first team was the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, lead by Magneto. Also, Using this power was a tremendous drain on her, and Wanda would become light-headed and faint after one use.
But, in less than a year, which is only days in comic book time, Magneto was exiled from earth, and Wanda and Pietro, who had only worked for him because they owed him a debt for saving their lives, were free to go hide out in Europe and try to live normal lives. That lasted, oh, a month. Then the Avengers began advertising in the papers for new members, and the twins joined up. They figured it was a good way to earn forgiveness for serving the cause of evil. Also, Wanda hoped to learn to control her powers. Unfortunately, for some years, she would be limited to being the “point and pass out” chick.
Still, she would be a mainstay of the team for the next forty years. She’d take leaves of absence, but she’d always return. Not long before his long tenure on the book ended, Roy Thomas, for a long time one of only two authors Marvel Creator Stan Lee would allow to write his characters (the other was Stan’s brother, Larry Lieber), decided that romance should be in the air for Wanda, and he paired her with the enigmatic android Avenger, the Vision.
Under subsequent scribe Steve Englehart, Wanda would learn to control her powers, study true witchcraft, marry, take up living in suburbia, and give birth to twin boys. She even acquired a brother-in-law (Simon Williams, Wonder Man, considered the Vision his brother because they shared the same brain patterns–more later), two step-fathers (a Roma man named Django Maximoff, who adopted her as an infant, and Robert Frank, the WWII era speedster called (sadly) the Whizzer, who believed, for a time, he had fathered the twins), and a biological father (her former “employer,” the super-villain Magneto, AKA Erik Magnus Lehnsherr. The Thanksgiving issue, “The Mutant Who Came to Dinner,” is still a favorite of mine.)
Wanda Lehnsherr Maximoff Frank Williams was living the dream.
These developments would be a decade and a half in the making… And a couple of months in the undoing.
In 1989, famed X-Men and Fantastic Four writer-artist John Byrne would prove, in a short stint on the Avengers’ series, that he wasn’t a good match for some books. (He would later do the same on Superman.) He’d systematically end Wanda’s marriage by dismantling her husband, kill her children, drive her insane… And then leave the series. Roy Thomas came in to salvage the mess, but, alas, the damage was done. Wanda was now a woman with a tragic past, and it was one that, ironically, made her less interesting. Despite a good attempt by Kurt Busiek to revitalize her in the late 1990s, she foundered for most of the next two decades.
Then along came Brian Michael Bendis, who realized that this was one of the most powerful Avengers, surely a match for Thor, and more than a match for Iron Man and Captain America. So BMB had her go crazy and destroy the entire team, killing many members, including her ex-(?)Husband. He followed this up by having her rob most of the Marvel Universe’s sizable mutant population of their powers.
As you do.
I’ll withhold comment on Marvel’s very had habit of turning its most powerful female characters into villains, and simply note that Wanda was now relegated to the role of super villain. And she pretty much stayed that way until it became known that her character would be featured in the second Avengers film. Even then, upon her return to the Avengers, she was treated with contempt by her teammates, and several of them still actively wanted to murder her.
But now she’s been brought to cinematic life (brilliantly) by Elizabeth Olsen. Although her powers onscreen are more about telekinesis and mind-manipulation than messing with probability, she still strikes an impressive figure as she fells Ultron’s drones. Since Wanda was established in the comics as being the one Avenger Ultron actually feared, I was mildly displeased when it looked like heavy hitters Thor, Iron Man and the Vision were going to be given the honor of triple-teaming and defeating Ultron, the maniacal killer robot villain, but Joss Whedon came through for Wanda. She gets a solo moment to deliver a blow that gets to the heart of the matter.
Olsen is apparently signed for future films; so this, my favorite Avenger, looks to have a promising future.
Oh, and the second set of twins in the Lensherr dynasty–Wanda’s sons Tommy and Billy–are alive and well again. They were resurrected by Allan Heinberg as the heroes Wiccan and Speed in The Young Avengers. Billy holds the distinction of being, if not the first openly gay super-hero in mainstream comics, at least the first one allowed to kiss his boyfriend in public.
I never really cared for Quicksilver. He didn’t seem to have the command of his super speed skills that the Flash did over at DC, he was something of a bigot, and he was angry. All. The. Time. In fact, when I first started reading comics, I didn’t know who he was. His sister, Wanda the Scarlet Witch, was in the Avengers without him. It’s like this…
Wanda and Pietro, as teenagers, were attacked by a mob of villagers (seemingly extras from a Universal Frankenstein film) because Wanda’s probability “hex” powers had set fire to a building. They branded her a witch, and wanted to kill both her and her twin brother. Note the illustration. These people had a lot of nerve, calling out mutants. That guy in the foreground can spin his head 360 degree on his neck.
The teens were saved from fiery death by Magneto, who was, at that time, wandering the European countryside (the Twins were from Transia, in the Balkans.) Magneto, as mentioned, enslaved them as payment for his services.
Backstory: Magneto had been an ordinary young man, married to a woman named Magda. Their daughter, Anya, was killed by (you guessed it) rabid villagers, and Magneto had used his mutant powers of magnetism to avenge her death. Frightened by her husband’s power and ruthlessness, Magda, pregnant with twins, had fled to Wundagore Mountain, where a scientist who had taken the title the High Evolutionary was turning animals into sentient “new men.” Bova, an evolved cow, had taken in the wandering young mother, and delivered her babies. Magda then wandered off into the night to take her own life.
At the same time, Robert and Madeline Frank had arrived from America, seeking the High Evolutionary’s help with their unborn child. Their first child was a radioactive monster, and they wanted to ensure their second one wouldn’t be as well. Tragically, both Madeline and her baby died in childbirth. Bova, hoping to make the best of this messy situation, offered Magda’s twins Wanda and Pietro to Bob Frank as his own; but Frank ran off and drank. A lot. Apparently, he didn’t sober up until the twins were grown, at which time he sought them out to help control their “brother,” the monster Nuklo. The infant twins, meanwhile, had been raised by a Roma couple, Django and Marya Maximoff. Eventually, um, yeah, angry villagers burned the Maximoffs’ wagon, killing Marya and leaving Django for dead. Wanda and Pietro were left to the tender mercies of the evil mutant who didn’t even know he was their father.
Even after joining the Avengers, Pietro remained the bossy and demanding “elder” brother, over-protective of Wanda and distrustful of any man who comes near her. Perhaps because of this, she never follows through on an early crush on Captain America, on Hawkeye’s rebound crush on her (after the Black Widow ditches him), or on the obvious interest shown in her by the Greek god Hercules. But, perversely, she does finally hook up with the man her brother finds most objectionable, the synthezoid (a human made of artificial parts) Vision. After a few months of watching his sister’s love grow, clearly realizing he can’t win this battle, Pietro ups and disappears. Wounded in battle with the Sentinels (yes, the ones from Days of Future Past), he is found and cared for by the Inhuman Crystal. Pietro is hurt by his sister’s “disloyalty,” Crystal has just ended a relationship with the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four (you can see how difficult it is for the screenwriters to separate out the X-Men, and the FF from the Marvel Universe.)
Is it a good idea, at this point in their young lives, for these two to get together? Of course not. Are either of them bright enough to see that? Well… no. So Pietro and Crystal get married, in a wedding disrupted by Ultron (more on him later) and he becomes part of the royal family of the Inhumans (yes, the ones from Agents of SHIELD.) They have a daughter, Luna (born on the Moon), and Pietro buries himself in work as the head of the Inhumans’ militia. So Crystal has an affair.
With a real estate agent from New Jersey.
That’s grounds for divorce even among Inhumans who live on the moon.
And, while it did allow him to occasionally rejoin the Avengers, he and Wanda were never again the inseparable pair they once were. Especially after she became a super-villan, and, y’know, a mass-murderer just like Dad.
The movie twins are spared this confused history. They’re ordinary kids from the fictional European nation of Sokovia who hate Tony (Iron Man) Stark because he manufactured the weapons which killed their parents. So they submit themselves for scientific experimentation at the hands of Hydra, and are given special powers. Unlike his sister, Pietro gains the same power he has in the comics–simple super speed.
It’s been a good year for Pietro. The unlikable speedster has appeared in two movies, Age of Ultron and Days of Future Past, and, in both, he seems to have shed a lot of what has always made me dislike him. As portrayed by Evan Peters in the X-Men film, he’s the (implied) son of Magneto and a quirky, funny brat of a juvenile delinquent, who gets to headline one of the funniest sequences in the film. Played on the Avengers side by Aaron Taylor Johnson, he’s still a bit of a brat, and clearly protective of Wanda, but, if audience reaction at a few showings so far is any gauge, he’s won the hearts of a lot of audience members.
Next time, some history on the Vision and Ultron.
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