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Who Should Be Blamed for Ultron’s Evil?

Marvel Comics likes to create characters that are the children of current characters. They keep superpoweredness in the family, in other words. In fact, this long tradition of Marvel Comics has given rise to superpowered siblings, villainous parents, heroic children, and more than one weird clone child from the future.

Some are heroic like their parents, while others take the road more traveled into villany. And if you dig a little deeper into that, it might seem that comic books are trying to tell us that upbringing counts for a lot when it comes to a person’s character. Nature’s gamma rays or mutated DNA might create the superpowers, but comics seem to be telling us that the nurture of a family goes a long way in deciding if a person will be on the side of angels or walk with the devil.

Yet, as is typical with comics, there are inconsistencies in the manner in which family relationships are “drawn” out and one famous comic book story in particular thankfully got a retcon when it was “illustrated” on the big screen in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I’m talking about the comic book storyline of Hank Pym’s relationship with Ultron.

Listen, it’s weird to talk about a fictional comic book character and his robot creation as father and son. But that’s honestly the way it’s portrayed in the Marvel Universe, and as far as I know, no one has ever called it out as kooky. In fact, the two characters explicitly address each other as “father” and “son.” Receipts:

To be fair, I guess you could say that Hank Pym was present in the “birthing room,” so to speak (Avengers #57 – 1968). Ultron was in fact the creation of Hank Pym, not from his sperm (DNA), but from his brain patterns. Then like a stereotypical teenager, the robot developed its own intelligence and rebelled, immediately feeling an irrational hatred for his “father” Hank.

The story was told similarly in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Tony Stark’s desire to create a defense shield to protect the earth from alien invaders had him team up with Bruce Banner. Stark’s tech knowledge combined with Banner’s bio knowledge formed Ultron, but it was the influence of one of the Infinity Stones that corrupted the AI.

Something similar happened in the comics. Hank never had an opportunity to influence Ultron’s thoughts like one would in a typical father and son scenario. You know, while playing catch in the backyard or whatever. Alas, Hank didn’t even know he had a “son” until Ultron attacked him for the first time and it was revealed that the robot had developed self-consciousness.

So should Hank Pym be held responsible for Ultron’s behavior? As far as the Avengers were concerned, the answer was a resounding yes. Indeed, there were deep whispers among the Avengers (as well as most comic book readers) that Hank Pym was in the wrong just by “fathering” Ultron. Never mind that Ultron developed his own self-consciousness and Pym had no nurturing role in forming his character.

This played out a little differently in the movie. Given that Tony partnered with Bruce to upgrade his current “Jarvis” programming into a full-fledged AI, Cap was immediately critical, suggesting it was Tony’s hubris that was to blame from the beginning. Ultron’s corruption by the Infinity Stone wasn’t given much consideration.

In other words, the sins of the son automatically became the sins of the father. And if you think about it, don’t we (real humans) typically blame a parent if a kid turns out bad? Surely they must have done something wrong as a parent, we think. We postulate that maybe the parent should have worked less, or drawn stronger boundaries, or lost their temper less, or whatever. It’s hard to blame the kid after all.

Now, we don’t seem to mind the lack of symmetry in that thinking when a child is better than a parent. We’ll blame a parent if a kid turns out bad, but we don’t want to give credit to a villainous parent when a kid turns out so much better than they.

Think of Magneto’s children or Stature, daughter of the once criminal Scott Lang in the comics. Or think about Vision from the movies. Vision represented Tony’s original hoped-for outcome and was shown worthy of Thor’s hammer. While it was implied that Ultron’s hubris must have been derivative of Tony’s hubris, no one ever circled back to suggest that maybe Vision worthiness was derivative of Tony’s worthiness.

It’s a gut response in wanting to blame Tony Stark. (And Hank Pym in the comics.) Heroes should have heroic kids, we think, so when Ultron wakes up 110 proof pure evil, it’s unsettling. We react to that discomfort by looking for someone to blame. Hank was the first available target in the comics, whereas it was Tony in the movies.

But geez, these are just a comic book characters, after all. Let’s not think about it too much. But just know that if I ever create an indestructible robot that spontaneous develops a consciousness that is irrationally evil, I’ll want my teammates to at least give me the benefit of the doubt.

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