By Josh Speer / May 18th, 2015
Warning: Spoilers for Age of Ultron after the first paragraph
Hello again, gentle readers. Have you missed me? It’s been a while since the first volume of Comic Crossroads went live, wherein I discussed iZombie and Resident Evil. Though that was a lot of fun for me, I decided to go big this month and focus on a blockbuster movie franchise instead of a TV show. Or should I say Hulkbuster? Yes, this month I am talking Avengers: Age of Ultron and comparing it to another beloved video game franchise of mine. So, to take a line from Stan Lee, Excelsior!
Before I get too far, let me get something off my chest. No, I don’t think Age of Ultron was better than the original, but I feel it was really darn close. The whole cast and crew really was spectacular, especially James Spader as the diabolical robot, Ultron. Also, Black Widow was not a damsel in distress! *gets off soapbox* Ahem. With that out of the way, let’s talk the primary theme that resonated with me in Age of Ultron. Namely, I think we can all agree the theme of artificial intelligence, and the inherent threats and concerns regarding it, are a crux of the plot. Tony Stark may not be the actual creator of Ultron, but he certainly sets in motion a chain of events via his own hubris. Whenever us simple humans think we can build or use artificial intelligence to suit our own ends, it has a tendency to blow up in our faces. Granted, it’s more dramatic that way, but I think this trend also reflects our inherent fear of change, especially when it is change at the hands of technology we don’t understand.
This isn’t to say that artificial intelligence always ends in tears. While Tony may have fumbled the ball with Ultron, he certainly was fortuitous with the creation of Vision. This Yin / Yang duality is also important to the plot, since had Tony not ignored his team and tried to succeed with Vision, it’s a good bet that humanity would have been extinguished. Fortuitously, these same themes are also relevant in a video game series I want to talk about this volume – Mega Man!
The similarities between Age of Ultron and Mega Man may not be immediately obvious, but they are definitely there. For instance, artificial intelligence resulting in good and evil is definitely a relevant theme in the Mega Man series (most especially the X side series). Another theme is that of hubris leading humanity to trying to control and use artificial intelligence for their own ends (looking at you, Dr. Wily!) Mega Man might not have the epic blockbuster plot that Age of Ultron does, but it definitely is great for similar reasons. Much like Vision, Mega Man is the lone Yin to the Robot Master Yang. This is especially apparent once the character of Bass is introduced later in the series.
Perhaps this theme is even more relevant in the Mega Man X series. Dr. Light errs on the side of caution, uncertain whether the world is ready for his new creation, and thus secretes him away for the future. Once he is discovered by Dr. Cain, the concept of good and evil with regard to artificial intelligence is further explored by the Maverick virus. It is certainly up for debate whether or not the Maverick reploids are evil of their own accord, or whether it’s purely the fault of the virus. Eventually, much like Ultron, Sigma becomes an avatar of evil robots everywhere. He is the Yang to X’s Yin, and as such they are constantly in conflict with one another. This is both true in basic terms, as well in terms of ideology.
But what is it about robots and artificial intelligence that is so compelling? Sure, these advanced robots look cool, whether they have glowing red eyes or a chrome blue skin, but I hesitate to say that is all there is to it. I would venture that we like playing God, and, as a result, find it fascinating to see what our creations, gifted with free will, choose as their path. Much like watching children grow up into entirely unpredictable people, advanced artificial intelligence is miraculous to contemplate. I suppose it also ties into the hubris of humanity, thinking we can exert total control over our own creations. If anything, we should learn from the Dr. Lights and Dr. Banners of the world, and exert a little more caution. We never know when our creations will take that first step into darkness and madness.
Sorry if I got a little more metaphysical than usual this volume! Just trying to mix things up here at Comic Crossroads! Please chime in below with any suggestions or comments, and I’ll consider modifying my approach in future installments.
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