Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Doomsday Machine!

After Ultimo's fourth appearance, I think we can all safely say that the Ultimo train has left the station, in terms of wanting to see this gargantuan android again. Even after four appearances, nothing new was being added to the table for the character. Boiled down, Ultimo was an unstoppable engine of destruction which would arise, wreak havoc, and be dealt with through some form of natural cataclysm, usually put into motion by the efforts of a super-hero--and later, to be called forth again after suitable time had elapsed.

"Suitable," in this next case, being Invincible Iron Man #300, which would be a double-sized issue needing a double-sized foe to fight. It would have been 200 issues since we'd last seen Ultimo, which translated to about 17 years, real time--practically giving the blue-hued giant a new audience of readers. In fact, if you had stopped reading Iron Man after Shellhead's last encounter with Ultimo, the mag might have seemed new to you, as well, with Tony Stark's life in 1994 being so different than what you remembered from 1977. As we find him in the mid-'90s, an injured Stark is in physical therapy, forced to operate the Iron Man armor as a drone via a neural interface. His company's support team, nonexistent in the '70s, has gone through changes as well, though with Jim Rhodes now estranged from Stark.

And Ultimo? Previously, Ultimo had silently done the bidding of the Mandarin. But this time, an effort is made to make Ultimo his own man, so to speak--even giving his origin a new twist. Drifting in a magma flow underneath the continent all the way from Washington, D.C. to the Mojave Desert in California, with the intense heat serving to both increase his power as well as to sever the programming he'd undergone from prior attempts to control him, we discover that Ultimo wasn't the Mandarin's creation; on the contrary, he'd been entombed for several thousand years (more on that in a minute), until the time would come when he would emerge with a mission of destruction. In other words:


Investigating mysterious quakes that have levelled a Stark geothermal research facility, Iron Man has raced to the site to attempt to save one of the doctors who was lost in a cave-in. But, given that the facility was built inside the cone of an extinct volcano, you can probably take a good guess at what Iron Man encounters:

Yes, "Ultimo" has been rechristened as a "doomsday machine," presumably left on Earth thousands of years ago, with the mission of eradicating any living beings it finds once it activates. And now, free of its programming by the Mandarin (as well as that loincloth that the Mandarin had provided for him), Iron Man just happens to be the first living being in its path to fall under its mandate. Of course, the Iron Man armor is unoccupied, at this point--but Ultimo remembers this foe from prior encounters, and as far as it's concerned this is the same human who has previously stymied it and sent it back into hibernation. And, its power now many times increased, it acts accordingly:

And so, Ultimo makes its way to the surface and begins its rampage of destruction, though with Iron Man determined to stop it:

As you can see, Ultimo has disabled Iron Man just as he did in their last battle. Only this time, with its power off the scale, Ultimo isn't going to halt its attack against the Avenger until it finishes the job:

Sheesh--Tony Stark may be an inventive genius, but I think even you or I would know enough to unplug ourselves from an interface to avoid feedback. Stark, however, is headed to a state-of-the-art medical facility, where his staff crosses their fingers for his recovery:

Yet Ultimo doesn't give his foe a second thought, and continues on his course of destruction. And we find that artistic license now has him considerably larger than when he battled Iron Man earlier:

Meanwhile, gritting his teeth at a call from Mrs. Arbogast for assistance, Rhodey steps up and reluctantly returns to Stark Enterprises to take administrative control of operations. And he's made a few calls himself, to those men who have had experience in wearing and using the Iron Man armor:

With Ultimo on the loose, I think you can guess where this is heading:

Rhodey, of course, will suit up as War Machine. But let's look at a few other aspects of this little plan:

Strike One. Yes, Bethany, who isn't familiar with Stark's armor in the slightest, is also being given an Iron Man suit. Rhodey's logic is that, because he knows she can handle herself in a fight, she's able to sign on to this mission. Somehow I missed the part where she's going to know how to use this armor. Did Stark's pillow talk with her include going over armor schematics and circuit briefings? Does she even know where the "on" switch is?

Strike Two. Eddie March, former prizefighter, has a blood clot in his brain that forced his retirement and almost cost him his life when Stark first asked him to replace him as Iron Man. He also suited up as Iron Man a second time to help Stark, and again almost died. Bad enough that Rhodey drafts Eddie into service again--but instead of giving him one of the newer suits in order to maximize his chances, he gives him the original gray armor, which for all intents and purposes is nothing but a prototype. Eddie should make a nice hors d'oeuvre for the likes of Ultimo.

Strike Three. This team has already been informed that these suits are only going to be functioning at minimal capacity, if that. So Rhodey's going to compensate with some kind of plan, right? I mean, he's not just going to send these people in with repulsors blazing--something Stark's already failed at--is he? I'm sorry to tell you, but that's his plan.

But they sure look cool soaring off to their doom, don't they?

Predictably, Eddie's clunker is taken out in short order--followed by Walker, whose armor is partially disintegrated by a glancing hit from Ultimo's eye beams. Happy Hogan's suit suffers a systems failure. And when Rhodey assesses the situation, he finally states the obvious, though sharing the blame with someone who isn't even on the battlefield:

And so, with the exception of Bethany--Bethany, who was probably lucky to even locate her repulsor's firing relay--he dispatches the two injured men to the hospital, and sends the third to initiate evacuations in the town that Ultimo is attacking. And he and Bethany stay to--well, attack just as they did before, because it stands to reason that two people in Iron Man armor will have a better chance against Ultimo than six. Ouch, sorry--I guess the last thing Jim needs right now is sarcasm.

Meanwhile, what about Tony Stark? Is he just going to sit out his 300th issue? "Sit" being the operative word, since he's still confined to a wheelchair. But he's managed to pull through his injury from Ultimo's attack--and back at the lab, his A.I. has finished work assembling a new suit of armor that's of a more modular design, a kind of transformer Iron Man based on mission needs. But to use it, Stark has to be able to walk again. I don't know what's with his therapist, fooling around with a one-step-at-a-time approach, when all she needed to do was to put a new suit of armor in front of this man. Because, before you know it:

And just in time, too, because Ultimo has dispatched War Machine and is right in the middle of crushing Bethany. Which she would probably realize if only she knew what all those blinking alarm lights inside her helmet meant. (Okay, I know, that was a cheap shot.) Tony arrives and distracts Ultimo into hurling her away, and follows up with a knowledge-is-power plan:

And, in a gratifying resolution to an Ultimo story, we learn that we don't always need to find a volcano to deal with this behemoth. Sometimes it's just a matter of sending in an engineer:

In downing Ultimo, Iron Man assesses the information his scans have obtained from the creature, which certainly opens the door to future stories:

But I think this is where we're going to leave Ultimo. While he has further stories ahead, and we find out how he came to be on Earth (arriving in the 19th century, though his original construction dates back several thousand years), his story mainly continues in the War Machine title, if you're curious. For now, let's let Stark's technos have a go at him. Hopefully their research facility isn't anywhere NEAR a volcano, dormant or otherwise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So Ultimo's your basic mindless doomsday weapon, like the Destroyer, the Growing Man, the Doomsday Man, that big robot Yandroth created, the Red Skull's Sleeper robots, that weird giant space machine from the original Star Trek, and Miley Cyrus. Okay, I get it.

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