Mister Sinister’s origin?

Mister Sinister debuted in the title Uncanny X-Men, first being briefly mentioned by Sabretooth during the Mutant Massacre crossover as the leader of the Marauders who had sent them to slaughter the Morlock population.

Figure 01_UX212_MrSinister

In the following issue, the X-Men member Psylocke picks up a shadowy mental image of the Marauders’ “Master” from Sabretooth’s mind.

Figure 02_UX213_Flashback

Mister Sinister finally appeared on-panel in issue #221.

Figure 03_UX221_Sinister1stappearance1

The character plays a major role in the Inferno crossover, where it is revealed that Sinister cloned Madelyne Pryor from Jean Grey for the purpose of having her conceive a child with Cyclops, their son Nathan; Sinister also reveals to have manipulated Cyclops’ life since early childhood. After a battle with the X-Men and X-Factor, the villain is apparently destroyed by Cyclops’ optic beam.

Figure 04_XF39_Mister Sinister dies

Months after Mister Sinister’s apparent death, Claremont pens Classic X-Men #41–42 (December, 1989) detailing the role he played in Cyclops’ life at the orphanage in Nebraska where Scott was raised.

Figure 05_CXM41-2

The story features a boy named Nathan who is obsessively fixated on Cyclops…

Figure 06_CXM41

…and whom Claremont intended to actually be Mister Sinister.

Sadly though Claremont was removed from his beloved X-titles before he could firmly establish his above planned origin; and future writers would go on to reveal Mister Sinister as a Victorian era geneticist obsessed with evolution named Nathaniel Essex who made a pact with the ancient mutant Apocalypse, leading to his signature look and longevity…

Figure 07a_FACP03Figure 07b_FACP04

…that eventually turned sour, prompting him to work behind the scenes where he manipulated the creation of Cyclops’ son Nathan (who became the time-travelling soldier Cable) to destroy Apocalypse.

A further layer to this origin was added in recent years where we discover the reason he made his initial pact with Apocalypse was to gain knowledge which would enable him to merge with the Dreaming Celestial and use its power to turn hundreds of thousands of people into doppelgangers of himself as part of a plan to bring about “Alpha Day” early whereby the Celestials would return to Earth, eradicate all life, leaving only his perfect clone-race to rebuild the planet and become its dominant species.

Figure 08a_UXM02Figure 08b_UXM02Figure 08c_UXM02

And fans had the audacity to accuse Claremont’s initially proposed origin as complicated!?

Okay, so let’s go back and delve a little further into Chris Claremont plans for the character.

In 1995, in interview with Tue Sǿrensen and Ulrik Kristiansen for Seriejournalen.dk Claremont reveals:

“Scott’s boyhood friend (Nathan) in the orphanage was an eight-year old kid he’s always been an eight-year old kid. He ages one year for every 10 of everybody else. So, he’s a 50-year old guy in a 10-year old’s body and boy, is he pissed! That’s why he works with clones. It’s the only way he can deal with the adult world because he is not gonna be an adult for another 50 years, at the earliest! And that’s why he takes a long view of things because he’s going to be around for a 1000 years give or take a few at least!”

So he conceived Mister Sinister as a new villain for the X-Men, after feeling “tired of just going back to Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and the same old same old”, further recalling in an interview on Comixfan.com:

“Dave Cockrum and I were over ideas and what we were coming towards was a mysterious young boy – apparently an 11-year-old – at the orphanage where Scott (Cyclops) was raised, who turned out to be the secret master of the place.

Figure 09a_CXM41

In effect what we were setting up was a guy who was aging over a lifespan of roughly a thousand years. Even though he looked like an 11-year-old, he’d actually been alive since the mid-century at this point – he was actually about 50 […] He had all the grown up urges. He’s growing up in his mind but his body isn’t capable of handling it, which makes him quite cranky. And, of course, looking like an 11-year-old, who’d take him seriously in the criminal community? […] So he built himself an agent in a sense, which was Mister Sinister, that was, in effect, the rationale behind Sinister’s rather – for want of a better word – childish or kid-like appearance. The costume… the look… the face… it’s what would scare a child. Even when he was designed, he wasn’t what you’d expect in a guy like that.”

Figure 09b_CXM 041

While this addresses his origin for the child-like mutant (Nathan) who is obsessed with Scott, he is appropriately vague in the abovementioned Classic X-Men story with regard to Mister Sinister, such that nothing presented in those issues appeared to get contradicted too much by how later writers went on to develop him.

Or so it would seem at a cursory glance!

But I would posit that while these issues on first glance provide no scenes that directly suggest just what Claremont’s original intent for Mister Sinister was, when considered with scenes he had seeded outside of this particular story the hints have been RIGHT THERE… and yet none of us saw it, but how in the hell could we have MISSED it?

So now it’s just a matter of working out how, if Claremont had remained, his planned origin for Mister Sinister might have played out in-story?

Well we know from Claremont’s interviews young Nate had been secretly running the Nebraskan orphanage for years, and was responsible for Scott being transferred there…

Figure 10b_XFAC39

…after his parents were abducted by D’Ken (though why he let Alex be adopted out is a mystery to this day).

Figure 10a_CXM41

In the Comixfan.com interview above Claremont recalls that young Nate “built himself an agent… which was Mister Sinister” as a way to convince the criminal community to take him seriously…

Figure 11_XMF07

…since despite his being 50 years of age he knew they wouldn’t take orders from somebody in the body of an 11-year old.

With this in mind young Nate had to ensure his agent for interacting with criminals/ supervillains was someone that scared the willies out them.

So Mister Sinister’s presence had to be damn creepy, something perfectly achieved by the alabaster skin, jagged teeth and “Uncanny valley”/ “Frank-N-Furter” get-up!

As for an appropriate name, he chose one with the gravitas of Doctor Doom!

And a form that could physically intimidate even villains like Sabretooth.

Figure 12_UXM221_Mr. Sinister

But how!

Well Claremont’s X-Men Forever #7 furthers the earlier hint that young Nate “built” Mister Sinister, showing the supervillain’s body among a group stored away that had been constructed from synthetic materials.

Figure 13_XMF01-03Figure 11_XMF07

This pretty blatantly suggests Claremont intended Mister Sinister to be an android that young Nate had built.

In addition the placement of the red gem on Mister Sinister’s forehead/ sternum seems further inspired by the design of Marvel’s most famous android, the Avenger called Vision whose solar jewel – on his forehead – provided him with the power required to function and manifest a range of energy powers.

Figure 14_A102_Vision

A further clue to Mister Sinister being an android occurs during Claremont’s original run in Uncanny X-Men #241 when Madelyne Pryor, in her guise as the Goblyn Queen, demands Jean Grey’s demonically transformed parents bring her his heart, and he boasts that, regrettably, he has no heart. While most would read this to be the boastful claim of a cackling supervillain, I’d suggest in Claremont’s case it was an extremely subtle, veiled reference to the fact he intended him to be a synthezoid, and not an enhanced human.

Figure 15_UXM241

But hold on a minute, Mister Sinister demonstrated a range what appeared to be psionic powers, including the ability to a) take instant control of the minds of other persons, b) establish mental blocks in the minds of others thereby preventing them from striking against him, and c) to project his mind onto the astral plane!

Well yes he did and I’ll get to this further below, but first recall that at the time Claremont introduced Scott’s boyhood friend (Nathan) in the orphanage, mutants only had a primary mutation, not a secondary unrelated mutation, and psionics do not have a connection to retarded ageing which was obviously the mutant ability Claremont intended for young Nate. And there is evidence to suggest a range of Mister Sinister’s superhuman abilities are derived from other sources. For instance, in X-Factor #39 Louise Simonson maintains Claremont’s idea by having Mister Sinister admit that the job of controlling Scott’s powers in the orphanage were “technically difficult”.

Figure 16_XFA039

This may suggest his ability to take control of other minds is not derived from his mutancy.

So what if the ruby gem worn by the “Mister Sinister” android does not absorb solar energy to provide the needed power for him to function like the Vision (he lived in the secret high-tech catacombs of the Nebraskan orphanage which was closed off from outside sunlight), but instead absorbed psionic energy from mutants within his vicinity?! Was this perhaps the real reason behind young Nate being intent on keeping Scott around? That is, as Scott’s ability developed young Nate finally had a powerful enough mutant around to fuel the jewel on his android. So did young Nate need Scott in the same way Ahmet Abdol needed his brother Alex?

Figure 17_MTU69

And did he create the Ruby Quartz glasses because he couldn’t have Scott expelling and wasting all that energy; the ruby quartz keeping it contained so young Nate could then absorb it!? Might this then suggest the gem was also composed of ruby quartz!?

I’ll come to this further down, but first…

Once Scott fled the orphanage, young Nate would need to find a replacement if he were to continue in his guise of Mister Sinister so perhaps expanded its operations to begin procuring mutant babies (between Classic X-Men #41-42 to X-Factor #35 operations had certainly scaled up)…

Figure 18_XFAC35_Pods

…all the while intent on getting Scott’s powers back somehow.

So does he continue his development of synthezoids, using them, along with clones, to conduct his activities in the “adult world”; including procuring Jean’s DNA to create Madelyne Pryor, a “brood mare” who would conceive a child with Scott that he could then have transferred to the orphanage to become a substitute to energise his gem given he was likely to never get Professor X’s golden boy back!? He then manipulates the formation of the Marauders to abduct the child and return it to him at the orphanage. However, knowing the infant’s powers won’t fully manifest for some time, (which he’s not overly impatient about as shown in Uncanny X-Men #239 when as baby Nate floats in his stasis chamber he declares that “time, as always, is on my side” given his retarded aging)…

Figure 19_UXM239

…so he uses Malice in the interim, a mutant of pure psionic energy. But while Malice is disembodied her energy is dispersed, the same problem he faced with Scott’s release of optic blasts. So he convinces her that she requires a host, manipulating her to bond with Lorna Dane, her psionic energy thereby contained and his gem then able to absorb the required amount.

Figure 20_UXM239

So now the question left is where young Nate procures the “Ruby Gem” that powers his Mister Sinister android?

To determine this, I would posit that we need to look back at just what abilities the gem powering Mister Sinister could be enabling him to manifest.

And so I return again to Uncanny X-Men #241 which not only hints that Mister Sinister is a sythezoid, but perhaps also the origin of where his wide range of other superhuman abilities might be derived from. When Madelyne calls him “devil”, he replies “The devil perhaps I am” and while again this could be read as the boastful claim of a cackling supervillain, after he further boasts to Madelyne that he has no heart, he also states that neither is he about to be bested in his own “sanctum sanctorum”.

Figure 15_UXM241

I would posit that when Mister Sinister refers to his secret base as his “sanctum sanctorum”, Claremont is dropping a huge hint. That is, in the Marvel Universe this term only tends to be used by sorcerers when referring to the base from which they conduct their mystical activities (e.g. Doctor Strange in Strange Tales #125, Baron Mordo in Strange Tales #132 and even Claremont’s very own Illyana Rasputin in New Mutants #44).

Figure 21a_Strange Tales 116, 125,132Figure 21b_NM44

This all appears to be driving the point home that young Nate is akin to another of Claremont’s mutant villains, Selene. Recall Selene was shown over time to be not only a mutant but a powerful sorceress possessing a wide range of superhuman abilities (the extent of which are outlined by Claremont in the scenes below), it never being clearly defined which of these was her mutant ability and which were skills derived from magic or other sources.

Figure 22a_NM10Figure 22b_UXM184Figure 22c_UXM184Figure 22d_UXM184Figure 22e_UXM189Figure 22f_UXM189Figure 22g_UXM189Figure 22h_UXM190Figure 22i_UXM190Figure 22j_UXM191Figure 22k_UXM208Figure 22l_F4ANN1999Figure 22m_UXM454

I’d therefore suggest this was the same for young Nate, who possessed the genetic mutation of retarded aging, while the wide range of superhuman abilities Mister Sinister showed were skills derived from the ruby gem he wore. And the ruby gem powering young Nate’s “Mister Sinister” android enabled him to access a range of mystical abilities.

As further evidence of this, Uncanny X-Men #241 provides even more hints. That is, in this issue Mister Sinister casts energy at Madelyne which results in her being bound by chains around her legs, arms, waist and neck, and engulfed in flames. He tells her that her struggle is useless, explaining that his defensive systems simply turns her energy back on her, using them to bind her all the more tightly. Even her ally, the demon N’astirh abandons her and teleports himself to safety when he sees Mister Sinister begin cutting loose with his powers.

Figure 23_UXM241

The only reason a demon of N’astirh’s level would flee would surely be because he realised he was in the presence of a sorcerer more powerful than himself.

But aren’t mystical villains left to the mystical corners of the Marvel Universe (i.e. Doctor Strange) and not the X-titles you ask!

Well, leaving aside the Margali Szardos, Belasco, Kulan Gath, Selene and the Adversary, there is precedent as far back Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s X-Men #12 which introduced Cain Marko who became transformed into Juggernaut, the human avatar of the mystical entity/ demon Cyttorak, by the Ruby Gem of Cyttorak which empowered him with the power of the crimson bands of Cyttorak.

Figure 24_UXM12

Juggernaut was always an odd concept to introduce into a title about mutants, what with his creator, Cyttorak, being a character more at home in the corner of Doctor Strange. However, I always wondered whether there might have been a plan by Kirby to reveal Cyttorak as somehow connected to the mutant world; after all he did provide Cain with a “psionic helmet” capable of protecting him from any telepathic attack!?

Figure 25_UXM13

I once theorised back in the 1980s that Cyttorak had recognised the psionic potential of Charles and lured him inside the ancient temple to transform him into his avatar on Earth, but Cain’s bullying bravado prevented this occurring. However, I have since become attached to the alternative idea that Cyttorak foresaw that one day Charles Xavier would become a threat to the mystic dimensions and Juggernaut was created as a protocol against mutant psionic threats! I mean how coincidental is it that his step-brother gets turned into an avatar able to withstand “psionic” power, the very foundation of Charles’s abilities?! Could this mean it would have been revealed there had been previous Juggernauts that had the specific purpose of putting down psionic threats throughout Earth’s history? But no you say, not during the Lee & Kirby run, since Charles seemed to believe mutant powers were caused by all the radiation their parents had been exposed to at the nuclear research centre before he was born (cf. Uncanny X-Men #12)…

Figure 26a_UXM12

…and Beast had a similar theory when he explained his father was an ordinary labourer at an atomic project (cf. Uncanny X-Men #15).

Figure 26b_UXM12

However, was that meant to be the bland origin but as time went on it would be revealed that mutant powers had a much greater history, one that would lead to a huge destiny in the MU (akin to that hinted at by Claremont in Uncanny X-Men Annual #11)?

Figure 27_UXN Annual 11

Could the introduction of Juggernaut have been intended as the first major hint that put into question the Atomic Age as behind the origin of mutant powers? Recall just the issue before the Stranger appears on Earth to study mutants saying his people are greatly interested in their emergence. This issue it is also revealed that there are mutants on other planets; and whereas the Collector has a wider-brief for his collection obsession, the Stranger says his people primarily focus their interest on collecting mutants from planet to planet.

Figure 28_UXM11

Yet we’ve not really had mutants introduced from other worlds in the MU (except perhaps Warlock from the Technarch). So could the Stranger’s introduction have been the start of an eventual story to reveal a longer history of mutancy, and the Juggernaut was the first example of dimensions beyond ours establishing protocols to defend their realms from the threat of mutants (so in essence Juggernaut was a Sentinel of the mystical dimensions)? Perhaps if Kirby had stayed on this could have been the direction they headed in!? What I like about this is it makes what previously appeared as non-mutant characters like the Stranger and Juggernaut having a legitimate reason for appearing in the title by properly tying them directly into the mutant mythology.

So could Cyttorak be an anti-mutant force here…

…and Claremont had picked up on this, and therefore intended the gem that powered the “Mister Sinister” android to be a fragment of the Ruby Gem of Cyttorak, and N’astirh fled his “sanctum sanctorum” upon seeing a demonstration of his powers because he recognised it as the power of the crimson bands of Cyttorak?

Now, as earlier promised, to explain how the source of his wide range of superhuman abilities Mister Sinister demonstrated is the Ruby of Cyttorak, and not his mutant ability…

When first introduced in X-Men #12, the giant glowing ruby which Cain Marko picked up in the ancient temple which he had fled inside to avoid being shot while serving in the Korean War had an inscription that read “Whoever touches this gem shall possess the power of the crimson bands of Cyttorak!”

Figure 29_UXM12

If the ruby gem which powers the “Mister Sinister” android is a fragment of it, this would seem to suggest his abilities are all applications of the crimson bands of Cyttorak.

How so?

To answer that question we need to go back to the Marvel Universe’s definition of them.

The Crimson Bands of Cyttorak were initially introduced in Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s Strange Tales, where they were shown as a binding spell that sorcerers used to encase their victim in a circle/ cage of red bands that could not be easily broken out of (e.g. Strange Tales #125, 126, and 128)…

Figure 30_Strange Tales 125, 126, 128

…then Doctor Strange called on them to reveal where his Cloak of Levitation and amulet, the Eye of Agamotto, had been hidden (cf. Strange Tales #143). This alternate use for the crimson bands has never been resolved, and seems inconsistent with its earlier applications.

Figure 31_Strange Tales 143

But might the answer lie by looking more closely at the superhuman abilities Mister Sinister put into application!

In Uncanny X-Men #243, the epilogue to Inferno, Jean begins experiencing a psychic attack after integrating the Pryor clone’s memories, putting up a telekinetic barrier around herself to protect the rest of the team in fear that it might be Madelyne intent to use her powers to cut loose against them.

Figure 32_UXM243

To break through Jean’s telekinetic barrier so they can help her, Psylocke forms a bond with Cyclops, Wolverine and Storm to psi-shift their astral selves inside her mind.

Figure 33_UXM243

While they are observing her mindscape, finally getting close to pulling back the veil of Madelyne’s origin, Mister Sinister’s fist shatters through the mindscape and begins shattering one memory shard after another.

Figure 34a_UXM243Figure 34b_UXM243

While this might not seem connected to Cyttorak’s power at all, recall the Crimson Bands bind because they are unbreakable!

And given they’re unbreakable, this is likely how the power of the Crimson Bands, granted to Cain Marko by Cyttorak’s gem, transform him into an unstoppable physical force (since whatever he motions against effectively “shatters”).

Figure 35_UXM13

So does this firstly explain how Doctor Strange was able to call on the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak to reveal where his cloak and amulet were in Strange Tales #143? That is, if you extend “unstoppable force” to a person’s willpower, then was Doctor Strange able to find out where his cloak and amulet by calling on the Crimson Bands to empower his will so he could break through the spell concealing them? It would seem “Most likely”!

Now onto how the source of Mister Sinister’s wide range of superhuman abilities are derived entirely from the Ruby of Cyttorak, I would further suggest that when the ANDROID is able to launch what would appear to be a psychic attack on Jean, and start shattering her memories, is not the result of young Nate possessing any mutant telepathic ability, but rather the ruby gem powering Mister Sinister android with the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak which enable the android to “exude waves of force” to break through psionic shields.

I would further posit evidence to support that the psionic powers are not possessed by young Nate, but that he instead requires the “Mister Sinister” android to exert control over the minds of others on his behalf comes in Classic X-Men #41, when another boy at the orphanage, Toby Rails, upon beating up Nate and teasing him, suddenly finds himself in the clutches of Mister Sinister when heading back to his room. Sinister gloats that he “must now be dealt with… as he most richly deserves”, and the following day Rails, not seeming in control of his faculties, makes his way to the orphanage roof and jumps off, falling to his death.

Figure 36a_CXM41Figure 36b_CXM41

If all of the above hasn’t yet caused you to face fully front true believer, compare the signature energy colour of Mister Sinister’s power, on display during Inferno below (particularly the last panel scene where he releases energy which forms as bonds, tying Cyclops’ hands behind his back from X-Factor #39), with that of the “crimson bands” on display in Strange Tales #124, 126 and 128 above.

Figure 37a_UXM241Figure 37b_XFA39Figure 37c_XFA39Figure 37d_XFA39

So the truth behind Mister Sinister is that he is not a mutant, but rather a synthezoid built by a young mutant; and powered by the Ruby Gem which provide him with a wide range of superhuman abilities derived from the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak.

As for Mister Sinister’s motives cloning Jean Grey; and then manipulating events so this clone would become his “brood mare” and seek out and conceive a child with Scott Summers, might this suggest that Cyttorak wanted control of the Phoenix power. Earlier in Uncanny X-Men #239 “Mister Sinister” claims that young Nathan Christopher Summers will help him win a long-range game. Is this game perhaps with other mutant sorcerers, including Selene, and being run by Cyttorak in a bid for supremacy of the higher dimensions?

Figure 38_Cyttorak

And of course just as Claremont suggested, in his Seriejournalen.dk interview with Ulrik Kristiansen and Tue Sǿrenson in 1996, the story of a young boy using the Ruby of Cyttorak to animate superhuman clones and manipulate heroes into battle with them was rejected and suddenly came up a few years later, starting with Avengers West Coast #64 where a young boy, Stevie, found the gem and gained various mystical powers without becoming the Juggernaut.

Figure 37_AWC64

Post-script: The question remaining is where a child scientific genius with expertise in the fields of cloning and robotics acquired the knowledge to build a highly-advanced android. Could he have inherited his scientific genius from a parent… and if so, which one? By Claremont’s estimates young Nate had been alive since the mid-20th Century so it would need to be one who was old enough to conceive around that time.

Acknowledgements: Thanks go out once again to fnord12 of the Marvel Comics Chronology and the Ancient One of Alvaro’s Comic Book Message Boards for tracking down some hard to obtain images and last of all Kirby historian, Richard Bensam (of Estoreal) for being a patient sounding board on my Juggernaut as “Cyttorak’s protocol against psionic mutants” idea.

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…the Origin of the Vision, This Time For Sure!

This guest post comes from Richard Bensam, who in addition to writing unpublished comics for at least four different publishers, and published comics for two of them, also writes and edits for Sequart.org and very occasionally blogs at Estoreal. The comics that first triggered this interest was Avengers #55, the story that introduced Ultron. When the Vision arrived two issues later Richard had already become a devoted fan of the series, only missing one issue in the following twelve years, a lapse which haunts him to this day. This should help you understand why he’s decided to take on the subject matter of today’s fix…

Figure 1: The Golden Age Vision, Aarkus, from Marvel Mystery Comics #24, page 1 (and is that Ultron? Oops, it’s Grosso from the “Dimension of War-Dust”).

From the very first appearance of the Vision there have been some vexing questions never properly addressed in all the subsequent revelations and retcons of the character’s origin. Why did Ultron come up with such an overly complex and not entirely logical scheme of sending a menacing android to first threaten then sort of but not quite infiltrate the Avengers in a way that would fall apart and be exposed almost immediately? If the Vision was only intended to lure the Avengers into a trap, why would that require an android with sufficient powers and will to rebel against Ultron and defeat his creator? Why did Ultron just happen to give that android the name and approximate likeness of the original Vision of the 1940s, a being named Aarkus from another dimension who had been absent from Earth for some twenty-five years?

In fact, Ultron was unknowingly influenced to do these things by Aarkus himself. Aarkus wanted the Vision in the Avengers, and used Ultron as the vehicle to make this happen.

Why? Because Aarkus needed to establish a surrogate acting on his behalf within the Avengers, and do so in such a way that this surrogate could never be traced back to him. Despite the name and appearance, the true connection between Aarkus and his surrogate had to be so obscure that it couldn’t be uncovered even by someone with the ability to monitor all time and space, even if that someone was carefully studying the entire history of the Avengers. Even this agent couldn’t know his true nature – because Aarkus is working against an opponent with telepathic spies placed all throughout human history. And if you’re trying to elude telepathic detection, one strategy would be to use artificial intelligences as your agents: beings whose thoughts can’t be intercepted by telepaths capable of reading organic minds. Nor can your instructions be delivered in the form of programming that might be deciphered if the enemy captures one of your operatives and dumps its memory. Scheming against a nearly omniscient foe requires you to be very circumspect.

From his home dimension, Aarkus is able to send a signal to awaken the sentience of a rudimentary machine intelligence constructed by Henry Pym. Ultron itself is primitive and unstable, but can be used as an unwitting go-between to place a more sophisticated humanoid machine intelligence among the World’s Mightiest Heroes. Ultron will never know the name “Aarkus.”

Even after renovating itself several times, Ultron isn’t up to building the android Aarkus requires, but Aarkus quietly makes arrangements for Ultron to acquire one second-hand. Traveling back to 1924 (yes, Aarkus is a time traveler) Aarkus arranges a sequence of events indirectly leading to a copy of the English translation of Karel Čapek’s play “Rossum’s Universal Robots” being delivered to a public library. The book is left out on a table where it catches the eye of one Phineas Horton. Reading the play inspires Horton’s imagination and leads to a new direction for his studies he would not otherwise have chosen. Fifteen years later – following a period spent in the strange town of Timely, Illinois, as a protege of its unusual mayor – Horton develops the world’s first self-sustaining artificial humanoid.

The Horton android is decades ahead of its time, but its wholly self-contained internal power supply is deficient in some crucial ways. A subsystem meant to allow the android to phase in and out of our dimension – a design Aarkus slipped into the computer database used by “Victor Timely” during his tutelage of Horton – is woefully underpowered. Instead of transferring mass across dimensions, it merely superheats the air around the android, causing the air to combust while rendering the android only slightly immaterial. The humanoid learns to control this effect, enabling him to burst into flame at will and then fly with his greatly reduced mass carried aloft by air currents. Thus is born the Human Torch…his entire career and his role in the Second World War merely a side-effect of Aarkus’ long game.

The Human Torch’s synthetic mind is too sophisticated to be directly influenced by Aarkus the way Ultron was, but that’s not what he was made for anyway. Still, that underpowered subsystem needs to be fixed before the humanoid can serve his intended purpose. Aarkus takes a gamble and steps into Earth history personally, assuming the role of a costumed defender called “the Vision” during the early 1940s. Building a reputation as a hero over a span of the next three years, Aarkus is finally able to meet the Human Torch in person without being seen to make any special effort to do so. During their meeting, Aarkus is able to secretly tamper with the Torch’s power supply. The effects don’t show up immediately, but years later the humanoid’s systems fail, ultimately driving him to sacrifice himself in the Mojave Desert rather than endanger others. By that time, Aarkus has long since returned to the safety of his “shadowy realm” to manipulate events more indirectly.

Another pawn of Aarkus would be the tragic Quasimodo. Through manipulation of Quasimodo, Aarkus is able to lead the Mad Thinker to the inactive Human Torch and further advance the sequence of events that ultimately bring that used android to Ultron. Ultron in turn recruits an aged and despondent Phineas Horton to revamp his first humanoid, making alterations Ultron doesn’t realise have been “suggested” by Aarkus. For one thing, the android’s previous memories are mostly erased and he’s given a new pattern for consciousness based on the recorded engrams of the deceased Simon Williams.

Figure 2: Vision probing his memory and remembering waking up for the first time from Avengers #58, page 9.

The most significant alteration made to the former Torch is that too-weak internal power supply being augmented by an external photonic collector on his brow. This added unit supplies the extra energy needed to get the dimensional phasing effect working at last. No more spontaneous combustion! Now the android can phase some of his mass out of our dimension and become intangible, or draw on mass the same way to increase his density. The android doesn’t realise these are baby steps on the way towards learning how to teleport entirely out of our dimension at will. But with his nascent skills, the Vision goes on to join the Avengers and becomes one of their most pivotal members…just as Aarkus needs him to be.

There are various other AIs who encounter the Vision and the Avengers over the years, among them Isaac of Titan, Jocasta, and Aaron Stack. Each of these is more limited and constrained in their potential than the Vision, but each still serves a purpose in Aarkus’ plan through his ability to subtly manipulate their thought processes. Without ever realising it, these characters guide the Vision in certain directions, giving him experiences Aarkus knows he’ll need in order to develop the personality and skill set Aarkus needs him to have. For instance, his experience with Isaac isn’t a happy one, but it leaves the Vision with the ability to contact other AIs via nonlocal communication, able to influence their behaviour totally undetected the same way Aarkus can.

Funny, isn’t it, that Immortus’ synchro-staff never got around to mentioning any of this while taking the android Vision on a tour of his history? There’s a simple explanation for that as well: the information wasn’t available to the staff or its master. Immortus – with access to all space and time – doesn’t know the real secret of the Vision’s origin. That’s because Immortus is the enemy Aarkus is trying to elude. Aarkus needs the Avengers to help him defeat Immortus, and at a critical moment he’ll need the Vision right there at the center of the team as a trusted friend, able to tell them what to do and have those instructions followed.

Figure 3: Vision and Immortus from Giant-Size Avengers #3, page 37 (no ‘arm done Vizh;).

Aarkus has tried to remove himself from the picture as much as possible, staging a puppet show that will be watched by someone with the capacity to observe all space and time in countless parallel universes. The contradictory origin stories Aarkus told during the Golden Age were intended to cloud the issue. In fact, if Aarkus were to ultimately win his gambit against Immortus, it would have to happen in such a way that history never records it on any of the timelines Immortus can survey. Aarkus has to wage war so quietly his enemy never even knows hostilities were/are/will be declared.

So what is Aarkus really after? Where is he that Immortus could be unaware of him? Logically, he has to be in the one place Immortus can’t observe: right under his nose in Limbo itself. He’s within the citadel of Immortus, using Immortus’ own systems to remain undetected. To Aarkus, Immortus is an usurper in a realm where he doesn’t belong, a conqueror who took over Limbo and used it as a stronghold from which to manipulate history for selfish and destructive ends. The ultimate goal of Aarkus isn’t simply to kill or defeat Immortus, but to alter the events which brought him into  existence so Limbo is free of him. Then Aarkus will be able to claim control of Limbo as its guardian, allowing no one to dominate it and keeping it from being used as the staging ground for any other time conquerors. Immortus, Kang, Doom, the Time Keepers, multiple others cannot be allowed to claim Limbo.

To counter Immortus, Aarkus needs the Avengers – the ones who’ve consistently managed to keep the master of time and space at bay across all his incarnations. And when this silent war against Immortus needs a nudge in the right direction, the Vision will find himself drawn into Limbo, meeting Aarkus face to face for the one and only time in Immortus’ citadel. Here the two will have a “Luke, I am your grandfather” encounter in which Aarkus lays out his role in the Vision’s creation and persuades him of the importance of persuading the Avengers to do what Aarkus needs them to do. The Vision has to be persuaded that Aarkus is absolutely on the side of good and not simply looking to take the role of Immortus for himself.

Fortunately for Aarkus, he knows exactly how to convince the Vision. Aarkus knows the Vision better than anyone. Aarkus knows that well into the Vision’s own future – after his appearance and behaviour have altered several more times, decades or centuries after all his fellow Avengers are all long gone – the Vision will return to Limbo hoping to find Aarkus again. Instead the Vision will find Limbo empty and unguarded. Suspecting someone has eliminated Aarkus and seeing the unsecured state of Limbo as a threat, the Vision will set about refortifying Limbo to continue the plan set forth by Aarkus all those years before. From his history as an Avenger, the Vision will figure out how to locate and organise the anonymous shapeshifting beings called Space Phantoms and use them as builders to reconstruct the citadel of Limbo under his guidance. And as anticipated, an outsider will arrive to claim Limbo as a base of operations. The Vision will be shocked to see Immortus, the foe he believed had been eliminated from history.

The Vision will send the Space Phantoms to defend Limbo…but he’s made a terrible mistake. Having freed himself from enslavement and become his own individual, the Vision truly believed he could teach the passive Space Phantoms to do the same. They respond exactly the way he wants them to respond, but he’s underestimated how malleable and tractable they really are. When faced with the domineering will of their foe, the Vision’s forces defect to serving Immortus instead – their loyalties shifting so completely they forget the Vision was ever there. As a result, Immortus never learns of the Vision and never realises he’s being observed. Right under the nose of Immortus, within the citadel Immortus has claimed as his own, using the tools of Immortus to conceal his presence from his foe, the Vision will finally realise…well, you see what’s coming next.

Aarkus and the android Vision were the same being all along. The Vision is his own grandpa. The snake that swallows its own tail, the self-creating scarab of Egyptian myth. The hero of the 1940s was secretly an android, amused to be called “the Vision” in his heroic exploits of that era as a remembrance of his wonderful but bittersweet earlier life decades later, even as he takes the steps to set that future life into motion exactly as he remembered it. And the cycle needs to be completed so that Immortus can be removed from existence and Limbo freed from control. But to do that, he’ll need the help of his long-gone fellow Avengers.

And who knows: perhaps it was some vague memory of a picture or description of Aarkus from the 1940s that inspired Janet Van Dyne to unconsciously recognise him on seeing the android in person for the first time, causing her to exclaim: “No! It’s some sort of unearthly, inhuman Vision –!”

Figure 4: Vision menacing Janet Van Dyne and she delivers the line that names him from Avengers #57, page 3.

…Ultron’s origin?

Ultron's origin

There are a number of theories floating about on Hank Pym’s behavioural problems. Those problems are observed as far back as Avengers #13. At the start of the issue Janet Van Dyne was particularly bright and perky, but by the end she almost died. Avengers #14 featured the team hunting for a cure for her injury, with Hank on the edge of insanity. A few issues thereafter Hank and Jan quit the team.

While the events of Avengers #14 were used as evidence for Hank’s mental instability, since Giant-Man was in turns despairing, petulant, and angry, some fans suggested Jan was pregnant at the time of her injury and lost the child as a consequence of the shoot­ing.

Further speculation holds that this may have led to Hank’s mental problems and feelings of inadequacy.

The event fits well with the mysterious creation of Ultron as a surrogate child.

So this makes a great explanation for Ultron and Hank’s mental state, but problems need ironing out for this possibility to work.

This idea that Hank and Jan’s unborn child had his brain wave patterns impressed on Ultron’s programming is possible. So, say Hank had that unborn infant’s patterns around, and in a fit of despair, used them for the mind of his robotic “child.” Ultron, on becoming conscious, would have processed environmental stimuli, and using super-fast processing time, all the data in Hank’s computers, faster than a normal biological infant.

It explains why Ultron hates his father and loves his mother. If Hank dictates a personal log into his computers, Ultron would know Hank blames himself for the Wasp’s injury and the loss of the baby. Ultron could believe his own father “murdered” him, while hurting his mother.

We’ve frequently seen that one panel showing the Wasp in an overall bodysuit, in the middle of one of Hanks’ gadgets, as he modifies her metabolism to give her “Wasp” powers. (This always struck me as odd, because Hank never gave himself or anyone else “natural,” biological superpowers; he uses serums and potions and mechanisms.)

It’s safe to assume that process of “empowering” the Wasp happened quite often, and it was accompanied each time by a full physical done by Hank, aided by scanners of Hank’s invention more sophisticated than you’d find in a doctor’s office.

Hank would want to know what was going on in Jan’s body down to the very last DNA strand before he played around with giving her insect super powers, or even “charged her up” each time.

Obviously, then, Hank gives Jan a super power treatment after he knocks her up, then his scans show she’s pregnant. He would know it quickly.

Here’s where the guilt that turned Hank eventually self-destructive comes in: He didn’t tell her.

Why? Because Hank’s a schmuck. He wasn’t sure it was his, and he couldn’t tell her that, either. So does Schmuck Hank with No Self Esteem propose? Noooooo.

He tries to determine the baby’s paternity. And does Hank create the world’s first DNA tests back in 1963? No, he uses brainwaves.

Which is why he took the opportunity to grab a dying man’s brainwaves, so he could study them. Eventually, he found a way to study his own brainwave patterns and Jan’s, by comparing them to Wonder Man’s as a necessary, unrelated third pattern. He recorded the fetus’ brainwave patterns, and established that, indeed, it was his and Jan’s child.

And before he could tell anyone about it, Jan got injured and lost the baby.

Imagine the torment. Because he doubted the fidelity of the woman he loves, and because, well, he’s a jerk, there’s no denying it, he withheld crucial information. Had Jan known she was carrying Hank’s child, she would have put herself on inactive status, the baby would have been born, she and Hank would have married for positive, healthy reasons instead of that sick Yellowjacket situation, and Hank would have never turned into the neurotic mess we all knew and loved, and they would have a biological child by now.

He can never, never, never admit to this. He may be so far in denial (and had so many psychotic breaks) that he no longer remembers it. It was a huge step to admit that he used his own brainwave patterns for Ultron’s mind, but even that’s not the truth. The truth is much darker. Ultron is Jan and Hank’s child, twisted and sociopathic. If Hank knows that, he will never let Jan know it. Most likely, however, he doesn’t know it.

Ultron must know it, and that’s why he taunts his father by calling him “dad.”But Ultron also will never admit to it, because Ultron doesn’t want to admit he has any ties to real humanity. For Ultron to ever admit that he is Jan and Hank’s unborn son, transplanted into robotic form, would be enormously humiliating. He’d have to be forced to do it, and there’s no way to put that kind of pressure on Ultron, since he can’t be permanently killed.

So neither he nor Hank will ever admit to this dark secret, that they really are father and son, and Jan really has a child with Hank, one who wants to kill every last human being on the face of the planet, as well as every other form of biological life.

This post first appeared as my contribution to Assembled!2: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Villains, appearing in Part 2 of that volume as Ultron as Pym’s True Son.

Postscript

You’ll adduce from the above my dislike for Hank’s later psychotic break and spousal abuse of Janet.

I  can’t see why no one up until now has attempted to reveal it as just another scheme of Ultron’s, akin to his mentally controlling the butler Jarvis when in the guise of the “Crimson Cowl” (Roy really did do the definitive Hank didn’t he)?

Shooter himself even had Pym brainwashed to kidnap the Wasp so she could be converted to a metal mate for Ultron in 161.

Christ, Justin Hammer had his scientists working over a long period of time to figure out a way to control Iron Man’s armour remotely so what is so hard to believe about a robot with an Oedipus Complex scheming to make its “father” fall out of favour with its “mother” so it can step in and become the “surrogate” husband?

This to me would seem to be the best, and simplest, way to redeem Hank and it gels with previous continuity.  Just reveal it and then move forward.