Hello again everyone, and welcome back to yet another trip into the weird and wild world of Acts of Vengeance. When I first started talking about this incredibly strange event, back when Doctor Doom and Iron Man traveled into the far-future, I said that I could easily talk about every single installment of it. And, apparently that wasn’t hyperbole, because here we are talking about it again! Just in case you need a refresher, Acts of Vengeance was a complicated event that ran through Marvel Comics where Loki tricked a bunch of supervillains into switching heroes, in the hopes that the villains will be able to catch the heroes off guard, and defeat them. It’s a great concept, and one that managed to give us a whole litany of truly insane comics. Like today’s story! I’ve discussed on the site before that Daredevil is possibly my favorite superhero of all time. I love Hornhead like crazy, but not many of his stories really reach the insane heights as most of the stories I discuss here. However, there is one pretty consistent source of wonderfully crazy Daredevil stories. Ann Nocenti. Now, I haven’t read her entire run yet, but the reputation that it has is stellar. Nocenti took Daredevil to some really weird places, often bordering on psychological horror, and I look forward to diving into her tenure, especially if it gives me a bunch of fun Daredevil stories to share with you here. And, as luck would have it, Nocenti was the writer on Daredevil when Acts of Vengeance came about. So, now we get to talk about a point in Daredevil’s history where he had to fight Ultron in the middle of the woods with the help of some Inhumans and a genetically-altered cheerleader. Comics are wild, y’all.
The story begins with Doctor Doom hanging out in the other-worldly meeting place where all of the villains involved in the plan interact with each other. As previously established during the story where Doctor Doom fought the Punisher on a dare, Doctor Doom really can’t stand the Kingpin. The two are constantly at odds during the event, and Doctor Doom decided to busy himself by purposefully taking down the Kingpin’s meddlesome heroes, just to show how awesome he was. So, since Doom already came up with a plan to take down the Punisher, he decides to move his sights to the Punisher. However, he apparently doesn’t want to get his hands dirty on this one, and instead chooses to do something very strange, and rather inexplicable. He gets his hands on a deactivated Ultron, and reprograms him to assassinate Daredevil. I’m not quite sure where Doctor Doom got an Ultron, or how he knows how to program one, but whatever, he’s Doctor Doom. The last time Ultron was active in the Marvel Universe, he’d called himself Ultron-12, and he actually became a decent being. He forgave Hank Pym, and tried to better himself. Until he was killed by Ultron-11. Doom doesn’t really want a nice Ultron, but he also doesn’t want a genocidal one, so he mixes a little bit of every version of Ultron together, hoping to get a more stable killer robot. Unfortunately, all this accomplishes is making an Ultron who feels a little schizophrenic, constantly dealing with multiple conflicting urges. But, Doom gives him access to a bunch of technology to make weapons, so Ultron decides to go with it for a while.
And, with this established, it’s time to check in on Daredevil. And, folks, things are complicated. This story landed in the middle of some very complicated stuff that Nocenti had going on, and most of it actually is necessary to fully understand this story. So, I’ll do my best to explain. Daredevil has been hanging out with a woman only known as Number Nine. She used to be a cheerleader, but was genetically-manipulated into being a superhero, given an accelerated healing factor, strength, and endurance. Oh, and she was brainwashed into thinking she should be a docile housewife. This was done by an incredibly misogynistic scientist called Skip Ash. Daredevil, Number Nine, and Skip’s feminist daughter Brandy had been working together to bring Skip down, and assaulted the farmhouse laboratory that he lived in. But, before they could bring Skip to justice, the Inhuman’s Karnak and Gorgon showed up, because they were following a lead where Skip may have known the whereabouts of the Inhuman prince, Ahura. Trust me, all of that mostly makes sense if you’d read several other Nocenti Daredevil books at the time.
All that really matters though is that Daredevil is in the woods, with Karnak and Gorgon, and that he’s been palling around with a super-powered cheerleader with no memories. Which is where things get picked up in this story. Daredevil is just sitting around, trying to figure out why his life is so weird, while the Inhumans argue with Skip about his genetic testing accomplished with Inhuman technology. Daredevil is seriously considering just packing his stuff and slipping out of the house, leaving all of this complicated nonsense in his dust, but he just can’t do it. He feels responsible for Number Nine, and her amnesiac innocence is enough to melt his heart, and keep him on the farm.
Which isn’t a good thing, because now there’s just a lot of collateral damage for Ultron when he shows up to complete the mission that Doctor Doom has programmed into him. Ultron has been hard at work creating weapons in order to defeat Daredevil, but for whatever reason he decided not to to that, and instead used all of his efforts to build a massive collection of Ultron heads. It’s really clear at this point that Ultron isn’t doing s hot. He’s having a serious conflict of self, and is trying to work through the trauma of having thirteen different selves in one mind. Ultron has made a staggering amount of spare heads for himself at this point, and he piles them all into a big sack, and carries them on his back like Santa Claus, tracking down Daredevil.
Ultron eventually comes across the Man Without Fear while he’s still at the farmhouse, and decides to do a little ritual first. Ultron finds a nearby hill in the woods outside the farmhouse, and ends up placing all of his spare heads on the hill, chatting with them in the hopes that it will deliver him some clarity. It does not work. Ultron spends some time talking to himself, but then remembers that he’s on a mission, and starts lumbering through the woods, heading to the farmhouse. Which is when things get really weird. Because, back at the farmhouse, Number Nine has gotten bored with all the Inhuman drama, and has decided to go for a jog in the woods. And, in the process, has stumbled upon Ultron’s collection of heads. While she’s busy looking at the heads though, she comes across the real Ultron, who is not pleased by being disturbed. So, he zaps her with his beams, intending to kill her and remove a distraction. But after doing so, he makes a startling discovery. Number Nine is healing herself. She’s powerful.
Yeah, Ultron is very interested in the idea of an indestructible woman. In the past he tried to create himself a bride, Jocasta, and things didn’t exactly work out for him. So, even though his mind is a bag of cats at the moment, he still recognizes the fact that he’s incredibly lonely, and that having an indestructible partner could be the answer he’s been looking for. So, Ultron takes Number Nine back to his hill of heads, and waits for her to wake up. When she does she’s more than a little frightened, but her naivete also makes her interested in the weird robot who has abducted her. Ultron starts talking to Number Nine, and they actually do bond a bit when they realize that they’ve both been manipulated, and aren’t quite sure who they are anymore.
However, the more Ultron talks to Number Nine the more his dueling mind wages war with itself. He’s conflicted about whether he should love her or kill her, and this really starts to make Ultron wig out. He even starts telling Number Nine that he loves her, while suppressing his other desires to kill her. This finally freaks Number Nine out enough that she starts screaming. And, since Daredevil has a heightened sense of hearing, he’s able to pick her scream up from quite a ways off, and starts running to help her. And, sensing that something weird must be afoot, Karnak and Gorgon follow him into the woods. And, sure enough, they come across Ultron holding Number Nine and spouting some nonsense.
Daredevil and the Inhumans take advantage of Ultron’s insane mutterings though, and do their best to jump him. Daredevil and Gorgon tackle him, and when he’s off-balance Karnak hits him with a devastating blow. But, since Ultron is made of adamantium, it doesn’t really do much, and he blasts the heroes with a powerful ray, launching them into the woods. And, sensing that he needs to make a decision, Ultron decides to escape from the heroes, with Number Nine, and do some thinking. So, he begins lumbering up the massive hill that he’s lined with copies of his own head, hoping that by the time he reaches the peak he’ll be able to think and decide what to do with Number Nine and himself.
Daredevil won’t let that happen though, and forces himself back to his feet in the hopes of stopping the insane robot. He doesn’t know what Ultron plans to do with Number Nine, but he can’t imagine that it’s something good. Gorgon and Karnak wake up too, and Karnak gets to work using his Inhuman ability to find weakness in people to come up with a strategy to defeat Ultron. But, in the meantime, Daredevil decides to do something with a little less finesse. He hops inside Skip’s truck, which is apparently laden with explosives, and guns the truck towards Ultron, hoping to just run the robot over. However, this wasn’t a particularly sneaky approach, and Ultron is easily able to see the speeding red truck, and blasts it to pieces, with Daredevil bailing out at the last moment.
Daredevil gets saved by Gorgon, who sneaks away with old Hornhead before Ultron can notice that he survived the truck explosion. But, Ultron isn’t really paying much attention, because things have somehow gotten weirder. Because Number Nine has continually been telling Ultron that he can’t kill Daredevil, because he’s her friend. He wants to make her love him, so he says he’ll do his best and avoid killing Daredevil, but his programming isn’t allowing him to do so. So, to deal with that problem, Ultron has decided to just start randomly pulling wires out of his own body, hoping that he’ll destroy the particular circuit that contains Doom’s orders. And, in the process, is getting crazier and crazier, and more unstable. Which really starts to worry Daredevil, since at any moment Ultron could pull out the circuit that’s making him docile toward Number Nine.
But, Gorgon manages to convince Daredevil that just charging forward and attacking the robot isn’t going to work, since it hasn’t every other time they’ve tried it. So, they all go and sit in the grass with Karnak, who is meditating and hoping to find some weakness in Ultron that they can exploit in order to take him down before he snaps and kills Number Nine. Which doesn’t seem likely. Although, Ultron’s doing a pretty good job at destroying himself. He’s still complaining to Number Nine that he doesn’t understand why there’s so much conflict in his head, and that he wants her to help him become his true self. And, because she does pity this strange creature that has taken her hostage, Number Nine agrees to help him figure out his problem.
Unfortunately, Ultron isn’t exactly patient. He’s desperate to find the offending circuit, and just keeps ripping wires out of his torso, figuring that he’ll come across the right one eventually. But, the more wires he pulls the crazier he gets, and eventually he gets so manic that he decides the circuit must be inside his own head, which he begins pulling from his body. And, just like that, Karnak sees a weakness. Because now there’s a major part of Ultron that isn’t protected by his adamantium shell. So, Daredevil whips his billy club towards Ultron, wedging it into the bundle of wires that are now exposed in his neck. This causes Ultron to really start freaking out, becoming incredibly unstable. But, it also distracts him enough so that Daredevil can get Number Nine out of the way.
The heroes then begin attacking Ultron as quickly and powerfully as possible. But, even though he’s been wounded, Ultron is still a force to be reckoned with. He blasts the heroes off the hill once more, and begins flailing around, firing lasers at random. And Daredevil is done with it. He claws his way back up to the hill, and decides to take advantage of what little strategic benefit they have. He grabs a massive tree branch and smashes it as hard as he can into Ultron’s exposed neck-wires. This manages to sever quite a few of them, and makes Ultron begin to waver. So, seeing some success, Daredevil begins hammering Ultron as hard as he can with the stick, over and over again. And, eventually, the wires finally sever. Ultron’s head goes sailing off his body, and with the circuits finally severed, his body collapses. Ultron tumbles down the hill, crashing into his litany of duplicate heads, until finally landing in a massive heap on the forest floor. Everyone is a little surprised that they managed to take down Ultron at this point, but glad that he’s no longer a threat. Except Number Nine, who is legitimately worried that Ultron had some good in him, and that there could have been a way to redeem him.
This story is absolutely insane. I love both Daredevil and Ultron, but the idea of the two ever interacting seemed like something that could never happen. Unlike Doctor Doom, Ultron doesn’t seem like the type of villain who you’d expect to be slumming it with the street-level heroes. And yet, it works really well. And I think most of that comes from the fact that Ann Nocenti wrote it, and wasn’t afraid to make this story line as weird as possible. I’m not exactly a fan of Number Nine, but I think it’s fascinating that Nocenti was able to take a story about Daredevil fighting Ultron and pack it with so many weird ideas. This is a superhero comic from a Big Two company that’s looking at the ideas of toxic masculinity, insanity, and acceptance. Those are some pretty weighty subjects to be tossed into a story where Daredevil whacks Ultron’s head off with a big stick. Nocenti is a master at weaving these sort of concepts into superhero comics, something that really wasn’t being done often at the time, and it helps elevate a story that seems completely ridiculous on the surface. But, even if you take the surprising depth out of the story, you’re still left with a wonderfully wacky story. I mean, the idea of Daredevil, a superhero who doesn’t really have any sort of offensive superpowers, taking on Ultron, a killer robot who has fought the entire Avengers to a standstill on multiple occasions, is insane. Ultron should wipe the floor with Daredevil. And yet, Daredevil holds his own, he doesn’t back down, and he reminds us that he’s a true hero. Someone was in danger, so Daredevil did absolutely everything he could to stop Ultron. And that perseverance paid off. It involved Daredevil beating a robot to death with a big tree branch, but hey, sometimes superheroism isn’t always pretty.
Daredevil #275 & 276 were written by Ann Nocenti, penciled by John Romita, Jr, inked by Al Williamson, lettered by Joe Rosen, and colored by Max Scheele, 1989.
Categories: Marvel Madness