The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Family

So, the third essay in “The Avengers and Philosophy” is “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Family” by Jason Southworth and Ruth Tallman. It meanders around a bit talking about various parent/child relationships in the Avengers — mostly father to child relationships — but the most interesting discussion in it — and I think its main point — is the comparison between the relationships between Hank Pym and Ultron and Magneto and his children Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Pym is quite often blamed for Ultron turning out to be a villain, while Magneto is never given credit for his children turning out to be great heroes. Both of them were largely absent during their actual upbringing. Just being Ultron’s creator seems to confer major responsibility for Ultron’s actions on Pym, while just being Wanda and Pietro’s father doesn’t give Magneto any responsibility — which means, here, no credit — for their heroic actions. Whence the disconnect here? Are people in the Marvel Universe being unfair to Pym?

In a sense, they clearly are. Pym, when he tried to create Ultron, clearly didn’t intend for him to be a murderous, villainous creation. In one segment of West Coast Avengers, he meets an Ultron that doesn’t hate him and is in fact generally good, and he feels a great loss when that Ultron sacrifices itself to save him from an Ultron that is still evil. Ultron’s villainy, then, is not intended by Pym, and Pym in general tries to oppose his villainy whenever he can. He did nothing, at least nothing deliberately, to make him so, and due to circumstances beyond his control wasn’t there to influence Ultron one way or the other; it isn’t like Pym abandoned Ultron deliberately which is what led to him turning out the way he did. Thus, to that end, he seems to be no more responsible for how Ultron turned out than Magneto is for how Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch turned out.

But because Ultron is an artificial creation, Pym does bear some additional responsibility. Ultron could only have turned bad because Pym designed him in a way that allowed for it. If Pym had put more safeguards in — heck, even a strong version of Asimov’s Three Laws — Ultron couldn’t have turned out the way he did. Additionally, Pym used his own brainwaves as a model, and it is from those brainwaves — and, as established with the Vision, from roughly that mind — that Ultron’s evil developed. Thus, it can be argued that Ultron’s evil developed directly from some flaw in Pym, a flaw that Pym has and that under other circumstances would make him that evil as well. And since Pym gave Ultron his mind, roughly, it can be argued that, unlike Magneto, Pym had a direct impact on Ultron’s development, because he gave him his brainwaves to kick start his mind and it is that mind that, ultimately, made Ultron what he ended up being. Ultron did not develop unguided by his creator, and in fact was guided by him in far, far stronger and more direct way than any parent ever could.

As the authors conclude, a parent gets praise or blame for their children depending on how much they influenced their development into what they eventually became. The trick with Pym is that he is much more responsible for Ultron’s development than it seems at first glance, which means that those in the Marvel Universe might not be being that unfair to him when they cast blame on him for how Ultron turned out.

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