Jamil Scalese: Aren’t finales always sad?
We’ve reached the end of the Age of Ultron, a series of considerable length and scope. Marvel blasted us with ten issues and a handful of tie-ins in four months, a factor which helped a story bloated with landscape panels and long conversations in bunkers and science labs. However, the quick pace doesn’t really matter when it comes down to judging it as a piece of art, which we’ll do in this deluxe size Real Talk. We’ve marathoned our way through the whole damned ditty, fellas, but it’s important to remember how we got to the magical bullshit at the end of this issue.
Ultron kicked the world’s ass. He systematically, methodically and mercilessly targeted key locations and heroes to end all threats. A group of Brian Michael Bendis’ favorite characters huddle together in a bunker and formulate a goofy plan to barter themselves for info… or something. Feeding into the theory of collective consciousness different groups of isolated heroes head to the Savage Land since a lot of important stuff happens there for some reason. In the land of Ka-Zar the heroes agree that Ultron is attacking them from the future, but disagree about their next step. Do they use their newfound information to launch a full frontal, last-ditch assault Ultron or do something completely different and off-the-wall since the robot is likely to know anyway?
It’s here the plot takes a decidedly different slant, turning itself into the Marvel version of From Dusk Till Dawn. The main focus of the series, a group of mismatched heroes clawing for survival, is destroyed in a tragic, foolish mission, and spotlight turns to two wickedly dislike characters who love to change costumes. Wolverine bears the weight of doing what must be done, murdering Ultron’s creator, founding Avenger Dr. Henry Pym, in the name of saving the world. His brash actions create an almost anticipated response, the world morphs into a subtly Orwellian society that crumbles under the heel of magic just as he and companion Invisible Woman return. Logan, with no other option, ignores the advice of “Big Brother” Tony Stark and travels back to stop himself from killing Pym by using the alternate Iron Man’s plan to plant a failsafe inside Ultron’s program to set things right.
It works. Well, not really. No one can live happily ever after in comics. Wolverine’s actions cause time to break, like literally, and what ensues will make for some lovely time-travel based stories, I’m sure.
But that’s in the future and it’s time to discuss the present and past. I thought the finale quite good, Shawn/Sean, but it irks the hell out of me that the “unguessable” ending leaked months ago. Why can’t comics keep a damn secret?
Shawn: What irks me is that too-familiar series of Bendis splash pages (rather than letting the art do the talking for him, this wordiest of conversationalists often goes to the other extreme and lets the art BE the story, such as it is) that “ends” the issue. Time “breaks” so conveniently as to set up several (seven?) future storylines in as many different titles, some of which will probably lead to something and some of which will be pointless? Angela’s glorified debut is nothing but a poster-sized calling card? She plays no role in the story and her future impact is beyond uncertain. She’s sort of angry and sort of god-like, we’ve seen that many times before. She doesn’t even get a fun new look, though her old one is as sad a holdover from the nineties as possible to imagine. Can we just have Red Sonja back please?
I had more fun in the argumentative pages of Uncanny Avengers this week, where things I’ve been waiting to hear since Disassembled broke the Avengers were finally voiced, by a Wasp with a brain and a Rogue with a grudge, among many others. If only I could tolerate the Apocalypse Twins that would be my favorite book of the moment.
But this one is a mess. And throwing 43 artists at it doesn’t help. I felt like I was reading a DC comic for most of the issue (and with no Guardians to explain it all), and as I always feel when Bendis has his artists swipe art from earlier eras, it takes more than one look at the Squadron Sinister (for example) to attain the quality of a Squadron Sinister story. Throwing in all the alternate costumes out of context doesn’t really do much but show he knows where the Marvel archives are.
Sean Gonzalez: It certainly is a mess. A mess that is extremely similar to one that a certain comics publisher has decades worth of experience with, but is Marvel ready for a multiverse?
Setting that question aside for the moment in order to discuss the present: I was actually disappointed in the issue, which I have trouble regarding as a finale because I don’t feel as much was finalized by the time I got to the last page. I almost expected it to wrap all the annoyances of the entire series into a tiny box and closet them away while entertaining me with a climactic showdown between the forces of good and robot but I never got my showdown… Instead we’re treated to a redo of an earlier showdown. I suppose I should have seen it coming 0- like I saw the other 90% of the issue coming- but a mild optimism spurred me on.
My biggest complaint- which surprisingly is a tad irrelevant to the story — is about the dozen or so epilogues that served more as teasers to upcoming issues than any sort of closure to the actual Age of Ultron. Not only were the changing artists disorienting, but throwing in the blatant intro followed by each new series promo spot came off tacky. I honestly can’t recall ever seeing this strategy before, outside of mags picked up on Free Comic Book Day; which I’m totally cool with because they’re FREE. This combined with the poly-bag left a sour taste in my mouth. I mean, I was under the impression that the purpose of bagging a magazine was to hide important spoilers or important unmentionables and I didn’t find either on the cover. Maybe I picked up the wrong variant?
I know we already witnessed some of these comic book promo staples what with the holographic foils and depictions of scenes that never took place in the actual book, but now that we’ve trudged through 10 issues of AU, I feel I can appropriately gauge my dislike for these practices. Of course, I’m no Don Draper… Perhaps it really is good marketing, but I’m sure it’s not good comics.
Jamil: I’m forced to agree with much of what you both said. What’s the point of a polybag if the issue’s secrets have been floating around the internet for months? A holofoil premiere, a polybagged finale… I feel the same about those that I do about the topic of women’s rights issues: didn’t the public express their opinion on this stuff years ago?
The Crisis-y vibe permeates for sure, but those series by the distinguished competition were meant to codify the entire universe while this functions to muddle it. I d
o enjoy the time-smashing double-spreads by Pacheco, I’m a fool for nostalgia and alternate versions of characters, but yeah, they do seem like a ploy to manufacture significance for an event already overshadowed by it’s cosmic successor. Bring on The Builders!
Still, as you guys might know by now, I’m all about the gimmicks. The second Pacheco splash had me hunched over and squinting for clues about what’s coming. Some of the stuff was obvious, but I noticed a panel with Deadpool and someone that looks like the Mad Thinker. Another shard of time shows Deadpool H.E.R.B.I.E.s. I read everything Wade and don’t remember that happening, so I’m a little geeked.
I’ll also confess to loving the revisit to Avengers (v3) #12.1, one of my favorite Bendis era issues. It felt like a director’s cut, only this time instead of shrugging off a swing from Mjolnir our titular android gets bested in an almost anti-climactic fashion (and it’s quite cool how it ties into the most recent Moon Knight series). I liked what Butch Guice cooked up for that portion of the story, but some of it is confusing, and the big moment where Wolverine saves the day by buying Stark/Pym that extra second fails to impress.
The art is all over the place, which is an intended point, I guess. I said in the review of last issue that I didn’t know what coming, but my secret guess was that this issue would read like a long epilogue since #9 tied up of a lot of plot by itself. I’m not too happy about being right.
Shawn: I might have forgiven more if not for those tacky new series adverts. I mean, I already get Previews, so I’ll have all those posters anyway, right? And if Angela had any relevance to the story rather than being an indirect result of it. I somehow don’t mind never really seeing Ultron, or that he was shut down by a retcon virus as soon as he started up. You can’t say that Bendis wasn’t laying the groundwork for this story, with Avengers 12.1 and Moon Knight and various other hints … it’s just that this time he couldn’t rest the whole story on his artists (like he did for Wasp-tron, whose only justification was Frank Cho drawing her), because Hitch left and Pacheco isn’t such a spotlight hog. The story had to be told based on plot and character, and when it came to Logan and Sue, it was. We took out that moment when Sue spies a changed Manhattan from an earlier issue as a funny “wth?” beat but it’s key this issue, when she finally sees a Manhattan she can love again. But you’re right, Jamil, definitely just an echo of everything that happened in #9. They should have called this issue 9.1, or 10.0, or, I dunno, “Epilogue?” I think this is clearly a case where most of the tie-in issues outshone the main story by far, usually because of the other writers’ creativity.
Sean: It’s funny that we’re all miffed about the lack of closure because I’m pretty sure that was Bendis’ goal the whole time. We discussed earlier how many rules Age of Ultron was breaking when it came to crossover events and the jumbled storyline may have very well been completely intentional. Seeing as how we’re all aware that Bendis had been planning this event for so long makes it even more obvious.
Still, whether they were planning to make a mess of things so they could fix them in the ensuing dozen comics, I still think they made a larger mess than they could possibly handle. So many parts of the issue come off half-planned. Either this was due to Bendis having too much on his plate, or the side effect of trying to cram a long planned epic into the universe a year or so too late. For example, I can’t seem to understand exactly what everyone knows about the alternate universes. For one, the focus jumped back and forth so many times and we witnessed so many deaths that I’m barely sure what exact heroes we’re looking at. In addition, the cute scene that shows each character being shocked by their sudden awareness of their possible past/futures does little to explain what exactly is happening. Am I supposed to assume that Wolverine now knows all about Old Man Logan, Zombie Wolvie, and every other alterna-Weapon X that’s ever existed? There was even a moment where I thought I had things worked out… and then I got to the panel with The Thing dressed as Black Beard while witnessing a bunch of stuff from the X-Men’s past.
Now these are the kind of questions that won’t be answered in the number of AU spinoffs, and I’m just not necessarily sure if they were actually covered in this issue or not. I can’t be the only one.
Jamil: The midpoint switch-up was a bold choice, but someone forgot to go back and pick up all the scattered plot points.
The first five issues had all types of weirdness and created mysteries that were just dropped. Why didn’t Ultron just obliterate the human population with a special toxin? If he’s so disgusted with mankind why let scum like Owl, Hammerhead and their goons live and just target the heroes? Why was Ultron trading for heroes? Who the hell was that guy with the cape Spider-Man saw in AU #2? It doesn’t matter now, of course, it technically didn’t happen, but there’s a Lost, mystery-for-the-sake-of-mystery tone that I haaate
When I reread the issues in prep for this finale I found myself still amazed at the effort of Hitch’s art, especially in the first two issues, but I’m going to be honest, comrades, that section needed to be pared down significantly. My main problem with AvX was it’s superfluous length, and that hasn’t changed for this series either. Four whole issues could have been sliced off and the creators would have told the same story. I’m not totally invested in Infinity, but I’m glad its only six issues long. Too bad it’s got two billion tie-ins.
As I did with last event I put together a nice little line chart that tracks our individual ratings for each issue of Age of Ultron. Our scores get combined for the final score and I think it’s neat to look back and see how this thing held up in the long run.
Generally, I think we agreed on the quality, strengths, flaws and utility of the entire collection. As you can see our ratings are bunched in the mid-to-high quality range with a steep fall for the finale. Mr. Gonzalez was very even keel with with his grades, and overall, by stats, scored it a 3.1. Mr. Hill had it at 3.25, but had mixed feelings. According to the data, I did too, but I rated it a 3.35.
In review I can’t stand by that rating. Most of it was probably predicated on great art. I think we all know from the first
few issues that this series had budding problems, the Wolverine/Invisible Woman focused time-travel trip (which is very weirdly wrapped up) infused the plot with vigor, but not enough. Bendis does not possess an impressive acumen for plot, his strengths lie elsewhere, and this adventure felt outside his comfort zone. However, the piece does have enough connectivity to feel whole.
I’d give it a “Eh, yeah, check it out if you got time” which amounts to maybe a hard 3.
Shawn: I’ll live with my average score, in honor of the high-highs, and despite the low-lows. If we need to keep it within in our standard range, I might even say 3.5. In honor of the Invisible Woman/Wolverine plot thread. But clearly I really ran hot and cold on this series. Last issue should have been the finale, and this issue should have been a coda. The way it reads now, it’s overlong, decompressed, incoherent, exploitative and uneven. It recalls the worse parts of House of M. Though, since they’re bringing in Mark Waid to figure out Hank Pym for the 21st century, it’s not like I’m planning to skip #10A.I.
Sean: I can easily say that I’m most disappointed by this event, and the later issues because of all the wasted potential. More than once during this event, I was ready to be sucked into a bold story and new world, and each time my optimism was deflated by another time travel jump.
I know I’m going to pick up some of the spinoffs but, as mentioned earlier, I’m interested in the concepts and characters regardless of AU. As hard as they tried, The Age of Ultron was no where near as pivotal as they had planned.
Marvel’s future was looking good coming off of AvX. The status quo had been shaken up, characters were hugely affected and considerably altered, and a number of intriguing adventures were set up. Now, with AU, the future is shattered into a million pieces and I’m having trouble discerning what that means for Marvel’s spandex-attired lot. Sadly, the optimism that carried me through AU is starting to wane and I don’t know if it’ll keep up while Marvel tries to chug along. It seems as though we’ll have to wait for the aftermath to see if they actually have a plan or not.
Jamil: I’ll say this about your above point(s), Sean, I wouldn’t fret too much what AU means for the future of Marvel comics. Even though it affects the entirety of the 616 and all the other places under the watchful eye of the Captain Britain Corps (BTW, where the hell were those guys?) this was a “side-quest”, a story in the spirit of Chaos War. It started out huge and by the end everything is kind of back to where it was aside from some key differences. The “time is broken” fallout will only impact a handful of books, notably Indestructible Hulk and Avengers A.I. Angela will say in space for a spell, but in 2014…watch out, Earth!
We’ve complained a bit about the ending but I do want to dispense some applause for taking one of the oldest science-fiction tropes and actualizing it. How many times have we heard “Don’t time-travel, it’ll undo the universe!”? Answer: Many, even going back as far as the first Fantastic Four series by Lee/Kirby. It’s refreshing to see mass temporal deviation after the repeatedly brazen action by our heroes (and villains, 90% of all time travel is Doom’s fault). To be honest, I’m surprised one of the spinoff titles isn’t a new version of Exiles with the purpose of saving the multiverse. Consider it pitched, Marvel!
After reading this last issue it does seem like it merely served to set up the next wave of comics. It’d be easy for us to dismiss this series just like the rest of comicdom, however before we go I’d like to step back and look at this thing as a whole.
When rotate this plot in my mind I pull two things from it that will stand the test of time, and no, one of them isn’t that time couldn’t stand the ultimate test.
A major complaint by fans (not these fans, however) is that Ultron played a marginal role in a series named for him. That’s a hollow critique. Simply, this series was not about him, it was about his influence on our favorite heroes. A few strings of ones and zeroes totally obliterated the homes, morale and even morals, of some of our favorite characters. We saw slightly twisted versions of Stark, Red Hulk, Wolverine, Invisible Woman and others. It was never really brought up but look at the pathetic Captain America throughout this series. He moped around a bunker, slightly faltered in his leadership role at Fury’s hideout and played clear second fiddle to the 616b Iron Man. The point is — comic fans love villains, and just about every event (and hell, major movie), uses the villain as the tentpole. For once, while we had a very dangerous and cool villain, the focus was more on the protagonists instead of strong dudes with mystical hammers or shape-shifting aliens. To his credit, Bendis only did the heroes vs heroes thing once, issue #7.
The second thing that resonates: Pym has purpose. He always has and always will. I loved the Avengers movie as much as anyone, but I did feel let down that Ant-Man and Wasp had no role. When I bring this up to my less-fanatic comic-cognizant friends they kind of gave me a “What has that dude ever done?” response. With Age of Ultron it’s thoroughly proven that Hank matters in the grand scheme, and ultimately that is the saving grace of the comic.
In fact, that aspect is such a big deal we’ll dive into the entirety of Pym in next week’s review of Age of Ultron #10A.I by Mark Waid and Andre Araujo. That’s right, folks! We’re giving you a bonus write-up! No need to thank us. Cash will do.
Shawn: I agree with your gist here, Jamil (makes sense, since my score for the whole thing is the highest of all of us). I don’t care really that there was little Ultron, I was more interested in Pym. I think it was significant that Wolvie and Sue had to learn that killing wasn’t the answer, and that Pym’s contributions were key to the Marvel Universe despite his colossal failures (Ultron thanks to Roy Thomas and spousal abuse thanks to Jim Shooter). He’s a character whose complexity means taking the good with the bad, and Jan knows that. I also think Bendis (and especially the Tie-In writers) did good work on the 616b world, which was a unique take on an alternate reality. Where I think the rest of comicdom has a point is in the length of this series; it was padded, story could have been told in 6 issues, max. No need for those tacky ads at all. Of course, then we’d have had f
ewer chances to discuss it!
Follow along with Age of Ultron with our other Real Talk reviews:
- Age of Ultron #1
- Age of Ultron #2
- Age of Ultron #3 (w/ Superior Spider-Man #6AU and Fantastic Four #5AU)
- Age of Ultron #4
- Age of Ultron #5 (w/ Avengers Assemble #14AU and Ultron #1AU)
- Age of Ultron #6 (w/ Wolverine and the X-Men #27AU)
- Age of Ultron #7
- Age of Ultron #8 (w/ Avengers Assemble #15AU)
- Age of Ultron #9 (w/ Uncanny Avengers #8AU and Fearless Defenders #4AU)
- Age of Ultron #10