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Real Talk: 'Age of Ultron' #1 is the 'Ultimates 3' You Wished for in 2008

A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese, Shawn Hill, Sean Gonzalez

 

Some comics are too big, hypeworthy or insane for one reviewer to cover. Which is why we have Real Talk, an outlet for a group of reviewers to tackle a comic together and either come to a consensus or verbally arm wrestle until there's nothing left to say.

 

Jamil Scalese: It's the story we've all been waiting... and waiting... and waiting for -- THE AGE OF ULTRON!

A trimmed-down miniboss event in the vein of "Chaos War" or "Shadowland," the first crossover of 2013 is comparable to the one that bore its name: the "Age of Apocalypse." In that classic '90s hit, sweet ol' Poccy Lips successfully crushes planet Earth under his oppressing heel, splintering the X-Men and making every really shitty for everyone still alive. Ultron hasn't changed the formula much, at least from what we can see from the debut issue. 

How throwback is this comic? Ask my seared retina. The holofoil, extra sturdy cover blasted me in the face like a song from Dazzler and I actually said under my breath "Really?" as I thumbed through the pages. However, that turned into "Wow. REALLY?" when I saw Bryan Hitch's art. Holy smokes, the first half of this series is going to look awesome. 

 

 

Brian Michael Bendis does what fans ask of him, he gets out of his own way and tells the story. This issue centers on Hawkeye, the skilled marksman who is now in a solid 15% of all Marvel comics. It's patient, action-packed, tension-wrought and surprisingly, a little bit funny.

The hype around this has been built around an "unguessable" final page, however it's the final page of the first issue that provided a powerful image that really drove up my rating. What say you, Shawn and Sean, did Age of Ultron #1 entertain you as much as it did me? Or is it a played-out concept with really busy art? 

 

 

Shawn Hill: Played out? No way. I'd say that only goes for fans who DON'T want to read the Ultimates kicking ass again. Subtract Millar, add Bendis, shift to alternate 616 Marvel, let Bendis cherry pick his favorite apocalyptic survivors (which will always include Cap, Hawkeye, the Widow and apparently Emma Frost), I'd still say we're getting the real, Jeph Loeb-free Ultimates 3 at last, with all the attitude and style we loved so much about the Chitauri War, and then the carnage and desperation we felt when Loki staged his personal Ragnarok against Thor and America. This is a bleak, dismal future of despair, and it's nothing we haven't seen before. But seldom has it looked so great as Hitch on massive full throttle (with nods to John Romita Jr. in the tech design, if I'm not mistaken).

That said, this first entry spent a little too much time shooting up pointless thugs, and not enough time cluing us in to how it went so bad so quickly for the survivors, though the tidbits we got were tantalizing!

 

 

Sean Gonzalez: I completely agree that the book is a barrel o' fun, but it's those missing tidbits that nag at me to the point that I'm actually enjoying the issue less. For instance: is it just me, or is the fact that I do not know which Spider-Man we're dealing with completely distracting? I'm patient enough to find out how everything went to hell, especially if the action is keeping up the pace, but I worry that we won't find out anything of import until we dig into the tie-ins. I mean, if we're talking about throwbacks, this issue reminds me of Secret Invasion's blasts of action with little story momentum to show for it. Especially in regard to the length; I kinda feel like someone's trying to wow me with glitzy covers and beautiful explosions while skimping on the real meat of a comic. Besides this stuff, I'm intrigued enough to enthusiastically read on. I guess the showmanship is working?

How do you guys think it holds up to other events? I know I recall the previously mentioned "Age of Apocalypse" issues being thick reads. Then again, I was like six, so I guess I read a bit faster than I used to.

 

 

Shawn: "Age of Apocalypse" had four main books, each of which had four issues to build the tale of the alternate reality, each with clear leading characters. Then there were separate opening and closing event issues, and various other tie-ins. Or at least that's how I remember it, were there 8 main books instead? Anyhow, I just bought the four I was already buying, and enjoyed how they took over your regularly scheduled comic for four months, and then brought us back to a somewhat changed world.

So this one feels completely continuity-free; I have the hardest time believing this title is going to have major impact on the regular Marvel Now-verse, since Bendis isn't really guiding the Avengers books any longer, and this seems to be such a self-contained story already. But of course that Spidey is Peter, for real, right?

 

 

Jamil: It is not. Per Bendis, the scripts were "massaged" in order to keep up with contemporary continuity. I think Spidey reads as either Otto or Peter, which speaks to that out-of-continuity feeling you just referenced, Shawn.

Before we trudge on and discuss other aspects of this comic I want to address your shared qualm. My response to "What happened?" is "Who cares?" If this were Toad or Titanium Man with their foot on the humanity's neck I'd be like "Whoa, back up and explain that," but it's Ultron, the foremost AI in the Marvel Universe. Bendis has already laid the groundwork for his series back in the first arc of the Heroic Age Avengers. In that story a group of time-tossed heroes were flung to horrific future where just about every character in the catalogue couldn't defeat Pym's creation. Bendis has built him to be the most tactical and intelligent foe the Avengers have, a demonstration of the exponential growth of technology, so I give the script a pass on the info brevity. Ultron is the ultimate drone program. We don't know much about it, except that it's mechanic and lethal. 

 

 

I do agree, the first part is sparse, but Bendis and Hitch approach comics cinematically. The slow opener, Hawkeye creeping in the shadows, light banter from Hammerhead and the Owl, a rescue mission that gets hectic, it screams movies. The writer loves him some double splashes and the artist kills them no like other in the biz. The pace felt appropriate to me, but it needs to pick up significantly by the end of next issue. 

Shawn: That's the definitely the vibe I'm getting. This is old-school Widescreen comics. Maybe I should be thinking Authority rather than Ultimates. I didn't, however, find that Heroic Age Avengers story to be all that compelling, and of course the Mighty Avengers Janetron was fairly ridiculous. Let's hope this third time's the charm for Bendis and Ultron; nothing he's done yet has surpassed the intensity of the Busiek-era conflict (when Thor had to get all verily on him at hard-core levels).

Sean: I gotta agree with the fact that of late, Ultron's appearances have come off a bit corny. I mean, while some might have seen the army that Kang brought to take on Ultron as appropriate, I just saw overkill. Did the Silver Surfer really need to be brought in? I can appreciate the work Bendis has put into making Ultron a terrifying foe, but less than five years of build-up can't compete with the character's history. Hasn't Ultron been defeated by the Runaways? I'm pretty sure I've seen the Wasp take him out on her lonesome at least twice.

I guess I kinda answered your question in a roundabout way, Jamil. The explanation of what happened is pretty darn important to me cause I still find it hard for things to ever get that bad in the Marvel universe. 

These are the same heroes that have beaten Galactus. Just by the law of transitive properties, if Galactus can do this to Ultron: 

 

 

Then I kinda gotta see the shit go down to believe it.

Shawn: Plus, you don't start in medias res without a promise to get to some of that res sooner or later. And you have to pretend Wanda and Dr. Strange and any number of other mystics are out of the picture, because they're your most obvious Ultron foes. Not that I want to see Bendis take on any more tortured attempts at Marvel's magic side. It's just that Bendis reaches too often for the deus ex machina, or the diabolus ex machina for that matter.

Jamil: Oooh, throwing out those latin phrases all willy-nilly, Shawn. I'll show you. Nemo me impune laccesit!  

In media res describes exactly what I like about this series. 99.9% of superhero stories are about the heroes preventing the villain from winning, this one details how the protagonists respond after their greatest defeat. It speaks to how close things are to going to shit each and every time a heavy hitter like Red Skull or Thanos threatens the world with the Cosmic Cube or Infinity Gauntlet. 

 

 

I know I'm the Bendis apologist around these parts but I do kinda feel like you're both nitpicking.Would have you prefer the typical Bendis talk I much prefer an first issue like this rather than panels of Ultron proton blasting Avengers Mansion or entire legions of heroes ripped to shreds, but alas, I digress -- we gotta save something for next week. Insert emoticon here.

One last thing before we close this thing out: Were you guys thrown by some of Hitch's character renditions? Back in the day, when I reviewed the Point One with pages from this issue, I thought Hammerhead and Owl were Punisher and Wolverine. Of course that was all about context, but still, I'm not too keen on how Hitch's approach in that regard.

 

 

Sean: Personally, I've always compared Hitch to Alex Ross. Not that their art styles are necessarily similar, but because they're both mind blowingly awesome despite the fact that they make all my favorite characters look like my dad. I think the general problem with realism is that at a certain point, you catch on that all these guys look the same. To be fair, most superheroes were created with a certain image in mind. It's no surprise that a realistic art style would make it all more noticeable.

Shawn: I think they've definitely stepped back from a costume-oriented look; everyone's gone to the Lucas Cage school of functional attire, to the extent that they can find clothes at all, apparently. It's all so grim and gritty, even Sue Storm (one of the most powerful people Marvel has) is looking rough around the edges, and she can make dirt disappear!  So you know things are bad. We don't know enough to know how much it all makes sense yet. I'm not disappointed in this first issue, or the scope of the series. But it's true Bendis has his work cut out to really wow me with his approach to Ultron this time.

 

 

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