Age of Ultron was controversial from the very beginning. People seem sick of Brian Michael Bendis and event comics in general, particularly ones that feel as if they’re already out of continuity in some way. In his defense, Bendis always understood this and kept pushing the series further and further into alternate universes and timelines and away from reader expectations and he’s one of the best dialogue writers Marvel has.
I mentioned two weeks ago that it didn’t seem possible that Bendis could make a coherent payoff for Age of Ultron and in a way, he did and he didn’t. This week’s Age of Ultron #10 is a comic that ends with promise and little else. Yes, we finally get scenes of the Avengers battling the robot who enslaved the Earth and Hank Pym at long last gets a moment to be a hero but it’s a book that ends with about 20 pages of advertisements for what’s coming. And that’s the frustrating part.
The arrival of a hungry Galactus in the Ultimate Universe, Image’s former heavenly femme fatale Angela’s sudden appearance in deep space and Tony Stark and Hank Pym discussing the implications to the seemingly cracked timeline all surprise and are moderately exciting developments but what does it mean to Age of Ultron? The ending feels less for Age of Ultron than a prelude to what’s coming, namely the announced Infinity, Hunger and Battle of the Atom.
This isn’t terribly new development for event comics. Crisis on Infinite Earths was an event which existed solely to reset DC’s universe, Age of Apocalypse tried to capture the sales Spider-Man’s Clone Saga had made and Avengers vs. X-Men was written mostly to set up the soft relaunch and conclude years of Uncanny X-Men stories.
The problem is that event comics can do much more than that. Bendis’ own House of M set up a similarly compelling alternate reality but ground the story in characters, namely Wolverine and Scarlet Witch and offered a payoff which promised a new direction for the Marvel Universe and completed the story in a compelling way. It’s a wonderfully compelling story with real emotional and universal stakes.
DC similarly created an event comic with stakes, character and a world demanding to be explored with Flashpoint. Another alternate reality event series meant to lead into a relaunch, Flashpoint succeeded because of a world which felt exciting and necessary. The various tie-in stories of Flashpoint fleshed out an exciting new world that felt like it had history and relationships between characters. It was a world I wanted to explore beyond the main issues.
For me, the problem with Age of Ultron was the event offered little more than promise. For every compelling alternate reality or bit of characterization, Bendis stoically refused to explore histories or character in favor of pushing forward the event. We don’t know how Pym’s death led to the fall of the Avengers, how The Owl was dealing with Ultron or how Galactus broke universal barriers and no one involved with the book seems to care. It’s not an issue of explaining things for the fans but giving characters the motivation or sense of place needed to give Age of Ultron the heart it needed to be more than a plot delivery vehicle.
Bendis has surely weathered complaints about the series and he’s taken to Tumblr to defend his work. He’s reiterated that Age of Ultron works better as a total package than as single issues and I think he’s right. Age of Ultron shines as a blockbuster event, full of apocalyptic violence, tough decisions and real consequences but that’s about it. It could have been so much better, so much more meaningful and more focused on the characters and worlds that bring readers to comics every week. The problems once again point to editorial demand for bigger more serialized comics and that artificial demands lead to artificial stakes, forced drama and inauthentic characters.
- Animal Man #21 shows how creative Jeff Lemire can be when he’s not bound by tie-ins. The combination of social media and media attention with Buddy’s super heroics gives the book a sense of urgency it hasn’t had since it began.
- Justin Jordan’s Green Lantern New Guardians #21 might have the strongest start of the Green Lantern relaunch. It’s clear he’s carving out his own place in the universe and I’m excited to see where it goes.
- I’ve made no secret of my love for The X-Files and the new Season 10 #1 issue seems like it could be fun. I’m also happy IDW is eschewing their house art style for something more minimalistic and iconic.
- Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman has been criticized for not focusing on the title character but this week’s #21 shows the power Diana’s team has in a massive, exciting battle with the First Born.
- Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers #7 keeps showing the kind of withering pessimism and simpering tension that makes this one of the can’t miss series of Marvel Now. It may be one of my favorite single issues of the year.