Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Ultron Legacy

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 22nd, 2013

Age of Ultron #6Age of Ultron #1Age of Ultron #s 1-10
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, Alex Maleev, Butch Guice, David Marquez & Joe Quesada
Inks: Paul Neary, Brandon Peterson, Roger Martinez, Roger Bonet, Alex Maleev, Butch Guice, Tom Palmer, David Marquez & Joe Quesada
Colors: Paul Mounts, Jose Villarrubia & Richard Isanove
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US per issue

I’ve made a point of avoiding big super-hero event books in recent years, and given that DC hasn’t really done one since launching its New 52 line two years ago, that means I’ve steered clear of Marvel’s big event books. I ended up reading the first two issues of Age of Ultron, though, because my local retailer offered them for a buck apiece a few months after their release, and I borrowed the remainder of the series, mainly because I was interested in writing about the book rather than seeing how things turned out. One of the biggest complaints about these event books is how they ultimately don’t matter in the long run, how they promise big, sweeping, universe-altering changes, but those are undone or reversed in short order. Well, Age of Ultron takes that approach to the extreme, hitting a cosmic reset button in the final issue. The events of this apocalyptic and time-travel story really don’t matter. They serve to set up other stories and characters in Marvel’s line of titles that didn’t need this particular catalyst. Ultimately, it’s a waste of time and money. And it suffers from the same flaw so many people are complaining about in regards to the recently released Man of Steel movie: there’s nothing fun about it.

Ultron has taken over the world, and he’s methodically slaughtering mankind. Chief targets have been the world’s super-humans, and the remainder of the Avengers have gone underground, licking their wounds and lamenting the new world order. They discover Ultron is manipulating the world from the future, so a strike force is sent to deal with him, but one of their numbers believes the key to saving mankind lies in the past. Altering the timeline to improve the present backfires, though, leaving a handful of heroes to make a difficult, impossible plan to set things right.

Bryan Hitch’s hyper-detailed style was a strong choice for the dark, bleak world in which the characters find themselves as the series opens. He handles the action incredibly well, and it’s easy to see the super-powered players as vulnerable and human. But when Hitch disappears halfway through the series, it’s jarring and disappointing. Brandon Peterson is the main artist for the remainder of the series, and his art looks rushed and pales in comparison to the meticulous linework Hitch offered before him. A sense of drama and any credible effort toward tension are lost in the process. Had the interior art boasted the same slick, more cleanly rendered look of Peterson’s cover artwork, it likely wouldn’t have been as big an issue. Carlos Pacheco provides some sequences as well, but his style is unrecognizable here, either because it’s a rush job as well or because inker Roger Martinez has drowned his normally clean lines in a rough style.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of this series is how many plotlines are left unresolved. We never learn how Ultron ended up in the future and managed to raze the world from a distant time. We never see what the Avengers do in the future. We never learn how the Vision factored into things. We never learn why Ultron was doing business with former villains to trade for captured super-heroes. Maybe these notions are explored in tie-in issues of regular Marvel titles, I don’t know. But by the second half of the series, we learn none of that matters. What matters is a rogue hero’s mission to the past. So the reader is left with the realization all of the pain and the planning for a comeback was really little more than filler. Mind you, the audience knows the world isn’t going to remain a scorched earth. We know the dead heroes aren’t going to stay dead. It’s all stage dressing, and that’s fine. But we didn’t need so many issues of it. It’s drawn out necessarily, padded out.

I did appreciate some of the unconventional pairings of characters in the story. Black Widow and Moon Knight. Red Hulk and Taskmaster. Wolverine and the Invisible Woman. Furthermore, the Defenders from the alternate reality offered not only interesting reinterpretations of familiar characters but an unusual lineup of members. Bendis clearly went out of his way to bring disparate characters together. Ultimately, the story seems intended to justify story directions meant to unfold in other titles or new ones. Hank Pym is given a new purpose (Marvel just can’t seem to find a niche for him these days). A new threat is introduced to Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. And as has been discussed for months, Marvel brings an Image Comics character, Angela, into the fold. Here’s the problem: these all could have been achieved without a bloated, 10-part series that cost readers more than 40 bucks.

As a fan of the super-hero genre, I always like it when the diverse array of figures are brought together, but part of that appeal is to see the fun of such colorful characters interacting. Unfortunately, fun isn’t part of the equation here. This is a dour story, depressing. The heroes are beaten down, and they never really recover in any satisfying way. No one really wins the day. Mind you, it’s not as though this story was billed as a super-hero romp or anything; in terms of tone, Bendis and company deliver what was promised. When it comes to plot, though… not so much. Instead of being a story about heroes overcoming impossible odds, it’s about them losing hope and breaking the rules. There’s no sense of triumph or accomplishment because they cheat their way out of a jam — and I felt kind of cheated in the process. 4/10

Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.

One Response to “Ultron Legacy”

  1. CM Says:

    Agreed. On all points.

    Mild spoilers below.
    Half the story would have made it more enjoyable — not necessarily better, per se, but certainly would have felt more cohesive. Many of the “cliffhangers” (or at least, chapter closers which should make us excited to buy the next issue) were quickly invalidated or felt inconsequential.

    Even as a time-travel story, it feels unsatisfying. Some of the best time-travel stories have the characters change with their exploits, so even when time is reset the character has moved on, learned a valuable lesson or is otherwise not the same character they were at the start (as with most good stories).

    Here, those factors cannot be attributed to either Wolverine or Sue Storm, the main instigators of the story. Pym *has* changed, but he wasn’t a point of view character, nor the main character of Age of Ultron. He’s a byproduct of others’ actions, and his main action to defeat Ultron is essentially done off panel. Stark and others are aware of something happening with the time-stream, but nothing of how it affects them which is shown directly here, in this story. Wolverine kills, then “unkills,” but this doesn’t alter his mindset. Sue Storm knows not to mess with the time-stream but does anyway and goes home in relative success. And frustratingly, even these “main characters” of this story are not truly thrust into the story properly until nearly half way into the book, when the plot starts moving. The only main changes from issue 1 to 10 are the literal ones affecting the Marvel Universe. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is fine, but for a 10-issue story that doesn’t resolve many of the plot points it sets up and has no true character arcs, it’s a painfully expensive exercise in futility.

    It’s a story which, ironically, possibly would have worked better without the characters being handcuffed to decades of history and had to be reset by its end to set up the next big wave of publisher-wide storylines.