Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Age of Ultron 1, originally released March 6th, 2013. This issue is part of the Age of Ultron crossover event. Click here for complete AU coverage.
Patrick: Y’all remember Battlestar Galactica? Until the show’s premise became too complicated to be expressed in a few simple sentence fragments, each episode would begin with the following titles projected across the screen:
The Cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.
It’s exactly enough information to tease the world of the series. Yeah, there’s a lot more to it than that — this description makes no mention of the last scraps of humanity drifting through space in outdated battleships, or God or gods or Starbuck or Frak. It doesn’t have to: the purity of the threat represented by Cylons is so elemental and to render the rest beautiful, beautiful set-dressing to this central conflict. Battlestar would go on to tell a hundred compelling stories based of that clean slug-line, replete with rich themes and psychologically complex characters. Brian Michael Bendis’ Age of Ultron looks like it will have a great deal in common with BSG, the first such indication is a straightforward and agonizingly clean premise: “Hank Pym of the Avengers created an artificial intelligence known as Ultron. It hates humanity… and it has returned.” Game on.
The story opens on “New York City, Today.” But as the two opening splashes convey, this is not any kind of “today” you or I might recognize — not even with our knowledge of the Marvel Universe. The city is in ruins, and hovering ominously close to the ravaged streets is like the biggest spaceship you’ve ever seen. Hawkeye takes to these streets to rescue Spider-Man. Spidey’s been spidernapped by a gang of mid-level Marvel bad guys. It appears the villains have been bartering for their continued survival by bringing in dead Avengers, and Spider-Man is their next offering. Clint and Peter / Otto (oh, more on that in a minute) make a daring escape that becomes all the more daring-er when Ultron robots attack. Hawkeye gets Spider-Man back to Avengers’ airship, which seems to have crashed in Central Park a long time ago. There, they meet up with “what’s left of [their] friends,” and are subject to some kind of test to make sure Ultron didn’t “infect” them with anything. The question quickly becomes “what now?” — a question being mulled over by the saddest Captain America I’ve ever seen.
This stunning final image (beautifully rendered by Bryan Hitch), perfectly embodies the tone of the entire issue, in that it raises about a billion questions, but does so in an extremely nonchalant way. What’s that? You want to know how Ultron came to destroy New York City? No dice. You wanna know how Cap’s shield (and presumably, his spirit) was shattered? Nope! We frequently speculate on the way crossover events will end, but this is the first time I find my self speculating on how an event started. Age of Ultron seems to share a lot of its DNA with DC’s Rotworld, which is totally fine by me. It’s amazing how satisfying it can be to spot one of your favorite characters scrapping by in a post-apocalyptic wasteland — it means they survived, and you get to breathe a sigh of relief.
I’m still pretty new to the world of Marvel comics, so I don’t have quite the spot-the-character joy that I experienced while seeing grotesque, undead versions of characters in during Rotworld. In fact, even some of the characters that I assumed I would recognize, I didn’t. When Hawkeye and Spider-man get back to the base, we get the first real sense of who’s still alive: one of whom is She-Hulk. But, that’s not Jennifer Walters (unless that haircut is some kind of survival thing):
I’ll hold my hand up as not-the-best She-Hulk scholar, but she also doesn’t bear any resemblance to Red She-Hulk Elizabeth Ross. This is one of those things where I don’t know if I’ve witnessed a character changing from the trauma of Age of Ultron or some kind of weird editorial force. The other character I want to subject to this question is Peter Parker. Spider-man sounds a lot more Amazing than he does Superior. Without knowing how far in the future these events are set, it’s sort of impossible to know what’s going on here. Has Otto simply mastered the art of pretending to be Peter Parker that he’s even started using fun little action-movie quips when in danger? Or is Peter back in control of this body? I suppose the third reasonable question could be “maybe this takes place in some alternate continuity — after all, the world is ruined.” But we’ve seen that sneak preview of Superior Spider-Man 6AU, and he’s clearly Otto/Peter in that issue — so who knows?
Ultimately, I love having these kinds of questions. Disorientation is a big part of the game Bendis is playing here — this world is sprung on the readers with nary an explanation, which allows the story to focus on the heroics of thwarting this evil, rather than the saga of succumbing to it. Even if Bryan Hitch has a knack for delivering enormous scenes of destruction (and he does), I’m excited at the idea that this situation needs no explanation. Ultron hates humanity — what more would you need to know?
Drew, how do you feel about being thrown into the narrative deep end here?
Drew: I’ve taken my share of fiction writing classes in my day, but it wasn’t until I read Denny O’Neil’s The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics that I was first introduced to the idea that you should start scenes as late as possible. The notion is that much of what happens before the action begins isn’t that important — sure, some character moments are nice, but we don’t need to see which route the characters drove to get to the scene, or how so-and-so came to own the shirt he’s wearing. It’s an important thing to keep in mind when writing, but the correlating reading principle — that you can assume everything you aren’t shown is either unimportant, or happened largely like you imagined it — is often forgotten by audiences. It’s why LOST fans were so frustrated by the “loose ends” of questions the show’s writers simply weren’t interested in, or why people were so eager to bicker about the ending of Inception.
What I’m getting at is that I actually really like that we aren’t shown how we got to this point. We’re given more than enough details to gather the broad strokes of what happened, and since the story here isn’t how Earth fell, there’s really no point in dwelling on it. In that way, I think the comparison to Rotworld is particularly apt — aside from a few pointed flashbacks (which I suspect we’ll also get here), we’re simply dropped in at Earth’s lowest point, and are left to imagine the details of how we got there. They might be fun details, but they’re not the details this story is about.
Instead, we’re introduced to this world via a rather thrilling rescue operation, where we actually learn quite a bit about the day-to-day life in the Age of Ultron: Ultron is interested in Avengers, Ultron can detect technology when it’s used “out in the open,” Ultron can infect people, the Avengers have abandoned heroism in favor of basic survival — it’s all very bleak, capped off (ha) with that crushing splash of a defeated Captain America. More information may come regarding some of those details in time, but they don’t have to. We know the gist, and this event is clearly more about where we go from here.
But you’re right, Patrick, there are some questions that might be helpful — specifically how the “now” of this issue relates to the “now” of every other issue Marvel has on stands. Is Ultron landing next week? Next year? And how much time passes between Ultron’s arrival and what we’re seeing “now”? Those details may explain a bit about Spider-Man (and may give away a bit about where Superior Spider-Man is headed), but I think your suggestion that Otto might just have gotten better at imitating Peter seems like the most likely option. He’s already learning some important lessons about being quippy and upbeat, and while it seems like he would be worse at that under duress, he may have internalized it (or simply brought some of Peter’s traits to the surface) by the time Ultron arrives.
I’m less persuaded by your read that the She-Hulk we meet isn’t Jennifer Walters. She may have a new haircut, but she’s wearing the classic She-Hulk white and pink bodysuit, and Peter seems to recognize her (even though this is apparently his first time to the downed Helicarrier). Hitch certainly has his own take on her, but it’s a little unreasonable to expect his character designs to match Mike Allred’s — they’re apples and oranges.
Speaking of Hitch, the art in this issue is gorgeous. Hitch and Inker Paul Neary fill every last corner with detail, giving Age of Ultron a depth and reality unlike almost anything else on shelves. Occasionally, that level of detail goes beyond basic effect, and actually plays a role in the storytelling.
Space, time, and dramatic irony in one image? That single panel has more going on than some pages in lesser books. Colorist Paul Mounts also deserves a ton of praise for his immersive colors — especially given the limited, dystopian palette — as well as the electric vibrating effect he achieves when Ultron descends on Hammerhead’s hideout.
Ultimately, my favorite part about this issue might just be that we’re dropped in en medias res — we get to skip all of the set-up that makes me so wary of origin stories. In forgoing the origin of the Age of Ultron, we can get down to the business of how to end it. It’s a thrilling place to start, even if it is a little disorienting. Consider me exclusively excited for this event.
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A part of me wants to say that it seems more like Amazing Spidey because portions of this story were conceived and illustrated before the events of Marvel NOW! (Note Cap’s older costume), but I’m completely down with the in-story explanation that Otto has simply learned to act more like Peter.
I enjoyed this first issue quite a bit. My only concern is that since this was supposed to be released a while ago (and way before Marvel NOW!) that the creators are going to be forced to “make it fit” into some of the NOW! stuff. Like, we are kind of already having that discussion with issue 1. I just hope that none of that stuff will get in the way of enjoying this cool story. Knowing me, I’m a big continuity stickler but at the same time I always try to remind myself that the story always comes first.
Yeah, I kind of wonder if the tie-in issues are more to make things fit than anything else (explaining how the Fantastic Four were on Earth, showing Otto being Otto, etc). I also couldn’t help but notice the older Beast design. Ultimately, I won’t let that bother me — this obviously takes place in some different continuity than any of the comics we’re reading, anyway. Generally, I’m okay with returning to some kind of more platonic form of our heroes as starting points for stories, and this event is clearly more about putting them in an insane situation than fitting neatly into continuity.
I agree with you for sure, but I still fear this book will still suffer somewhat for it sales wise because of the continuity “problems.” Some fans will look at this and say “Nope, doesn’t fit the continuity-it’s dumb” others will say “Well, it doesn’t quite fit, and I don’t like that aspect of it, but I’ll still enjoy it” and other…others will say “Who cares if it doesn’t all fit? The story is great!” Hopefully, most people will enjoy it for what it is.
Are Marvel fans as concerned with continuity as DC fans? This could just be because I’m newer to Marvel and they didn’t just reboot every title, but the vibe (lol) I get from Marvel is overall more relaxed in terms of continuity.
Marvel is A LOT more relaxed when it comes to continuity, but their fans aren’t necessarily as relaxed. There is a fundamental difference when it comes to how Marvel and their Distinguished Competition handle continuity. Both companies retcon, but Marvel doesn’t reboot. Or at least they never have up to this point. (Some people may bring up Heroes Reborn, but that only affected a few heroes and was only temporary anyway.)
Basically, DC will bend over backwards to make sure that everything falls neatly into place which it almost never completely does. But Marvel will basically just ignore major issues like the age of its characters or odd continuity issues. (The Punisher looks to be in his 30’s or 40’s but fought in the Vietnam War, for example) When they do try to “fix” something, it’s generally done in a quiet manner. We probably won’t be getting a “Crisis” out of Marvel any time soon.
Right – this. DC’s made fixing continuity of their series part of the narrative. There’s even an in-narrative force behind the New 52 (which is sort of insane – you wanna reboot stuff, just reboot it).
For whatever reason, DC has always behaved in this way. Well, that’s not technically true but it has become true. When they rebooted GL and Flash back in the Silver Age for example, it just was what it was. Like, first we had some guys named Alan and Jay, then their books got canned. When those books started back up we had some guys named Hal and Barry. There was no initial explanation for it. The only reason they ever came up with the concept of Earth 1 and 2 was because the creators wanted to come up with a way to bring those characters back. Ever since then, the Multiverse and vibrational frequencies have become a part of DC’s language.
Personally, I’m a fan of that kind of thing. It’s fun to think of these books as a reality all their own and the fact that their is an in-story reason for these changes helps to maintain the “reality” of these fictional worlds. There is a severe downside to this, however, and the phrase “Continuity Snarl” comes to mind.
Marvel basically says: “Oh, did the fans not react well to what we introduced in this last story arc? Ok then, we’ll just never talk about it again.” JMS did this whole thing in his Spidey run where he introduced all of these elements of mysticism and basically said the Peter was “meant” to be bitten by the spider. After his run was over, Marvel just ignored it. Lesson being: Things usually only become a part of the larger continuity if other writers keep referring to it.
Yep, Mik’s got it. Golden age to silver age were non-connected hard reboots at DC with no explanation since the concept to explain publication decisions in-narrative didn’t come until writer’s started playing with the ideas first presented in that silver aged Flash Of Two Worlds issue (which, obviously, came afterward) and they’ve been running with it since. I appreciate the dedication to continuity and storyline legacy, personally, though there are benefits to Marvel’s approach as well
I like to think of events (and sometimes even other books featuring the same characters — like Batman and Detective Comics for example) as being in entirely different universes. Fans are totally willing to accept that the Marvel movies and animated tv series take place in different universes than the comics and still enjoy them. I hope they can do the same for this miniseries, which I’m already liking quite a bit.
That’s where we are different I think, but not too different. I HAVE to think that all of this stuff is taking place in one continuity. I just tell myself that somehow all of these things happened at or around the same time and it all fits in a timeline that I just assume works out. But, again, even if it doesn’t make perfect sense, I don’t let it bother me or get in the way of good stories. Additionally, I’d rather have the creators focusing on the same thing too. If continuity gets in the way of their story, I’d much rather them ignore it and tell the story they want to tell. As a fan, I’ll make it all fit after the dust settles. Or I won’t, whatever.
Yeah, I have no problem with none of the Gotham stuff touching Batwoman. I have no issues with her existing in some sort of different version, because why not? It’s ALL made up anyway, so who cares if it doesn’t all fit?
Absolutely! Don’t get me wrong though, I love the idea of the shared universe. I spend a lot of time (way more than is healthy) thinking about how these books all fit together and the cause and effect that each can or will have. But I do that because I think it’s fun to think about those things. I don’t get upset when it doesn’t all fit. This is all supposed to be FUN after all!
The thing that makes this feel a little different from a “this is just a separate, fun story” is that it’s highjacking all these other series. Like, if it’s not in the same continuity as Superior Spider-Man, why is part of the story IN Superior Spider-Man?
But on the other hand, I’m already having fun, so why stress out about it?
Patrick, to your point about the crossover issues — strictly speaking, they’re not part of those continuities, which is why they have the “AU” distinction. Superior Spider-Man fans can read issues 6 and go straight to 7 (skipping 6AU altogether). In fact, I’d be surprised if most shops automatically pulled those crossover issues for customers who are otherwise subscribing to those series.
I guess it’s just weird that it hops in on the numbering anyway. Like, I assume we’re supposed to read those stories at about the same time they’re released, but that’s only useful if you’re reading them live. Anyone looking back on this thing in trade is going to have a fuck of a time figuring out how to read this thing.
I guess the question is – who are the crossover issues for? Ultron fans? Fans of those series?
That’s always an important concern with crossovers of this kind. I wouldn’t be surprised if they collected these AU issues in their own volume that acted as a companion to the main AU mini.
Well, I’m starting to think that they might be there for people who want to know how the Fantastic Four got to Earth to be part of this horrible thing when they should be out having fun with their kids. Like Mik mentioned, this thing was conceived long before the conceits of Marvel NOW, which means it now requires a bit of explaining for just how folks got to where they are (or to assure us that yes, in fact, that is Otto in Peter’s body).
They probably would have done the tie-in’s anyway because why not cash in on this thing right? But with NOW they are definitely serving this secondary purpose to help tie the event in to NOW which it never (initially) intended to do.
Drew, you did a really nice job of summarizing all the pieces of Age of Ultron mythology that are conveyed to us in action, rather than through boring expository dialogue (or voice over or whatever). It’s really top notch storytelling, and even if our conversation has been a little heavy on the “yeah, but how does this fit in with EVERYTHING ELSE I’m reading,” I really can’t emphasize how good this story is.
Man, just typing that up made me realize how insane it is that we would even demand that this fit in with the dozens of other series that are running right now. Such a strange expectation, and one that only seems to exist in comics.
I now feel a bit like a butt for really being bothered by it obviously being Peter and not Otto. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a Spidey guy first, but it distracted me.
It sure did look nice, though. But when (to me) the biggest event in comics in the past year was Peter being replaced by his greatest enemy (sorry Robin, I hardly knew ya), to have a huge event ignoring it was off putting.
The art sure was pretty, though.
The only gripe I have with this book is because of being dropped in medias res, the page at the end didn’t sink in quite as much as it should have because it came off as a payoff without the required seeds planted. I understand how the world is lost to Ultron, I understand dire straits, but sad Cap only grazes the answers I wish I had gotten.
I love this book so far, it’s immediately jumped passed FF as my favorite currently-published Marvel. I’m also hot off of reading the excellent issue #5 of Jonathan Ross and Hitch’s excellent America’s Got Powers mini. But holy crap, the cinematic intensity of those first few splashes, the usage of double-splash throughout the book… this dystopia has me feeling totally immersed, visually, in the way something like Blade Runner does. I can’t wait for more. I do wish the foil cover would have been a flat-out chromium one, though, like the X-Men Alpha and X-Men Omega issues that started and ended the original Age Of Apocalypse event. It’s also noteworthy that Age Of Apocalypse (which, to be fair, existed before the re-popularization of events getting their own mini-series) actually DID hijack all of the books involved for 4 issues before those books could go back to their regular continuity; I think that was much safer game, sales-wise, when you were dealing with only X-books but since this effects the entire Avengers franchise it would be much dicier sales-wise to stop the momentum of each of those individual books (many of which were recently rebooted and are just now beginning to build steam)
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