Today, Taylor and Ethan are discussing Wolverine and the X-Men 27AU, originally released April 17th 2013. This issue is part of the Age of Ultron crossover event. Click here for complete AU coverage.
Taylor: Expect the unexpected. On a scale of one to ten that measures cliché sayings that enrage me, this one is at about a 9.3. How can you expect the unexpected? By its very nature a person can’t prepare for the unexpected. If something is unexpected that means you cannot see it coming, so how can you prepare for it? I understand that some of the charm people derive from this saying comes from the very paradoxical nature of it that I hate so much. However, I think a lot of people have forgotten this aspect of the saying in eschewing its true meaning. Rather, those who employ the saying often seem to use it as a way of preparing people for wild times ahead, not caring that the dribble coming out of their mouth is useless and confusing. However, occasionally this phrase is useful, like when you really have no idea what to expect from your present circumstances. I think time travel is one of the times when it’s safe to say you should expect the unexpected if for no other reason then temporal mechanics are wonky. So when Wolverine and Sue Storm travel back in time in Wolverine and the X-Men 27 AU, I think it’s safe to use the phrase I deplore so much.
Ultron has destroyed most of planet Earth and with it most of its heroes. In a last ditch effort to stop the violence from ever happening, Wolverine and Sue Storm have traveled back in time to stop Henry Pym from ever creating Ultron, and thereby preventing the Age of Ultron from ever happening. After arriving in the past, Wolverine and Sue pick up a pair of hidden-wheels from one of Nick Fury’s endlessly numbered hidden bases. Their car runs out of juice before long and they make a pit stop at another secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base to pick up another battery for the car. There, Wolverine discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D. is experimenting with the Brood and then he accidentally causes the queen to awaken and evolve. Damn. Meanwhile, Sue discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been constantly spying on all of the world’s heroes. She decides to step in and alert Reed Richards of the surveillance, hoping that it will make for a better future for herself and the Fantastic Four. Our heroes find the battery for their car and then set off to confront Pym.
The first panel of the issue shows Wolverine and Sue Storm in a flying car. It took me a moment to process this one. When I see a flying car my mind goes immediately to Back to the Future II and the Delorian. Of course that movies takes place in 2015 (only two years until flying cars and hoverboards!) so, in some way, that future technology seems like a natural, although increasingly farfetched element of the environment. In this issue we are in the past, however, so it was a little bit of a mind-fuck to see a flying car. This car’s existence is explained with a curt tongue–in-cheek explanation from Sue which I found — not only satisfying — but quite funny. Still, this first panel prepared me to expect things in this issue that I never thought I would see.
Of course, these unexpected events aren’t just limited to a flying car – that would be far too simple. Once inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, Wolverine inadvertently frees a Broodling because he thinks it’s cute and is being tortured. This is a pretty expected move on Wolverine’s part since he doesn’t seem to give a damn about the butterfly effect – we shouldn’t be surprised to have seen this. However, he then is impregnated by this brood with a quick “sclroortch” and has to casually impale himself to extract the young from his stomach.
While those familiar with the Marvel universe might have recognized this creature as a member of the Brood, I, with relatively little knowledge of it, didn’t see this coming. Despite not expecting this unexpected event I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s gross, it’s disturbing, and it’s super weird. Additionally, Wolverine learns that his actions have woken the Brood queen so he finally learns just how impactful the butterfly effect can be.
This change in Wolverine’s outlook on the butterfly effect is a neat little crinkle to this subplot of the Age of Ultron story. Wolverine has always been a hothead who acts first and asks questions later, so his actions in this particular issue shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us. Hell, he even makes a good argument for his actions. If you can’t kill someone directly to stop a tragedy, don’t you thereby have to go back in time and kill his or her creator in an effort to prevent future sorrow?
Oddly, though, Wolverine realizes that his actions do have consequences and that perhaps, at least sometimes, he should think before he acts. It’s a pleasant little nugget of character development I wasn’t really expecting to see in this issue and I think it might be the very reason I enjoyed this issue so much. Turns out that all it takes to change Wolverine’s mind is being face-impregnated by a hideous monster. Further, that he and Sue Storm effectively swap outlooks on the butterfly effect only deepens the significance of this development in Wolverine and sets the stage for an interesting showdown in the next Age of Ultron issue. Perhaps I should prepare myself for the unexpected in that issue, and for the self-loathing that will come from using that phrase.
Ethan! You’re much better versed in the Marvel Universe than I. Did you see anything in this issue that I might have overlooked that bears mentioning? Do you think Wolverine and Sue’s actions have changed the future dramatically already? What about Sue’s reflections on the Fantastic Four and her marriage? Do you buy that as a good enough reason to make her say to hell with the butterfly effect?
Ethan: Well, Taylor, I defintely saw a ton of really complex, nuanced things that you totally overlooked. I mean, TONS. But I can’t tell you about them because they’re, um, secret? But seriously: I think you pretty much captured the spirit of this issue in your tirade against the “expect the unexpected” platitude. In the middle of the meditation on death and decay that is the Age of Ultron arc, after watching heroes and civilians cut down by the cold unfeeling death-rays of a malicious machine intelligence, we go for a drive through rural America with Wolverine and Sue Storm in a flying car. I did not expect that; it was unexpected.
Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed the comic relief. Honestly, if this had been just another issue of watching my favorite characters bite the dust, it would have been a bit frustrating. Instead, this issue managed to offer a bit of psychological lead-up to Age of Ultron #6 while also breaking up the pace of doom and gloom with some fun comic relief.
My personal favorite moments were of course those featuring Wolverine because he is my BFF. We are super-tight. The most successful moments of his character pit the dead-eyed, stone-cold, life-or-death-and-usually-death vibe against the fact that he is in fact very human, X-gene or no. Check out his expressions in these panels as he and Sue are infiltrating the S.H.I.E.L.D. base to find that replacement battery.
In the left-hand panel, he has found a length of pipe. It’s a nice bit of pipe; good heft, just the right length – he can already feel the slight shiver it’s going to emit after he cracks it against the back of the nearby S.H.I.E.L.D. agent’s skull. In the right-hand panel, he remembers what Sue just said to him LIKE 2 MINUTES AGO about not wrecking the spacetime continuum by changing history. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I also enjoyed the previous scene in which the aforementioned flying car actually breaks down right after Wolverine has vouched for its durability. Walking away from the cloud of smoke pouring out from under the hood, he tells Sue “You don’t have to say anything,” to which she replies, “I know.”
But let’s put this all this silly stuff aside for a moment; this issue did make a decent effort at setting up Wolverine and Sue’s confrontation with Hank Pym. When you go back in time to kill Hitler, you probably have to deal with at least a bit of angst inherent to the act of murder, but when you go back in time to kill a superhero – even one so flawed as Ant-Man – it’s a rather more serious proposition. At the start of the issue, Wolverine is in his standard “get the job done” mentality and Sue is still planning to try to handle things non-violently. Then Wolverine messes with the Brood and Sue sees some footage of her family, and the two instantly trade viewpoints. While I think this flip is a stretch, I appreciate the concept.
When Sue runs across a monitor showing a live feed of the interior of the Baxter Building, it’s definitely a punch in the gut. Yes, Reed is dead and this is one more chance to see him again. But on top of that gratification, she’s very immediately exposed, in real-time, to a moment of idyllic peace and comfort in the past. Think back to a moment of time – from five or ten or more years in your own past – when you were truly happy and relaxed. You were a completely different person. Your immediate goals and dreams were different. Cast your mind back to that moment… and then think of all of the hard lessons you’ve learned since then. The disappointments you’ve suffered. The failures you’ve made. The embarrassments. The regrets.
Herein lies what I think is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the time-travel narrative: regret. Heck, I still cringe when I think about the stupid things I did or said a few years ago. When you amplify this effect with a horrific tragedy like the Age of Ultron event that – in Sue’s case – resulted in the death of her loved ones, it makes it a little easier to understand how she could go from an attitude of wanting to baby-sit Wolverine and make sure that he doesn’t do anything dumb to the hardened resolve required for her to participate in – or even just look on during – the cold-blooded murder of Hank Pym because she thinks it’s for the greater good.
… All of that said, I have trouble accepting that Wolverine’s experience with the brood hatchling and queen make him more hesitant about changing the past. Yeah, the Brood are pretty awful in his own present, but this is a guy who participated in the killing of the child-version of supervillain Apocalypse in the X-Factor series and then chewed out Deadpool for admitting to having second thoughts about that incident. Simply contributing to the evolution of and threat posed by the Brood doesn’t seem like a plausible deal-breaker. Dangerous as the Brood are, they still respond well to a treatment of adamantium-claw slices supplemented by the occasional adamantium-claw dice.
In short: I appreciate the measure of levity this issue brought to the Ultron arc, I think it helped frame Sue’s eventual inaction that leads to the death of Hank Pym in Age of Ultron #6, but I think that the role-reversal it attempted was a bit out of reach.
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