Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Age of Ultron 7, originally released May 1st 2013. This issue is part of the Age of Ultron crossover event. Click here for complete AU coverage.
Drew: I wanted to start this writeup with the clip from Back to the Future part II where Doc explains the notion of “alternate 1985” — the idea that changing something while time traveling to the past can create a timeline different from the one you know. It’s a common notion (and plot device) in most time-travel stories, but Doc explains it quite clearly in a simple chalkboard diagram. When I went hunting for that clip, however, I was bemused to discover that most of the discussion of that scene hinges on how the rest of the movie doesn’t really adhere to its rules (how does Biff of 2015 return to the “original” timeline — which needs to happen in order for Marty and Doc to use the delorean to return to 1985 — if he is coming back from creating the “alternate” timeline?) which illustrates the larger problem of time-travel stories: they can’t ever make any sense.
Age of Ultron 7 finds Wolverine and Sue returning to the present, only to discover it isn’t the present they left. Apparently, without Hank Pym, Earth ends up caught in the crossfire of a Skrull/Kree turf war. This makes the alternate timeline Avengers (who call themselves the Defenders, because apparently avenging was Pym’s idea) wary of any weird shit, and discovering an extra Wolverine and Sue Storm running around certainly qualifies. They all fight, but the Defenders knock Wolverine and Sue out, just as Tony Stark arrives.
Not that much happens this issue, but there’s still plenty to be confused by. I understand the very idea of looking for holes in a time-travel narrative is maybe missing the point, but I’d like to point out that the rules here don’t make any fucking sense. The alternate timeline already has a Wolverine and a Sue Storm, which highlights the fact that ours are from an alternate timeline. Taken from the perspective of the folks invested in that timeline, these two just appeared out of nowhere, which means there’s really no reason randos from other timelines shouldn’t be popping into ours all the time. More importantly, the fact that our Wolverine and Sue still exist suggests that the original timeline still happened, which means the people they set out to save still die — or, if you will, the people still alive in the alternate timeline are duplicates, in the same way bizarro Wolverine and Sue are.
I hate to get into these nitpicky plot details, but there really wasn’t much to this issue, otherwise. Sure, we get some butterfly effect scolding from Sue, but the rest draws our attention to how different this new timeline is. Sure, there are the big ones — a massive war on earth between the Skrulls and the Kree — but I was much more intrigued by the smaller ones. For example, why is Hulk able to speak in complete sentences, and how did he get burned on his left side?
Obviously, the world without Hank Pym is a very different place, but I like to think that he’s somehow responsible for Hulk’s syntactical shortcomings — or for preventing Steve’s promotion to Colonel.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis is going out of his way to draw our attention to these differences, building them into every corner of this alternate world, which seems to beg criticism. Yes, these worlds are very different, just don’t ask how we can travel between them. I mean, as if the similarities to Back to the Future part II weren’t strong enough, Bendis takes care to remind us that this story also has a flying car.
I suppose my biggest problem with this issue is that it feels so inconsequential. It’s obvious that this timeline is not long for this world — a suspicion that is only exacerbated by all of the timeline-erasing already going on here — which has the unfortunate effect of rendering the proceedings moot. I hate to hold frivolity against an issue of a comic, but it’s hard to get invested in action that seems indifferent to its own believability. I was comfortable with time-traveling homicidal robots, so you know I don’t cry “implausible” easily. I don’t know, Patrick, am I being too harsh? It was kind of fun to see an alternate version of the Avengers, but I’ve been somewhat impatient with this event for a while. Any ideas when they’re going to get to the fireworks factory?
Patrick: I’m not really sure what the fireworks factory is in this analogy… if anything, traveling back in time to kill Pym was the fireworks factory, and we got that just last week. That or the fireworks factory was a flattened New York City, which this is the first issue of the series to not feature. The real problem is that the fireworks factory (to really drive this metaphor into the ground) has become ill-defined. I literally have no idea what I’m supposed to want of this series right now. Like, there’s not really a version of the “present” Sue and Logan can comfortably stay in – especially as they’ve decided to fight against The Defenders instead of talking to them.
Actually, that’s the part of the story that strains credibility the most. Both Sue Storm and Wolverine are defensive powerhouses – between Logan’s healing and Sue’s ability to create force fields, they could certainly hold their ground long enough to have a conversation without throwing a punch. I get that The Defenders assume our heroes to be Skulls disguised as their friends, but I grow weary of the superheroes-punching-first-asking-questions-later mentality.
But I think the rest of your questions are, more or less, answerable. The issue of having character duplicates suggests that Wolverine didn’t change the past, so much as he created another past – leaving his own history in tact. It’s the loosest form of time travel fiction can use, and it doubles as the laziest and least satisfying, unless the changes to the characters and their world in these alternate timelines are the point. Drew, you pointed out that Hulk is more articulate and burned on his left side, but there are a lot of fun details that have changed. Cap’s rocking an eye patch (and isn’t a Captain), Cable is maybe Scott Summers (and maybe not using his eye lasers), Thing has craters all over his body (and he’s surprised Sue is “back”), and Tony Stark appears to be more machine now than man.
I hadn’t considered exactly how all this was possible until you cracked your joke about Pym inventing the idea of Avenging. He didn’t. But you know who did Assemble these guys in the first place? Nick Fury. And Fury had his car stolen in the Savage Lands 40 years ago. Maybe he never made it back, and maybe he never put together the Avengers in the first place.
That raises an interesting question about unintended consequences. We were pointing to big things earlier: the death of Hank Pym, the evolution of the brood queen, Reed Richards realizing he was being spied on. Now I’m wondering what effect leaving that T-rex’s head in a forcefield had on the present. But alternate realities always make me think of the extremely messy nature of comic book publishing, and the unintended consequences that come with every retcon. That’s basically what we have on our hands with Pym’s murder – Wolverine manually retconned his world. Drew, I think you’re right that this issue doesn’t delve into these questions, but it starting to look like the resolution is going to involve choosing one reality over another: that’s a choice comic fans are forced to make all the time. We all know people for whom Spider-Man ended with it’s 697th issue, that’s the reality they choose to embrace. I might be jumping the gun a little bit here, but this could easily end up being a Marvel Crisis.
My goodness, it’s hard not to stay focused on plotty stuff when talking about this issue. The art duties are split up between Carlos Pacheco, who gets a few pages of past-action at the top of the issue, and Brandon Peterson, who gets to draw alternate versions of Marvel’s best. I don’t love the way Peterson draws is character’s faces – Sue looks kinda wonky in a bunch of panels. And, is it just me or does he only draw one expression on Wolverine’s face?
Pacheco’s art is much more more expressive and nuanced – even if he gets much less space to demonstrate this. Sue and Wolverine are such an odd pairing, and Pacheco creates some beautiful moments between them. Check out how intimate and terrifying the sequence where they take the time platform back to the present. These two disagree on the morality of their actions, but they’ve argued their points to death. In this last moment before they discover whether they were successful or not, Wolverine is comforting and Sue is stubborn and standoffish – a sort of role reversal for them. But in the end, they’re both scared and they lock eyes as the platform finishes its work.
As with basically every issue of this thing, I do find myself impatiently tapping my foot by the end (please see our earlier notes about the fireworks factory).I do take comfort in the knowledge that we’ll get another chapter of this in two weeks time (with an Uncanny Avengers to fill in some gaps next week). So wherever Ultron is headed next, we’ll know soon.
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