Today, Patrick are discussing Age of Ultron 8, originally released May 15th 2013. This issue is part of the Age of Ultron crossover event. Click here for complete AU coverage.
Patrick: A few weeks ago, I noted that I wasn’t having very much fun with the whole Age of Ultron concept – issue after issue of pure, relentless destruction and doom was getting to me. But that started to feel like the point: Brian Michael Bendis was taking my comic-book-fan apocalypse-lust and rubbing my nose in it. When the heroes decided they had to take drastic action and travel through time to fight Ultron on his inventor on different chronal fronts, I cheered the initiative. Anything to stop the suffer-slog through devastated cityscapes. But as the series moves further and further away from what’s familiar in the Marvel Universe, the harder it is to get a grasp on the story.
Tony Stark, who runs everything as a permanent Iron Semi-Man, has uploaded Logan and Sue’s memories to a computer, allowing him to view their experiences first-hand. The evidence is overwhelming: these are real memories of real time travelers — or at least, that’s what his advisers Charles Xavier (alive!) and Emma Frost tell him. Tony isn’t so quick to believe this as he’s had one too many weird magical run-ins with Morgana Le Fay. After dismissing the Defenders (but generously not wiping their memories), Tony interrogates his prisoners. Just when he starts to believe Wolverine’s story, the whole facility goes on lockdown as a) Morgana Le Fay’s Asgardian army attacks and b) the Defenders — tired of being sidelined — attempt to rescue Sue Storm. Chaos, chaos, chaos: Morgana lands an impressive blow against the Stark forces.
So, there you have it: a surprise battle between technology and magic above the skies of New York City. Well, sort of “New York.” One of the reasons it was hard to attach any real meaning to the action at the start of this series was that we all kind of assumed there had to be a reset switch somewhere. There’s no way the Marvel Universe was just going to kill Thor off-panel, so the world we saw conquered was a world removed from our typical Marvel Universe. Our connection to that world and it’s characters becomes even more tenuous when that timeline is altered. The Tony Stark that this issue focuses on has so little connection to the Tony Stark I’m reading in Iron Man or Avengers, that he may as well not have the same name. It’s a “what if?” scenario’s “what if?” scenario. So, that’s what life would be like if I invented the fingerlonger…
I find that level of abstraction least satisfying when it’s applied to great “world” consequences. Last time, Drew and I talked about how we wanted to know more about how these Defenders characters have changed (like Hulk being so articulate or Thing being so cratered-up), and that holds true in this issue as well. I let out a weird squeal of joy that I didn’t know I had in me when I saw Charles Xavier advising a mostly-robotic Tony Stark. I’m much more excited to get that piece of information, and then extrapolate backwards what that means about this continuity (i.e., no A v. X, no reason for Beast to bring original X-Men up from the past, etc.), than I am to have the mythology spelled out for me. Not only does this Morgana Le Fay (who?) bullshit come out of nowhere, it doesn’t seem to be a threat any bigger than what our guys have taken down time and time again in regular-time-line. Though, it does give artist Brandon Peterson a chance to draw those kinds of ridiculous scenes of flying, superpowered armies clashing in battle.
But that may actually be an opportunity that Peterson doesn’t need to take advantage of – turns out his quiet character-based scenes are much more compelling. The same can be said of Bendis’ writing, which manages to get out in front of my objections before I even realize I have them. This new Tony Stark is ultra-paranoid, and takes no individual truth for granted, so it makes sense that blasts Logan for all the unconsidered solutions he didn’t enact. Tony (rightly) suggests that Pym could have just programmed a kill-switch into Ultron, to which Wolverine can only shrug (and call him “bub,” naturally). Actually, Wolverine’s response gets to the heart of what is so successful about this series: Bendis’ supernatural read on his own characters. When Tony asks why Wolverine if he tried to talk Pym out of creating Ultron before killing him, Wolverine responds,
Pym? Yeah. It didn’t take. Just like you, the other you, said it wouldn’t. It’s a religion to you guys, ya see somethin’ worth buildin’, you’re gonna build it. Ya have to build it. (Killing’s) what I do. That’s my religion.
We’re pretty comfortable with the idea that Wolverine is an elemental force in the Marvel Universe, but it’s just as true that the world’s super scientists are equally elemental. Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Beast, Henry Pym – they all bring unspeakable horrors upon their worlds because they simply can’t help it. Just like Bendis can’t write an epic story that doesn’t painstakingly explore every corner of what makes the story interesting.
So Ethan, are you excited to see how mostly-robot-Tony fares against the dragon-riding armies of Morgana Le Fay or do you just want to see alternate versions of Marvel characters argue with eachother? Also, does it seem a little unfair to introduce us to the Defenders last time only to spend so little time with them this week? I still don’t know if that’s some kid of Cable / Cyclops combo or just a Cable named “Scott.” Also, is Doctor Strange totally the same? Maybe he has his MD in this world.
Ethan: I wish I was one of those people who are morbidly fascinated with dragons so that I could just say “Draaaagons woooo!” and call it a day. But sadly, I am not a dragon-fanatic, and I have to heartily agree with your sentiment that the further we get away from the foundations of the Marvel worldline that we know and love, the less I care about the plot. Which isn’t to say that I can’t enjoy this issue, it’s just got less punch for me than usual.
On the negative side of the equation, Stark-tron’s summary of “Magic won in a battle against technology” just does not do it for me. Magic is only cool in so far as it is balanced by its human elements. Doctor Strange has poured his life into studying and mastering really tricky spells (and the art of starching his collar), and he projects an air of EFFORT when he’s doing his thing, so I respect his brand of magic. Morgana le Fey? Usually she’s great too! She’s got a nice niche in the Arthurian legend, and she’s usually a bit more like Loki – trickster, manipulator, “Pardon me lovely lady, but I think you dropped your dagger, here it is, wait, what are you do-URRRrrgh.” In this issue, however – especially in the panel below – she’s reduced to a throwaway stand-in for Ultron:
I realize that it’s difficult to come up with a compelling alternate timeline that is different enough to be mildly plausible while also being similar enough to leave us something to root for, but I’m disappointed with the attempt to fit a nice, round, subtle concept like magic into this square, apocalyptic hole. Even perpetual losers like Dr. Doom get it – when you’re going for straight-up force projection, you don’t try to use a slippery thing like magic as a hammer; you use it to augment your arsenal.
In short, I feel as though Bendis had an amazing opportunity to do some neat worldbuilding with the blank slate of “what if,” and I’m a little sad where he went with it. If this issue had been nothing but the big sky-battle of weird superheroes that I kind of recognize duking it out against a weird, magicky army that I certainly do not recognize, that would have been truly sad. Thankfully, as you say Patrick, we do get some quality time with the characters as people, which is where Bendis shines anyway. While I had a bit of trouble relating to Tony without his gotee in the first few moments of this issue, I had to grin as he reacted to the scenes from Sue’s and Wolverine’s memories:
I don’t even know if I think that that moment is really that much like Tony or just a lot like Bendis, but for whatever reason it was the first sign for me that this weird, hairless future was still going to be a bit of fun. Maybe Iron Man’s body was ripped in half when Latveria made war against Asgard (what???), but apparently his irreverence was in the half he kept.
Speaking of, that really-pretty-random aside about the war brought me up short the first time I read it – as crazy as Doom is, he’d have to have been hit in the head pretty hard before he’d take on Asgard on his own – it does make a little more sense in the context of this timeline the more you think about it. Doom has a known weakness for 5th century enchantresses like Morgana, as we’ve seen him hopping onto his Time Platform to visit her in order to learn magic from her (and also to get his freak on). So, in the fuzzy logic of altered history, we can assume that Doom ended up making his arrangement with Morgana a bit more formal, combining his gizmos with her hocus-pocus (really did NOT mean for that to sound so nasty) in order to take down Asgard, therefore leaving Earth without its godlike magical protection and assumedly, easier to conquer. A bit of a stretch, but the puzzle pieces do begin to drift together.
And then you get “the Defenders.” It’s always fun to see the patchwork teams writers throw together when they get to peek into a different dimension or parallel universe or never-really-happened-history. This particular group does raise a lot of fun questions, but my first one is – what the heck is Star-Lord Peter Quill doing tooling around with an Earth-bound team? Is the rest of the Galaxy sufficiently Guarded without him? And, much more importantly, if Peter is here, where is Rocket Raccoon? Because man, Rocket is not the kind of guy you leave without adult supervision.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?