Why Age of Ultron is Kinda Awesome
- Category: Comics
- Published: Friday, 31 January 2014 17:41
- Written by Blacksmith
“Despite a terrific first half, Age of Ultron descends into time-travelling mayhem that ultimately causes the story to fall a little flat”
Here be Spoilers.
So we all know by now that next years Avengers sequel is entitled “Age of Ultron”, and with that in mind, I've decided to take a look at the comic book run of the same name. We have no idea yet how closely the film will follow it's namesakes plot, but I think it's safe to say that it will largely be in name only – partially because the film will need to be an origin story, and partially because the comic plot is...bizarre.
The story starts out really, really strongly, with an already ravaged New York City and beautiful post-apocalyptic landscapes. Hawkeye assaults a building full of C and D list villains in order to rescue Spiderman, before returning to a secret hideout where the battered, disheartened and depressingly small group of remaining heroes hides out. The world, as it is rapidly established, has all but come to an end after the abrupt and unforeseen all out assault by Ultron.
Barton is a true badass in the opening sequence
There's some great character work at play as a diverse cast come to grips with the end of the world and their situation, from Stark teetering on the brink of insanity, to Sue Richards struggling to deal with her grief over the loss of her entire family, to Hawkeye angrily refusing to stop being a hero. The shifting dynamics between the group – particularly as the roster itself changes up so much – is well written, and the fractures are readily apparent even as they galvanise themselves for their plan of action. The mood is excellently maintained throughout the first half of the arc, and everything shapes up to be a truly memorable storyline.
Sadly, it is when the plan of action – or rather, Wolverine's personal plan of action – begins that the story really starts to lose itself. You see, this story is another time-hopping one – something Marvel are notorious for – and it is soon discovered that Ultron is not even in present day, but is actually attacking from the future. With that in mind, Nick Fury takes Captain America, Iron Man, Storm, Black Widow, Quicksilver, Red Hulk and Quake to the future on a black bag mission to take him out, but Wolverine, who has been left behind with the others, has a different idea: go back in time and kill Ultron's creator, Hank Pym.
I guess it's apt that it's a member of the X-Men that royally screws up the timeline
What follows is a very – to borrow a phrase from Doctor Who – wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey story that sees Wolverine and Sue Richards travel through time multiple times and generally getting it wrong. When Wolverine successfully kills Pym and they travel back to the future, they discover that it is just as messed up as before, but in a different way; the Skrull invasion was a disaster, the Kree/Skrull war was not stopped before it reached Earth and left the Savage Land in ruins and Morgan Le Fey is the new big bad. More, the heroes of this time have gone through hell, with a cyborg and incredibly paranoid Iron Man effectively running what is left of the USA, and a barely recognisable Defenders being the only real remaining superhero team.
So what's the answer? Well, obviously, it's to go back in time to stop the Wolverine that went back in time to kill Hank Pym from killing Hank Pym and thus bringing about a terrible dystopian future, but in a way that also ensures that the Age of Ultron will not come about. Simple, right?
The specifics of the plan involve Hank Pym creating a backdoor virus into Ultron's code that would sit, unused, right up until the moment the Age of Ultron is about to begin, wherein Pym would receive a video from his past self explaining the backdoor and allowing him to forever shut down the evil robot. It's explained that time must be allowed to unravel as it should, so the code cannot be used before the appointed time, despite all the damage Ultron has caused over the years – facilitated by the memory wipe of Hank Pym after he creates him.
Nick Fury as Colonel America and Scott Summers as Cable, part of the dystopian Defenders team
If this is all sounding preposterous to you, then you'd be spot on; whilst there are undoubtedly lots of cool moments in the second half of the story – I'm not gonna lie, the dystopian future created by killing Pym was pretty interesting to see – it all falls a little flat. Marvel, like their rivals DC, have a history of messing the timeline in bizarre and often infuriating ways, and this was no different. It's at the point where the Marvel Universe might benefit from a New 52 style reboot and streamlining of the timeline, and, at least at the time of release, there seemed to actually be the potential for that, given the repercussions of the story.
You see, in one of the latter half of the story's redeeming points, Marvel have finally acknowledged that all this time travel malarky has to have serious consequences, and indeed, the actions taken in Age of Ultron lead to a universes wide shattering of the time-space continuum. That doesn't mean time has stopped, or anything, just that time is REALLY messed up, and people and things are being pulled to different times, events and even universes (a lovely tease for mainstream Galactus getting shifted into the Ultimate universe being my favourite). Sadly, it's become apparent that this did not mean that time travel was going to stop, or even become more dangerous or difficult, and that Marvel will likely contineu the trend in all it's glorious head-mashing (I'm looking at you, X-Men: Battle of the Atom).
The post-apocalyptic vistas are beautifully drawn
I'll finish by commenting on the artwork by Bryan Hitch and Brandon Peterson: it's excellent. There is a lot going on in practically every panel, yet crucially, it doesn't seem cluttered, the characters look great and the lines are nice and clean. It is the post-apocalyptic vistas and landscapes that are the true gems, however, with nightmarishly beautiful scenes unfolding with a mixture of seeming ease and breathtaking complexity.
All in all, the story started off brilliantly, with the first half being a masterclass in doomsday writing and direction, but Bendis loses his way in typical Marvel time-travel shenanigans throughout the latter half – though it's not without it's shining moments. Definitely worth a read, but I wouldn't expect too much from it, and certainly make sure you're prepared to wrap your head around a plot that is all over the place. Also, make sure you read issue 10.1, a short character story about Hank Pym after the events of the book: it's a real shining, heart warming moment after the madness.
Final Score: 6/10
This has been Blacksmith, writing for The Awesome Update.