AGE OF ULTRON #1
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary and Paul Mounts
Release Date: March 6, 2013
Cards on the table: the last Marvel event book I read was the last one Brian Michael Bendis wrote as sole author, so I’ve spent several years dodging these big cornerstone books like I was Frogger in traffic. Up until Siege, I was an avid Avengers reader, reveling in one major plot twist after another from Disassembled onward — until suddenly, it seemed to lose steam for me. Maybe it was the re-legitimization of the core team as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, maybe the series just had run its course in my imagination, but the last moment I truly was in awe of the series was Avengers #12.1, a little single issue that just happened to be a prologue the Age of Ultron.
Mind you, this was nearly two years ago, so that this issue, drawn flawlessly by Bryan Hitch and featuring one of my all-time favorite Marvel heroines, Spider-Woman, still sticks in my mind is notable in itself. Going into Age of Ultron #1, therefore, I felt perhaps it was time to give these types of stories another shot, particularly as it was picking up a thread I was already well-versed on.
Regrettably, I didn’t find as much to warrant my optimism as I’d hoped. It’s not that the story doesn’t interest me — far from it, in fact. The premise of an Avengers struggling in near defeat against a monster of its own making is absolute gold. But in truth, we don’t get much here. Set today in New York City, it’s clear some act of reality warping has occurred, as (and I don’t think I’m giving away too much with this spoiler) Ultron has taken control of the city and its inhabitants. Beyond that and a single rescue sequence, not a lot happens. Characterization is almost non-existent, and what’s there doesn’t match up to anything currently happening in the Marvel Universe as a whole. Spider-Man is certainly not Superior, Emma Frost is seen right next to Wolverine, the Beast retains his cat-like form — all inconsistencies with the other books of the week I could easily forgive if given any sense of context for the radical change. Bendis stretches out plenty of allusion to the cause of their current circumstances and then fails to turn that corner to provide something concrete for the reader to latch onto.
Hitch, no stranger to widescreen action as the renown artist behind one of the greatest Avengers event comics ever, falls short as well, delivering a good-looking issue, but certainly not work matching the superior quality of The Ultimates. More than one double page spread is taken up with exquisitely detailed — but otherwise uninformative — empty disaster scenes, but when it comes time to deliver on strong facial rendering (a Hitch staple), detailed line falls away. Panels with more than one or two central figures seem to degrade under Hitch and Neary’s pens, and so the entire issue takes on a feeling of rushed process, which really doesn’t do a great service to those pages that truly seem to have been rendered lovingly.
I admit, impatience is a vice frequently exercised in comic book reading today, as arcs have gotten longer and longer, and one I just as often find frustrating in regard to inflated reader expectations. But when a book is marketed as the next big event, I do admit to wanting some reward for my $3.99, some cliffhanger reason to jump to the next issue. And this issue just didn’t provide it. I hit the final page and was sincerely shocked that this was all there was. And that’s not what “event” should mean in any sense of the word. Is it possible those moments I seek are in issue #2? Absolutely. And I suspect as a collection or chapter in a long form graphic novel, this would read a million times better. But as a biweekly comic upon which the greater publishing line orbits for the next few months, Age of Ultron is off to an inauspicious start. I’m not sure I’ll be sticking around to see if it turns around.