O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
I was going to get around to this, but Neil Kapit has made the timing seem better sooner than later.
Age of Ultron #10 ends with time being ‘broken’ as a result of Wolverine and Susan Richards’s time travelling. While it’s unclear exactly what that means, the idea that something is ‘broken’ by superhumans is a recurring one in Brian Michael Bendis’s work, particularly his time on the Avengers books. He is very concerned with the effect that superhumans would have upon the world, especially taking into account the way that Marvel Universe continually returns to the same stories and usually brushes away anything resembling a consequence of action. It’s not simply the unforeseen effects of superhuman actions, it’s that they are usually doing things that they cannot understand. The Scarlet Witch’s reality-bending powers are beyond a human mind’s ability to control; the use and misuse of magic (which is borderline unknowable) allows for a demonic invasion; moving through time and creating alternate realities ‘breaks’ time. What this exactly means is unclear. We see some sort of ‘timequake’ (for lack of a better word) and a few select people perceive something wrong.
What I’m interested in is the tone of Neil’s comment, that Bendis returning to this idea is somehow negative. It’s a complaint that I’ve seen levelled against nearly every writer worth a damn. Most writers have recurring themes and ideas, either purposeful or not. What’s interesting is how the reaction to this changes based on how each individual responds to the writer. If they enjoy the writer’s work, then it’s intriguing to watch that writer continually return to the same ideas from different perspectives. Their body of work is not simply a bunch of standalone works, but a cohesive whole greater than the sum of the parts. If they don’t enjoy the writer’s work, it’s repetitive, lazy, unimaginative, derivative, etc. The continual return to the small set of ideas and themes means that most of the body of work is redundant and unnecessary, leaving only one or two choice works worth reading, because the rest are just bad knockoffs.
I don’t think it would surprise anyone to know that I usually try to fall in the former camp and somewhat deplore the latter. There aren’t many people whose work that I enjoy that I won’t try to follow anywhere, even if it’s the same place they’ve been many times before. While the ideas may be similar, I’ve rarely found a writer who actually does the same thing again and again (at least any writer that’s produced anything worthwhile). Age of Ultron #10 may present another case of Bendis’s concern over the unintended effects superhumans could have on the world around them, but it’s different enough from the other times he’s work with this idea. Besides, focusing on the ‘broken time’ bit ignores the other exploration of this idea that the entire series has hinged upon: Hank Pym creating Ultron. Pym creates an artificial lifeform with the most altruistic hopes and it turns out to be humanity’s greatest enemy. The finale of the story shows Pym along with his fellow superhumans figuring out a solution to the problem that he caused.
While Bendis may be interested in the unexpected problems that superhumans can cause, that’s only half of the equation. He’s equally interested in how superheroes solve those problems. That’s the more crucial part, I would argue. The first part is just set up, while the second part is what makes for a story worth telling and reading. The first part is certainly interesting and, personally, I have a fondness for the deconstructive approach that it has; however, to simply tear the superhero concept down without allowing it a chance to fix the problem would hardly make someone the go-to guy at Marvel – and hardly a writer who should be writing superheroes beyond a story or two.
Since Age of Ultron #10, the ‘broken time’ element hasn’t been followed up extensively. Bendis has certainly touched on it in All-New X-Men and I would imagine that the original X-Men’s inability to return back to their own time is related somehow. Two days ago, I mentioned a few things that made this comic a somewhat unsatisfying ending, and the introduction of this ‘broken time’ problem is another. It’s only the first part of the complete story and one that’s not touched on extensively. It’s “Avengers Disassembled” waiting for its House of M. And, depending on your perspective, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. You know where I fall.
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