The Biggest Superhero Films That Didn't Happen, Part 2
Comic Books, Film
Some people seemed to understand what I was doing here; others clearly did not. After a month of trying to find as many ways as possible of examining a comic, of writing more than twenty thousand words on a single issue, of doing it just to see if I could, we have arrived at the end. But, before I leave, one last reading of Age of Ultron #10 where I explain what the comic is really about.
Age of Ultron #10 is about writing modern superhero comics and the effect of the retcon. The crux of this issue is Brian Michael Bendis retconning both the invention of Ultron and Avengers #12.1. His in-story is time travel and the events that we previously read have been forever altered, no longer true. The final four pages of Avengers #12.1 never happened. They are figments of fiction, echoes of a story that never played out how we all remember. Those four pages were published and promptly disregarded by their author, because he knows that they’re already not relevant. Hank Pym continues to invent Ultron and makes himself forget the program he created to kill Ultron. These happen in Age of Ultron #10 and, then, time ‘breaks.’ One retcon too many.
Age of Ultron #10 is self-criticism. The retcon is a favoured tool of Bendis. He recognises that most comics were written, not with an eye for the longterm, but with the immediate goal of getting an issue out that month. Why be a slave to piecemeal work that seemed like a good idea that month? Alias was an exercise in largescale retconning, pretending that Jessica Jones was always a part of the Marvel Universe. Secret War’s plot stemmed from the exposure of a retcon. “Disassembled” retconned the mental state of the Scarlet Witch. If it suits the story, the past is altered. It’s the writer’s version of time travel. Bendis travels back, rewrites history a little, and continues on with a better future, tweaked to his liking. He enacts two retcons in Age of Ultron #10 and the result is time ‘breaking.’ This is a recognition of the dangers of too many retcons where the shape of the Marvel Universe is no longer cohered. If everything can change based on a new story, then nothing is off limits, nothing is consistent, nothing matters. It’s a recognition that that old charm “consistency, not continuity” can lead down a road where there’s no consistency either. We are given flashes of numerous versions of the same characters and which is the real one? All of them. None of them. So what?
Age of Ultron #10 is a quasi-defence of the retcon. The time travel that happens is necessary, so the retcons are necessary. While the comic is a warning and self-criticism of the dangers of retcons run amok, it does so by utilising positive examples. Ultron had to be killed somehow, Hank Pym had to be redeemed, and, dammit if reusing/rewriting pages of Avengers #12.1 isn’t the most technically impressive thing Bendis did in Age of Ultron. They were necessary, but they still lead to catastrophe. Even the most noble of motives can still have disastrous consequences. No one retcons an old story out of malicious intent; it’s always in service of the story. But, each retcon is one step closer to no one taking any of it seriously. As easily as you retcon someone’s story, another writer can retcon yours. Time is fluid; continuity is fluid.
Age of Ultron #10 is the finale of Brian Michael Bendis’s time on the Avengers titles. He wrote more Avengers comics than anyone else and he ends by altering the events of a story from over 40 years ago and by altering the events of one of his own stories from only two years previous. He may have written more Avengers comics than anyone, but his stories are just as malleable and stable as anyone else’s. He’ll retcon them and reshape them first, though. That’s how set in stone they are: Bendis will retcon himself. He is the Wolverine that killed Hank Pym returning to stop himself from killing Hank Pym.
Age of Ultron #10 is the man who wrote more Avengers comics than anyone killing off the top Avengers villain in a manner where he was always the walking dead. In “The Oral History of the Avengers,” Bendis literally rewrote the history of the Avengers in his own voice. Here, he rewrites the history of its greatest nemesis in an unseen fashion, forever altering the relationship between Pym and Ultron. It is another stamp on the history of the group by Bendis. And, then, he kills Ultron.
Age of Ultron #10 is a comic book that will no longer be true someday. Ultron will return. The complete and utter destruction of the robot will be retconned, will be explained away, will be made to have never happened the way we read it. When we reread it, we will know that it lies. Some other writer, at some point in the future, looked at it, saw it as shortsighted, and an impediment to telling his or her story. It will be retconned. And it knows this and it accepts this.
Age of Ultron #10 is a comic that I enjoyed reading and enjoyed writing about. I’m done with it now.
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