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Another View: Age of Ultron #10 Part 31

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.

16 Comments

I’ve been reading all of these articles as they come out. I must say I liked them a lot. It made me rethink my relation with Age of Ultron, which I rly had a problem when I read as it was released. Interesting points and I hope you do it with another comic book(s) in the future.

Bravo. Do you have any more plans to do a month of articles on a single book? February *is* only 28 days….

I thought you were out of your mind and first but you’ve won me over. Great job, sir.

Why stop now? No, seriously, ditto the comments above – it’s been a really enjoyable read, and thanks for the hard work that went into putting it all together.

Loved this. Cool experiment. Solid results.

Brilliant conclusion to a wonderful series. Thanks, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for this column next!

Wow. I have no idea how you managed to pull this off but you did. Well done. Can’t wait to see what(if you’re gonna do this every month) you’re gonna do next.

Take a bow….

This really was a fantastic feature and I’m stunned you actually pulled it off. Well played, and what an article to end on.

I always checked the comments instead of reading your articles, because I was really interested
what kind of people enjoyed it. I want to say two things:
– you used more words than bendis during this event, or maybe during last two years.
– this series of articles was the epitome of why people consider comic book fans geeks and nerds
every bad stereotype, every vice, every reason to laugh at comic book fans,
it was reflected in your series.

Frankly, I’ve found it disturbing, and I thought that it was some elaborate joke.
It seems that I was partially right. As an experiment, it was an interesting idea,
but please, if you have to dissect a comic book, at least do it with a good comic book.

I think I owe the little Nevett a buck. US or Canadian?

I haven’t read AoU 10 still, but I figure it’ll eventually show up in the cheapo back issue bin. This has been an interesting experiment (and really, you should know that by not ever explicitly telling us that this was an experiment in looking at one comic, the “you’re still on this?” crowd came out in force. Like me, in AV1), in that I found it interesting that you could find something interesting to talk about every day for a month, even if I didn’t quite know what everything you were referring to was.

I’m inspired to do something myself, but that will require me getting off my lazy ass and actually writing.

Thanks.

No plans to do this again. It was just something I had an idea for a while back and picked a comic at semi-random to do it with. Thankfully, it turned out to be a comic that I had a lot to say about. It was also an exercise in getting back into writing about comics as I gear up for a big project elsewhere that won’t be published for a couple of years.

While this bundle of blogs has been interesting in one way or another- I can’t help be lament what chakal brought up. I think that most of this series, you injected your own ideas into this comic. While your perspective and imagination brought out some interesting interpretations, they fall far from the lazy, incompetant and childish comic we are presented. The thing about Bendis is that if cannon doesn’t fit to whatever mundane babble he plans to produce, he retcons it or even worse- just doesn’t even address it. Look at All New X-Men as an example. How can a writer that holds such high esteem be given creative control when he dovetails it into the ground, leaving his peers with a mess to clean up?
I can appreciate the guy’s body of work during the early/mid 2000s, but this is all a joke. It’s embarassing to be a fan of the X-men right now, and this “event” was just the nail in the coffin to his Avengers tenure. If AOU really mattered, it wouldn’t have been pushed back like it did. Marvel should have saved everyone the disgust and left it for fodder on the writing table.
Keep up the writing though Chad. You peaked my interest, unfortunately it just happened to be about one of the worst comics of 2013.

Interesting idea. As others have said I think you put more thought into it than the author did, but you have convinced me to go back and reread this event.

As for myself, I have a very love/hate relationship with this book. I enjoyed a great deal of the Bendis era in Avengers, but had low expectations for this event after Secret Invaison. Bendis seems to tell enjoyable stuff from month to month, but has real problems “sticking the landing” when a major plot thread is about to climax. I also went in knowing from Secret Invasion (which was very weak) and Siege (which I liked) that Bendis had pacing problems. AoU exemplifies both these issues. That’s sad, as his run has some real high points but AoU retroactively puts a pall on his run.

On the other side, I agree that you’ve hit the “meta message” of this book. Reed and Tony have a foreshadowing conversation about just why you don’t tamper with time (continuity in this context) just because of current needs. The series is then about how showing that if you do change history (continuity) and you really work out what happens, things go wrong in an almost incomprehensible way.

In addition, you could also point out that Ultron here lives up to the “potential” we are always assured villains possess and never show. Ultron has a fairly brilliant plan and straight up wins. Over the course of his run Bendis had hinted and foreshadowed that Ultron was well and truly the most dangerous foe the Avengers face. AoU shows that.

It is unfortunate his usual issues dragged down this event.

It’s been a great month of thought-provoking commentary, analysis and writing. I’ve been impressed by your insights. Thanks for putting it out into the world and best of luck with the next project!

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