"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
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 felt familiar the first time I read it. My first instinct was that it was a conclusion to a story much like Secret War. When people called Age of Ultron an ‘event comic,’ I’d smile to myself and say, “Nah, it’s just another Secret War.” Secret War wasn’t an ‘event comic,’ it was this weird little mini-series that began before Brian Michael Bendis took over Avengers and killed the title. It’s the real beginning of his run on the Avengers franchise and Age of Ultron is the real end. Or, maybe prologue/epilogue?
What’s interesting about the end of Age of Ultron #10 and the fallout explored in Guardians of the Galaxy #5 is how it seems like it’s part of the build-up to Infinity. Yet, there’s a disconnect there, like Bendis’s set up for why the universe and Thanos would try to destroy Earth is one thing and Hickman’s explanation/story is a bit off. They’re in the same area, just out of step. However, it’s a case of a Marvel event directly leading into the next one in a way that we haven’t seen before. Ever since House of M, there has been a semi-organic flow to the main plot of the Marvel Universe (if only because Bendis seemed to be the writer behind the events), but not such a direct link between the end of one event and the beginning of the one that follows. There were always intermediary status quo bridges; that’s still here to a degree, lessened by the proximity between Age of Ultron and Infinity.
The only Age of Ultron tie-in comic that I’ve put any stock in (I guess besides Avengers #12.1) is Guardians of the Galaxy #5. While the consequences of time ‘breaking’ were felt in other comics, this was the only one written by Brian Michael Bendis that shows the ‘timequake’ scene from Age of Ultron #10 (er, unless the Ultimate Spider-Man panel from those two pages was reproduced elsewhere…). It’s the closest thing we get to an explanation about what happens, courtesy of everyone’s favourite Mad Titan… (Or, clone thereof!)
The morality of superheroes killing is a recurring idea in Brian Michael Bendis’s Avengers books. Usually, it is raised as an option and shown to be a faulty one. When Clint Barton ignores Spider-Man incredibly whining, childish arguments against killing Norman Osborn (they basically amount to the lame “But it’s wrong! ALWAYS! SO THERE!”), he’s captured by Osborn and shown the error of his ways. Any time the idea of killing is actually discussed and put into action, it is shown to be faulty. Yet, subtle killing happens quite often.
Brian Michael Bendis seems to follow the cue of many cable and HBO TV shows where the second-last episode of a season is where all of the big moments happen, while the finale is mostly clean-up with a few smaller moments of closure. It may not seem like it, but Age of Ultron #10 follows that pattern as well, leaving the big moral quandaries and events to the previous issue and wrapping things up in a fairly straight forward manner itself.
In the second half of Age of Ultron, the main characters are, ostensibly, Logan and Susan Richards as they travel back in time to somehow alter the future to prevent the “Age of Ultron” that has left the world in ruins. Logan sees killing Hank Pym as the only solution to his problem. No Hank Pym means no Ultron. Susan struggles against that idea, but, eventually acquiesces because of the staggering disparity between the life of Hank Pym and the large body count that Ultron amasses over his lifetime, including Susan’s family. Part of what makes killing Pym the only solution available that they can see if that Pym’s ego and ambition would prevent him from creating Ultron if told what the consequences were; he would simply try to make Ultron better (and most likely fail). It is only when they see the world without Hank Pym that results from their actions that Logan goes back and stops himself before he kills Pym and they come up with another solution.
But, but, but…! What about Tony Stark? If Age of Ultron #10 offers Hank Pym redemption (or doesn’t – U-Decide!), what does it offer Tony Stark, who, after Pym, is the most active character in the issue. While Wolverine and Sue Richards helped set up the plan, their roles are mostly over by this point, dropping off the iPad note, and, then, going into the future to ‘break’ time. It’s Stark who is Pym’s partner in taking down Ultron and Stark who, in Avengers #12.1 and the rest of Age of Ultron, reacts strongest to Ultron, representing the promise of technology in the face of Ultron’s tech-gone-extreme approach.
Something that’s always felt unsatisfying about Age of Ultron #10 is how Ultron’s defeat, while clever, doesn’t feel big enough. After the robot killed so many people, decimated the planet so much, his defeat has always seemed less than monumental and heroic. ‘Heroic’ is probably the wrong word; it simply does not feel like the Avengers and the other heroes somehow triumphed over evil. Thinking about it, it actually falls in line with how Bendis events end.
The biggest mystery in Age of Ultron #10 is one that’s gone unsaid. It’s so weird and hard to notice that I didn’t really notice until this very evening. It’s flitted around the edges of my rereading of the comic, but never quite cohered. But, I’ve got ask: what happened to Moon Knight and the Protector in that final Ultron battle?
“You won’t be part of either team.” I maintain that, if you want to know anything about Hank Pym, that is the most important line in Age of Ultron #10. It offers great insight into the character, particularly when you take into account that he’s being told this by his past self. While Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t delve into that tension, it remains an undercurrent of everything involving Pym throughout the issue.
In Age of Ultron #10, Brian Michael Bendis constructs a situation that justifies Hank Pym’s ego-driven mistakes and turns them into something heroic that happen for the greater good. He doesn’t have the option of not inventing Ultron. In a sense, Pym is put in a position where he knows that he has to invent a genocidal robot and be forever defined as the man who did that. He must make a tremendous sacrifice and never know that he’s doing it. It’s rather selfless in a way. It’s probably the most heroic thing that Pym has ever done.
Hank Pym is a weird superhero. A founding Avenger, ex-husband/sometimes boyfriend of another founding Avenger who he also smacked in the face, he’s been on a ton of iterations of the Avengers, he’s had a ton of costumes and codenames, he’s had a nervous breakdown or seven, and he created an artificial lifeform that has killed a lot of people. It never seems like Marvel knows what they want to do with him. For every story where he’s ‘redeemed,’ there seems to be one that adds more fuel to the ‘Hank Pym is a douchebag’ fire. One step forward, two steps back. Mostly because of Ultron and, no matter what he does, he will never get past creating that homicidal robot. So, what kind of story of Age of Ultron #10? Redemption or condemnation?
Age of Ultron #10 and the defeat of Ultron both answered and raised some questions, specifically regarding the Brian Michael Bendis/Alex Maleev Moon Knight series that supposedly acted as a lead-in of sorts for Age of Ultron. Well, what kind of Age of Ultron #10 obsessive if I didn’t try to provide some guidance on how I interpret these two books? A very poor one – and that’s just not me.
What bugs me about the end of Age of Ultron #10 is that the Beast is with Hank Pym and Tony Stark as they discuss time being ‘broken.’ I mean, there’s the fact that he’s drawn pre-Quitely, which makes no sense at all; but there’s also his action in All-New X-Men. No matter where you place that scene happening, he comes off poor: either he contributed to the problem by bringing the original X-Men into the future or he knew about the problem and still abused time travel. Given his association with the two men (while he’s a member of the Illuminati, he hasn’t associated with the Avengers really since Avengers vs. X-Men; but, he was with the group that rescued Spider-Woman), I’m sticking with my view that this scene takes place shortly after Avengers #12.1 and before Avengers vs. X-Men, meaning he still used time travel after time ‘broke’ because of too much time travel.