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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.
Upon reflection, I think I was wrong. I argued that Age of Ultron takes place in the future and that it probably wasn’t an alternate present. That was wrong. It was an alternate past.
The page after the big Ultron explosion and disappearance in Avengers #12.1 shows the facility the Avengers and Intelligencia were in blown to bits and the Avengers getting up from the wreckage. It’s a big two-page panel above three smaller panels of Tony Stark talking all Tony Stark-esque. In Age of Ultron #10, we get two panels that seem like they’re visual allusions to that large panel of the grey building wreckage and Avengers struggling to their feet: the first Butch Guice panel, which is tiny and cramped; and a big two-page panel where Ultron’s head gets knocked off as he fights the Avengers in the wreckage of the building. Neither is satisfying.
You ever look at comics with multiple artists and wonder how those specific artists wound up working on the book? Not your average time-strapped “Get that shit done as soon as fucking possible” comics, but the planned multiple-artist comics where those different artists are actually meant to entice readers rather than fill them with dread over the uneven visuals they’re about the experience. Ever wonder about those comics? While there were story reasons for Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco doing the art that they did in Age of Ultron #6-9, why those two artists? Why, when looking for two artists to pick up where Bryan Hitch left off, did everyone involve decide that those two were the logical choices? Was it simply availability? That exact right combination of “Isn’t drawing anything right now,” “Someone Bendis likes/wants to work with,” and “Big enough name that it doesn’t seem like a step down?” I don’t know. Then again, I don’t know how they pick artists that draw entire projects themselves, so…
Was it his Fantastic Four run with Mark Millar where Bryan Hitch started dropping the hard panel borders, preferring soft, nonexistent edges with thick wide gutters? It might have been before that, but that’s where I remember it showing up. And every artist save Carlos Pacheco uses that layout style in Age of Ultron. Except for in issue 10 when Pacheco does it, too, and Joe Quesada doesn’t. How fucking weird is that?
Bryan Hitch coming aboard for this issue is a smart move. Hitch’s role as an artist who comes aboard for special project suits him. He’s the perfect artist for big comics featuring a ton of characters with a strong ability at drawing a crowd without it seeming crowded. What impressed me most was how he made Noh-Varr’s costume actually look good, something that artists like John Romita, Jr. and Chris Bachalo haven’t been able to pull off.
—Chad Nevett’s complete discussion of the art of Bryan Hitch, CBR review of Avengers #12.1