By: Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Bryan Hitch (Penciler), Paul Neary (Inker), Paul Mounts (Colorist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer)
Review: By issue count Age of Ultron #5 represents the halfway point of Marvel’s latest event story, even though it feels like it’s only just wrapped up the introduction. By the end of this chapter some of our heroes are winging their way to the future while some are headed to the past. Both share the same goal – the ultimate destruction of Ultron. You could argue (and many have) that Bendis has taken too long to get to this point, squandering the impact of a great idea in deference to a protracted bout of decompression, but I have to respectfully disagree. Without the punishingly grim nature and methodical plotting of this extended intro I don’t think the final page of this issue would have carried half the resonance that it does – and that final page is a doozy.
Providing a summary of the events that get us there is fairly simple. Basically this is Sam and Frodo’s final trek through Mordor up to the tip of Mount Doom, with Hobbits replaced by Avengers and Mount Doom swapped with Nick Fury’s Time Travel Platform in the Savage Land. If you take that analogy further, what’s the Ring? In this case it’s a concept: pure, unsullied Heroism.
If Cap, Tony and Spider-Man can, they’ll end this thing the old-fashioned way – vaulting into the future to pummel Ultron into submission thereby ending his reign of terror with a clear conscience. The world would, I suppose, still be screwed, but the code of the heroes would have been upheld. Wolverine has other ideas; morals be damned, he wants to travel into the past and gut Hank Pym before the idea of Ultron even comes into his head. It’s cold-blooded murder for the very best of intentions, though history (albeit in its re-written form) may damn him for his actions. Save the code of heroes but keep the world suffering, or dispense with it and end the horror? From this point on it could go either way.
It’s weighty stuff and Bendis treats it so, managing to turn the hackneyed deus ex machina of time travel into a tense coin-toss with drastic consequences on either side. Without any punches being thrown (well, okay, Rulk does do some damage to a Vault door) all of this is based on character work, and pretty awesome character work at that. There have been rumblings from some critics that what the heroes say and do in this story is starkly at odds with their usual modes of behaviour, but personally I don’t see it. They’re the same people we know, they’re just demoralised and roundly beaten. Stark’s cracking up (“You don’t see it Cap? You don’t see the brilliance? This is our fault.”), Wolverine’s resolved to get his hands dirty (“We go back in time, before this robot was created, and we cut off the hands of the guy who created it,”) and Fury? Well, I’m glad he turned up. His feats of espionage may be responsible for conveniently ending unwinnable fights in much the same way as Dr Strange’s mystic arts, but the spy-themed cunning he employs in his desperate Hail Marys carry with them a more believable air of authenticity. Plus, he provides a welcomed note of humour that leavens proceedings: “”Well, while the book club decides what the moral thing to do is, maybe some of you want to suit up.”
Finally Hitch, Neary and Mounts finish their run on Age of Ultron with their heads held high. This issue mainly consists of a lot of ‘talking in rooms’, but it’s all depicted emotively, framed in a series of dramatically-composed widescreen panels. There’s the odd moment where they get to cut free – a detailed shot of a superhero armoury here, a double splash page of Ultron wreaking havoc there – but otherwise this book continues its tradition of looking at its best when it’s at its most claustrophobic. It’s a shame that this is Hitch’s last issue and, for the foreseeable future at least, the last of his work for Marvel. He’s played such a large part in successfully capturing the sombre tone that was so important to the overall effect of this story that it’s very difficult to imagine Carlos Pacheco and Brandon Peterson carrying the series with anywhere near the same level of accomplishment. Still, that’s a discussion for another day. As of right now Hitch has delivered the best possible start Age of Ultron could have asked for.
Conclusion: The end of the first act of Age of Ultron is here, and it’s a great set-up for remaining five issues. Two groups of heroes have set off in opposite directions on the timestream and either one could result in final victory or further defeat. With some great character moments and a last burst of quality from Bryan Hitch, this series is still well on its way to being the best crossover event Marvel have published in years.
Filed under: Marvel Comics, Reviews Tagged: | Age of Ultron, Brian Michael Bendis, Bryan Hitch, Captain America, Hank Pym, Iron Man, Marvel, Marvel Comics, Marvel Comics Reviews, Marvel Reviews, Nick Fury, Paul Mounts, Paul Neary, Spider-Man, Time Travel, Ultron, VC's Cory Petit, Wolverine