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Age of Ultron #10 – Review

AGE OF ULTRON #10

By: Alex Maleev, Bryan Hitch & Paul Neary, Butch Guice, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco & Roger Benet w/ Tom Palmer, David Marquez, Joe Quesada (Artists), Paul Mounts & Richard Isanove (Color Artists), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer)

Review: I finished Naughty Dog’s PS3 magnum opus The Last of Us last night. It was terrific. I won’t spoil anything for my fellow gamers out there but suffice it to say that it’s got a pretty unexpected ending, far more ambiguous and open to interpretation than many of the potential finales fans suggested. Crowning the entertaining and tension-fueled hours that led up to that point, the ending managed to tie everything off neatly; it faithfully resolved its protagonists’ journeys and was bold enough to make like there won’t ever be a sequel – like it counted – even though such a thing is inevitable because money. That, my friends, is how it’s done. You do not do it like Age of Ultron #10.

 And why not? Because this issue winds up feeling more like a slap in the face than a fulfilling denouement. Even viewed on its own merits this is a troubled comic.

At least there’s precious little wrong with the art, an achievement in itself considering the multitude of cooks who threatened to spoil the broth. It’s fewer on ‘big’ names than I’d expected, but there’s still some clout – Hitch, Maleev and Quesada in particular. Hitch returns to do most of the heavy lifting, handling the first half of the book with the same signature cinematic stylings that made the first few issues pop with their desolate grandeur. He even gets to flex some serious fight-scene muscle with Mounts’ colors working hard to make these scenes leap off the page. Pacheco and Peterson provide some of their best work on the series (massive +1 for Peterson on that sprawling NY skyline) and then Marquez and Guice add a couple of decent pages of…well, let’s call it forward-facing exposition (more on that later). This leaves Quesada to finish the book off with a mighty two-page splash, one that’s just mental in terms of both quality and content. It all gels well enough – as much as something like this can at least – and no-one could ever accuse it of being an ugly book.

But story-wise…yeesh. A brief outline will help explain the crazy. First, the plot for Hank Pym to build a pre-emptive countermeasure into the Ultron A.I. takes effect. The Avengers party-crash a super-villain get-together and – just as things are about wrapped up – Ultron emerges, active and angry. Presumably this is Age of Ultron Ground Zero, the starting point of the whole conflict, though now the outcome’s completely different. Activating the fail-safe, Pym ‘kills’ Ultron and all is well…for about two or three pages. Then the space-time continuum cracks. This element is displayed brilliantly, on a visual front at least; as the governing principles of the Marvel Universe shatter, so does the comic’s panels and gutters, all spilling out in a bold fit of fourth-wall-breaking swagger. Then reality appears to reassert itself, except for a few pages and panels that throw this into doubt; Ultimate Spider-Man and Angela make an appearance and, alongside a few abstract expressions of some oft-forgotten alternate-realities (Marvel 2099, 1602 etc.) the stage seems set for a future mash-up taking in all the high/lowlights of the Mighty Marvel Multi-verse.

Compress that down and what you’ve basically got is a return to the status-quo and a $3.99 advert for what’s coming next. Eugh. Really?! This took 10 issues!? My main reaction after flicking past that final page was this: what an egregious waste of time.

To be fair, AoU as a whole has had some good moments. I felt that it started out strong with a broodingly dark depiction of a decimated world where the heroes had failed to stop the worst from happening. Once that first act ended I was intrigued by Wolverine and Sue Storm’s mission to right the time-stream and – despite it occasionally getting a little goofy – there was pathos there, particularly from Wolverine. For the man who’s pretty much seen it all over the centuries some of the horror and heartbreak he experienced in AoU was almost too much for him to bear, and it showed. If this story has any one chief protagonist, it’s him.

And yet Wolverine’s story is barely touched upon here, a mote in Bendis’ wandering eye. No, this issue’s real purpose is just to tie the time-travel stuff up neatly and open a door to a new round of stories. “Imagine these tears in time and space reaching out through all of time and space,” ruminates Tony Stark, “Imagine other universes affected.”  Would you have imagined the immediate repercussions to be an appearance from Ultimate Spider-Man (coming face-to-gigantic-face with Galactus no less) and Angela appearing in deep space alongside a gigantic decapitated head? No. Because it makes no sense. It just all feels hurried, a bad brew of convoluted bluster and seemingly redundant ideas. Lord knows I love me some Bendis, but I just can’t get with him on this one.

Conclusion: Haters will continue to hate on AoU and they may soon be joined by some freshly-indignant fans. Following the almost standard Marvel Event template of starting with a bang and ending with a whimper, AoU fumbles its final chapter by choosing to be more of a ‘Coming Soon’ hype-train than a satisfactory conclusion. Its beauty is only skin-deep. Inside, this thing’s rotten to the core.

Grade: D

- Matt Sargeson

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