Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Age of Ultron #1 - Prelude or Sign of Awesome?

What would you think about a guy who kept going to the same bar again and again, only to get his ass kicked by the time he left and wake up hung over the next morning? You would probably think that guy was pathetic, stupid, or a glutton for punishment that even S&M enthusiasts would find troubling. I’ve been called all those things before. Hell, I’ve been called ten times worse and have the scars to prove it. But in many ways it symbolizes how I’ve come to see Marvel’s so-called event books.

While they may start out awesome and even stay awesome throughout much of the series, they usually crash and burn in the end when the writers run out of patience and say “Fuck the details, let’s just do something shockingly crazy!” This is what has left me with an overly tender asshole after following events like Fear Itself and Avengers vs. X-men. Each event was billed as this big ass blockbuster that was supposed to redefine the Marvel universe, which is also code for making Marvel a fuckton of money through shameless marketing gimmicks. And even though they ended horribly, they did sell and for that reason Marvel has every excuse to call it a success. As I’ve said in previous drunken rants, Marvel’s capacity to give a fuck about how its customers feels ends the second the purchase is finalized. It is not their job to make you feel better after you buy it. They see outraged fans the same way we see brain damaged puppies, cute and lovable yet still irrationally stupid.

Since the big wigs at Marvel have apparently blown all the Avengers vs. X-men money on strippers and cocaine, they’re ready to throw another overblown event at us and they call it Age of Ultron. This is an event that actually was teased as far back as 2010 when Marvel showed a messy yet eerily accurate schematic of the future. It showed things like the Heroic Age, Avengers vs. X-men, and the return of the Original Five X-men in All New X-men. One of the other events it showed was the Age of Ultron. Having burned themselves out fighting each other, the heroes of the Marvel universe seemed destined to get back to basics and what could be more basic than fighting a killer robot?

But Ultron is not your typical mutant-hunting Sentinel or Terminator rip-off. This is a powerful enemy that has tested the Avengers in some pretty obscene ways in the past. If karma intended to make Hank Pym pay for roughing up his wife, it went way overboard with making Ultron the kind of menacing threat that the frequently frustrates the Avengers. And since we’ve already seen futures and/or alternate universes where mutants and sentinels rule the world, why not a world where Ultron rules? Because what’s more original than a crazy robot taking over the world? Okay, bad example. But you get what I mean.

I’ll say it while I’m still sober enough to type it coherently. The appeal of Age of Ultron is nowhere near as great as the appeal of Avengers vs. X-men. The promise of a superhero battle and the return of the Phoenix Force offered so many possibilities. Those possibilities aren’t nearly as diverse or exciting with Ultron. He’s an evil robot. There’s not going to be any major debate on who will win if the very notion of winning applies in the slightest. I’ve been about as excited for this event as I’ve been about a traffic jam. But it is a big Marvel event. Therefore, I’m compelled to take a few extra shots and offer a review for the wonderful folks who enjoy this blog.

The first issue for this overhyped event doesn't begin with a bang or a brawl. In fact, it seems to begin long after that bang or brawl has transpired. The smoke has already settled, the drunks were already thrown out of the bar, and everyone is hung over. By that I mean the world is fucked and Ultron's dick seems to be the only one left intact. It has all the makings of yet another post-apocalyptic world. While Marvel has more fucked up alternate universe wastelands than Linsey Lohan has DUIs, this one isn't a typical kill-the-robots-and-try-not-to-get-killed apocalypse. In the rubble of New York City, Hawkeye is spying on what looks like a crack house. But I guess in this future a crack house might as well be a loft on Park Avenue. We're not sure what is going on inside, but for some reason it requires an arrow to the head. I'm assuming the crack might not be that good.

It turns out it's not crack this place is selling. It's Mutant Growth Hormone, also known as Kick. It basically gives you powers that makes you feel like your on crack, but involves giving less blowjobs behind a dumpster at McDonald's. For some reason, Hawkeye has a problem with thugs selling this shit to jaded survivors of an apocalypse so he starts shooting them. It makes for a nice, gritty action scene that Bryan Hitch has always been good at depicting. The girl he followed into the building is given a chance to leave while everyone else is given a few arrows to the skull. So I guess Hawkeye isn't without mercy. But when the woman tells him to fuck off, he shoots her in the arm with an arrow. I guess the moral of the story for her is don't make light of Hawkeye's mercy.

But why would Hawkeye be shooting up some crackhouse full of drug-dealing low-lifes? Well, we quickly find out these aren't the kind of lowlifes that walk around with their underwear exposed, their hats on sideways, and their teeth plated gold. This is a well-funded, well-equipped operation armed with real life Call of Duty cos-players armed with the kinds of heavy machine guns that the NRA doesn't think should be banned. Yet they're just dealing MGH in the ruins of New York City? Did I miss something here?

If there is an explanation, it's obscenely subtle. The men mention that Avengers are like gold in this apocalyptic future. Hunting them down and killing them is like finding Warren Buffet's credit card. It's basically a golden ticket. It has somewhat of a Days of Futures Past vibe, but not in the sense that they're basically deer in Ted Nugent's back yard. Something else is going on here and we're not given much insight onto what it is.

At the very least, we get clarification on why Hawkeye has decided to use this crack house as target practice. It's not just so he can be propaganda for the DEA. He's actually on a rescue mission. It turns out these thugs had Spider-Man tied up, beaten up, and fucked up in ways that is perfectly deserving of a guy who made a deal with the devil. But is this Peter Parker or just Doc Ock in Peter Parker's body? Or did some crazy shit happen to reverse that? Or did it even happen to begin with in this universe? Again, that's not made clear. But Hawkeye is there to rescue him and Spider-Man is still his usual immature self. I guess there's something to be said about a character that has been so beaten up by fans lately that he begins this story already beat up. I guess Marvel is just trying to be proactive.

Spider-Man and Hawkeye seem well on their way out, fighting through more thugs with more gritty action that will make some readers want to kiss Bryan Hitch the next time they see him. Then the star of the show finally makes his appearance. Ultron, having already fucked the world, is still perfectly willing to fuck it up even more. He and a few drones surround the building and demand that they prepare to suck the fattest part of his robot dick. While Ultron has never needed a reason slaughter Avengers, it still isn't clear if there is a reason for wanting to blow up buildings with Avengers inside it. The thugs mentioned that they paid Ultron off, which isn't exactly that telling. They say they deliver Avengers to Ultron and he leaves them alone. It's understandable, but still not very clear. However, Hawkeye and Spider-Man seem to know that Ultron has a reason for wanting to vaporize them and decide it's probably a good idea to get the fuck out.

Ultron doesn't listen to the thugs. Whatever reason he had for leaving them alive, he changed his mind in the same way Dearth Vadar alters deals made in Cloud City. In just a few panels the action goes from grim and gritty to a few big ass explosions that level the crack house and offer a larger view of this war torn landscape. It helps add a greater sense of scale to a story that began on a small street level. In doing so it reveals a landscape that is distinct from other apocalyptic worlds. As I said before, Marvel has a fuckton of apocalyptic worlds. Yet they still manage to make this one seem unique in how Ultron is hunting Avengers and letting thugs use them as currency.

Unfortunately for the thugs, however, Ultron has a very low tolerance level for letting Avengers escape. So while Hawkeye and Spider-Man escape the blast, the thugs are broiled like a rack of ribs at at barbecue. Hawkeye and Spider-Man are still battered and bruised, but alive. Yet even they seem to concede that they're thoroughly screwed in this world and we still don't know why. Maybe it's just the bitterness from Avengers vs. X-men still talking, but I'm enjoying seeing them humbled like this.

They eventually find their way to the ruins of the SHIELD Helicarrier, but they aren't exactly welcomed back with hugs and cookies. Once greeted by Luke Cage and She-Hulk, Hawkeye is yelled at for being reckless. That in and of itself isn't too striking. Anyone yelling at Hawkeye for his recklessness is like yelling at Willie Nelson for smoking pot. It shouldn't be that surprising anymore. But what is what he and Spider-Man have to go through once they arrive. Iron Man scans them with what looks like an oversized rectal probe and says they're clean. Ultron didn't infect them with any virus. Even Emma Frost and some of the X-men show up to indicate they're also clean. I guess in this world Emma Frost made up for her crimes as one of the Phoenix Five or she just boned enough people to get pardoned. It poses yet more questions without hinting at too many answers. Ultron seems to be going to great lengths to fuck with them and they're asses are clearly very tender at this point.

If there is one thing that Bendis and Hitch make clear, it's that the heroes in this world are fucked like a two-dollar whore on coupon day. We see in other parts of the bunker that there are a few other Avengers present, but not nearly enough to fight a robot army. Moreover, they're all more pessimistic than a goth at an Evanescence concert. They aren't just fucked. They're utterly demoralized. And the guy who usually rallies them, Captain America, is also at a loss. In the end we see him looking like a dog that just got neutered. He has no plan. He has no inspiring speeches. He might as well be Mel Gibson's credibility at this point. It sends a clear message, but doesn't really address how it got to this point. But if it's bad enough to make Captain freakin' America give up all hope, then we can only assume there are greater forces at work than a killer robot with a taste for human flesh.

Let me say this right now so that there’s no ambiguity or questions about my sobriety. The beginning of Age of Ultron was not like the beginning of Avengers vs. X-men. It’s not different in terms of scale or theme either. This is a completely different approach. That’s both promising and disconcerting in a number of ways. While Avengers vs. X-men sucked elephant balls in the end, it started out pretty fucking awesome. The same could be said for events like Fear Itself or Siege. Age of Ultron is taking a completely different approach in that the first issue doesn’t induce orgasms through your eyes, but it does lay the groundwork for a larger story. And perhaps by not following the same path as previous events, the ending will be as awesome as Marvel boasts for once.

I have mixed feelings about this approach, mostly because I’m really not sure what to make of this issue. Age of Ultron #1 doesn’t feel like the first issue of a big event. It has the feel of a prelude, as if to hint at the story to come. At the same time it also feels like we’re walking right into the middle of the story. It begins in the middle of a world where Ultron is the top dog and Captain America seems to have misplaced his balls. It’s that ambiguity and incoherence that leaves me somewhat puzzled by this issue. I’m not sure where’s it’s going in the same way I’m not sure where any event is going when it begins. But I’m not even sure where the fuck this came from or how the fuck it got here.

Uncertainty aside, there’s still plenty to enjoy here. If you’re a Hawkeye fan, you should be masturbating to this issue for the next few days. There’s a special charm to this dark, gritty environment where the Avengers are battered and broken. It doesn’t have the same feel as a typical apocalyptic future where killer robots rule. There are other forces at work. At least that’s how it seems at the moment. Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch have found a way to make this world feel unique without falling into the same patterns that Days of Futures Past set over three decades ago.

Whether it’s a prelude or something else entirely, Age of Ultron #1 is solid. Bryan Hitch’s art is as spectacular as ever and Brian Michael Bendis flexes his talent for capturing the emotion of a story. This Avengers team is not the same overpowered team that Jonathan Hickman has been writing in his Avengers series or the same team that won Avengers vs. X-men. There are a lot of blanks to fill here and even if we don’t get too many clues as to what those blanks are, Bendis and Hitch have at least stoked plenty of curiosity. I give Age of Ultron #1 a 3 out of 5. So another overhyped comic book event has begun. If you’re really quiet, you can already hear the fanboys bitching about it on message boards. It’s not like they need a reason to bitch, but at least this issue didn’t give them more than they already had. Nuff said!


  1. Hey,I've commented here before.As always,I enjoy your reviews.Is it just me or do you think AU could be Marvel's "flashpoint"..they have already teased new #1s & face it,this continuity has become stagnant.

  2. Age of Apocalypse also started out in the Middleish/End of that story. We didn't find out How Apocalypse took over the world until the end of after the AOA was over.

  3. Awesome review though. Right one point my man!!