Despite the hype that’s surrounded Marvel in light of the Marvel NOW! initiative, it’s actually been five months since the conclusion of Avengers vs. X-Men. In comic book time, that means we’re overdue for the next big storyline. Enter Age of Ultron, a massive story that Brian Michael Bendis has been teasing for years throughout his run on the Avengers titles. With huge artists attached – this debut chapter is rendered with the widescreen panels of Bryan Hitch – Age of Ultron is undoubtedly Marvel’s next big thing. Interestingly, Age of Ultron #1 manages to navigate the waters of the usual “first issue of a big event” template and instead delivers an issue heavy on character and action but surprisingly light on plot.
If you’re headed into this issue expecting to learn exactly howUltron managed to take over the world, send the heroes into hiding, and turn the Marvel Universe into a post-apocalyptic wasteland reminiscent of the Terminator franchise, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. But Bendis proves that the notion of plot points is somewhat irrelevant here; by starting the issue in medias res, we call upon our knowledge and familiarity of how superhero comics work and as a result, easily accept the situation.
Of course, the entire event can’t go the distance without eventually revealing how all the madness went down. But as showcased in issue #1, Bendis is avoiding the usual structure of an event like this and simply coming out the gate hitting the meaty parts of the story. He’s focused more on how these characters would react in this particular situation; who would live, who would die, who would lead, who would follow. This is a more desperate and brutal Marvel Universe, and the character’s actions reflect that. Even Bendis’ trademark bouncy dialogue is significantly cut back here; this isn’t a world where quip-happy characters like Hawkeye and Spider-Man are tossing out zingers every five seconds, and it works in context.
That said, the same elements of this book that are pros might also be cons, depending on your perspective. For one, the success of the relationships presented in issue #1 are somewhat dependent on your familiarity with particular characters and their prior history with one another. As a reward for being a longtime reader, this is fantastic. As a new reader, you might find yourself wishing for some more insight into these people and why they are acting as they are.
Again, this is a problem that can be fixed in later issues, but if you’re a new reader looking for that hook – which for most of us is seeing these characters we’ve read for years thrust into a completely new environment — I’m not sure you’ll find it. On the other hand, if you’re a continuity fiend, Age of Ultron #1 might throw up some red flags in regard to one character in particular, who is a different incarnation than the one we currently see “in the now.” It’s inconsequential to the story itself, really, but it might be a point of contention for some. Granted, since we don’t technically know the time frame of the Age of Ultron or how it came about, this is another element of issue #1 that could be explained in future issues.
But there is one irrefutable positive to Age of Ultron #1, whether you’ve been reading Marvel Comics for 30 years or if this is your first-ever comic book. Bryan Hitch’s massive landscapes of a war torn and devastated New York City and his bombastic widescreen panels of action are luscious and, I dare say, worth the wait we endured for this book to finally hit. Paul Neary’s precise ink work helps add layers of depth and detail to the demolished and dank environments, while Paul Mounts serves the book with an icy blue color palette that manages to portray the coldness of an Ultron-conquered world.
It’s these massive landscape shots that help to sell Bendis’ plot-lite script, effectively depicting how drastically this world has changed and been devastated, rather than leaving to the dialogue or narration to describe it. That’s not to say Hitch’s character work is lacking, though, as the many action sequences thrive on the brutality of the participants and their interaction with the environment. There is some repetition to the facial work and the frequent blur effect that severely distracts from the action at hand, but in general Age of Ultron #1 is a beautiful and explosive book that is worthy of its event comic hype.