Or – “What In The Heck Is Up With The Time Stream???”
So, Kang is in play, and The Maestro may be behind his antics. But wait, aren’t the children of the Avengers evil? And what about Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen? And what about Spider-Girl? And wasn’t there something about Ultron? The new Avengers launch is determined to throw literally EVERYTHING at the wall in the hopes of making the book into the comic book equivalent of Must-See TV. But if the future is already broken, what’s gonna keep it from happening again in a minute?
Previously, on The Avengers: There came a day like none other, when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes came together to stop an unbeatable foe. A few years later, everything went to heck, but now it’s all better. The big three Avengers are back together (sort of, as this Captain America isn’t the original, and Thor and Iron Man kinda hate each other’s guts) with Spider-Man, Wolverine, and the rest, here on Gilligan’s Isle. In the not-so-distant future, the sons and daughters of the Avengers attacked Kang, sending him back in time. The Avengers co-opted Noh-Varr (the former Marvel Boy, now going by the simply awful nom de guerre, The Protector) to build a time machine and get them to the future. Once there, they were blindsided by an older version of Iron Man who took out our young Iron Man in no time at all. (No matter where in the time stream he originates, Tony Stark is still pretty much an elitist bastid.) Now, Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America and the Protector seem to be trapped in the future, with no hope of recovery…
…except that everything you know is wrong. While the remainder of the team (plus Killraven, long story) fight against the end of reality (including the wonderful sight of Thor pasting Galactus right innaface with Mjolnir) in the present, their lost Iron Man wakes up covered in blood in the far future. The team is at the mercy of The Maestro and future Iron Man, but it turns out that Kang may not have been completely accurate in his assessment of the situation. Tony and Tony step up to compare notes, and find that it’s astounding and madness takes it’s toll, and the timestream discontinuity begins at the very point to which our Avengers have travelled. What’s the cause of it all? Turns out that Ultron is taking over the world here, and Kang has stupidly and repeatedly brought more and more superhumans to confront him at this precise point, leading to an immense conflict of big, stupid crossovery goodness. (I wonder if that’s meant to be a meta-statement about the comics industry? It’s either that, or Bendis just decided it looks cool…) As we experience yet another chronofracture frammistat, elder Tony shows them on his handy-dandy map of time where they need to go to fix things.
Suddenly, the other shoe drops as Future-Iron Man realizes that he has no idea who the hell the Protector is. (He shouldn’t feel bad, I suspect the majority of the readership is in the same boat.) With a jump to the left and a step to the right, the team is transported back into issue #3, where they join their pals in the battle against Apocalypse again. The future team quickly breaks away, and returns to the lab to rebuild the time machine. Well, Tony and Noh-Varr rebuild the time machine, while Bucky-Cap and Logan make remarks about how unpleasant and unnerving the whole situation is. Many times, dialogue like this can be a bit distracting, but it works really well given the nature of the characters and the strangeness of the time-travel. Working-class guys like Mr. Barnes and Mr. Howlett are prime candidates for Bendis dialogue. The foursome teleports somewhere, somewhen, arriving on a ruined battlefield (but ruined by what, we do not know.) A voice asks if the heroes are there to challenge him, and the Avengers are faced with a futuristic and dangerous looking Ultron. Iron Man tells him that they’ve come to ask a favor of him, and Ultron seems intrigued. “That is interesting,” drones the robot as we fade to black…
Well, here’s the good news: This is the issue that I was desperately hoping for in this arc, the issue that would turn the disparate elements into something interesting and different than we’ve seen before, and while it doesn’t bring all the pieces together, it at least manages to give us an answer as to what the big threat to reality is. On the downside, lots of the cameos seem gratuitious (especially the Next Avengers, who have yet to do anything much on panel) and the reveal of what the Avengers have on their side is pretty dang neat. I also like elder Tony chastising himself that “Ultron is smarter than us.” JR Jr’s art has some spectacularly ugly bits here and there (the Spider-Man and Spider-Woman splash early in the issue puts the “UGH” in ugly) and I’m starting to believe our Forum theory that it’s Klaus Janson whose skills are causing the art to go downhill. Given that it has a couple of “Oh, hell yeah!” moments, a Heel Turn for a guy who never really went face and Thor shoving a hammer up Galactus’ nose, I can’t in good conscience let those moments destroy the book for me. Avengers #5 is good, certainly better than 1 through 4, and earns a slowly-coming-together 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Does a bad issue or two make the ones that come after look better than it should in retrospect?