REVIEW: Age of Ultron #1 (of 10)

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I haven’t bought a chromium cover in a long, long time, but for you, Major Spoilers readers, I will make that sacrifice. Ultron is back and this time he’s got an army of robots to destroy humanity. Just like last time. What he may lack in personality, he makes up for in sheer bloody-mindedness. Even though we may have seen his threats before, what happens when Ultron succeeds? Will it bring on a new age? Find out after the jump.

Age_of_Ultron_Vol_1_1AGE OF ULTRON #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Bryan Hitch
Inker: Paul Neary
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Editor: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously in Age of Ultron:  Hank Pym, having never read Frankenstein, built a super-robot, named Ultron, based on his own brainwaves because he wanted it to be like a real boy. And of course that never goes wrong except EVERY SINGLE TIME. Because humans are by nature evil. At least the parts that get replicated to robots. Ultron was last seen escaping from the Avengers, which Iron Man predicted would lead to “the human apocalypse” and that “there’s nothing we can do to stop it.” Gee, Tony, just because you were right doesn’t mean that you aren’t a real downer.

WHEN THE MOON IS IN THE SEVENTH HOUSE

The story of this issue is built around Hawkeye rescuing Spider-Man from some bad guys. That’s not really a spoiler because the point of this issue isn’t the plot. The point is to establish the setting and the mood for this whole event. The setting (and mood for that matter) can be summed up as “Holy @$#@! What the hell happened?” Like the Greek classics, the story starts en media res, which I appreciate because I don’t think I could take any “Countdown to Age of Ultron” nonsense. Better that we start with everything having gone to hell and focusing on what the heroes are going to do about it. One of the good things about continuity is that we don’t always have to build every single thing from first principles. Let’s get some action going.

Now, when you think action and multiple pages with little to no dialogue, Bendis isn’t the first name to spring to mind. However, Bendis is, dare I say, restrained in this issue and it works excellently. Since we’re trying to establish the ominous setting rather than develop character relationships, this issue is able to give a lot of time to the landscape, whether it’s a two-page spread of buildings crumbled under a giant spaceship or Hawkeye sneaking through post-apocalyptic Manhattan. There’s still some of Bendis’ trademark banter, but more like a dusting for flavor. Just enough to drop a little exposition and to give you the sense of how much everyone has been through.

And they’ve obviously been through a lot. The heroes are in hiding from their new, robotic overlords. Everyone is understandably grouchy but are dealing with the trauma in their own ways. It’s interesting and not only fleshes out the characters but through implication builds the suspense of finding out what happened to the world. One character rang untrue to me though. Bendis has had years of experience putting words in Spider-Man’s mouth, but did he miss the memo on Spidey no longer being Peter Parker? I mean, it was kind of a big deal. I think it was in USA Today, even. This Spider-Man sounds nothing like the “superior” personality of Octo-Parker that we have been enjoying lately. I hope this is just a mistake, and not some weird subplot where we will find out that the Parker personality was restored just for this crossover, because that would make it even more awkward when everything goes back to normal.

And I’m pretty sure that everything will go back to normal when this is over. They can’t wipe out New York and just clap their hands, say “Damage Control” three times and everything’s back. Not so soon after the last time they did that. I don’t know about you, but I’m mostly OK with that. As long as this story is entertaining, I’ll accept that it doesn’t have to “change everything.”

THIS IS THE DAWNING

Great art here from Hitch, whom I always enjoy. The style is realistic but not photo-realistic. For me it’s a sweet-spot that fits mainstream super hero storytelling without distracting from the story. The “Battle damaged” versions of the characters are clearly changed (as befits their experiences) but still capture the essences of the same recognizable characters. When the Ultron’s attack, there is a shaky, out-of-focus visual effect that was both good and bad. It is good in that it looks like the thing it was trying to depict and makes you almost feel the vibrations, but the effect is so unusual that it calls attention to itself, drawing me momentarily out of the story.

Another place where Hitch could be overreaching is in panel variety. Ninety-some percent of the time he does a great job of mixing up the panels to control the story pace and direct the reader’s attention to the important story elements. However, there are a few times where I had to stare for a few seconds to figure out if I should follow the story from left to right across two pages, then down, or to read one page then the next. It’s a minor quibble and I suppose once the great migration to digital is complete the problem will go away entirely.

THE BOTTOM LINE: LET THE SUN SHINE IN.

I give Age of Ultron #1 four stars—It feels a little short, but what’s here is well done. I’ve only been given a glimpse into the story but I definitely want to see more. Especially after that last-page reveal. It could go overly melodramatic, but for now it’s full of potential and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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