Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch gives us a new world, an Age of Ultron.
Age of Ultron #1
Set in the “present”, New York City stands in the shadows of an ominous mountain of technology. The people left in the rubble of New York are ruled by crime and the very fear of it. There is one man who is out there saving young girls from prostitution and the rampant drugs of the city, Hawkeye. As he makes his way into the stronghold of the Owl and Hammerhead’s criminal empire, he takes out as many of the goons as he can to find a captured Spider-Man. When the building is attacked, and destroyed, by an army of Ultrons, Hawkeye and Spider-Man return to the underground base of what’s left of the Avengers. However, the Avengers have no plan for resistance and a leader wallowing in a deep depression.
It’s safe to say this is the first “event” for Marvel NOW! Unlike DC, who has kept their bigger crossover stories secluded to series that are in the same vein (i.e. the Batman books’ Death of the Family crossover), Marvel has decided to push forward with a self-standing, ten-part story. They seem to have pretty much kept this under the radar for the most part. It’s not making a lot of noise like Avengers Vs. X-Men or Secret Invasion that saw months of build up. Yes, the roots of this story began in the first arc of the last volume of The Avengers, but it’s not continued to be in our faces outside a bit here and there in Point One issues. To really say this is an event would be slightly unfair to the story. The tie ins aren’t playing out in the regular runs of associated series. It would appear that it’s acting like a Point One and gives us more of what led to what we see in Hitch’s beautiful two page spread to start the series.
That being said, there’s a look and feel to it that calls back to another major story that is nearly twenty years old. The main cover of the issue carries a foil cover. The world we’re seeing is set in the present, but completely different than what we see in other current Marvel titles. Our heroes are in a bad way. Even the very first word of the title plays up to it. Yes, I’m talking about the X-Men story Age of Apocalypse. While that did eventually take over the X-Titles of the day for a short period, it created a brand new world in the Marvel Multiverse that opened the door for the House of Ideas to tell darker and more depressing stories like how DC used its “Elseworlds” line.
That’s exactly how I look at this. Bendis has created a tangent universe where Ultron hasn’t just won, but is holding humanity under his thumb. It’s dark and our heroes are cowering in an underground hidey hole. Ultron has allowed some to live but they are basically being governed by either the fear that Ultron will kill them or by the gangs that basically work for Ultron. In a way, I found the idea of how the Owl and Hammerhead were able to stay safe almost to be somewhat equal to how priests operate in relation to God. Priests deliver the word of God and advise how God would like others to live. On top of that, when you give to the collection plate on Sunday, it’s to literally pay God by way of keeping the church operating. The Owl and Hammerhead are paying Ultron by way of delivering Avengers to him. They’re keeping people from being able to rise up against Ultron. However, when they don’t do a great job of it, Ultron smites them not with lightning, but with horrible laser fire and explosions.
I know Bendis knows his Avengers history fairly well. No one who writes the team for as long as he did could avoid diving into some of their past exploits. Because of that, I got the feel of reading the mid-90s “Last Avengers Story” in which Ultron had, you guessed it, taken over the world and sent the Avengers scrambling underground. That book was incredibly dark and kind of a tough read. You had to see heroes at their lowest and horrible fates come to some of them (Tigra’s death at the hands of the Hulk being one of the gruesomest deaths ever depicted in a superhero story). I’d be surprised if we don’t get some of that here too. It’s probably what keeps this from being a big headlining “event” book. While it doesn’t really have a great deal of build up, any reader of the Avengers would know that it’s always Ultron that would be their greatest foe. It’s always Ultron who defeated them. It’s always Ultron who killed the world. While we’ve only seen the after effects of his triumph, we’ve also not really lived in that world for a great deal of time.
To say Bryan Hitch’s art is great wouldn’t do him much service. This guy knows how to make a book feel like a big deal. Think back about a decade to that very first issue of Ultimates. Remember how that whole opening of Captain America fighting in World War II felt? It was like watching a movie on paper. It was so cinematic, it leaped off the page and told you right away you were going to be in for one hell of a ride. In a lot of ways, it was that book from Hitch and writer Mark Millar that told us it was possible for Marvel to someday bring the Avengers to the big screen. It was possible to update them in a way that was plausible and damn good. The Ultimates was a huge reason why the Avengers have the success they have today. It was all of those memories of how that very first issue of Ultimates looked that hit me like a ton of bricks as soon as I opened this issue. Hitch is so great at setting a world for us and then using his panels in a way that makes them look like they are moving that will make even the greatest hater of “events” stand up and take notice. There is not a single panel wasted. Not a single panel is left without so much detail that the readers forget they are looking at a two-dimensional drawing. There simply could not be a better artist for this story than Bryan Hitch.
Bendis and Hitch have definitely piqued our interests and has promised us this isn’t going to be without some pain and suffering – in the best possible way they could.
A COMIC BOOK BLOG RATING
|Bendis writes a sharp introduction to this dark world. Hitch brings the cinematic look.||None – great start to the story.|