Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Review: Age of Ultron #5

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Bryan Hitch
Publisher: Marvel Comics

We reach the halfway point of Marvel's 2013 summer event and the story that's been quietly simmering for four issues finally boils over, bringing us to the crux of the series - time travel. After last issue's big Vision-shaped discovery by Luke Cage, namely that big bad Ultron isn't even in the same time-frame as our heroes, the survivors weigh up their options from the comfort of Nick Fury's super-secret Savage Land hideaway.

Once arriving, the question isn't so much how the heroes will strike back against Ultron, but when. As it turns out, Fury has been stashing one of Doctor Doom's old time platforms for a rainy day and it doesn't get more rainy than a shower of shiny golden robots systematically destroying the world. If memory serves correct, said time platform doesn't affect the current timeline, merely create a new alternate one. I vaguely recall a Fantastic Four annual hinging on a future Johnny Storm coming back to avert a tragedy, but rather than save his own family, he merely created a world where they continued to live. But that might just be my fanboy mind picking holes in Bendis' chosen plot device.

With the method of the remaining heroes' kamikaze mission decided, they then have to choose the perfect moment to strike at Ultron and the survivors are of two minds on the matter. While the linear side of things is covered nicely by Nick Fury's strike team, heading off into the far-flung future to attack the Ultron directly responsible for this assault, the far more interesting approach comes in the final pages, as Wolverine declares his intention to travel back and kill Hank Pym (aka Ant-Man aka Ultron's creator), before he can birth this monstrous AI upon the world. The small hairy canuck aims to misbehave and there's no telling what affect he'll have on Marvel Universe continuity as a result.

As explored in the opening pages, to much wordier effect, Pym himself had even considered travelling back to a time before Ultron and warn his past self of the horrors his creation will inflict. But as correctly pointed out by his fellow scientists, Tony Stark and Reed Richards, where does one draw the line when "correcting" past mistakes? Do they leave it at Ultron or do they travel back even further and stop Hitler from kickstarting World War II or do they go back even further and knock that insidious apple out of Eve's hand. The message Bendis is trying to relay is that altering time is a slippery slope and there's no clear end in sight. As much as the ability may aid the heroes in this time of need, it's just as likely to be abused by the wrong people. Hell, in this case, the heroes ARE the wrong people. They want to murder a founding Avenger!

Age of Ultron #5 marks a profound turning point in the course of this series, not only with the changing stakes of the situation, but behind the scenes as well. The first half of this ten part story was written nearly three years ago at this point, making for numerous visual and character inconsistencies in the opening salvo. Wrong costumes for the most part, but wrong characterisation entirely in Spider-Man's case, who fails to reflect his new "Superior" attitude. Like most characters in the book, their current status quo's weren't even an inkling in their creator's eye while Bendis was writing and Hitch was illustrating way back in 2010. As such, issue five brings to a close Bryan Hitch's work on the series, gracefully departing with some fine work, before the story kicks into another gear entirely. I'll miss the consistency of his artwork on the book going forward, but I'll be grateful for an up-to-date artist who isn't trying to jam old ideas into present day continuity. It's Marvel NOW, not Marvel THEN.

The story itself continues to tick over, giving us enough to keep our interest, but not really engaging at the same time. There's an inherent flaw in time travel stories, whereby at the back of your mind, you know everything will snap back to "how it should be". Marvel have so many plates spinning at the moment, I can't believe they'd let a three year old pet project dictate their entire line's future. This is basically Bendis wrapping up a few loose ends from his legendary run on the Avengers franchise. It's more of an encore, than a beginning. Play the hits one last time, then respectfully leave the stage. After all, Jonathan Hickman's Avengers series has shot off in another direction entirely. So much so, Age of Ultron is squarely in the rear view mirror, even as it continues.

6 out of 10

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