There’s been a great deal of back-and-forth over the last few years (pretty much since comic publishers started acknowledging the voices on the internet) about “event fatigue.” On the one hand, we’re told that these events sell so well it would be silly not to have them annually/semi-annually. On the other, we hear that fans are tired of buying so many tie-ins to the events, which are sometimes relevant and sometimes downright ridiculous (why was Herc a part of “Spider-Island?” WHY?). There is absolutely no clear answer for what the future holds for event comics but the companies will keep pumping them out and in the meantime, it’s important to at least give a look to something that has the possibility affecting the entire landscape of your chosen super-universe. Can you imagine being the fan who went, “Flashpoint? Pfft. What could that possibly do to the comics I’m reading if I’m not reading the Flash?”
So here we have Age of Ultron and it’s being delivered by reliable talent such as Brian Bendis and Bryan Hitch (with Carlos Pacheco, Brandon Peterson, and Joe Quesada alternating art stories down the road) and it’s a hard pill to swallow. As the issue starts out, Hitch treats us to an Ultron-ified shot of the New York skyline with drone robots and the sky blacked out. Hawkeye skulks in the shadows and mounts a John McClane-style rescue operation to save Spider-Man from a criminal gang who are hiding out from the drones. He manages to get Spider-Man back to the Avengers hidden base and… that’s the whole issue.
I’ve never had a problem with event comics, in general. Frankly, if a comic is done well, I’m able to just enjoy it like the summer blockbuster film it’s attempting to emulate. The problem is that comics have moved past the classic stories like Infinity Gauntlet and Crisis on Infinite Earths when it comes to telling their stories. Those books are referred to fondly yet are rarely looked to for suggestions on craft. Gone is omniscient narration describing the back stories or abilities of characters on the page as they act or setting the scene so its stakes can be felt. Instead, we’re given the best artists in our business doing their A-game work and the writers we’re fans of turning in dire situations only the best and brightest heroes can handle… and watching as how it just lies there on the page.
The problem isn’t in the abilities of the architects of the event but rather in the first issue and how it’s handled. I’m not a Bendis naysayer and have bought all of his Marvel NOW! titles thus far and reasonably enjoyed them. He’s doing his standard work here with solid dialogue and letting Hitch handle some gorgeous action sequences and shots of a Post-Ultron New York. The problem I have is that the first issue of any book, especially an event book, should be more set-up than any other first issue you do. Bendis wants to introduce you to this world and have Hawkeye rescue Spider-Man and fight robots and feel like, “Yeah! This is awesome. I can’t wait to see what else has changed and how this happened!” and the only flaw with that is how you handle something for an ongoing series while an event book should involve more background given to the characters and how this relates to the titles we’re buying now (isn’t Doctor Octopus Spider-Man now? Sure seems to be talking like Peter Parker…).
To top it off, we end the issue with one of my least favorite tropes in comics: the stalwart ubermensch hero shattered by being unable to handle the stakes that we have been told about. I don’t believe in being a slave to continuity but by my recollection, the Avengers have faced worse situations and kept their heads together and to see how scattered they are and how frantic they’re acting, it leads me to wonder how can you not establish those stakes clearly in the first issue more than a weeping superhero in the dark?
Again, I’m not trying to rip on Bendis. His Secret Invasion and House of M events did everything that I’m arguing Age of Ultron doesn’t do. Those events’ first issues established the characters, established the stakes, picked up current continuity threads without being slaves to those threads and ended on a cliffhanger that made you want to desperately grab the next issue. The good news is that Age of Ultron will be weekly so hopefully we’ll get the exposition that is desperately needed within a week or so instead of forcing you to wait a month to find out what has happened to the world and how far it reaches.
Unfortunately, the weekly status of this book raises another issue I have with the event itself: is it really necessary to draw this out over ten issues? I get that it worked with Avengers vs. X-Men so why not repeat it, but that actually falls into my point of creating what is a costly and ultimately limited event where fans were asked to pick up every issue of an expansive conflict to get all sides of what could result in a shaking of the foundations of hero/mutant relations and what might just end up resulting in… X-Men on the Avengers squad.
Now, I’m not demanding Marvel go Flashpoint after this or Crisis or even Infinite Crisis because upsetting the status quo was always DC’s modus operandi. I just ask to respect the pedigree of events like Secret Invasion, Infinity Gauntlet and House of M where the first issues set up a compact story that was done well and inspired you to want to grab related issues. Marvel currently has the most solid and respectful continuity and solid characters along with the best stable of talent and their events, when they’re required to happen, should reflect more of that than the misfires that have recently befallen first issues of new series.