When Age of Ultron was officially unveiled in November last year, it generated some largely deserved hype. To the general public it was simply, “Alright, this looks cool.” But to longtime comic readers, there was only one word on their minds, “Finally.” Indeed, this book was supposed to have launched in 2012, but got pushed back for reasons I’ll talk about soon. The title shares its name with the famous ‘Age of Apocalypse.’ The difference is that AU engulfs not just the Avengers, but the entire Marvel world. Ultron was back, and this was going to be his biggest story yet, the one where he takes over. Sadly the event was anything but and ended up being a disappointing mess. Before we get into that, let’s talk about the history leading up to it. It had its beginnings in 2008, with the animated movie Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow.
Next Avengers was a surprise announcement from Marvel. Many thought it would be a sequel to the Ultimate Avengers movies. That wasn’t the case, it turned out it would be taking place in the 616 universe. The story was quite interesting, focusing on the future starring the children of the Avengers. What happened to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes you ask? Ultron killed them. In a surprise turn of events, the team was destroyed, save Iron Man. This is told in the film’s intro, how Ultron came, wiped them out, and took over the world. Tony had left the team to bring the children, whom were then just infants, to shelter. Years later, in the present day, Ultron found them and nearly destroyed the Avengers legacy. In the end, the Hulk ripped him into shreds. A fun little movie you should consider watching if you haven’t. Now, what does this have to with the comics? At first nothing, but that changed when Brian Michael Bendis relaunched the Avengers title in 2010 back in Marvel’s post Dark Reign era, ‘The Heroic Age.’
In the first arc of the title, Kang the Conqueror has the team travel to the future to take out…are you ready for this…the children of the Avengers. These Teens are the Next Avengers from the movie. This was greatly surprising, the comic had taken a cue from the film which meant that either the movie was canon or an adaptation of future material. Either way, it turns out in the 616 universe Ultron actually did win, he did destroy the Avengers. The robot appeared in this arc, and Tony somehow convinced him that if he didn’t lose to Kang, the timestream would be broken. In the final issue, future Tony Stark gave his present counterpart something saying “Prepare for it. And stop it. No matter what.” This brings me to the first problem with Age of Ultron, this something is never once used or even brought up. I’m pretty sure Bendis forgot about that plot point. And sadly it looks like the fans did too. Now we can fast forward to the next step in the history of Age of Ultron.
In 2011 as part of Marvel’s .1 initiative to get new readers on board, the company released Avengers 12.1. Check out the official description.
Prepare for the upcoming high-stakes Avengers event with a battle between the Avengers and the Intelligencia, the return of SWORD, and the disappearance of Spider-Woman!. Bendis and modern master Bryan Hitch Join forces for this very special, all-new Avengers story that is not only an explosive action-packed self-contained thriller but a prologue to an Avengers saga that will rock the entire Marvel Universe next year. Guest starring the New and Secret Avengers!
Obviously the bolded part is referring to the Ultron War. But do you know what’s interesting? Instead of the actual event coming out like it was supposed to, they re-released this same issue for the following year’s Free Comic Book Day. That was a slap in the face for people that had bought the issue a year before and was looking forward to the story. Getting past that, let’s talk about the plot of this .1 issue. Ultron officially returns on the iconic page through a space knight vessel.
Ultron is back
Right after that page, Thor attempted to attack but Ultron retreated, saying he was “Unprepared for this battle.” On the final page, Tony Stark reveals to the team that the return of the robot heralds the fall of humanity. The ‘Coming Soon’ at the bottom turned out to be two years later. Finally, in November of last year, Marvel released a mysterious teaser that when uncoded said ‘Age of Ultron.’ While the wait had been unbelievable, it was finally coming. The question remained of why it took so long. Instead, Avengers vs. X-Men came. Truth be told, I think Marvel NOW had something to do with it. When the concept of an Ultron War was brought up, Marvel NOW didn’t exist. But once NOW did come, (probably to rival DC’s The New 52 initiative) it appeared the Ultron storyline was either pushed to the side or forgotten altogether. But it didn’t truly matter anymore, it was coming. There was a strong emphasis on the ending, basically it was going to be the most shocking thing ever. The arrival of Angela, a Spawn character, also generated interest. Add in an article from the New York Times, Age of Ultron looked to be a fantastic and unique event.
A shame it was anything but those two terms.
Issue #1 released in March, it was truly fantastic. Interestingly, it took place in the future when Ultron had already won and the remaining heroes were in hiding. It successfully set the tone and atmosphere of a world gone to Hell. The morale of the heroes were lost, and the iconic final page had Captain America beaten and the complete opposite of the leader we all know. All of this was accomplished without Ultron even appearing. Instead, robot minions appeared with the cold line, “Submit or Perish.” The second issue showed more of the destroyed world, showing a completely beaten Black Widow. And on the final page Cap rose up saying he had a plan. Another fine issue, the hype for Ultron appearing was getting higher. The next issue was all talk with little action. The final page revealed the Vision, whom upon first reading seemed to have been in control, not Ultron. It was a very shocking moment.
Issue #4 was a turning point, revealing that Ultron was in control in the future. On the final page, the Black Widow revealed her plan of time traveling back to the past to stop Ultron. Again, no appearance from the title robot. This issue however did have two casualties, Luke Cage and She Hulk. It was actually canon, since everything that was happening was actually happening. (Until the whole thing got erased.) Issue #5 was the halfway point, and the most dialogue heavy. The action was lacking and the robot didn’t appear, but things were set in motion since Cap took a team to the future to fight Ultron. Meanwhile, Wolverine decided he was going to go back in time and kill Henry Pym before he created the robot, whether the others liked it or not.
Issue #6 mainly focused on building up to the final page where Wolverine stabbed Henry Pym before he created the robot menace. A part of the issue also focused on Cap’s team taking the fight to Ultron. If the event had instead fully took this course of action instead of doing the whole time travel alternate future plot, it would have been better. Alas, this wouldn’t be the case. No Ultron appearance once again. Issue #7 explored what the Marvel World looks like with Hank Pym out of the picture. It’s interesting but two things brought it down. One, the majority of the characters were written horribly. Two, the Ultron conflict was pushed to the side. In Issue #8, Wolverine had a talk with Iron Man, whom apparently is some kind of dictator in the alternate future. Soon Morgan Le Fay appears followed by the final and extremely lackluster final page, where the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier crashes into New York. You can now ask what does this have to do with the Ultron War. The answer is nothing.
This is a ten issue event and now we’re on Issue Nine with no sign of Ultron. This issue has Wolverine go back in time to stop himself from murdering Pym. Not much happens and it ended up being the worst issue yet. With just one more to go, could it at least deliver some of the epic Ultron action we’ve been waiting for? Not quite. Yes, Ultron does appear and fights a bit. But ultimately the plan of the virus infecting him came to be, and he was destroyed before he got the chance to do anything on paper. Right after he’s destroyed, the story slaps him to the side to focus on establishing upcoming stories in the Marvel Universe. We have a timestream broken, Galactus coming to the Ultimate universe, and the arrival of Angela. And what about the ending that was apparently so surprising and confidential? It turned out to be nothing but false hype to generate interest. It was a bad idea to spoil Angela appearing months in advance.
What should have been Ultron’s biggest conflict with the Avengers since Ultron Unlimited turned out to be time travel adventures starring Wolverine and the Invisible Woman. Three years of anticipation that was all for really nothing. Age of Ultron isn’t a bad event, but ultimately the story was not what it should have been, or rather what it was meant to be. I can sum it up like this:
In 240 pages, Ultron appeared in 9 of those pages in a story called Age of Ultron