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Real Talk: 'Age of Ultron' #5 Sparks a Lot of Conversation About Characterization

A comic review article by: Shawn Hill, Jamil Scalese, Sean Gonzalez

 

Shawn Hill: Well, not only was I proven wrong (in my naive hope Vision would actually do something in this event), but this issue lets me down that Bendis will ever understand the character or come up with anything interesting for Hank Pym to do about it. I get the feeling Vision was resurrected towards the ends of Avengers/New Avengers as an editorial mandate, just part of putting the toys back in the box along with making Wonder Man relatable again and not screwing up Scarlet Witch any further. It was a rote, character-less return.

But he's still and always will be from now on the Toaster from Hell whom anyone can turn into a ruthless killing machine. He's a Terminator, and he can't even get cuddly like the T-800 model; he's just a pawn to be destroyed and rebuilt, over and over. 

That's not Vision. Vision is the creation of Ultron, sure. But Ultron has the father of all Oedipus complexes, and in (pop) psychological terms the Vision was his own attempt at a fetish that BROKE programming and became an autonomous being. As was Alkhema. The whole bunch are a twisted nuclear family of walking H-bombs, but Vision is the GOOD son. You want a villain, have Alkhema birth a bad one maybe?

Our Vision was a robot who could cry (yes, Roy Thomas was from a more sentimental era), but also feel, and love, and be brave and have his own agency. I'm tired of seeing that stripped from him (when even the recent Avengers Assemble annual struggled mightily to make sure to give it back), and I'm tired of Hank being blamed for his creation that has also been its own psychotic person since the moment it was plugged on. That these are machines with feelings is the part that makes them interesting, not that they are so lethally formidable.

That said, while it's nice to see an old favorite make a rare appearance (and I applaud the mixing of Marvel tech employed in this issue's battle planning), Wolverine has become as much of a cliché as Vision the way Bendis writes him. The cliffhanger just made me want him to shut off the broken record.

 

 

Jamil Scalese: Diametrically opposed, Shawn. That's where I am with you right now, buddy.

I agree that the VIsion's return in the pages of Avengers about a year ago was very flavorless, but I feel like the reveal here that he just kind of woke up without prompting added a healthy amount of backstory to that shallow moment (it's also the first time that the event anchored itself in a 616 moment). In that issue Stark said he fixed him and it's revealed here that he did squat, and in fact, the three smartest guys in the MU all admit that Vision is much more advanced than their own knowledge of robotics and AI. 

I get your anger with Vis being used a plot pawn but that's his role in this story. He was created by Ultron to destroy the Avengers and that's what eventually happened. There's that good moment with Tony Stark having a minor breakdown about it. The Avengers invited the Trojan Horse right into their walled city, and even if that wasn't Ultron's original intention, it's still a situation they were begging the villainous android to take advantage of.

I might as well enroll at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning 'cause I'm so on Team Wolverine. Pym totally deserves a portion of the blame for this fiasco. Your "Is it Hank's fault?" problem receives a lot of attention in Age of Ultron #5, both in the opening flashback and in the final moments. I feel like Brian Michael Bendis doesn't write that debate from one side. In fact the ending of this shows there are clearly two sides to the argument. 

Logan is being irrational, but the stakes and situation beckon some characters to make questionable calls. We all love Wolvie, but let's admit that he tends to think in two dimensions sometimes. He's only doing what he does best, and well, you know the rest. 

 

 

Shawn: Yes, he's the best there is at it, I've heard. Which was pretty funny to have Remender apply that to his 11th century ancestor (It was him, right? He's not really as old as Pocky-Lips?) in this week's Uncanny Avengers. I'm glad you perceive a more open-ended argument, but I just reject on principle the two Bendis choices regarding Wanda's marriage: that she really IS an evil witch, and that Vision really IS a death machine. They already proved they weren't in their early stories, over and over. They were interesting because they defied expectations. To have them fulfill the lowest ones will always be just too regressive and depressing for me, whatever the cause.

I feel more confused about where this is going and less hopeful than I was in previous weeks.

 

 

Sean Gonzalez: I wish I could break the tie between you two, but all I can really do is add to half of each of your arguments...

First, I'd have to agree with Jamil that I don't think we're looking at two different Visions throughout the course of Age of Ultron. I'd agree that he's clearly a sentient AI with feelings and his own prerogative, but he's also a robot that can easily be hacked into by his father (who also happens to be a robot.) We've seen the good guy get used before, especially the robot guy. Whenever this kind of thing happens, it always breeds distrust among other characters (prime examples include Jocasta and Victor Mancha who happen to have a big ol' connection to Ultron).

Second, I completely agree that Wolverine is being a giant DICK. Hank Pym is a hero who has proven himself again and again. In addition, the Avengers is a giant part of his life. If a bunch of future Avengers showed up and asked him to NOT build a death robot, he'd probably listen.

I can see why some may not agree with this. Bendis tried to address it directly by comparing Tony Stark to Hank Pym. Except, that those two are not the same. For one, Hank wasn't in the Illuminati. He doesn't seek to control as much as Stark and Richards do. He also doesn't base his scientific work on challenges. Maybe Ultimate Pym would, but not 616.

I guess I'm more upset with Bendis' characterization of Pym than of his handling of Vision, but to be fair, we've barely seen Pym. All these problems we're bringing up could be remedied in the next issue when Wolverine tries to go against the past Avengers -- which I am hoping will bring about some entertaining scenes. 

Then again, maybe the rest of the folks in the room don't even let Wolvie on the machine?

 

 

Shawn: Yes, Sean, that's a big part of it, exactly! Tony is going off on what HE would do, but Hank isn't about trying to fix the whole world in his image. Hank is about coming up with cool stuff for the hell of it; Pym particles, sentient Robots, or helmets that ants can hear. He's a weirdo, but not a creep or someone with a king-complex like Tony. He's totally not the insecure abuser of the Ultimate version. Not on his good days. At least he has good days. I mean -- I'm fine with worrying more about Hank than about Vision, in fact I'm ready to worry about both! Heck, I'm more worried about everybody with this version of Ultron, and we haven't even seen him yet. That part's working much better than the previous Bendis Ultron stories, I'll give him that.

 

 

Jamil: We're talking about the same guy who slapped his wife because he felt like he needed to save the world and redeem himself, right? The same man who carried on a non-platonic relationship with an Ultron-built android? I like Pym a lot, but his flaws stand as tall as his giant form. 

Wolverine isn't operating from the moral high ground, but I recognize the credibility in his assessment of Henry Pym. You tell a really smart guy he's going to destroy the world and he might believe he can out-think his own mistakes. That's believable to me. 

The speech spins out of one the major themes of Age of Ultron -- this disaster has frayed our heroes' resolve. Iron Man is jibbering to himself about how brilliant Ultron is. Logan is so desperate to fix things he's willing to off a founding Avenger. Cap, in a moment where his leadership is crucial, looks to Nick Fury to take the lead. Some might lambast Bendis for bad characterization but I applaud him for showing us that the toughest guys on the planet are still human. 

 

 

Shawn: All too predictably so. I just wish the Bendis approach to showing how bad things can get didn't always lead to the lowest common denominator of human mistrust, violence and anger. I've been annoyed with that aspect of his writing ever since Jewel punched Scarlet Witch in the head.

 

 

Sean: At least it's kind of interesting that our super-powered fellows are coming apart at the edges while the normal folks are leading the charge -- though living forever like Fury and Widow and being crazy like Moon Knight could be considered superpowers.

Besides that, I can agree that a few of these heroes are believable when being jerks (such as Wolverine and Hawkeye) but the general malaise hanging over everyone still comes off a bit thick. I've seen Cap shrug off lots of people's deaths and power through all sorts of conflicts. I guess I'm just too used to seeing him lead under pressure to understand what his deal is now. In this way, you could call Bendis' characterization unpredictable...

Speaking of characterization, there's a few folks who have barely spoken (eg. Rambeau, Beast, Iron Fist). Who wants to bet those are the first to go down in the next issue?

 

 

Jamil: Perfect segway to something I noticed last issue, Sean... Iron First, Beast, Stephen Strange... they all disappeared. They never made it out of New York apparently.

Sentient robots, disaster scenarios, heroes at their lowest and discrepancies. That's what the series is about. I give a lot of Hitch's old style costumes a pass, blame it on logistics, but between characters gone missing, Red Hulk's captured drone disappearing for no reason, Stark misidentifying the Mark II armor or the fact that Sue Storm goes on the mission to the future but is very clearly shown as Wolvie's partner-in-time in the upcoming issue I have a hard time focusing on the gravity of the situation. 

This is Hitch's last work for Marvel for awhile, and I really enjoyed this issue visually even if the layouts confused the hell out of me more than once. The artist, probably sick to death with all the double splashes, tried something slightly different, but totally in his comfort zone, by utilizing a bunch of long "movie screen" panels. We haven't mentioned Paul Mounts in these reviews a lot but he has kept the tone appropriately drab, with even our beloved heroes looking less than vibrant.

Time travel, dudes. Though played out I'm always a fan of temporal trips through the MU so I'm pumped to read what happens to both the battalion going forward and the assassins going back to get Ant-Man. At the halfway point it's fair to say there should be a lot more story, but this one is all about the end and it's building nicely toward that. 

 

TIE-IN TIE-UP

 

Avengers Assemble #14AU

(Al Ewing, Butch Guice, Tom Palmer, Frank D'Armata; Marvel)

 

 

 

Shawn Hill: A different creative team for the tie-in, but they get one thing right off the bat: this book was hit or miss at first, but it's become a Black Widow solo title for most purposes. Since her issues were the best part of the previous Secret Avengers (and she's integral to the current model), I can't complain. And like DeConnick, Ewing focuses on the softer side of Natasha. She's not just the cooly efficient secret agent, the Cold War counterpart of Steve Rogers. She's a person with friends she loves, and this issue begins with her communing on a day off with some cronies from the Champions days. Which was one of those odd 1970s cobbled-together teams of then-fallow characters (mostly '60s dudes looking for some direction), but it had a pretty decent run despite it's high concept. The finale was a major Magneto/Dr. Doom battle. Today it's viewed with a kind of rueful affection by most of the participants. Call it the Uncanny Avengers of the House of Ideas era! 

 

 

Of course, things cannot continue to be so light-hearted in a disaster-crossover tie-in, and it turns out her one good day is the day Ultron strikes. San Francisco, like everywhere else, has no protection against his ruthlessness, and the consequences for human life are devastating. This is the best kind of tie-in, in that it shows how the ravaged and bitter Widow of the main event came to be, but you needn't read either part to know what's going on. 

 

 

Helping things greatly is the Guice/Palmer team, who create a kind of rough and ready Maleev-style (without the photo-sourcing, so maybe think Epting, Weeks, Garney, etc.) realism that efficiently gets the job done in what is meant to be a harrowing tale of loss. Natasha and her friends have faces with expressions and nuances, which makes the calamity all the worse when the bad news piles up in all directions and they're running for their lives. All-powerful or not, I wouldn't want to be Ultron when the scarred Widow of the final splash page catches up to him. 

 

Ultron #1AU (one-shot)

(Kathryn Immonen, Amilcar Pinna, Joe Caramagna; Marvel)

 

 

Sean Gonzalez: It's rare for a tie-in to address exactly what's on our mind. Mostly, there are a bunch of forced inclusions into ongoing stories or updates on characters we could care less about. Marvel's supposedly trying to do a better job about this, and I think this Ultron one-shot pulls off what they're going for. With the focus brought to the actual SON of Ultron, we not only get answers to how Victor's been dealing with his robot relative death squad but also to the question of what the Runaways have been up to since the end of their ill-fated series. 

 

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Of course, due to the severity of Ultron's attack, most of the Runaways are out for the count and Vic's surrounded by a new cast made up of kids he's rescued from a devastated LA. Despite this, Immonen handles the dynamics of Vic's relationship with these new folks very well -- even though they come off a tad too witty and sarcastic for a bunch of teenage refugees -- while managing to stay true to the character we remember from classic Runaways. His insecurities about being half-robot are flipped on their head when he begins to worry about being discovered by Ultron's army and his relationship with his lost friends is explored in a clever way that relates to his unique capabilities and also affects the plot directly.

 

 

Ultron #1AU is a tight piece that addresses the questions that fans of the character were asking. My only problem is that I want more! The final pages end in what must be seen as suicide run against a wave of Ultrons because there's no second issue to resolve any cliffhanger. Without specifically tying into the vital parts of Age of Ultron, or even subtly connecting to the upcoming Avengers AI series Marvel is teasing, this issue becomes just a spark in the dark with no chance of growing. It forces me to assume that Marvel didn't really plan for this one-shot or care about its outcome. 

Maybe someone owed Kathryn Immonen a favor?

 

 

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