Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of The Supervillain Handbook, examines at a major comic news item and picks a few winners and one loser among the week's comic book releases.
Marvel's big "Age of Ultron" event wrapped up this week and I'm honestly not really sure what to make of where it ended up.
I won't spoil it for you, but the series, which almost entirely stayed at a safe remove from any of the ongoing Marvel universes, wound up having those world-changing consequences that Marvel and DC always promises from its events. It's not entirely defined at this point, but there's an epilogue that demonstrates that some elements that make up the Ultimate and Marvel universes have been shuffled around.
It's weird to think about. "Age of Ultron" was a series that felt experimental in a lot of ways. Bendis played with the structure of an event quite a bit, and events occurred that essentially negated events that came before. Over at Tim O'Neil's blog, he dug pretty deep into writer Brian Michael Bendis' stated goals for the book. Here's something Bendis said in response to a question on Tumblr:
"I knew I was going to take a bit of a beating from some corners of the Twittersphere because you can’t even judge the piece until it’s completed, but, as is my way, I don’t care. :-) once an idea gets in my head it’s very hard not to do it."
In a lot of ways, I think that's a pretty noble way for a creator to think. Experimentation is good, particularly in the realm of Big-Two event comics, which tend to be awfully samey and predictable most of the time. O'Neil takes it to Bendis a bit for trying to be a sort of auteur in a big-event comic, but I don't mind it. I want to read stories in which creators take chances. Sometimes taking chances results in failure. I certainly think "Age of Ultron" had some major flaws that made it a difficult-to-love series, if not a flat-out failure. But I'd rather read ambitious failures than run-of-the mill, predictable successes.
What I'm having trouble wrapping my head around is how this event, a not-entirely-successful attempt to do some and genre hopping and deal with Marvel characters in mostly alternate realities (Bendis tried to say they weren't alternate realities, but come on) wound up having those big repercussions that seemingly every event has to have.
It seems antithetical to the very idea of the story. Sure, comics are a serialized medium in which stories invariably lead to other stories. But something can really, truly be self-contained, and it can be OK. People like to talk about comics stories "mattering." The thing is, if a story had an impact on you as a reader, it mattered. It doesn't always have to lead into the next big thing. Sometimes, it shouldn't. Forcing a very specific type of "mattering" onto readers has made us, collectively into Pavlov's dog, waiting for the bell to ring.
It doesn't always have to.
And now the comics of the week!
"Brother Lono" #1
(Vertigo Comics, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso)
Back when I talked to Brian Azzarello about "Brother Lono," he said, "Lono's not the worst character in this story." He wasn't kidding. Many of the pages of this comic are spent introducing readers to some incredibly ruthless characters, to the point where Lono is a sort of hero by comparison, despite Lono being up there among the most reprehensible characters in "100 Bullets" proper. Azzarello was also insistent that "Brother Lono" is in no way a sequel to the original "100 Bullets" series. That's largely true. Lono is the only character from that series to appear here. That said, this series seems to certainly be carrying on the spirit of that long-running series. The storytelling is still intriguing, dark and sometimes disturbingly violent. It's also incredibly compelling.
(Valiant Comics, by Duane Swierczynski and Barry Kitson)
Bloodshot is playing a big role in the big "Harbinger Wars" Valiant event, and instead of doing what the Big Two often do during events and either tangentially tie in an inconsequential story in a character's ongoing title or simply ignore the event in the ongoing book, this issue of "Bloodshot" tells a side-story that takes place during the events of "Harbinger Wars" but also offers a major, major development in the continuing story of Bloodshot and Project Rising Spirit. This issue is an example of shared-universe comics done right. It probably helps that the Valiant Universe is relatively small right now, but it's still commendable.
(Image Comics, by Brian Wood and Ming Doyle)
It wasn't entirely evident at first, but around the third issue of "Mara," it became readily apparent that the first arc of this book was telling a superhero origin story. Now that the first arc is apparently over (or at least at its climax), I'm not so sure anymore. This issue offers a couple turns that threw me for a loop. I really don't know where this book is going, what Mara is going to do, or, quite seriously, how this world is going to look in a few issues. That's exciting.
"Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" #24
(Marvel Comics, by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez)
I've never had any great love for Cloak and Dagger, but I found myself getting really wrapped up in this issue, which is almost completely devoted to an origin for the Ultimate version of the characters. People give Bendis a ton of guff for decompressed storytelling, and often it's deserved, but this issue knocks out this origin in its entirety and still gets some Miles Morales beats in, too. It's great. Ultimate Spidey remains his best work, and having David Marquez on art helps a bunch, too.
"Uncanny Avengers" #9
(Marvel Comics, by Rick Remender and Daniel Acuna)
I was already pretty conflicted about this comic -- I'm a big Kang guy, but I could give a flip about Apocalypse, and this story is sort of throwing the two in together. But the plot is not what made me end up souring on this specific issue. Rather, it's the handful of pages in the middle in which Rogue and Scarlet Witch have a a lengthy debate about the controversial stuff Alex Summers said four issues ago -- in brief, he said, "Don't call me a mutant." It isn't that the characters are having a debate about it that's the problem; it's how much the whole thing reads like an editorial directed at the audience. It doesn't feel like characters talking at all. It's a means to an end, an explanation being put into their mouths. It only serves to draw more attention to a problematic issue, and kind of digs the hole deeper.