Age of Ultron
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Pencilled by Bryan Hitch
Inks by Paul Neary
Colours by Paul Mounts
Letters by VC's Cory Petit
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Just about a year ago now I was in San Francisco. It's a beautiful city and both exactly, and nothing, like how it's presented on screen. It is however, very hilly and the navy is actually in Alameida, so Star Trek IV didn't lie about that. Which, honestly, is a relief. When I was there, I spent four blissfully happy months learning to boogie board, rock climb, taking up yoga, discovering the joys of the bottomless coffee cup and adjusting to weather which didn't range from 'sort of okay' to 'why has there no been change in the ambient light outside for twelve hours.' It's a wonderful place, a second home and I'm positively giddy with excitement at the thought of returning in a few weeks.
And one of the biggest things in San Francisco's favor? At no point, at all, was the city obliterated by a hive mind AI returned from space with nothing but cold analytical vengeance on its mind. Seriously, I would have remembered.
Unfortunately the Marvel universe's San Francisco isn't quite so lucky. Opening in the ruins by the bay, Book two of Age of Ultron shows us just how bad things have got there. There's no colossal structure towering above the city but there's precious few people left and those that are can be divided into survivors, targets and heroes. Black Widow and Moon Knight are the heroes, and they kill a survivor inside the first five pages. This is a new world, certainly, but there's nothing brave about it. This opening vignette, much like last issue, could be accused of decompressed storytelling but, again, it works. Widow, carrying a ghastly injury to her face, and Moon Knight, are the perfect choices for survivors, firstly because of what they've been trained to do and secondly because Moon Knight was on the first places we had echoes of what was coming here. Alone, and hiding out in a SHIELD safehouse (With a Barber's shop cover and everything!) they stumble on a board covered with polaroids of heroes and villains. Fury knew something was coming, knew he'd need an army but what? And how? And what can they do with this information?
Meanwhile back in New York we get a definitive answer on which Spider-Man this is (Peter) and a chilling vision of the moment Ultron took over. It seems to be instantaneous, the machines appearing over New York and punching through buildings to secure themselves in seconds, We also get some interesting exploration of exactly what was going on last issue; why were Hammerhead and Owl looking to sell Peter to Ultron? Why was Ultron interested? Who else had they done this to already? These questions are raised and almost immediately brushed away by Tony Stark and his band of shattered, terrified survivors. There's no hint of a plan, no hint of anything beyond getting to the end of the day; rats in costumes, picking through the ruins of the world they used to own. It's, again, a startlingly dark way to close an issue, though there's a neat callback to, and build on, the final page of issue 1. Peter arriving at the helicarrier has consequences, and for better or for worse, the New York heroes have a plan now. The only question is what? And how will Widow and Moon Knight's discovery in San Francisco effect that?
Age of Ultron continues to be the most interesting event either of the big two have produced in some time. There's a real air of doom to it, and as the scale of destruction is explored (It's a nice touch by the way that Widow and Moon Knight, on an operation when Ultron struck, have no idea how bad things are, and neither do the heroes in New York) it becomes clear that if this is the core Marvel universe, then these changes may be felt for a long time. Regardless, it's hugely fun in a way that reminds me of the original Terminator movie in terms of sheer, dark fun. Bendis' script neatly handles changes in pace and tone and you'll be poring over that double page spread of polaroids for a while I'm sure, whilst Hitch, Neary and Mounts continue to show us the end of the world in wonderfully dark tones and intricate, cold, mechanical detail. However it's the little moments that stay with you, and here, those belong to the final page (No spoilers, promise) and Widow. Her rage at what's happened and calm, pragmatic fatalism at what she's going to have to do are both utterly in keeping with the character and very poignant. Natasha's not been written this well for a while, and the fact I'm honestly worried if she'll make it out alive, movies or no, shows just how well she's portrayed here. Rounded out, once again, with great lettering by Petit, one of the hardest working letterers in the business, this is another intriguing piece of the Age of Ultron puzzle. Bring on issue 3.