You have to give it to Brian Michael Bendis. He starts off Age Of Ultron with a swift kick to our comic book loving balls (it’s a metaphor, so girls are included). This first of a ten-issue series doesn’t ease us into a story - it throws us into the deep end, all the while screaming "sink or swim!" This is about as unpleasant a first issue as I’ve read in many years. I don’t say that negatively, I say it with great admiration that Bendis would go right for the jugular.
Age Of Ultron #1 opens with a decimated New York City. Blown to all hell and back, the once great metropolis looks like Poland post-Nazi invasion. Burnt out buildings, few signs of life, crime running rampant, the city’s only real light is that of a huge ship hovering just overhead. Running through this apocalyptic hell is Hawkeye, a beaten up version of the handsome hero. He’s also deadly, shooting criminals in the throat and eyes as he makes his way through an abandoned building filled with super criminals and standard street scum.
Hawkeye pushes through these criminals like a man possessed. Why? Well, in the basement of this hole is a captured Spider-Man, stripped of most of his costume and beaten savagely. Hawkeye slaughters his opponents, rescues Spider-Man and then steps into the street, where Ultron robots swoop down from the ship. Releasing sound that rattles humans at a molecular level, the Ultrons demand the humans to surrender.
Hawkeye escapes with Spidey back to a grounded and largely destroyed SHIELD carrier. Inside is what’s left of the Avengers, but these are not our heroes. They’re despondent, quick to argue and devoid of hope. The worst is Captain America, who's looking as though he’s completely given up. I also have to add that Spider-Man seems much more Peter Parker than Doc Ock.
What the hell happened? I’m guessing the other nine issues of this series, plus the tie-ins, will clue us into what came before the fallout. Brian Michael Bendis was smart to structure Age Of Ultron this way. From the opening shot of Hawkeye shooting a criminal through the mouth to the final shot of a failed Captain America; Bendis hooks you into the story. By the last page, you cannot help but be driven to find out exactly what happened and what will happen next. It really is a wonderfully handled first issue.
Helping crystalize Bendis’s vision is artist Bryan Hitch, who doesn’t just knock it out of the park, he burns down the stadium and eviscerates the lands. Setting aside the staggering detail in almost every single panel, Hitch balances perfectly the action and drama of what’s going on. Sure, the movement of the action is perfect and the tension is palpable on every page, but that’s not what kills it. Hitch allows all the drama of the story to be told through the faces. The rage of Hawkeye, the fear of the criminals, the despair of the Avengers, everything comes through in Hitch’s nearly perfect faces. Page after page of new surprises, that’s what Hitch brings to Age Of Ultron.
Paul Neary’s inks are priceless. Inking this much detail can be easily overdone, and bad inking could have made the pencils too busy. Neary handles them perfectly, especially the faces, where he lines the lighter inks in the eyes, nose and mouth, leaving heavier stuff to the bodies and surroundings. Paul Mounts' colors are the final piece of the puzzle. This is an urban tale set in a world burned to the ground. The colors are muted, but Mounts never allows them to become drab. As earth-toned as everything is, the images don't blend together. The color work for the limited palate Mounts had to work with is amazing.
Age Of Ultron #1 has hooked me in. Lets hope I’m still feeling this way by issue #10.