SPOILER WARNING: This article talks at length about Age of Ultron’s publication without mentioning the actual contents of the book at all.
I can only speculate about what kind of summer Marvel are gearing up for, but I imagine spirits are high. We’re about two weeks out from an Iron Man movie and something like a hundred days from a Wolverine movie, with Guardians of the Galaxy news and Thor 2 teasers to sprinkle throughout the dog days.
In the meantime, I understand they also sell comic books. How are the blockbusters going in that department? No one ever really says (and this is another way comics are a unique entertainment medium: imagine if Marvel Studios saw the box office numbers printed in the trades after opening weekend or the Neilsen ratings from the night before, chuckled, and said “Those numbers are completely imaginary” without then coughing any data whatsoever up) but if you believe the imaginary numbers that are out there it looks like Age of Ultron took three spots in the top ten last month. I imagine the folks in Marvel’s Ink On Paper division are walking pretty tall.
As well they should be. After years of attempts and halting steps up the evolutionary ladder, Age of Ultron has perfected the Event Comic.
Just stay with me for a couple more paragraphs.
One of the reasons the book’s sales are especially impressive is that, to the bystander, Age of Ultron barely seems to be happening. Compared to your Civil Wars and your Fear Itselves, Age of Ultron is some kind of secret. Like, a Skull and Bones-level secret.
It’s possible that I might be very mildly exaggerating this one time. After all, no less than our own Josh Flanagan has reported hearing ads for the series on local radio, which isn’t something I can say about any other comic I’ve read. At the same time, if my habits and those of my friends are anything to go by, Josh may have been the only person outside of the broadcast booth listening. We are rapidly approaching the point where radio and newspapers are where I would put something I was trying to hide.
I suspect, with an abundance of no evidence at all, that the more common reaction would be the one I got from a regular comic book reader who’s a friend of mine, who texted me the last time I wrote about Age of Ultron saying, “That article was the first time I’d ever heard that series was even going on.” (One of the unintended consequences of the digital era: people reading on their iPads don’t see the ads, even the in-house ads for the blockbusters and their tie-ins, and they don’t have to walk past any posters or displays to get to the book they want.)
If you’re here, you’ve read a lot about comics, which means you’ve read a lot of complaints. Which ones does the complaint connoisseur hear every time one of these blockbusters starts hitting the stands, pray tell? “Ugh. Every time one of these things comes out, they hype it to death for months in advance then spend all summer cramming it down your throat. Every story you’re reading grinds to a halt so they can awkwardly wedge in the crossover, and you end up having to buy issues of every book in the line for months just to keep up with what the hell is going on.”
Can you say a single word of that about Age of Ultron? Without being a total churl?
I don’t think anyone being straight with you could call anything about this series “hyped to death,” unless I missed the live webcast press conference from Times Square.
Sure, it seems to be coming out constantly, but that hardly qualifies as “cramming it down your throat.” If anything, it seems like they’re trying to get in and out as quickly and directly as they can, rather than dragging things out and diluting the impact. Remember Secret Invasion, when the stars of every book you read were busy in the miniseries and the books they were normally in got to spin their wheels in flashback for a year?
And what about those tie-ins? So far, there have been what, three a month? Almost all of them are one-shots; maybe one title is doing two crossover issues in a row. So far, all of them have essentially been DVD extras for the main series. If you want to see the deleted scenes featuring Spider-Man, or find out the backstory about how Sue Storm got to that room, you can do that; if you don’t, you don’t. It couldn’t make less of a difference. They have been the most perfectly skippable, functionally optional comics in the history of Eventing. Most of them have a completely different writer and artist than the ongoing series and don’t intersect with the regular stories at all. Wolverine and the X-Men was two issues into an arc; Matt Kindt wrote an issue about robot war that relates in no way; next issue will be part three of the arc, like Kindt’s issue was a dream we all had. Considering half these books come out every two weeks now, it’s like they’re treating you to a little time off. Or treating you to a done-in-one Matt Kindt Wolverine story! Take your pick!
There is no better way to do this sort of thing. If you love Ultron and Events, that’s what you get. If you don’t, this won’t hurt a bit and will be over before you know it. It might as well come with a tank of nitrous oxide. Compare that to Avengers vs. X-Men; if you liked Cyclops stories but hated the Phoenix Five, you had yourself a bad year.
Is this a microcosm of how media consumption has changed? Is this a look at how comics marketing has adapted to the way we consume the medium now? Is it a happy accident?
What has ten fingers, an iFanboy column, and doesn’t care about any of this as long as they keep it up?
After decades of hits, misses, and complaints about hits and misses, Age of Ultron has learned from its predecessors and adapted like some kind of hyperintelligent artificial life form. From a publishing standpoint, I bow to its superiority and hope it takes over the world.
Jim Mroczkowski also likes Demon Knights, Batgirl, and a number of fine DC products.