Sticking the Landing: Ending an Event in the Age of Ultron

Oh, dear.

Oh, dear.

I remember really liking the Steven Spielberg movie that IMDB insists was named A.I. Artificial Intelligence. (Could anyone have ever called it that out loud, do you think? “One adult for A.I. Artificial Intelligence, please.” “What up? Tonight we’ll be chillin’ at the mall, maybe checking out A.I. Artificial Intelligence, yo.”) I liked it for a good long while, specifically about an hour and fifty minutes. It was dark; it was insightful; it was thought provoking. The experience would have been the perfect afternoon at the cinema, in terms of both content and length, if I had just trusted my instincts, gotten up, and calmly exited the auditorium when I heard the narrator say, “Thus, two thousand years passed,” marking the moment an entirely different movie somehow abruptly began two hours in, a cornier, vastly duller movie without characters in it. They had gotten so close, only to let the film not so much end as run out of gas and indefinitely coast to a stop.

(Should I have warned you about this? This movie is twelve years old. I think the standard spoiler warning implies that you actually intend to see the thing, or at least remember it ever existed. Besides, for the unfamiliar, the above is less of a spoiler and more sound advice. Remember the key phrase: “Thus, two thousand years passed.” Click! TV off. Winner is you.)

Speaking of artificial intelligence, the story that sent me down this meandering path this week was Marvel’s Age of Ultron, which those of you who notice the bylines here at iFanboy may know as my pet book of 2013. Believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone. That’s not any kind of slam against the creators; I’ve always been an enthusiastic fan of Brian Michael Bendis’ work, and since Marvel NOW! and Ultimate Comics Ultimate Spider-Man Ultimate started I’ve found myself marking how good a week it was going to be based on how many Bendis books were coming out on Wednesday. I have been trying to make the word “Bendissance” happen a little bit. It’s just that Age of Ultron is the kind of book that we’re sort of trained to sneer at, a “Big Two” Event sort-of crossover surrounded by all that hype we’ve been told not to believe. Being a big fan of one of these types of books is regarded by some people like being hugely excited for Matthew Broderick’s Godzilla or something. (Welcome to this week’s installment of “Timely References.” I’ll try to work in a Vanilla Sky before we go.)

The thing is, the hype about Age of Ultron gave us no idea what to expect from this book, and I love having my expectations messed with. You hear the title; you see the posters around the comic shop and the tie-in checklist; you think, “Oh. I know what this is. I’ve been here.” This time, I don’t think you have. I’ve already rambled at length about how deftly the crossoveritude was handled, but it was the book itself that made me cackle like a madman with every issue. Let me put it this way: Before the very last issue of the book, Ultron does not appear in Age of Ultron.

I’m going to sit with that for a second, because that delights me. Let me have this.

Yes, a boss-level bad guy once again has a master plan to destroy our heroes and take over the world!… but his attack happens off-panel before issue #1 starts. He begins the series by completely, decisively winning the the fight that you thought the series was going to be about. The characters that you thought were the stars of this story? Oh, they’re dead. Now we can start.

Do you have any idea how many of these things I’ve read? I’ve been buying comics on and off since like 1983. This does not happen to me anymore. They swept my expectations off the table like a sore loser with a board game, said “trust me,” and floored it. I’d talk about it more, but I would hate myself for spoiling it for anyone who said, “Oh. i know what this is” and then didn’t pick it up. Age of Ultron was a completely refreshing experience.

…and you are…?

…and you are…?

I’m not sure about those last couple of pages, though. I need to live with it for a few more days before I know if it reaches the level of “Thus, two thousand years passed.”

It is a fact of life that even the most audacious, surprising Event comic has to end with the setting up of a new status quo for other books. All of the characters are in other series that must go on from here, and it’s very important to the collectors that the story the characters were just in has changed them in ways that have lasting effects on the universe. Sometimes, that means a closing shot of the villains meeting ominously, suggesting some kind of “dark reign” is about to begin… and other times, a series just sort of trails off, promising a Point One issue summarizing what we’ve learned. In the case of Age of Ultron, there is also a last page that I guess is supposed to be an “Aw, SNAP” moment based on the way it’s rendered but is a completely unexplained gibberish non sequitur to someone (like me, for example) who was not reading comics during the foil cover era twenty years ago. To paraphrase a favorite Ghostbuster of mine: Marvel, pretend for a moment that I don’t know anything about Spawn, Neil Gaiman, or Image, and just tell me what the hell is going on. In this case, the answer is “nothing related to the previous hundred pages in any remote way.” But then, up until the last page, that kind of unexpectedness was the book’s chief asset.

I dunno. You read it and tell me.

Endings are quite a trick in a world where the characters never age and the stories are always To Be Continued. Maybe this one pulled it off as well as one can under the circumstances. Or maybe the journey is more important than the destination. Either way, the sights along the way this time were well worth it.

Jim Mroczkowski prefers to review things in first person.


  1. “You never studied.”

  2. I was enjoying Age of Ultron, I thought it was a very different kind of event. I was not expecting much of a ending, I didn’t care much but I was very much disappointed by that random ending.

    I think it kind of was like Lost with that shit of an ending. It spoils all that came before.

    • It’s the journey, not the destination. Were you not entertained by LOST?

    • The end showed that the whole show was a fraud. My disheartened opinion…

    • Fraud… how? It was designed to entertain you every week so that you’d watch the commercials and/or buy the DVD sets. Did it somehow retroactively invalidate your weekly enjoyment?

    • That’s what fraud means. The promise of a pay-off that never happens. Example, Bernie Maddoff was convicted regardless of the hope he provided people.

    • Exactly, muddi900!

      Fraud for my expectation. It wasn’t a fraud for many people certainly. Maybe it was my fault. But if I knew from the beggining that it would end like that I wouldn’t create as many expectations and wouldn’t be so disappointed.

  3. I thought although the series wasn’t anything groundbreaking or amazing it was fun and sort of an elseworld type story in a way that involved time travel, different variations of familiar characters and deaths which made it somewhat enjoyable.

    That being said the ending wasn’t what I was looking for since the last few pages were all basically a set up for multiple other series which in themselves are extensions to an event and I for one am not intrested in that kind of thing. Just like those different mini series that followed Fear itself and Avengers Vs Xmen like the fearless or A+X, once the initial event is done I usually just end it there if I wasn’t a huge fan of it in the first place. So basically I had a bit of fun with this but as far as a great ending to a story I wouldn’t say it was, despite there always being a status quo change which is needed by the end of these things, I get it.

  4. I couldn’t agree more re: A.I. I’ve always thought “Here’s where Kubrick died, and Speilberg went ‘good stuff, now I can FIX the ending, cause everyone loves happy endings!'”

    • How was that ending happy? The kid got to see his mommy again but only for 24 hours. That’s not happy, that’s super depressing!

    • And that is the reason why I’ve only watched that movie once. Once. The melodramatic pain of that ending is too much for a second sit-through.

  5. If i hadn’t seen it in various places months before it happened I;d have had absolutely no idea what on earth that last page was all about, and to be frank I’ve still only got the vaguest.
    As for the other 2 endings: Ultimate Spider-Man ending at least makes sense, but more blending of the two universes just gives me a reason to stop reading, not buy more.
    That Singularity thing – no idea at all.
    I enjoyed the whole series I;m just working on the basis that the last 5 or 6 pages never happened.

  6. The event should have ended with the cracking of time. Then a backup started that showed the reader where to go from there.

  7. “Ultimate Comics Ultimate Spider-Man Ultimate”. Long form joke or excessive typos? Either way, they need to lose the Ultimate Comics title.

    I skipped this event because to me it was gonna be another “Secret Invasion” and I didn’t feel the need to read an event. Congrats to Marvel on dodging another “Fear Itself”. I can’t believe they shoved Angela into the ending though, is this the first time Marvel has acquired another comics character? Did they forget the 90s are over? Maybe they just really wanted to piss off Todd Mcfarlene. Is it true Marvel put ads for it’s next event in the pages of it’s ongoing event?!

    I have to wonder how Bendis’ writing would inprove if he didn’t have to write so many books, and how Marvel events would go if they were written by Hickman or Remender (and not half a dozen others at the same time)? I’ll probably find out in 5 or 6 years, but I’m not in any hurry.

    • Hickman is writing the next event solo so you only have to wait for Infinity #1

    • Yeah, after I get the latest issue of Thunderbolts I’m gonna be avoiding Marvel like the plague. Hickman should have been given an event alot sooner, but I’m not going to rush to read Infinity. I’ll read it in trade a few years down the line. Just how I feel about Marvel right now.

  8. Vanilla Sky is one of the greatest movies of all time, and I’m being serious

  9. I think Angela is more of a statement about the settlement of Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane and Spawn’s legal mumbo-jumbo than it is a….character moment.

    It is simply saying, “hey Neil won and so now we can use this character in *our* universe. Now, I’m not saying Miracleman is next or anything, but Neil beat Todd on this at least.”

    Or, for those who aren’t aware of all of that, it is saying, “Get ready, the boundaries of the Marvel Universe as you knew them no longer exist. Thus an Image character is now a Marvel one. Thus strange things are afoot at the Circle Continuity.”

  10. I found Age of Ultron pretty terrible. There were germs of interesting ideas that, if fleshed out, would have been WAY more satisfying than the finished product. (Alternate universes, Moon Knight and Black Widow, things getting sucked in and blown out of Earth 616).

    I honestly feel that in the hands of better writers, Age of Ultron could have been at least an truly entertaining event, rather than an overall disappointing, unfinished, advertising stunt.

    My 2 cents.

  11. So, if this is the last time travel story of the Marvel U, that would be cool. If this leads to the universe collapsing going on in New Avengers, that would be cool. Shoe-horning Angela in the Marvel U is a big headscratcher, but whatever. Maybe she’ll date Angel and join the new Valkerie Defenders.

    As an event, the thing did defy expectations, and the character moments w/ Wolverine and Sue Storm were pretty good.

    Overall I’d give it a B+, simply because it did all the things I wish the last three events had done.

    • Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      It’s definitely not the last time travel story in the Marvel U. It’s not even the last one for Bendis. Just look at the next X-Men event.

    • Isn’t Angela going to be part of GotG now? Or is that just when she’s being fully introduced in the Marvel U? Either way I heard she’s next appearing in GotG and Neil Gaiman is co-writing those issues. Wait a minute… Is Neil Gaiman hard up for money, is that what’s behind these shenanigans?!

    • Oh god…More time travel X-Men? Noooooooo!

      @Itho, if they finally fixed Gamora’s costume so she’s not falling out all the time, and then stick that giant fucking belt in GotG, I will cry.

    • @Bub, keep your tissues handy. Seriously, who was hired for Angela’s redesign? He couldn’t think of anything better than that panel above?! Maybe it’s something to do with her copyright, changing the costume alters the deal or something.

    • That panel of Angela above was drawn by Joe Quesada.

    • Damn you beat me to it. Just found that out. Here’s a quote I also found from Neil Gaiman about Angela joining Marvel:

      “I’m ridiculously proud of Angela: a hunter, a warrior, a take-no-prisoners kick-ass lady angel with whom you would never want to mess, “Creating her was fun, writing her early exploits was a delight. It made me sad that her time in comics was cut short, and that people who loved her (including me) thought they’d never see her again. I am happy that, after a long time in the wilderness of non-existence, she has come back to us again. “And given what I know about how she’s come back and the role she’s going to be playing in the Marvel universe (not to mention the wonderful Joe Quesada designs) she is, as Stan Lee used to delight in saying, “Back…! And better than EVER!”

      It’s like I can Marvel just throwing money at him for saying all this. Personally, aside from “Marvel 1602” I’ve never been wowed by Gaiman’s Marvel work. He should go back to DC and write a Metamorpho mini series.

    • @IthoSapien Please don’t wish writing at DC on anyone. That’s not nice. I mean, I’m not Gaiman’s biggest fan (although my 16-year-old self was), but I wouldn’t wish that on my least favorite writer, at this point.

      I’d give this a B+, too. I had a lot of fun reading it, and never deluded myself into thinking that it would “change everything ever.” I don’t *need* events to “matter,” just to be “fun.” This was, and it gave us glimpses of awesome throughout. Would it have been better if it had been given twice as much room to breathe? Maybe. Or maybe it would have been a bloated mess a la “Fear Itself.”

    • @Quinn, you know not every person working at DC is treated like disposable resources. Heck, Greg Pak left Marvel to work at DC. Me wishing Gaiman would come back to DC wasn’t meant as an insult. I doubt he’ll stay with this Angela thing for very long, as far as I know most Marvel books center on ACTION and IMO Gaiman’s best stories are not about fisticuffs. More and more I think this is all so Gaiman grabs some easy cash (not that I blame him for that, I’d probably do the same).

      And I can’t believe you’re suggesting Age of Ultron should have been longer. Cudswallowup. Cudsallowup I say!!

  12. I really can’t stand Bendis and yet I keep reading him because he gets put on all of the books I want to read. I was so psyched when I found out that GOTG was coming back and then learned that Bendis was on it. At least it hasnt been packed full of endless, pointless ‘witty’ (hipsteresque?) dialogue yet.

    Hickman should have done AU. I have big hopes for an event written solely by him. I’m really hoping he breaks the Marvel event mold and tries something different.

  13. “Endings are quite a trick in a world where the characters never age and the stories are always To Be Continued. Maybe this one pulled it off as well as one can under the circumstances.”

    It seems like what you’re saying here is, “In order to excuse Age of Ultron #10, we should just lower the bar to the point where we’re not allowed to criticize endings anymore for anything. Bad comic? Bad final chapter of a story? Well if it’s part of an ongoing continuity, then you just have to readjust your expectations so that you let lazy writers and editors walk all over you and YOU’LL LIKE IT, dammit!”

    It’s like your first priority is apologizing for mediocrity (let’s be generous and call it “mediocre”), and every other sane response to AoU has to readjust themselves around that.

    You like Bendis. Fine. I loved hid Daredevil, his Ultimate Spider-Man, and am enjoying his X-stuff now. But it’s pretty easy to see when he isn’t putting in much effort and is giving readers a hot mess. I would think that appreciating Bendis at his best would cause you to feel a bit more cheated when he gives you comics like Age of Ultron #10.

  14. I’ve been a bendis fan for years, but lately it seems that he’s just kinda winging everything he does. His first couple issues of a series may start out strong, but then it seems that halfway through he’s just not crafting very convincing or inspired endings.

    I felt that the artist change-up halfway through, from Hitch to Petersen and Pacheco was distracting (I used to love Pacheco too… his Avengers Forever art is among my favorite all-time artwork ever in a comic, but his new style just seems rushed and plain).

    We’ll see what happens in the months leading up to Infinity, and how AoU affects the Marvel (and Ultimate) universes.

  15. “Or maybe the journey is more important than the destination.”

    That nails it for me, Jim. Ideally, if the story is well done, the status quo changing “To Be Continued in these 14 new books” part is just the epilogue.

    My biggest beef has always been with event series whose sole purpose is to set up the status quo for the next thing. Those stories are almost ALWAYS dull and uninteresting — and it seems like the creators/publishers barely even bother to cover the visibly hanging wires; the creative energy is already focused is on the Next Thing. It’s almost like they’re tossing off a 4 or 6 or 10 issue explanation of things for the few fans who will gripe about it if they DON’T explain.

    I haven’t read Age of Ultron, so I can’t speak to it. I don’t think I mind a status quo changing “epilogue,” but I do believe the series itself needs to be a story that demands and deserves to be told. It seems like maybe AoU was that for you…?

    • For me, I mostly enjoyed reading Age of Ultron, it was a decent limited series. Kurt Busiek told what I think is a far superior Avengers time travel tale (also with art from Carlos Pacheco) called Avengers Forever, which I’ve re-read several times and suspect I’ll read again. In contrast, I doubt that I’ll ever want to read this again. So while it was enjoyable, it wasn’t amazing, but that’s true of most of the comics that have ever been published…

    • AVENGERS FOREVER is a great example. That’s a fun, epic story. Now, if they tacked a 6-page epilogue to the end of that story…? And it told us that the story itself “broke the time stream,” and that now all these other thing are happening because of it…? Does that lessen the impact of the story told?

      I tend to think it doesn’t, but that may be my own ability to ignore such an epilogue. 😀 It definitely creates an “open ending” that begs for more. And I can see how that could lessen the impact of the story overall. It sort of puts the whole story into a larger framework (“it wasn’t just that, it’s actually THIS, too!”), which has a cumulative effect of diminish the completeness of the tale told.

      But then we’re kind of used to that in serialized fiction. It goes back to Jim’s point about “sticking the landing.” 🙂

    • What do mean, “IF they tacked a 6-page epilogue to the end of” Avengers Forever? The final 5 pages are basically epilogue, although only the final page has the word epilogue printed on it. That story (like AoU) was also used to make minor tweaks to character continuity too, although it clearly didn’t claim to have broken the Marvel time stream! But in terms of cleanly and satisfyingly resolving the active story while setting in motion future stories, I feel that Avengers Forever was vastly more successful and satisfying (in my opinion). Which is why Avengers Forever continues to get new printings, and why I suspect AoU will not fair as well.

    • Sorry… To clarify: I just meant if Avengers Forever had an epilogue tacked onto it that was *similar in nature* to Age of Ultron. Meaning, if it had an ending that, rather than closing off threads, opened things up for three new series. I don’t really remember the exact epilogue of AF, but if you’re saying it was used to “make minor tweaks”, that sounds more like a wrap-up than an “open” ending that pushes the reader to more series (as AoU does).

    • I think the two things the Avengers Forever set up was Peter David’s Captain Marvel series (the first volume, not the relaunch where Genis went crazy that David did later) and I think it set up Maximum Security or some such crossover involving the Forever Crystal and the Kree evolving and Earth becoming a prison planet for aliens or something. The “epilogue” was two pages total. It’s no different than the Kree-Skrull War ending with Hawkeye going missing and Rick being merged with Mar-Vell, or with Civil War leading to the Initiative or Secret Invasion leading to Dark Reign and Siege, Stories of ongoing narratives usually end with some sort of foreshadowing or dangling plot thread to get people to come back for the next thing.

      Disclaimer: I’ve not read Age of Ultron, so I can’t comment on the nature of the epilogue. It sounds like it’s a different kind of beast though, so I can understand people’s frustration. Actually, it all sounds a lot like Flashpoint to me, a time travel alternate reality story that really is just there as a plot device to set up a new status quo.

    • Except Flashpoint was only 7(?) issues long and based on other people’s reactions, a better story it sounds like. (Disclaimer: I’ve only read Flashpoint, not AoU).

    • That’s a good point and my impression as well. The investment of time and money was a lot less for Flashpoint, and coupled with a good story, made it much more worthwhile.

      Paul’s joke about Barry Allen on the cover of Age of Ultron 10A in the Light Week article seems pretty apt though, given the structure of the two series. Maybe The Flash will start the Marvel new 52 this week! haha

    • Ridiculous, you and I both know Marvel could never stop at 52 titles. They must envelop the entire comic shelf! We need more X-books, more Spidey books! More! MMOOORRREEE!!!

      Seriously tho, I think Marvel is publishing way more books than DC even when DC actually has 52 titles running. Trying to count them all is like pulling teeth for some reason.

    • Definitely! I think there are 52 Avengers books alone!

  16. A two issue series stretched to ten via loving renderings of rubble and detritus.

  17. In terms of the Angela ending, that was very disappointing to me. I have no idea who the character is or why I’m supposed to care. The writer saved two whole pages for her introduction, which could have been used for 6-10 panels of exposition or explanatory story telling to engage me and to make me care. Instead I’m given a sparsely written, obscure, boring double-page spread that does nothing to advance the continuing parts of the story. It was so typical of the worst traits of modern comics, and pretty disappointing. And to think they poly bagged the comic to hide that “shocking” ending, which I couldn’t understand even after reading the comic, and which I already knew was coming from USA Today.

  18. I loved Age of Ultron when it looked like it was going to be a book about Moon Knight and an injured Black Widow versus The Vision who had become worse than Ultron. For some reason all those characters simply disappeared and so did my interest

  19. I think the biggest problem the series had was that the meat of the story was in the middle, making the beginning seem very over-extended. Once Bendis introduced the solution and the counter-solution, the reader realizes that’s the story, not the three or four issues that preceded it. Likewise with the early tie-ins – they supported the story that wasn’t the story. The story that was the story (abuse of time travel, not thinking through the outcome of changing the past, etc.) was really good, and this ending issue ended that story very well. The only point of the first few issues is, “Do you understand how terrible this scenario is? Do you understand how impossible it will be to undo this? Good – now you know why the heroes go for such an extreme response.”

  20. If it’s a good story when I get around to reading the trade, that’s great.

    I’m not much of a day-and-date guy amymore, but even when I was, I never expected more than entertainment.

    Great changes in the status quo? Those could be cool, too.

    Provided they prove worthy of producing good stories.

    Since the characters don’t age and often don’t learn, some might say that compelling stories can’t be told.

    I think they can. If one wishes to do so.

    I’ve done enough Marvel events for a while. The Aughts were fun. I’ll read Marvel NOW… when I get around to it, just like the New 52. When I hear something was good, I order the trade from the library.

    Considering the shipping schedule now, The Children’s Crusade was about the last maxi-series I “needed” to buy.

  21. AoU got off to a great start, then completely fizzled at the end. I was so disappointed. And I think I’m supposed to deeply care about Angela, but I don’t really. I had to look up who the character was when she was spoiled.

    To quote horse, “No sir.. I didn’t like it.

    Avengers Forever is a much tighter story, tying in YEARS of Avengers continuity and time travel stories. And no Wolverine in sight….

  22. I like how Neil Gaiman is credited but has done zero publicity for it, and never even mentions it on twitter.