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BLOG Age Of Ultron Book 2 review

Alasdair Stuart continues to be impressed by Marvel’s latest "Event”

Book Two

THE ONE WHERE In San Francisco, a badly disfigured Black Widow and Moon Knight gather information on what’s happened, slowly piecing together exactly how bad the situation is. Operating out of one of Nick Fury’s hideouts, they discover something which could give humanity the first chance it’s had. Meanwhile in New York, Peter Parker tells the heroes what he saw on the day the world ended, there’s a lot of discussion over why Hammerhead and Owl were looking to sell him to Ultron and the heroes try and work out just what, if anything, they can do.

VERDICT Book two spreads the focus of the first issue as we check in on the other coast and discover two interesting things; firstly that the devastation is at least America-wide and secondly, it happened so quickly that no one has any real idea of what’s going on or how bad it really is.

Stop and think about that for a moment. Regardless of which Marvel universe this is, it’s pretty clearly meant to be the modern world. We all live in a sea of technology and information so instantaneously available that every major news organ on the planet is racing to keep up. Twitter, YouTube, that needy box on FaceBook that always asks, "What have you been up to? How have you been? Have you called your mum today? Can I have some chips?" All of it combines to create a constantly evolving benign data shadow that we all cast and we call can interact with. Information is everywhere here, and it’s everywhere in the Marvel Universe and, despite this, the smartest people on the planet, an indeterminate amount of time after Ultron has invaded, have no idea how bad it is. That, more than the shattered remnants of the cities we’re shown, tells you just how bad things have got.

The opening half of the book, set in San Francisco, follows Black Widow and Moon Knight through a near silent sequence that wouldn’t look out of place in the later volumes of Akira . The city is a wreck, and the two trained soldiers make their way through the wreckage with almost disinterested professionalism and violence. This is an interesting mirror of Hawkeye’s run at the start of the previous issue: all three are highly-trained SHIELD operatives of varying levels of regularity and all three are far more comfortable in this world than their friends.

The sequence also showcases exactly how bad things are; the survivors are either hunted by Ultron or by other survivors and any chance of being able to help people, or gather a force around them, is gone. All they have as a result is one of Nick Fury’s old safehouses and a wall of photos that might mean… something. We get a two-page splash of polaroids of dozens of Marvel characters and Widow and Hawkeye discussing whether or not these were people Fury was looking at when the Skrulls invaded a couple of years previously. Both work off the assumption it is but I can’t help but suspect it has more to do with this story. After all, we’ve heard reference to the Ultron War before now and it would only make sense to have Marvel’s foremost paranoid nutbar master spy have the inside line on it.

This is all fun, but it’s the quiet character moments that stay with you from the San Francisco sequence. What appears to be anger on Widow’s part is revealed to be disgust at how quickly humanity has collapsed and rage that she and her friends were unable to stop it. Either missing an eye or burned so badly she may as well be, Widow’s calm, steady resolution to die killing Ultron feels like a vital part of what’s coming, regardless of her presence in the movies. To be able to sell this moment this well is a real mark of quality in the writing and I hope we spend a lot more time with Bendis’ two marooned special operatives.

Especially as they provide a great emotional counterpoint to the New York survivors. While Widow and Moon Knight are down but not out, looking for a way to get back in the game, the New York group are stuck in a holding pattern seemingly terrified of going anywhere but the Helicarrier. It’s a subtle character beat but it emphasises the heroism Hawkeye showed by going out on the rescue mission we saw in Book One. Stark is one of the smartest men on the planet, She-Hulk and Power Man are two of the strongest people there are, but they, and the others, are hiding, terrified of stepping outside the wreck because they have literally no hope of surviving. Hawkeye is an archer who, from time to time, is deaf. He went anyway. The moment where it’s revealed they assume Ultron’s taken the planet because nothing’s tried to enter New York air space is especially chilling, echoing a similar conversation in 28 Days Later . That’s a real mark of how different Age of Ultron feels, that the closest thing to it in tone is one of the more daring post apocalyptic movies of the last 20 years.

But much like San Francisco, what stays with you from the New York sequence are the little touches: Spider-Man’s mile-a-minute speech pattern; the growing question of why Ultron would want him; and that last page and the tiny glimpses of a caped figure at the heart of the Ultron device. There’s more going on here than anyone thought and the fact that Peter is both back with them somehow vital to Ultron’s plans tips the scales in the heroes favour for the first time and leads to another excellent final page.

There are no promises in this series, no certainty, but that last page is both a perfect mirror of the last page of book one and a real indicator that things are about to speed up. There’s a plan now, and whatever it is, it’s about to be set in motion. You need two sides to fight a war and based on this issue, the heroes are finally getting back up. Whilst I honestly don’t fancy their chances just yet, I can’t wait to find out what the plan is. Another good entry in what, so far, is the best “Event” series for a good few years.

THEORIES

No new theories this week, which is a relief, but we do gather some evidence and.. well let’s just say it doesn’t overly help ( check the issue one review for other theories/evidence ).

Theory 1: This is the Marvel Now! Earth… now

Evidence against:
• Peter Parker is very, very clearly Peter Parker, not Otto Octavius in Peter Parker’s body.

Theory 3: The Story Is Set In The Future

Evidence for:
• Widow and Moon Knight being sent on an operation isn’t necessarily something we’d see in another book (say, Secret Avengers ) but if nothing else Widow’s presence in other books suggests this mission hasn’t happened yet
• A point that has only just occurred to me. What if the very fact that Peter Parker is Peter Parker and not Otto Octavius in Peter’s body proves this is the future of the primary Marvel universe? That way the events in the Spider-Man titles can play out at their usual speed and, when Peter’s finally restored, the world is immediately taken over by Ultron. Which, let’s face it, is about standard Peter Parker luck.

BEST IMAGE The last page again. I wonder if this is going to be a motif?

WHO’S WHO AT THE END OF THE WORLD?

• Moon Knight: Okay, this one’s a little complex. Marc Spector first appeared in Werewolf By Night #32 in August 1975 as an enemy of the main character. He proved popular and was given his own title as well as guest spots in various others. A marine and CIA agent, as well as a phenomenal athlete, Spector was working as part of a mercenary team providing security for an archaeological dig in Africa when the group uncovered a statue of the Egyptian moon god Khonsu. Raoul Bushman (yes, really), the group’s leader, murdered the head archaeologist and looted the dig. Disgusted by this, Spector challenged him to unarmed combat and… pretty much got beaten to death. Left to die, he was rescued by a group of Egyptians who took him to a nearby temple. There, Khonsu appeared to him in a vision and healed him in return for Spector agreeing to be his avatar. Wrapped in the silver cowl from the temple, Spector tracked down and beat Bushman and returned to the US.

There, he invested his mercenary pay and, with the small fortune he got and to distance himself from his past, created the identity of Steven Grant, eccentric millionaire. He also set himself up as Jake Lockley, a taxi driver, as a means of keeping his ear to the ground. Over the course of the next few years he was killed and resurrected twice, possessed by a supernatural disease that requires him to wear adamantium armor to hold his body together, finally defeated Bushman once and for all in one of the most hellaciously violent ways imaginable and set up a highly successful TV show based on his adventures. However, his ongoing investigations into an Ultron body and head (which explains a lot about what he’s doing here), led him not only to rejoin the Avengers but develop at least three new split personalities based on Iron Man, Captain America and Wolverine. Oh and maybe Iron Man too. Spector’s a very odd character who knows it, and handled right – as he is here – he’s a real asset to a series as seen in his appearances in Warren Ellis’ excellent Secret Avengers run.

• Daisy Johnson: First appearing in Secret War # 2, Daisy is a SHIELD agent with the ability to trigger earthquakes. She’s also the daughter of supervillain Mr Hyde. Daisy was taken in by Nick Fury and followed him even when he went off the grid following the events of Civil War . She’s an occasional Avenger, serving under the name Quake, and when Fury retired and his son joined SHIELD as an agent, Daisy was named Fury’s successor. At present, Maria Hill is Acting Director but Daisy remains in charge.

• The SHIELD Barber Shop: This is actually a really nice call back to Strange Tales #136 published in September 1965. The SHIELD Barber shop introduced there was a secret entrance to SHIELD’s primary New York HQ and was later upgraded to include a teleportation link to the Helicarrier. After several security breaches, the underground base, and the Barber shop, were shut down but most recently have been used by Deadpool from which to run Deadpool Inc. Whilst the one we see here is several thousand miles away from the one introduced back in 1965, it’s a nice touch that Fury clearly took the New York model and seeded these hideouts countrywide.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
• When is this happening?
• Is this the core Marvel universe?
• Where was Ultron?
• Why did he invade?
• How did he win?
• Which heroes are still alive?
• Which villains are still alive?
• Has Ultron taken over the entire planet or just the US?
• Why are the Ultron units we see yellow?
• How long ago did Ultron invade?
• What is the vast structure over New York?
• What was Tony Stark terrified Ultron had infected Haweye and Spider-Man with?
• Why was Hawkeye told once he left the helicarrier he could never return?
• What happened to Captain America’s shield?
• Where is Iron Man’s armour?
• Why were the Guardians of the Galaxy unable to defend the planet?
• What is the “understanding” Ultron has with the villains?
• What happened to Thor?
• How did Ultron deploy his machines so quickly?
• How did Ultron deploy his machines so fast?
• Why didn’t Spider-Man’s spider sense go off?
• Who is the caped figure Spider-Man glimpsed at the heart of the Ultron Device? It sure looks a lot like Thor.
• What was the mission Black Widow and Moon Knight were sent on?
• What happened to Black Widow’s eye?
• What did Fury want with the people in the polaroids?
• Who’s on Fury’s wall?
• Is Nick Fury dead?
What’s The Plan?

ANSWERED(ISH) Questions
• Which heroes are still alive? Black Widow, Moon Knight (who are technically West Coast Avengers right now), Spider-Man, Dr Strange, Quicksilver, Emma Frost, Iron Fist, She-Hulk, Valkyrie, Luke Cage, Hawkeye, Monica Rambeau, Wolverine, Sue Storm, Beast, Storm, Daisy Johnson, Iron Man and Captain America are all confirmed alive as of book two.

• Why was Spider-Man being held captive? Apparently as part of a business arrangement Owl and Hammerhead had with Ultron. We have no idea as yet exactly why Ultron would go into business with much lesser villains though.

• Who’s on Fury’s wall? (Working in loose columns from left to right); Wasp, Wolverine, a woman with purple hair and shades who may be Psylocke, Daredevil, Captain America, Iceman, Red Hulk, someone obscured by Spector’s hand, Squirrel Girl (FOR THE WIN!), Spider-Woman, Emma Frost, Hawkeye, Trapster, Moon Knight’s picture being held… by Moon Knight (oh Marc, you adorable egomaniac), Norman Osborn, Tony Stark, Luke Cage, someone who looks a lot like Karnak from the Inhumans, Medusa, two we can’t see because Moon Knight loves looking at himself, Machine Man, Johnny Storm, Doctor Doom, Captain Marvel (In her old outfit, interestingly), Hulkling, Crystal, an unidentified red-haired woman, another unidentified and very stern-looking redhead, Thor, She-Hulk, Sentry, Ares, Sue Richards, Scarlet Witch, Doctor Strange, Reed Richards, Namor, Red She-Hulk, Hellcat, Silver Surfer, Vision, Lockjaw, who is connected by a blue arrow to Gorgon, Black Bolt, Wiccan, Wonder Man, Iron Fist, Ikon the Space Knight (with a note saying CHECK ALL SPACE KNIGHTS), Quicksilver, Miss America, Valkyrie, Hercules, a dark-haired woman with a red question mark written over her (whose picture is pinned over notes saying, “WHO CAN YOU TRUST?” and “NOT Pym!”), Captain Britain, Electro, The Punisher, Deadpool, The Thing, Beast (with a note saying “CHECK WITH XAVIER!!!” – might be too late), an unidentified blonde woman in a domino mask and a red jacket with dark sleeves, Nightcrawler, an un-named woman with pink and purple hair, Juggernaut, Vulture, Bucky Barnes, Sabretooth, Magneto, Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus, Hulk, Wrecker, Professor Xavier, Kraven, Cyclops, Mockingbird, Hellstrom and four more we can’t see.

The interesting thing about this list is that some characters, especially Nightcrawler and Sentry, were either dead at the time or have died since Fury put this wall together (If he did so during Secret Invasion ). It’s an interesting, not to mention frustrating scene and I’m sure it’ll come into play later. For now though, it sure is pretty. Moon Knight certainly thinks so anyway.

BEST LINES
• “I don’t mind going out. We’re all going out eventually.” Natasha Romanov continuing to win the Susan Ivanova Memorial Award for Most Russian Character In A Series. Seriously, this actually got me worried about Natasha even though we know she’s turning up in other movies and therefore basically immortal.

• “Well, I’ve always been pretty sure that no human being can have gone through all of the things I have gone through and not eventually snap.” And an Honorary Susan Ivanova goes to Peter Parker for this sad and oddly rather sweet moment where he clearly feels every single one of those 700 plus issues. We hear you, little buddy.

Alasdair Stuart

Age of Ultron #2 is available now, priced £2.85. Thanks to www.travellingman.com for the review copy

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