THE ONE WHERE More than three things happen! Luke Cage and She-Hulk try to reason with the Vision as their recon mission goes very, very wrong. Or, possibly, right, depending on your point of view. Meanwhile Red Hulk and the Taskmaster have a discussion, the remaining New York heroes evacuate to the Savage Land and Black Widow and Moon Knight come up with a plan. Which is hopefully better than, “Go look Ultron right in the eyes and try very hard not to die.”
VERDICT The first half of this issue is difficult to read for two reasons. Firstly because a good chunk of it is yet another extended chase sequence across the ruins of New York. I know it’s massive, I know it’s decimated, I know everything is big and apocalyptic but… this is the fourth issue of a ten-issue series and we’re still here? Make no mistake, the fight is brutal and frantic and as neatly laid-out as ever but it feels, for a double-page spread at least, like a little too much Michael Bay and not enough John Carpenter.
The second reason it’s difficult to read is what happens to two of my favourite characters. She-Hulk and Luke Cage find themselves in exactly the position they were always going to be and it really, really doesn’t end well. That’s troubling on two levels, most obviously because I really like both these characters and secondly… well, we’ll get to that under Theories. This implies something unsettling about the series, which is going to take some adjusting to.
Once we get outside New York, the book picks up massively. The evacuation of all the heroes left in the city is a smart combination of Sue Richards’ and Storm’s powers and there’s a real sense of gravity to these heroes leaving their broken city in a manner which looks a lot like a rout. Their arrival in the Savage Land is equally impressive, especially as it shows just how far Ultron has reached and also offers a major dynamic change for the book. The characters are out of their depth, off home base and crucially, not welcome. Ka-Zar’s brutally honest description of what happened shows that it’s not just Hank Pym who’s in the dog house with the rest of the Marvel Universe.
And then there’s Emma describing what Luke Cage has done and what he knows. It’s an odd beat that almost doesn’t work as, after three issues of the New York characters standing around the helicarrier talking about things they… stand around the Savage Land talking about things. However, it’s sold by Bendis’ rock-solid dialogue and the traditional last page reveal, which, finally, puts everyone in the same place. The scattered remnants of Marvel’s heroes are finally together, and the next phase of the book looks set to focus not only on that, but on the revelation that Ultron isn’t even in the present, but is controlling the Vision from the future.
This is an odd issue, a definite step change in pace and a very odd one in tone. We get two interludes this time, one in San Francisco where Black Widow and Moon Knight discover that, of course, Fury had a plan and one in Chicago where Red Hulk tracks down and brutally murders Taskmaster. The San Francisco interlude gets Black Widow and Moon Knight heading towards the Savage Land but the Chicago one, I’m, frankly, at a loss. Its two pages which certainly gets the Ultron head back in play but even then there seems no point in the murder other than cheap sensationalism. It’s a bum note in an issue with some major key changes and again, it has troubling implications.
This is a hard issue of Age of Ultron to like, because whilse the pace change is welcome, the stylistic change is jarring. It’s a huge relief to see the characters out of New York and united and I’m still very interested in where the story goes but this, for all the increased pace and incident, is possibly the weakest issue of the series to date. Here’s hoping issue five sees things pick up again.
I really, really don’t like where this is heading but there are two events this issue which point, very strongly, to one particular theory. One I’ve not really addressed before.
Theory 3A:The Story Is Set In A Possible Future
• She Hulk dies. In a manner which is equal parts off-hand and heroic.
• Luke Cage, despite his unbreakable skin, is crippled with radiation poisoning and drags himself to a QuinJet, then to the Savage Land, where he holds out long enough to pass the information they found onto the Avengers.
• Red Hulk brutally murders Taskmaster.
• Ultron is everywhere and the Earth is in ruins.
• The line “And we wipe even the idea of him out of existence.”
• “Have you ever done this before?” “No one has.” – Possible future stories are very, very difficult to pull off. If you land them right, then you have an interesting exercise in ‘What Ifs?’ – the sort of thing Star Trek: The Next Generation did very well a couple of times. If you land them wrong, then you have a story which is essentially completely self-contained and finishes with all the toys neatly back in the box. It’s a bubble, something which is fun but ultimately doesn’t do anything and in the constant battle between change and the illusion of change that lies at the heart of all long-form storytelling, that’s an incredibly dangerous thing to have on the books, If nothing matters, if nothing changes, what’s the point? And the moment those questions start being asked is the moment readers start leaving.
If I’m right, this is a halfway house. This is, definitely, the core Marvel universe and Ultron has definitely invaded. What Black Widow, Red Hulk and Moon Knight are planning is to travel back in time and eradicate Ultron from history, ensuring this never takes place. Which is either a reverse version of The Terminator , or a pretty straight up riff on the assault on Cyberdyne in Terminator 2 . It’s a gutsy idea and if any creative team can land it it’s this one, but… wow. If this is where they’re going then this has the potential to epically crash and burn if it’s done wrong. I really hope it isn’t done wrong.
The one unusual note here is that line I quoted above. Widow’s travelled through time before, so technically she has some experience, if this is where they’re going. However, a mass rewriting of history is a bit esoteric, even for SHIELD, so it’s still very much on the table. Regardless, issue five will, hopefully, bring some pretty major answers.
BEST IMAGE The first look at the Savage Land, cratered and devastated from Ultron’s attack.
MOST WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL IMAGE? Red Hulk turning Taskmaster into paste.
“What happened here?”
“Your society failed.” Ka-Zar introducing what’s left of the Marvel superheroes to what happens when they don’t police their own. The line to go upside Hank Pym’s head is just going to be round the block isn’t it?
WHO’S WHO AT THE END OF THE WORLD?
Ka-Zar – There’ve actually been two characters called Ka-Zar. The first, real name David Rand, was a fairly standard Tarzan-type character introduced in Ka-Zar #1 in October 1936. The second, Kevin Plunder, who is most likely the version we see here, was intrdocued in The Uncanny X-Men #10 in March 1965. Kevin Plunder was the son of Lord Plunder from London, who went (very) big game hunting in the Savage Land. It didn’t go well, his father was killed and Kevin was raised by Zabu, a sabretooth tiger with near-human intelligence. An acknowledged, if not undisputed, king of the Savage Land, Ka-Zar has been a frequent guest star in the X-Men titles. He’s married to the female adventurer Shanna O’Hara, also known as Shanna the She-Devil who’s currently appearing in Savage Wolverine .
The Savage Land – Also introduced in The Uncanny X-Men #10, the Savage Land was created by the alien race, the Nuwali at the request of an other-dimensional race called the Beyonders. They wanted to observe evolution in relatively controlled conditions and set up several game reserves across the Earth. Concealed in a valley in Antarctica ringed by active volcanoes and with an artificially maintained tropical climate, the Savage Land is one of them.
The Savage Land is a frequent location in Marvel titles, with, as I say, Savage Wolverine taking place there right now. It was also the scene of a fight between Captain America and Gambit in Avengers vs X-Men and was where the alien soldiers and refugees that returned from Sakaar with the Hulk settled after the events of World War Hulk .
• Why did Ultron invade?
• How did he win?
• Which heroes are still alive?
• Which villains are still alive?
• 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 happened to Thor?
• How did Ultron deploy his machines so quickly?
• 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 are Black Panther, Red Hulk and Taskmaster doing in Chicago?
• Why do they need an Ultron head?
• When is Ultron?
• What did Black Widow find in Fury’s big box of emergency plans?
• How did Black Widow and Moon Knight get out of San Francisco?
• How did they get to the Savage Land before the New York heroes?
• What’s happened to Emma Frost’s powers?
• Why did Red Hulk murder Taskmaster?
• Is this the core Marvel universe? – It’s looking all but certain now, yes, if, maybe, a little in the future.
• Has Ultron taken over the entire planet or just the US? – He’s attacked the Savage Land but been repelled, suggesting that he’s attacked the whole world but been driven back in some areas.
• What role has Vision had in Ultron’s attack? – He seems to be serving as a general of some sort.
• Is he a prisoner? – He seems to be trying to fight Ultron’s control at one point, so yes, it looks likely.
Age Of Ultron #4 is available now, priced £2.85. Thanks to www.travellingman.com for the review copy.