One of the things I’ve always liked about Age of Ultron #10 is how it brings to an end not just Brian Michael Bendis’s time on the Avengers books, but also closes the loop on the first arc of the “Heroic Age” relaunch of Avengers. Bendis is not just a writer who likes to return to ideas/themes, he likes to return to specific plot points and characters, exploring them as fully as possible. Here, it’s Ultron and time ‘breaking.’
In Avengers #1-6, we are shown a future where Ultron conquers the world and Kang assembles an army of time-displaced superhumans to try to defeat Ultron. In the process of bringing so many people from so many times to that one spot, Kang ‘breaks’ time. The Avengers save the day by travelling to the future and convincing Ultron to take a dive immediately when Kang shows up to ensure that everything isn’t wiped out. Here, Ultron is destroyed before he can conquer everything and that is accomplished through time travel that temporarily ‘breaks’ time. It’s a variation on what Bendis did earlier, but also seems to contradict it to a degree.
Now, obviously, the future isn’t written in stone, but the world we see in Age of Ultron doesn’t mesh with the future we see in Avengers #1-6. While Ultron himself doesn’t show up to conquer the world (he directs traffic from the future), we have seen that he cannot actually conquer everything without Kang showing up. When Nick Fury and a team of heroes go to the future to stop Ultron, how has that happened without Kang attacking Ultron already? Or, does the Avengers being aware of the future seen where Ultron conquers everything prevent that specific iteration from happening? Does their interference alter Ultron’s plans? It’s not made explicit, but does undermine the entire Age of Ultron story to a degree.
By the end of Age of Ultron #10, though, it doesn’t really matter, because the events of the series to that point didn’t happen. Except as much as was necessary to make Hank Pym put into motion a plan to stop Ultron once and for all (or, until Ultron returns again). It’s my instinct to simply mutter “It’s complicated…” but it’s not really. It’s remarkably straight forward and easy to write off since it never happened. Even the future seen in Avengers #1-6 has never happened. It will never happen, because the future in the Marvel Universe is too fluid to be locked down – and it will never arrive. In a sense, Bendis doesn’t have to worry about these two stories lining up, because it doesn’t matter. These characters will never get to the point of being old or having teenage kids or worrying about a post-apocalyptic future where Ultron is all there is. Age of Ultron #10 finalises a story that’s about how the Marvel Universe is inescapable. There are detours and visions of the future or other worlds, but it all comes back to what we’ve known since 1962. What makes it interesting is the journey and that, for Bendis, the maintenance of the status quo doesn’t come without a price.
That contradiction is hard to ignore. It’s not like I’m not used to Bendis’s stories not fitting in with other stories. Try reading Kieron Gillen’s Thor run and Bendis’s Avengers Prime mini-series sometime. Try reading the Avengers vs. X-Men tie-in issues of Secret Avengers and Avengers and tell me how those both happen. But, he rarely contradicts himself.
I have a theory that can explain that contradiction away beyond the above ‘the future never happens’ one that isn’t really any fun. When time is ‘broken,’ it doesn’t happen in one specific moment. Because we’re dealing with time, the fracture is not limited and affects the whole in ways that are never fully explained or understood, it could have easily eliminated that future seen in Avengers #1-6 before Age of Ultron ever began, replacing it with the variation seen in Age of Ultron.
Where’s my goddamn No Prize?