The biggest mystery in Age of Ultron #10 is one that’s gone unsaid. It’s so weird and hard to notice that I didn’t really notice until this very evening. It’s flitted around the edges of my rereading of the comic, but never quite cohered. But, I’ve got ask: what happened to Moon Knight and the Protector in that final Ultron battle?
In the reused Bryan Hitch pages from Avengers #12.1, we see that Moon Knight and the Protector are part of the Avengers team that has rescued Spider-Woman from the Intelligencia. They don’t do much in the few panels they show up in, but they are there. However, neither one is seen at all in the Butch Guice-drawn pages. In the Age of Ultron #0.1 retcon, Spider-Woman is wearing her costume and two Avengers have disappeared. I noticed a while ago that the Protector isn’t in that scene, because I’ve found it funny that the final published appearance of Noh-Varr in that costume and identity is actually reused art. When looking for him, I realised that Moon Knight isn’t there as well. Simple artist oversight or something more meaningful?
The easy in-story explanation is that those two were never there. The ‘timequake’ where time ‘broke’ rippled back and simply removed them from that mission at the moment where the timeline differed. They’re clearly visible in the post-Ultron explosion wreckage in Avengers #12.1. In Age of Ultron, they’re simply not there anymore and no one seems to notice or care. Not even a “We could use that Kree superhero with the alien future tech to help us defeat this crazy robot!” from any of them. So, they were actually never there and no one remembers how events used to be (obviously).
Except, when I examine that first Guice panel, I can sort of make out their bodies. Moon Knight is barely visible and seems unconscious, while there’s a black and white figure that looks like he’s trying to get up, both on the upper platform. Of course, Moon Knight could be wreckage and the Protector could be… I don’t know, more wreckage or a shitty drawing…? Their absence is so weird, especially because of the blobby, not-at-all-detailed allusions to their visuals in that first panel. It seems like almost an afterthought that their semi-coloured shapes are there. It’s like they’re not. It only confirms the ‘timequake’ theory: in that panel, we see as they fade from reality, never really there. But, for what reason?
Moon Knight needs to disappear and never be there for his experiences with the Ultron head to make sense. If he was present for Ultron exploding and his head go flying, he would have probably mentioned that at some point during the Bendis/Maleev series. As a sequel to Age of Ultron, it needs Moon Knight to not actually encounter Ultron at all. It’s a subtle change that allows a comic already published to exist.
As for Noh-Varr, near as I can tell, Butch Guice probably just didn’t want to draw that awful costume. And who can blame him?