As an ending, Age of Ultron #10 couldn’t help but be a little disappointing. At first, I thought it was a fault of expectations and expecting something too big, too momentous when, really, the ending that we got was the only one that we could get. Age of Ultron was such a departure from other events that I usually shied away from referring to it as such when discussing it. It always reminded me more of Secret War, the non-event mini-series that Brian Michael Bendis began before he took over Avengers. The two act as bookends to a degree: each a mini-series that was hyped to a degree, changed the status quo of the Marvel Universe in various ways, and was much better than most people tended to let on.
The Ultron plot in Age of Ultron had to end as we saw in issue 10. You can’t begin a story where Ultron has won, decimated the world, killed tons of heroes, left the rest scarred and beaten, and not unmake the whole thing somehow. Turns out, by the time we read it, the whole thing had been taken care of months previously. Age of Ultron was pushed back by Avengers vs. X-Men, but still took place before it. Hell, it took place before Fear Itself as far as I can tell (or, didn’t take place as it were). It was unmade before the previous two Marvel events and that made sense. That was elegant and smart. Bendis through us into the deep end, took a weird journey through time, and, ultimately, made it so the story never happened.
Forgive me if I find a large amount of joy in the idea of an event comic (aka a Comic That Matters) ending by never actually happening (aka a Comic That Doesn’t Matter At All). Fuck you, comic fans. You deserve it, by the way.
But, that’s not the ending that I’m talking about. Where the unsettling feeling that it doesn’t work comes into play is in the trio of teasers at the end that feel wholly unnecessary and tacked on. It always seemed like the comic should end with the big brains talking about how time was briefly broken and everyone else in the universe might be pissed off about it. Instead, we then get teasers for Cataclysm, Avengers AI, and Angela appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy. All three stem from what happens in Age of Ultron #10, but that doesn’t mean that they belong in the comic. They’re tacky ads masquerading as story that could be lost and no one would notice. Or care. It was disappointing and I’ve tried to separate them from an otherwise entertaining comic ever since it came out. It’s like trying to forget the epilogue of Crime and Punishment or the final third of I Am Legend after Will Smith goes crazy on some zombies, seemingly rushing towards his death; you can do it, but the memory of the other lingers.
It’s a flaw in Age of Ultron #10 that’s easy to understand and one that’s followed Bendis throughout his time at Marvel: the inability to end a story in a way that isn’t simply an ad for what comes next. It’s a source of frustration, but also a strength that helps explain in some small way Bendis’s success. He makes you want to get what’s next by giving you a taste at the end of the story. He never forgets that there is no end. There’s always next month and something new to get excited about. Mostly because he’s excited about what’s coming. There’s an urgency there; an inability to stop, because he wants to get to the next thing already. It’s frustrating and endearing.