Something that’s always felt unsatisfying about Age of Ultron #10 is how Ultron’s defeat, while clever, doesn’t feel big enough. After the robot killed so many people, decimated the planet so much, his defeat has always seemed less than monumental and heroic. ‘Heroic’ is probably the wrong word; it simply does not feel like the Avengers and the other heroes somehow triumphed over evil. Thinking about it, it actually falls in line with how Bendis events end.
In Secret War, it all comes down to Daisy Johnson killing the bad guy and saving the day. In House of M, the Scarlet Witch freaks out, says “No more mutants” and the world goes back to normal. In Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn kills the Skrull queen. In Siege, Bob Reynolds overcomes the Sentry and sacrifices himself. In Avengers vs. X-Men, Hope gives up the power of the Phoenix and helps restore the mutant race. I could actually go beyond Bendis and it always seems to be endings like these: one or two people manage to save the day, while everyone else mostly stands around, no longer providing cover fire or support or, shit, simple distraction from the fact that their actions were utterly meaningless.
How many events or big stories have actually ended with a satisfying win on a large scale? It seems that, at best, we can get a satisfying finish for one character. They get a win and everyone else gets to breathe a sigh of relief that they’re still alive. With Bendis, there’s also almost always a downside. It’s partly his desire to set the stage for what comes next; it’s also that he can’t seem to avoid a win that comes with a price of some kind. There is no victory without a cost. It’s an essential part of his writing and, I would argue, an essential part of the Marvel Universe (and most heroic fiction worth anything).
In Secret War, Nick Fury is exposed as less-than-heroic and goes into hiding. In House of M, mutants are reduced to under 200 in number. In Secret Invasion, Norman Osborn is the new Nick Fury. In Siege, Asgard lies in ruins and the Sentry is dead. In Avengers vs. X-Men, Cyclops and his X-Men are criminals and Professor X is dead. In Age of Ultron, Ultron is defeated and time is ‘broken.’ Where Age of Ultron differs is its subtle way of influencing the comics that came after. In the other events, the way that Bendis helped change and shape the status quo of the Marvel Universe is very obvious. In Age of Ultron, there are obvious consequences, but it’s not something as big as a “Dark Reign” or “Decimation” or anything. There’s some stories about time being ‘broken’ and an influence that actually extended back before the story even began. It’s very nature meant that it had to be a bit more low key. The biggest consequence is Cataclysm over in the Ultimate books and that’s not the Marvel universe.
Despite the unsatisfying nature of Ultron’s defeat, I still like Age of Ultron #10 best out of any Bendis event finale (except for maybe Secret War #5). It’s the smartest for sure. And it’s the one that feels most like an end. Bendis is a great serial writer, because his eye is almost always on what happens next. It makes a big read of his work on a largescale very, very satisfying. When an event is just another storyarc in the middle of a giant run, that it doesn’t end in a definitive way doesn’t matter. But, Age of Ultron #10 is the end of Bendis’s Avengers run. It may have little epilogue teasers and even the time being ‘broken’ bit, but it’s a hard finish. The teasers for what happens next seems divorced from the finish in a way that none of the introductions of the new status quo in other events never did. Those were organic cause and effect. Here, you could stop after Ultron’s defeat and not really miss anything. In that way, Age of Ultron #10 is clumsier than other Bendis finales. It’s not as smooth. But, it’s hard to accomplish that when you’re walking away.