Brian Michael Bendis seems to follow the cue of many cable and HBO TV shows where the second-last episode of a season is where all of the big moments happen, while the finale is mostly clean-up with a few smaller moments of closure. It may not seem like it, but Age of Ultron #10 follows that pattern as well, leaving the big moral quandaries and events to the previous issue and wrapping things up in a fairly straight forward manner itself.
The big problem in Age of Ultron is how to stop Ultron through time travel without killing Hank Pym and it is solved in issue nine. Issue ten goes through the motions of the plan, offering a technically impressive display in the reuse of the Avengers #12.1, the defeat of Ultron, and the aftermath. It’s a little paint by numbers in the resolution of the plot. The execution is good in communicating the tension and the stakes are appropriately high enough after the previous nine issues. Except, there isn’t any real doubt in the outcome. The heavy lifting was already done and, when the issue begins with Hank Pym receiving a message from his past self, there’s that feeling like it’s already over. They figured out the plan to win, so they’ve won.
That means that this final issue needs more than simple resolution. It was so heavily implied in issue nine that it happening lacks the necessary oomph. After resolving the plot and providing some emotional closure for our main characters, he adds in the unexpected content that makes this issue worthwhile: time ‘breaking.’ Had Ultron been defeated and that was the end of the story, I can’t imagine a lot of readers satisfied given how inevitable it seemed going into this issue – the only real surprise about Ultron’s defeat was the reuse of Avengers #12.1/using that as the place where it happens.
It’s not a coincidence that the ‘timequake’ happens after 21 pages of story. The issue could have ended there. Logan and Sue Richards arrive in their own time, see everything is right again, they part ways, Logan leans on the ledge of the building, says “Gonna sleep for a millennium” and, then, we get a final splash page of his weary face with a hint of a grin, satisfied that he saved the world. That would have been 22 pages and I don’t think anyone would have been surprised or thrown for a loop had it gone down that way. The grumbling then might have been about the predictable nature of the story or that eight pages were reused, perhaps.
The ‘timequake’ breaks that mediocre finish. You can argue if that was the way to go to avoid the finale that I just mentioned as a possibility, but it serves a specific function: it adds that ‘big moment’ feeling to the issue and is genuinely surprising. What’s more, it makes sense given everything that had happened. The abuse of time leading to some sort of fracture/reaction is a logical consequence and adds another layer to the victory that just occurred by having it come with an unexpected cost. Now, it wasn’t a clean triumph for the heroes. It was a victory that also screwed up one of the basic components of reality.
It’s a last minute twist that lays the groundwork for what comes next and opens the door to a lot of unexpected possibilities. This was a thread picked up by a lot of comics after this issue’s release, while Bendis teased three stories that spun out of what happened, two of which are his. (Did Avengers AI begin as a Bendis idea? The upcoming Magneto series began with Bendis and was then opened up for another writer to step in. Was that the case here as well? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned... If so, then, in a way, all three teasers are for Bendis stories, he just didn’t write one of them.) That’s not different from a lot of finales. The problem seems to stem from people thinking that a story like this should be self-contained when that’s a fairly unrealistic expectation. The story ends, but the ideas and consequences keep going. Why would anyone expect any different? And how often do they get that anywhere?
Age of Ultron #10 was an end, but I see it more as a season finale than a series finale if that makes sense (although, I’ll argue later this week that it’s actually a series finale, too). Mainstream superhero comics don’t equate to television shows quite right, but that analogy makes enough sense to me. This was a season of the Marvel Universe story and, when it ends, it wraps up the main plots, but still leaves some stuff dangling and teases the next season a little.
The issue really ends with Stark, Pym, and McCoy standing around talking about time ‘breaking’ and giving a cryptic hint about the future. The three teasers that follow are just that: teasers. All that’s missing is a voiceover going “Next time in Marvel Comics!” before they start. Funny how this sort of thing is accepted in one medium, but not another.