Age of Ultron #10 felt familiar the first time I read it. My first instinct was that it was a conclusion to a story much like Secret War. When people called Age of Ultron an ‘event comic,’ I’d smile to myself and say, “Nah, it’s just another Secret War.” Secret War wasn’t an ‘event comic,’ it was this weird little mini-series that began before Brian Michael Bendis took over Avengers and killed the title. It’s the real beginning of his run on the Avengers franchise and Age of Ultron is the real end. Or, maybe prologue/epilogue?
Secret War was an almost ‘test run’ of Bendis on the Avengers titles, offering up a Nick Fury-run black ops team featuring Captain America, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Black Widow, and Daisy Johnson as they went to Latveria to take down the new ruler who happened to be funding American supervillains. If that team looks very, very similar to the one he’d put together in New Avengers, well, that’s because it’s almost identical. Delays with Secret War made it run concurrent with Bendis’s early work on the Avengers books, giving it a weird feeling of prologue/bridge between “Disassembled” and New Avengers (which is where I tend to place it in my reading order of his run, because it seems like a better fit there). Age of Ultron, alternatively, was originally scheduled to run concurrent with the end of Bendis’ Avengers run, but was pushed back to run months after he had left the titles. The prologue becomes intermingled with the opening of the run and the intermingled event at the end of the run becomes the epilogue. Weird (a)symmetry.
Despite their close relationship, I can’t help but think that Age of Ultron’s closest relative in the Bendis Avengers family is House of M, another reality-warping event that tends to work best if you stick with the main series and ignore everything else. The finales of each seem to have the same potential, albeit in different ways. In remaking (and un-remaking) the world, the Scarlet Witch screwed with the natural order, depowered mutants everywhere, brought at least one person back from the dead, and did so in an oddly secret way. The world at large didn’t really know what happened; only the heroes knew. Even less people knew about time ‘breaking’ in Age of Ultron #10. The impact is less obvious than “No more mutants,” but the same potential for longterm repercussions is there. Oh, and, like House of M, the world we were presented never really happened.
The two characters that fill similar roles (roles that were similarly underexamined) are Spider-Man in House of M and Wolverine in Age of Ultron. Both, in the world that never existed, experienced things that put them out of step with everyone else. Peter Parker’s experiences in House of M are particularly harsh as he basically lived the life he always wanted only to be returned to his usual pile of endless bullshit. Logan, conversely, experiences the end of the world and takes action to avoid it, leaving him in a position where he’s a redundant copy of the ‘real’ Wolverine, but with memories of the worst possible world. Neither character was followed up on to any satisfaction (Wolverine even less so, surprisingly).
That both stories are, basically, wiped out at the end is interesting. Secret War even has a similar bit with the memories of Nick Fury’s secret Latverian invasion wiped from all of the participants. It’s only when the memories come back and the bad guys return for vengeance that the true consequences are met. In House of M and Age of Ultron, the true consequences come from the resolution of the story: the story is erased, but the erasure leaves a scar on the world and lives of the characters. It’s fitting that Bendis’s final Avengers event recalls his pre-Avengers story and his first Avengers event in ways that none of the events that fell between did.