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Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch’s ‘Age of Ultron’ #1 Dispenses With Preamble [Advance Review]

Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Bryan Hitch‘s Age of Ultron event has been a long time coming. It was announced, with preview art and all, back in November. And its buildup has been going even longer, dating back to April 2011′s Avengers 12.1.

Yet the the series’ first issue feels like a punch to the gut. It’s clear from the opening pages that a whole lot has transpired off the page, because the reader is instantly thrown into a world that looks very unfamiliar and incredibly dangerous. It’s jarring. It doesn’t entirely feel like a superhero comic. That approach has its pros and cons.

For a writer who is more associated with the decompression trend than anyone, Bendis demonstrates some considerable and commendable story economy in Age of Ultron #1. A pair of double splash pages from Hitch give readers a lot of the information they need to know in Hitch’s trademark detail. The world, or at least New York City, has been drastically reshaped into a dystopic, Ultron-run dictatorship. A robocracy, if you will.

Once the story focuses in on the people in this brave new world, there’s a distinct sense that this is not a superhero event as we know it. If anything, it feels like the darker edges of sci-fi and crime cinema from the the late ’70s and ’80s. I’m particularly reminded of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York once a much more grizzled Hawkeye than the one we’ve been seeing in his own book shows up to violently save a teenage prostitute from some creeps, and growl Snake Plisskenesque anti-hero dialogue as he moves on to a bigger goal.

The hat-tips to movies of that era are not subtle. Mohawked crooks hang out in cluttered apartments filled with CRT TVs and poker tables. They say things that wouldn’t feel out of place in, say, Robocop 2:

I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I love the movies this seems to be trying to capture the tone of. Escape from New York and The Warriors and Robocop and The Road Warrior. Bendis and Hitch nail that tone. On the other hand, Hawkeye doesn’t act like Hawkeye. Neither does Iron Man or Captain America or Luke Cage or Hammerhead or most of the other characters who appear. (Spider-Man’s voice is right, but the story so far seems to ignore the goings-on occurring in Spider-Man’s own titles.) There’s a feeling that characters have been shoehorned into particular roles for the sake of making this type of story work.

You could argue that the unseen events that precipitated this dystopic reality have irreparably changed the characters. The “Age of” title might indicate that this is all taking place in an alternate universe. I’m sure we’ll find out in the coming weeks as the remaining nine issues of this series and a ton of tie-in comics come out. But one of the things I like most about this comic is how it just drops us into this scenario, without a ton of talk among characters about how it all happened, unnecessary flashbacks or tedious narration. Ultron took over the world. It’s a scary place now. He’s policing it through some intense and violent tactics. The heroes live in ruins. That’s all you need to know. The characters may not be their traditional selves, but at least they’re doing stuff.

This is a comics series with an immediate hook. It feels fresh, in that it takes superheroes and shoves them into a genre that you don’t see them in very often. But you have to wonder how these Marvel characters fit into it, let alone how it might fit into the larger Marvel Universe as it goes.

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