Time Runs Out – the Conclusion of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers (and the Marvel Comics Universe)

It was the spark that started the fire – a legend that grew in the telling.

At the beginning, it was an origin story. The rebuilding of the Avengers. The reconvening of the Illuminati. And with overtones reaching back to the beginning of the Marvel Universe.

The left is from Avengers - the right is from New Avengers. Also on http://comparativegeeks.tumblr.com/

The left is from Avengers – the right is from New Avengers.
Also on http://comparativegeeks.tumblr.com/

At the end, it’s the mirror of that story. The collapse of the Avengers. The Illuminati replaced by the Cabal. The end of the Marvel Universe.

Jonathan Hickman’s run writing Avengers and New Avengers has been a blast. I’ve blogged about it a good deal because it’s one of the main comics I have been following on a regular basis – although I have stepped down to reading it in the trade paperbacks/collected digital volumes. That said, I am here now because these two comics just released their last trade last week – the end of the four-trade, two-title saga called Time Runs Out, which led directly to the current Marvel Secret Wars and which ended the Marvel Comics Universe in a very real way.

Yes, it’s comics, it’ll probably come back. Still, for now, es ist kaput.

So how did we get there? Even if the why of the universe ending was corporate and marketing and business, the mechanism that got us there took about 100 comics. So what happened? Why did time run out?

A Quick Rundown of Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers

To make this a quick rundown, I am going to be sourcing things out to previous posts I have written. In these posts, I have a number of screencaps from the comics with some further explanation of things so it’s not just me I’m referring to, it’s the comics themselves.

At their heart, these were two parallel and competing stories. In Avengers, as in the image above, it’s a bit of a reboot/reforming of the Avengers team. A fresh start, a new beginning. With an expectation of greater threats: with a need for a bigger team. So an origin story of sorts there. Meanwhile, new “villains” (many of whom end up new Avengers), new problems, and new versions of “old” heroes – like a female Smasher and a new Hyperion. Meanwhile, with the larger backdrop of the villains and the big fight to come (Infinity, which I blogged in three parts), there is a larger narrative and origin story of the whole universe. Callbacks to a narrative of, essentially, the big bang.

In New Avengers, that story becomes one of universal death. Of the opposite of the big bang: a big collapse, with the whole universe collapsing at once. Which they get to see happening, multiple times: the entire multiverse (multiple universes) is collapsing, universe by universe dying. I included Mister Fantastic’s excellent explanation in my original review.

Thus, the dual character of life, and death, between the two stories, which I have found really cool, and which I talked about as one of the great themes in Hickman’s comics in generalContinue reading

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Secret Wars (1984) – A Comic Classic Review

Cover to Secret Wars (1984) #1!

Cover to Secret Wars (1984) #1!

Alright, maybe I use the term “classic” loosely but it certainly counts as something if, 30 years later, it’s still floating around in the Marvel Comics consciousness. This was Marvel’s first big “event,” where heroes and villains from across their titles ended up together in the same place dealing with the same situation.

And it shows – there are a lot of moments with people introducing themselves and clearly meeting for the first time. By today in the comics, the X-Men have fought Avengers numerous times, and half of everyone has been a member of the Avengers, there have been team-ups, and other big events have happened… there’s a whole lot less of the characters not knowing each other!

So quick synopsis: what the heck was a “Secret War?” Well, a handful of Marvel heroes (like most of the Avengers and X-Men, Spider-Man, most of the Fantastic Four… oh, and Magneto) and villains (like Dr. Doom, Ultron, the Wrecking Crew, Absorbing Man, Doctor Octopus… oh, and Galactus) find themselves whisked away across the cosmos to separate space stations. Down below, they watch as a new planet is formed – formed with pieces of other planets, a patchwork planet that comes to be called “Battleworld.”

Oh yeah and a galaxy is destroyed. Don't worry - I think it gets better.

Oh yeah and a galaxy is destroyed. Don’t worry – I think it gets better.

Then, after showing off its power, a voice speaks to them all: battle to the death, and they will be rewarded with their greatest wish. To top off the show of power, Galactus – his greatest desire being to stop wanting to eat planets – just goes straight for the voice and the glowy spot in space that is its source (the Beyonder). And Galactus is struck down.

What follows is 12 issues (a year) of the villains selfishly – and then following Doom’s orders – working to win the battles, and the heroes not quite getting along to fully stop the baddies. There are civilians, alien technology, and all sorts of things on the different patchwork pieces of the planet. So each fight is different, with new stakes or toys at their disposal. Galactus tries to eat the planet, Doom comes up with a scheme and gets the Beyonder power and loses it… and yeah, end result, not too much happens.

Although for a while, Doom has a face again. Cover to Secret Wars #11

Although for a while, Doom has a face again. Cover to Secret Wars #11

Okay, there are a few results. Some of the people summoned sound like they were dead in the comics and come back. Some new heroes and villains are created. I would say the biggest result was really Spider-Man finding the Symbiote suit, which would come to be known as Venom…

Dat headline...

Dat headline…

This was Marvel just getting started with events. Part of the idea is that “relevant” things should happen, character resurrections or deaths, suit changes, stuff like that. Big stakes, and seeing how the characters deal with them. And then usually a big reset button to return almost everything to normal. Marvel would get better at this, and one of the best is probably still the Infinity Gauntlet for stand-alone all-powerful-villain events, or else the Age of Apocalypse for alternate-reality-creating impact.

The creation of Battleworld!

The creation of Battleworld!

So why am I talking about Secret Wars? Well, more than anything, because they’re returned to Secret Wars in the comics. The first Secret Wars was the result of a single, all-powerful Beyonder having a whim to be entertained. The current Secret Wars is so much bigger than that – it’s the result of every Beyonder working together. Instead of a Battleworld built out of a few scraps of planets, the new Battleworld is built out of the last scraps of the entire multiverse – of all of the Marvel alternate universes. It’s an event which is seemingly taking apart the entire Marvel Comics universe, with the idea that it will for real and true never be the same again.

So how did they get there? That’s a post for another day – so I’ll be back soon with Time Runs Out!

Images copyright Marvel, and captured from the Marvel Unlimited service.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Collaborative Review

Ultron posterHannah and I thought it might be fun to do a review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron together, so you get two opinions for the price of one!

First we’d like to deal with Ultron, and the delightful portrayal by James Spader – it might only be his voice onscreen, but his presence was stamped all over the robotic villain.

1 Ultron

Mel: Ultron made for a highly entertaining supervillain. His crazy genius was in turn highly amusing and downright terrifying. His arrogance surpassed even Tony Stark’s, which makes sense, since Stark created him. Seeing a range of tonal and even facial expressions on a robot, has to be one of the funniest things I’ve seen – at least in a while. And that voice. When he spoke I paid attention, even when his grandiose statements made me groan! In the interests of being constructive, the only real criticism I have, is the rushed introduction to Ultron’s hatred of Tony and the other Avengers. In the space of a few seconds (yes I know he’s incredibly smart), he turns against his creator – without even having interacted with him. I connected the dots, but it would have been nice to see greater conflict in the beginning.

Hannah: Ultron was one of my favorites too! I thought his dialogue was very skillful — he mimics the sort of villain who has a grand (but misguided) scheme for making the world a better place, but he’s not that kind of villain. His plan didn’t make much sense, but that works… He’s a flawed program built from an alien weapon and Tony Stark’s fear. It all comes back to Tony as the movie’s villain, the self-proclaimed mad scientist whose creation is out of control. Yet he’s on the heroes’ side, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of structure before! That brings me to my VERY favorite part, though: The Vision. One of the (many) new characters added in this movie.

2 Vision

Mel: I loved Vision too. This may have something to do with the fact I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with Jarvis! I loved that Vision incorporated his essence – that dry, unaffected sense of humour – love it! In relation to Ultron, I enjoyed the fact that, ultimately, Ultron is responsible for Vision’s creation. In a way, Vision is the balance – the positive effect of Tony’s creation and his evolution was thrilling to watch. The hammer moment was particularly clever, because it cut through all those questions about his morality – it also added to the overall humour. I enjoyed the twins, especially Wanda, but the person who really stood out for me was Hawkeye. He might not be a new character, but we certainly saw a new side to his character. I thoroughly enjoyed the way he became almost like the glue that held them all together.

So, Hannah, what are your thoughts? I know you’re dying to talk about Vision!

Hannah: They really did a good job of balancing so many characters! I thought Hawkeye’s development was a little implausible, but cool and creative all the same. And I definitely appreciated the moment he stopped Wanda from messing with his mind, after all the fuss about that in the first movie. But The Vision was absolutely my favorite part. He is so, so good. He’s perfect in the story, as the final form of what Tony was trying to create. I think Tony had in mind a more comprehensive system of defense, but what he really wanted was The Vision. Something insanely powerful and transcendentally good. Instead of having a flawed, weaponized beginning, Vision is created from a combination of good things, Jarvis foremost among them.

Cap

Funnily enough, I hardly know the Vision at all from the comics, so I can’t say much about how he’s the same or different. My main reference for how much I love him in the movie is actually Superman, or Captain America in the MCU. Lots of people don’t like “good” characters because they think they’re boring, but they don’t have to be. Cap is a good person, despite all the darkness he’s seen, without being naive and cutesy or boring. That’s what makes him inspiring, and it’s the same in a really good Superman story. Vision being so colorful is related to that. It’s okay for him to be a little more stylized and have a flowing golden cape because he’s symbolic in a way the other characters aren’t. I could go on about this forever, I really could. Of course, anything could happen now. Maybe his Ultron origins will come back to haunt him, or his alien point of view will cause him to act against the Avengers.

This whole movie seemed transitional, tying in to Loki’s staff and whatnot from the past and thematically connected to Iron Man 3, but mostly foreshadowing future events. How does this movie fit?

3 Hawkeye

Mel: Before I answer that question, I wanted to go back to your point about Hawkeye – the way he prevented Wanda from messing with his mind. This was a powerful scene for me (I think I may have done a mini fist pump) because his mind is one of his sharpest tools; his focus. Clint has a deep sense of honour and Loki took that away from him. In Age of Ultron we got to see who Hawkeye really is, and I think he helped to humanise the team in a way – to be their anchor. Anyway. On to the questions about where the movie fits.

The movie certainly set some of the groundwork for the transition into the next phase. It will be interesting to go forward with the current team. As it stands Thor has returned to Asgard, Hulk is goodness knows where (for the time being), Tony took a step back, and Hawkeye is hanging out at the ranch. So that leaves us with Cap, Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, the Scarlet Witch and (happy dance), Vision! These additions still offer a powerhouse in terms of ability, and at the same time, a new dynamic. So, though I don’t see this team lasting very long, it will be fun to see where they take us, and how they fit into the next phase.

I think the destruction inadvertently caused by the Avengers in this movie, definitely set things up for Civil War. First we had the debacle in South Africa when Hulk lost control, and the obvious battle in Sokovia. If this isn’t the cause of the civil war, it’s certainly fuel for the fire. How do you think these storylines will fit into upcoming movies, like Civil War? Are you happy with the development of the characters so far?

Hulk Smash!

Hannah: The movie certainly highlighted destruction, so they may well be using that as a sticking point in Civil War. They make an effort to save civilians, but they can’t always be successful. For instance, Tony picked an empty building to throw Hulk through, but he didn’t do anything to protect all the people in the street when the building fell. So, I think it’ll be a worthwhile debate rather than a contrived conflict.

Age of Ultron did a good job of giving each character a little bit of attention, but not too much. It’s essentially a character-driven movie, a very simple plotline serving as a vehicle for little bits of character development. I see it as almost a cutoff point, tying up dangling threads so they can have standalone movies and then come back. We’ve basically set up “intervening events” rather than “the next Avengers movie.” A smart way to do it.

Mel: I couldn’t agree with you more about the character-driven plot. It was one of my favourite elements; the unity within the team. We’ve come to expect the humour, but this time there was a level of cohesion we haven’t seen before. I wish I could give you a favourite quote, because there are many great examples, but I’m having a hard time deciding! Certainly the running joke about Cap’s language highlighted their camaraderie, and the way they now work together (especially Cap and Thor), was just wonderful.

4 Avengers

We could talk about the visual effects all day, because they were truly magnificent. I’ll just talk about my favourites. I absolutely loved Veronica (Tony’s Hulk buster!), especially when she sent in reinforcements. I particularly enjoyed the opening scene, not least because it set things up in terms of how seamlessly the team work together. I loved Natasha’s ‘Can someone take care of that bunker’ – cue Hulk! And then, of course, there is the scene where the Avengers unite (including Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) – taking out Ultron’s robot army and basically kicking ass!

What about you Hannah? Which scenes stood out to you? Do you have a favourite quote?

Hannah: I think the answer to that is, “I need to see this movie again!”

While the plot is simple, the characters are complex, and there’s plenty more to say. Leave your Age of Ultron reactions in the comments!

Blogging A to Z Day 24: Ultron

The title villain of the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, who is he? What is he? Why should we care? Other than being freaked out by James Spader’s amazing voice acting

The Ultron reveal from Avengers #55. Image found on a comicbookresources.com article.

The Ultron reveal from Avengers #55.
Image found on a comicbookresources.com article.

Ultron first appeared in Avengers #54 in 1968, with a full reveal in #55. He is a a robot, an android – but also so much more than this. He is a program, an artificial intelligence – which, when it reached the point of enough intelligence, improved itself. Himself. Itself.

He also has daddy issues, having been created by Hank Pym – the original Ant-Man and sometimes Avenger. Ultron expresses this both by attempting to destroy the Avengers whenever he gets the chance, and by imitating what his father did – create.

One of the things that Ultron is most known for is for creating the android known as the Vision, another Avenger. Vision just didn’t come out evil like his father Ultron…

Because Ultron is more than just a robot, because he is a program that can be replicated and backed-up and transmitted… he is basically impossible to fully destroy. And so, he attacks, he learns, he fails, he learns, he attacks again, better. Several recent storylines have included Ultron time traveling, or in other ways affecting the timeline – attacking from the future, where he is himself safe from harm.

Indeed, that was the plot of the recent Age of Ultron comic storyline. Ultron manipulates the present from the future, instantly creating a robot utopia (which is a human dystopia). Fighting fire with fire, the heroes try time travel themselves – some going forward in time to punch Ultron (because that always works), and some going back to stop the original creation of Ultron…

Team Punch in action - Age of Ultron #10 from Marvel.com

Team Punch in action – Age of Ultron #10 from Marvel.com

Which they succeed at by killing Hank Pym, only to find out that things are just as bad if not worse with him – and without the Vision. It turns out that this led to two Avengers no longer being around, and then every good thing they accomplished was undone – but hey, no Ultron. Anyway, they undo that time change, and let Team Punch do their thing.

Of course, this was just the next phase of a previous Ultron plan, just the next try from him to take control of the timeline and win, forever, against everyone. Because, given enough time, he can. He’s the unkillable kill, and his goal is domination.

A future timeline from 2010 in Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis. I used this on my review of Marvel's Heroic Age and Marvel Now!

A future timeline from 2010 in Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis. Click for a larger version!
I used this on my review of Marvel’s Heroic Age and Marvel Now!

He’s a perfect sort of villain to throw in every once in a while – what new plan does he have? What do the heroes have to do to stop him? How will he escape to come up with his next plan? He doesn’t require resurrection or crazy explanations like other villains returning, he doesn’t have to break out of Arkham again like the Joker is always doing. He’s always going to escape, and he’s always going to come back. It’s inevitable as clockwork.

This post was by @CompGeeksDavid of the Comparative Geeks and regular Sourcerer contributor. For more A to Z geekery, check out Comparative Geeks.