Age of Ultron #2
The sophomore issue of “Age of Ultron” maintains the same set of strengths as the freshmen issue. Brian Hitch’s art is cinematic and chock-full of vivid details. The overwhelming tone of despair is well rendered by the storytelling, especially in the behavior of familiar characters. These two elements, in combination, establish a vivid alternate future to the Marvel Universe beloved by fans and one rife with potential. Unfortunately, that was already accomplished in the first issue, making this issue out to be mostly filler.
Although the first half occurs in San Francisco, the situation is very similar to that of New York City. There is much less shock value in seeing another dilapidated husk of a city, although the reveal of the Black Widow’s face was still very effective. It may be important to setup various sub-groups of survivors in order for a big payoff, but that’s not an excuse to stall the story. Nothing truly important, either to character or plot, was handled in this issue. It appears that Bendis is done setting things up on the last page, but he’s already 20% into the series.
The last page felt like the biggest missed opportunity in this book. It’s hard to discuss this without a minor spoiler, so here’s your warning. *SPOILERS* On the last page Captain America stands up. If that sounds anti-climactic, that’s because it is. The reveal of Cap left huddled in a corner was a great ending to the debut issue. Knowing the kind of indefatigable person Cap is, it set a clear tone for the series. Then he stands up and states he has a plan at the end of this issue. It could have been a triumphant moment, one of resolve and affirmation in the character of Steve Rogers, but it wasn’t. That’s because there was no reason to care. Bendis didn’t tell us why Cap was in the corner, what exactly he’d gone through, or why he stood up, what he had to deal with to be the hero he is. Standing up is not something I care about, standing up because you have overcome great hardship is. It’s a huge missed opportunity and plays out as lazy writing. The two panels of Captain America both slumped and arisen are impressive, but there’s no story to connect them, so they fall flat. (“This is important, because… I don’t know, Ultron sucks, okay? Let’s get a burger.” – Brian Michael Bendis)
“Age of Ultron” is still a gorgeous book and has a lot of story left to tell. This issue merely represents an early stumble and one which could easily be recovered from. I still have a lot of hope for this book and will be picking up issue three.
This one required a second reading before I could decide whether it was Snyder’s worst issue of Batman (still high praise) or one of his best. Despite some flaws early on in the issue, it’s probably the best single issue by Scott Snyder yet, because the ending is so damn perfect.
The opening of the story is fairly weak. Although there are many people on both sides of the fence, I love Harper Row. I loved her from the moment she shaved her head as a sign of solidarity with her younger brother. She’s both a strong and nuanced woman, making her one of the best female characters in superhero comics, after only featuring in a couple of issues. But the background information hashed out about her family at the beginning falls flat, it’s nothing but exposition. The single page conversation between her and her brother is far better than any of the opening sequence. The weak opening is more than made up for by the final page though.
The split artists was also a little bit jarring. Andy Kubert’s work is very aggressive and comic in its impact, a break from the art typically on display for the series, but fitting for the ultra-violent fight sequences. The switch to Alex Maleev is sudden, but a good decision considering the final tone of the story. It ends on an incredibly personal note, one with which most readers will find some personal connection. So enough about the problems…
The value of a story, its meaning, is ultimately tied to its end though. The ending is the conceit. That’s why this issue is truly great. The last panel sums up everything this issue is about and a lot of what Snyder’s “Batman” has been about. Snyder addresses Batman from an outside perspective and it’s a very good decision. He spends much of the issue dealing with Bruce losing his only son. It’s an almost impossible task, one far better handled by Harper’s observations than by an inner-monologue or ongoing dialogues. It also makes the catharsis so much more important. Batman is destroying himself in reaction to perhaps the greatest loss any human being can suffer. It’s difficult to watch, but a truly human thing. In the end, in that last panel, he is able to accept what has occurred and move forward. He’s still in pain, but he recognizes that he can’t quit, no matter how much it hurts. It’s all there in a single panel, an incredible catharsis, with a capital R.
Scott Snyder turned a response story into a powerful message about strength in the face of great pain. I cried like a baby.
The Manhattan Projects #10
Jonathan Hickman reminds me a lot of Grant Morrison. They are both writers filled with lots of big, relevant, literary ideas, whom do their best work when left to their own devices in a world without rules.
“Manhattan Projects” is, month after month, one of the best titles on shelves. Each issue is jam packed with a story, which is both entertaining and thought-provoking, all the while being typically self contained. It’s a book approaching a long-form story with each issue representing an episode, rather than building into long arcs. This month’s issue is no exception to that standard. It tells a complete story and adds a fascinating new element to the long-form series. Rather than the global or universal settings typical of this book, it jumps into the mind of a single character, Joseph Oppenheimer, and makes it just as wild as any extraterrestrial planet or explosive battle between secret societies. I won’t spoil what’s happening, because almost every page leads to a joyful new discovery.
This issue features the first artist besides Nick Pitarra, Ryan Browne. Browne’s style is similar to that of Pitarra, but is a shade closer to the reality corner of Scott McCloud’s pictographic triangle (see below). It’s not jarring, but the wild landscapes of the story are not as well served by his style. Pitarra’s more cartoonish language better lends itself to expressing absurd and fantastical landscapes allowing more room for reader interpretation. Browne’s art is by no means bad and he is a better fill-in that most, but Pitarra is most probably the perfect artist for this series and that’s tough to deny after reading an issue without him.
The coloring of this series continues to be excellent as well, Hickman utilizing Jordie Bellaire’s skills as a core component of his story telling, symbolizing opposing and neutral forces in an established palette. It’s part of a continued obsession with bringing meaning to all elements of the page, found in each of his Protea works, and it makes the issue significantly more enjoyable than it would be if colored normally, or as normally colored as the inside of Oppenheimer’s mind could be.
The first five issues of “The Manhattan Projects” can be had for only $9.99 and that’s a steal. If you like comics, make sure to check this book out.
That’s all for this Wednesday. Coming up on Friday, I’ll take a look at:
Avengers Arena #6
Nowhere Men #4
Thor: God of Thunder #6
Todd, the Ugliest Kid On Earth #3
Uncanny X-Men #3
The Walking Dead #108