Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

For as long as I've been reading comics, Marvel has committed to a big summer event every year. Now some of these events are a big deal and have long lasting impact on the status quo of the Marvel Universe. Some? Not so much. It isn't that they aren't meant to be be big. It's just for one reason or another, they don't catch on. You know, everyone remembers Secret Wars, but the events of Secret Wars II have fallen into relative obscurity. I think Fear Itself was pretty cool but for some reason it didn't strike me as well received as Avengers: Disassembled or Civil War. Infinity? Well, Infinity was out there...that's for damn sure. I dug it. But again, I'm just not sure if it sunk into the hearts and minds of comic fans everywhere.

I really had little interest to delve into Age of Ultron; I don't know why. Maybe because it seemed so clearly an attempt to generate some interest in a character that I suspect will be used in a new Avengers movie? Or maybe because after Days of Future Past, Age of Apocalypse and House of M, I was sort of like yeah, yeah, another timeline; big deal. But this weekend, I found myself feverishly reading this ten issue mini-series. As always, Brian Michael Bendis won me over by the end of it. I'm impressed with this series and I already fear it missed its due.
I mean, to begin with, Ultron has always been a scary villain. He's a murderous robot made of indestructible adamantium who keeps reinventing himself. His plan isn't just to kill the Avengers--he wants to wipe out mankind. I mean, Ultron writes itself as a villain, right? It's seemed to me that Ultron has rarely ever taken center stage as the villain though. Growing up, it always seemed that someone like Doom had gotten their hands on Ultron and reprogrammed him. It also seemed to me that Ultron's ability to think creatively was somewhat limited. So yeah, the thing was scary powerful, but the Avengers and others tended to find a way to outsmart it.

What really weirds me out--and I can't help but love--is that last scene of Age of Ultron when you hear Ultron speak. And in Bendis' hands, Ultron sounds like a raging child. A brilliant, indestructible, but nonetheless childlike entity, shouting about how his father and all of humanity are obsolete. It's like Ultron feels some personal wound against Hank Pym, as if he's willing to destroy the whole world just because 'it' is acting out some childlike frustration towards its creator.

Age of Ultron really demonstrates just how un-limited Ultron is. The thing can enact plans that take the course of years that the Avengers can never see coming, given enough time and resources it can field drones of itself that would rival the firepower of every country on the planet, the thing can even coordinate attacks across time, putting together battle plans that are essentially non-linear from our perspective and make it impossible to defend against (spoiler alert: among the many twists Age of Ultron leads fans towards, the superheroes left alive in this series--and their are few, to be sure--realize that the Ultron and the drones they are facing are actually advanced copies from the future that have traveled back in time to seal their fate).

I've already written a lot about the Sentinels and my grim fascination with the world of Days of Future Past. I'm terrified with the idea that the Sentinels start to impose some sort of sick, deranged 'order' on the world, protecting humanity from mutants by monitoring and regulating every move people make, including breeding. The Sentinels become humanity's jailers and mutants' executioners, like giant, frightening parents who the human race will never escape from. Given my past experience with this, an idea of world in which Ultron had 'won' didn't appeal to me. Another timeline in which robots conquered the world? It seemed so derivative.

What I love about Age of Ultron is just how horrible it really is. At least with the Sentinels there was some kind of order; horrific and unforgivable order, but order. In the Age of Ultron, the human race is slowly exterminated, cities tumble to the ground, ex-supervillians conspire to capture superheroes to turn over to Ultron's forces just to buy themselves a few more days of life. If you could even call scrounging for food and resources among wrecked skyscrapers and apartment buildings life. There's no mastermind plan other than the slow, inexorable execution of every living being on the planet. It was some scary stuff to say the least.

But all of this that I'm talking about, a sort of newfound respect for just how terrifying the creature Ultron is, isn't even the capstone of the series I think. See, for me, it's the time travel aspect that truly caught my imagination.

Recently, I became fixated on a small, low-budget movie called Primer. Primer is a fairly brilliant movie about time travel. A discussion of its content is beyond the scope of what I'm writing here (watch it, SEE if you can even understand it and you'll see what I mean), but needless to say it raises all sorts of questions about the surreal nature of time travel and the kind of ethical dilemmas we'd be faced with if we had access to it.

Now, one of the last bastions of hope the heroes have left to do anything to stop Ultron is the fact that Fury has managed to get a hold of Doom's time platform. That's right...the thing Doom used in Fantastic Four issue like...FIVE or something, when he kidnaps the Invisible Woman and the FF go back and fight Blackbeard and everything?

Now, at the time, that was just this cute story that everyone loved. But here's why I love that it's Doom's platform that this story hinges on:

See, Doom is an egotistical maniac who has aspired to god-hood time and again. He's not even in Age of Ultron, but here's what ran through my mind when Fury reveals it. Doom would do anything to one-up Reed. He builds machines. He's used magic. He's capable of anything. Despite this? Doom hasn't time traveled much. He hasn't used that platform again (or at least, not significantly that I recall). He doesn't go back in time and kill Reed Richards when Reed was a baby. He's got access to the technology. Why didn't he use it?

Debatably, you could say Doom is such an egomaniac that he wants the satisfaction of knowing he beat Reed in his prime. But see, Doom is no idiot. And I'd like to believe another part of why he doesn't is this. Doom knows just how risky and problematic screwing with time really is. See, when you start changing time, choices become meaningless. You go back in time and change something. When you get there, another version of you from another future shows up using the same technology and changes something else because he isn't satisfied with the way things turned out. The two of you are surprised when a third version of you shows up and changes something else entirely.

You see what I mean? Once you do it, what's to stop others from doing it? From that matter, even other versions of you? And I mean that's you, but it's also not you right? And if other versions of you start undoing things that you changed; well, don't even get me started on the kind of paradoxes that starts. As a dying version of Tony Stark pleads with a version of Wolverine: "Time is an organism...what happens if we hurt it? Kill it?"

See, the heart of Age of Ultron is actually questions like THIS. About time travel and just how screwed up it can get. Culminating with something seeming to have gone very wrong with time itself. As always, I'm impressed with just how well considered and fascinating Bendis' writing is. And of course, there's lots of references to other important Marvel events and characters, such as the Skrull invasion, Morgan Le Fey, etc. Seriously, this series caught me by surprise. I recommend it.


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