Robot 6

The Fifth Color | Truth and consequences in ‘Age of Ultron’

If only it were this simple...

If only it were this simple…

Maybe it’s because I’ve been playing Bioshock: Infinite lately, but the choice we make now can lead to infinite worlds of harder choices in the blink of an eye. There’s a philosophical weight to certain scientific theories that takes the dryness of numbers and calculations and puts them into context for who we are as human beings. One of science fiction’s many functions is to play around with that: Robots can be used as puppets to play out our feelings about our own humanity, the aftermath of post-apocalyptic nightmares can show us how societies work at the broken point, and then there’s time travel.

Oh, man, time travel is a huge trope for the deep thinkers! The infamous “go back in time in kill Hitler” question is still debated in classrooms to this day and bandied about online forums. It’s huge temptation to think that, by changing a single thing about our past, we could create a brighter future, whether that’s saving 11 million people or simply knowing where we put our keys in the morning. It’s something we can comfortably wonder about because no one on Earth is capable of actually traveling through time to change anything.

Comics, on the other hand, can and often do. There are time-travel powers, devices, plot elements … it’s a fun topic to explore, and so our heroes jump into the time stream with little time for debate or even a basic plan. This creates the action and adventure we came to read and allows the creative team to test out a variety of scenarios for our entertainment and enlightenment. We debate, but fiction can act.

Does this make comics smarter than us for acting on these ideas or are comics more frustrating for tossing caution to the wind when any of us would pause to understand if we were doing the right thing? This is why Age of Ultron bothers me so much.

WARNING: Big reveal from last week’s Age of Ultron #6, so grab your copies and read along!

Quick musing: The cover of the book says “Age of Ultron Book Six” while the indicia and easiest method of referring to this issue remains “Age of Ultron #6.” I wonder why the cover title is different and if there’s a marketing choice involved.

Anyway, Age of Ultron is still too young in its storytelling to really have a clear picture on what’s going on, which is slightly silly considering this book is just shy of being half way over. Or so we think, considering there will be AI and AU books littered around the central story, so who knows? Ultron, evil robot supreme, is finally keeping his word and has returned to Earth to destroy the human race. Or at least, that’s what it sure looks like he’s doing, with Our Heroes on the ropes and barely surviving. The surviving heroes find Nick Fury, who believes Ultron is attacking them from an advanced future where he’s already won, giving him the edge in the battles in the past. Again, this is conjecture because you’d think that would cause some sort of paradox or maybe he’s attacking them from an alternate reality rather than the actual 616 universe’s future, but again I find myself thinking too deeply over this.

In true Nick Fury fashion, he has a plan for a specific set of heroes armed with a specific set of equipment to travel to a specific point in the future to try to stop Ultron at his source. Sketchy? Sure, but it’s the brave thing to do, so Fury and his heroic commandos step onto Doom’s Time Platform and forge ahead. Meanwhile, Wolverine just wants to go back into the past to kill Hank Pym.

AoU6_justificationWhich is what he’s going to in Age of Ultron #6. Susan Storm is a fantastic (pardon the pun) person to follow after Wolverine; she’s had super-science experience with the nature of time and space and she’s always been the heart of the Fantastic Four, tempering her family with a strong moral center. Here, she seems weakened and less strong than we’ve seen her before. Her friends and family have all been killed and the stakes are dire, but it’s weird to watch Susan protest from a position of defeat. Wolverine, in fact, tells her to keep feeling the pain of losing her family and use it because his plan really needs that desperation to work.

Wolverine is strangely single-minded on his task; horrified by the death of “millions,” he’s dead set on killing Hank Pym. He doesn’t care about Fury’s plan, he doesn’t care about the line superheroes shouldn’t cross — none of it matters but ending Pym to end Ultron’s attack. I wonder if there’s something we haven’t seen yet in the story to make this such a personal mission for Logan, but it also could be what we call in the D&D-playing world the “press of the dungeon master’s boot against your neck” to move the plot along. His convictions could be justified just as easily as they could be demanded by the narrative to this dire conclusion. Wolverine needs no time for discussion, just emotion and that driving desire to act, because this plan needs no logic or thought to come to its conclusion.

AoA6_declarationThey find Hank Pym in his Giant Man days, monologuing over the body of Dragon Man as he clearly explains to the reader his grand designs for creating an artificial intelligence to advance both the human race and his career. Logan arrives at the scene to catch him in the act of discovery and attacks. Susan Storm enters not to stop the action (which she could at a moment’s notice), but to witness this act and hesitate over the justice of killing the man who will create Ultron. In the end, she lightly hides her face from Wolverine’s killing blow, and Hank Pym calls out to her for help. Hank, now dead, is discarded as Logan is sure that whatever world they’re returning to is better now than the one they left.

This was a grossly disappointing chapter in the Age of Ultron story. None of these actions seemed reasonable, character’s motivations felt hollow and I simply cannot wrap my head around why Wolverine would think his idea was his way or the highway. X-Men travel through time constantly, but it has traditionally been for warning the past (in the case of Rachel Grey), to chase down a fugitive that didn’t belong (Bishop’s original modus operandi) or to bluntly stop Apocalypse, who we can all agree is a purely evil guy. It seems evil to me that a hero would go back in time expressly for the purpose of killing a man before he commits a crime, thereby taking an innocent life. In fact, it seems a little like Bishop’s last angle where he was trying to kill a baby. Or it sounds like something Kang the Conqueror would do, to meddle in the time stream to affect changes that would benefit him in the future. This seems like a villainous act.

But Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t like to linger on the details of his actions; he simply wants to get the story moving through all the points he wants them to hit to create a compelling work outside the sums of its parts. Secret Invasion ended abruptly with Osborn’s sudden intervention, Wanda’s madness was a means to the Avenger’s end and I had to go look up the end of Siege just to remember what happened (the heroes beat the reigning villains’ strongest to finally come out on top and regain the balance of power). How we get there isn’t as exciting as being there in a Bendis event and while I hem and haw on my couch about how this story seems awkward, what comes next is the only issue at hand.

Wolverine can act rashly and kill an innocent man for the greater good because he’s fictional. He’s designed and made to challenge the unknown and act however the story dictates. We as readers have the luxury of debate and philosophy to talk about what these acts mean and weigh them against our own moral compass. Comics need to outpace us in act and deed and the only thing that can tell us who is right in the end is .

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28 Comments

Are we even IN the 616 Universe anymore? I think Spidey nulling and voiding his marriage shunted the entire MU into the 717 or 543 or something.

But besides that, I think Marvel double ships these “Event” books so that Retailers will have ordered the bulk of the series before the first issue ships, and readers won’t figure out how empty and hollow the premise is before they’ve already invested in 2/3rds of the series. At that point, they resign to just finishing the damn thing.
But Marvel doesn’t care by that point, because they’re already Hyping Infinity!!!! Hurrah! Huzzah!! Beheading!!

So this is essentially an expanded take on Days Of Future Past? Jeebus, this is why I avoid “event” comics like the plague anymore…

Um, Wolverine thinks it’s his way or the highway because the human race is being wiped out by Ultron and he sees a way to change that. Maybe he hasn’t thought things through completely (a la the butterfly effect, there could be many changes to history due to Hank Pym not being part of The Avengers over the years), but it’s not like Wolverine hasn’t killed before for the greater good…

I’ve been enjoying Age of Ultron somewhat and there is no point trying to find any kind of logic in these characters’ actions as they’re all showing signs of PTSD. The world’s pretty much been destroyed and the heroes have failed miserably. Even Cap is not acting like Cap. So Wolverine’s illogical actions seem those of a dude who is used to winning but has basically had his arse handed to him. So his desire to kill Pym reeks of desperation, and anger at his own failure, than a rational decision. Susan Storm just looks washed up, which isn’t a huge surprise after you’ve lost a husband, brother, two kids, and a lifelong friend.

My only major problem with the story is how slow it’s progressing. The last six issues should have only taken maximum three issues. I like Hitch, but the double-page spreads of a devastated planet are wearing thin. These events were handled so much better in the eighties. Look how much they got through in Secret Wars by the sixth issue.

Here’s the Bendis-way to write a combination of central titles and events:
1. Event outside of characters’ control happens
2. Characters do inconsequential things for a bit
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until “finished”

@Andrew,

So far, I think it parallels perfectly with DoFP, but I think the quality of the metaphor fell apart in issue 6. Like DoFP, AoU splits into two parallel stories: one where the surviving heroes go to confront the evil robots, and another where someone goes back in time to stop the evil robots from ever happening. Problem is, in DoFP, we were made to care about the doomed heroes in the future, even as they were wholesale slaughtered. In AoU, we barely noticed it happening.

It’s typical Bendis (or almost any big name writer these days): Tell your story using the characters, not using the characters to tell a story. When I was a kid, I remember reading Secret Wars and feeling like Jim Shooter really couldn’t write the X-Men but he wanted them to be outcasts on the heroes side. Nowadays, it’s the same thing but it seems more ego driven. Millar wants Captain America and Iron Man on different sides so no matter what the characters have done in the past, Millar wrote the characters so that they do things that make them “enemies”. Fraction did it with Fear Itself and having Spider-Man run off like a coward to be with his family.

Any Bendis event is written so that Bendis can tell you his “cool ideas” using Marvel characters. I agree that the getting there isn’t what counts to him, it’s being able to use the characters (alot of times his pet characters) and writing them the way that he wants in order to tell his story. It doesn’t matter if his story contradicts past stories it’s just that they fit for him at that moment.

I’ve liked alot of Marvel Now after not liking alot of Marvel post-Civil War but everyone needs to remember that the characters have a foundation that makes them popular. There’s a reason that these characters have lasted so long and no amount of re-booting or secret origins is the reason that they have toys, cartoons, and movies made about them. I think that sometimes people from Joe Quesada on down to the “architects” have to realize that the characters that they’re working with are not popular because of them, they’re popular because great care was taken over a number of years not to screw them up. There were hiccups now and then (I call them the 90′s) but sometimes it feels like Marvel doesn’t realize that you don’t have to blow everything up every few years to keep people interested.

Jake Earlewine

April 28, 2013 at 6:23 am

Great superhero writers are able to work with the characters’ established personalities, motivations and histories and still comic up with great stories within that framework. Bendis instead discards their old personalities, throws away their motivations, and abandons or negates their history — the equivalent of playing tennis without a net.

Age of Ultron is more of the same. Yawn. Wake me when it’s over.

“Days of Future Past” did it way better. In two issues! Without changing the characters’ personalities, motivations, or history!

What kills me is that Wolverine could be written this way — willing to assassinate one of the founders and architects of the Marvel Universe for committing a completely unforeseeable mistake — and yet Marvel editorial clearly wants us to see him as being morally superior to Cyclops!

Well, Wolverine has killed for the “greater goods” countless times (recently his OWN son in Uncanny X-Force) really can’t see where the article’s author is going…it seems to me that is your thesis that doesn’t work with wolverine personality and history, are you sure you are not the one doing what you (and others) are accusing Bendis to do? Forcing a character personality to fit your interpretations of the story?

To further my point Wolverine killed his son to negate the *possibility* that Daken *could* in the future kill his students; really can’t see why he couldn’t think about kill a single man to save 7 billions people…it’s not Steve Rogers or Peter Parker is Logan.

So far in AoU, there have been many occasions where characters simply mill around and when they do speak, their dialogue is interchangeable with anyone else.
Characters acting by rote, not using their powers in interesting or surprising ways, and art that isn’t drawing me into the story.
Meh. Meh!

Clearly Wolverine learned nothing about killing from Uncanny X-Force, and Bendis will write characters however the hell he wants to suit the story he wants to tell. My thanks to the author for reminding me not to read this series.

This is the same Wolverine that attempted to kill Rachel Grey to stop her from killing Selene. This is perfectly in his character. What is not in character is Steve Rogers sitting in a corner and moping.

So I guess the butterfly effect here is Marvel Man, right? The Scientist Supreme is dead, and some other guy gets to be a hero now?

one should remember that killing is normal for wolverine for he was programed to do so. so him killing hank in the past is nothing new to him. for even though odds are doing so will come back to bite them all later in age of ultron wolverine figured it was justified mostly by trying to prevent the most evil walking creature in the marvel universe from existing ultron.though surprised sue did not step in and stop him. given her personality and beliefs that killing is not the answer

I’ve had relatively little interest in reading this book, but I have to ask, do they explain somewhere in there why Wolverine had to kill Pym instead of just stopping him from creating Ultron? It seems like sending someone he would trust back in time to explain to him what the consequences of his actions would be is a much easier solution than murdering the guy. I mean, obviously that would make for a terribly boring comic book, but as a matter of logic and consistent characterization, it would make more sense.

Everybody go back and read Jaime’s post because he/she GETS IT!

It’s really sad, as 5 issues were spent establishing how desperate the situation is and so many of you, maybe desensitized by decades of dire situations in comics, failed to fully see or understand it. All you did was complain that the story was moving too slow or already came to your conclusions the moment you saw the name ‘Bendis’ on the story.

No one is completely out of character, but they all should be somewhat out of character. This is the worst trauma that any of them have lived through and witnessed. If they were all acting like their normal selves it would make this story … well, unrealistic.

No, I want them to act like heroes. That’s what they are.

Just because someone acts different in a PTSD situation doesn’t mean they’re not a hero.

The blurb about this post on the CBR page led me to think I would be reading an intelligent article on time travel in fiction and the consequences of changing the past. Instead I get another uncreative bitch session about Bendis’ writing. Weak and poorly written, this article is crap.

So what is Wolverine supposed to do? What is anybody supposed to do. A powerful robot, created by one of your ally’s, has come back and wiped out mankind. Now, you can either do the honorable thing, and go back and tell Pym that he’s about to create the thing that will destroy the human race, or you kill him. You know that if you tell him what is going to happen, that he’ll still try to make Ultron, but make him better, or maybe he makes something else. Who knows. So, you kill him instead because you don’t have time for “Who knows.” With the human race gone, are you really thinking about butterfly effects? Not really because what can be worse than billions of people being dead? Is it in character to kill a man who didn’t mean any ill will when he created Ultron? Maybe not. But, if you’re one of the last surviving humans is anything in character?

Wolverine’s actions are completely in line with how his character has been portrayed for the last 30 years. He is realistic and pragmatic, he’ll do what is necessary even if it isn’t nice. I think it’s pretty silly to say that Wolverine’s actions are evil. The lives of 7 billion people justify the killing of anyone, “innocent” or otherwise. Logan is the only hero that doesn’t walk around with his head firmly placed inside of his posterior. Captain America REALLY wouldn’t kill one person to save the lives of every single person on earth? Really? That’s absurd. He should be able to put his own feelings aside to save the entire human race. His own peace of mind is more important that 7 billion lives? He doesn’t need to like it, it’s better if he doesn’t, but he should be willing to take a live when push comes to shove for the greater good. I’m sure all those dead people will be real glad Cap put aside his beliefs to save their lives. Frankly if anyone was going to kill Pym, it should have been Cap, he owes Pym that much. He’s the leader. He’s the one who should be making the hard choices and tough decisions… but he can’t… which is why Iron Man recruited Wolverine to the New Avengers in the first place.

Wolverine was talking as if he was high out of his mind when he confronted Pym. I think he found Fury’s stash of pot in the glove compartment of the flying car, smoked it all on the way to New York and went charging into the lab all gooped up on gop and ranting pure nonsense (“I’m from the future, and in the future there is no future”). Sue Storm would have indirectly gotten high as well, as she was riding in the same car with Wolverine, which left her far too mellow to try and stop the murder of Pym.

Also, Wolverine seemed entirely unfazed by Pym’s giant punches. True, Wolverine has indestructible bones and a healing-factor, but that would only limit the damage and allow him to quickly recover from his injuries. Instead we saw that Wolverine was very much invulnerable as he was punched through machines. This leads me to believe that Wolverine had smoked some form of “super-pot” that Shield must have been experimenting with in the old days, like the CIA used to experiment with LCD in the 50′s and 60′s. This super-pot must render mutants invulnerable to harm, and unfortunately accelerates the aging of normal humans (they mentioned how much younger Fury looked in the past, but according to Marvel’s sliding timeline this would have only been about six or eight years ago, by comparison: Pym didn’t look that much younger than he does in the present).

Since Pym’s reaction to a man dressed all in black and sporting a weird haircut (obvious signs of being a super villain by the standards of the day (late silver age/early bronze age)) breaking into his possibly secure lab was entirely unrealistic for a super hero (i.e. he didn’t freak out immediately and go on the defensive), I would think the confrontation with Pym was a super-pot created hallucination. In reality, Wolverine massacred a mannequin at a big and tall clothing store.

And so this avoids all of the various and obvious paradoxes involved in changing the past.

In fact, I’m willing to blame Shield’s super-pot for all of Age of Ultron.

Or at least I would if Marvel didn’t ban smoking of any kind in all of their comics. Which renders my hypothesis null and void.

Drat.

I guess I’ll blame bad writing.

Roquefort Raider

April 30, 2013 at 5:39 am

What’s wrong with going back to the past and just telling Pym not to build Ultron? (And not slap the Wasp either, come to think of it?) And barring that because there’s a risk he might still play around with the idea of a kinder, gentler Ultron, why not use the time platform to put Pym elsewhere in the time stream? Bring him back to the present, say, or strand him in the sixth century B.C. Murdering him just sounds pretty unheroic; it’ strikes me as a lazy person’s plan.

Let’s put it like this. Let’s say India and Pakistan went to war, firing their nuclear weapons at each other, and also in turn ending human life as we know it. If there was a time machine, and we can go back and neutralize the scientists that discovered nuclear energy and that the release of that energy could be weaponized, would you do it? Would you stop them while their ideas are still in infancy and the monster hasn’t been let out the bag yet?

Terrell, the problem with your example is that it was only a matter of time until someone figured out how to harness nuclear power. There were scientists all over the world working on that. And even if someone went back in time and killed them all, there are always more scientists. At some point someone is going to figure it out. Historically, the U.S. managed to work out how to create an atomic bomb first. If a time traveler changes that, it could have been the Germans or the Japanese during WWII. Or possibly the USSR after the war, with no fear of retaliation to keep them locked into a cold war. In your example, you’re taking history out of the hands of the devil you know, and putting it into the hands of the devil you don’t know.

The same can be applied to killing Pym. And it probably will. It’s likely that Wolverine and Invisible Woman will return to the present, see things are all wrong now and try to fix things (or maybe the heroes in the future will return and try to fix things). This will lead to whatever shift in the status quo that this event is meant to accomplish. We’ve already seen that Pym is mentioned as part of Avengers AI, so he’s probably not staying dead. This means his murder will probably get fixed, because Wolverine was wrong.

RegularSyzedMike

May 1, 2013 at 8:54 am

You’ve all clearly put much more thought into this storyline than BMB has. ;)

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