Brian Bendis Guards AGE OF ULTRON's High-Level Secrets

Age of Ultron #1

variant by Marko

Djurdjević.

Age of Ultron is Marvel's next big event story, and so far, we know the basics: It's 10 issues, all written by Brian Michael Bendis, with a first half illustrated by Bryan Hitch and the second half divided between Carlos Pacheco and Brandon Peterson. It starts in March with three issues out that month, and three more are scheduled for April.

Story-wise, it's been revealed that Age of Ultron depicts the ultimate victory of the titular long-running Avengers villains: Using his artificial intelligence to take over the world. Exactly how that happens and what happens next is unclear, but the preview images show rampant destruction, and though it's been said that not everyone makes it out alive, some of the main characters include Hawkeye, Wolverine, Invisible Woman, Black Widow and Moon Knight.

There's still a lot being deliberately kept secret about the story. There's the simple fact that even though the story spins out of current Marvel NOW! continuity — Spider-Man is "superior," the Fantastic Four are on a family trip in space — it seems tricky to reconcile large-scale chaos and major casualties with what's happening concurrently in Marvel's ongoing titles, without a House of M-esque alterting of reality. And then there's the top-secret surprise ending, which Bendis has called "unguessable" and said "literally five people know."

Naturally, we were interested to know, more so we talked about the event in detail with Bendis, for the second of our three-part interview with the prolific Marvel writer, who's also debuting Uncanny X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy next month. Courtesy of Marvel, we're also presenting brand-new art from the story, including the exclusive debut of the Marko Djurdjević variant cover to issue #1, seen above.

Art from Age of Ultron #6.

Newsarama: Brian, on top of all of your X-Men material, you're also writing Age of Ultron, which is starting in March. There seems to be a little more secrecy around that story than other recent Marvel events.

Brian Michael Bendis: That's another one where I'm just so excited for people to see it. With Avengers #12.1 already on the stands, and already a Free Comic Book Day thing, I feel that people have gotten a really big sense of where we're going. You've gotten the whole prelude — the whole first 10 minutes of the movie for free. I'm very excited about the pages unveiling themselves, and coming out as quickly as it's about to come out. As gorgeous as the Bryan Hitch stuff is, we're getting in a lot of the Brandon Peterson and Carlos [Pacheco] stuff right now, and it is really, really something.

Bryan is drawing this whole first half of the book, which takes place in this situation where Ultron has completely taken the world. That's always been the fear: That Ultron will one day wake up, and he'll have won. He's going to be smart enough to figure out how to do it, and he'll do it. And we wake up one morning, and he's done it. And it is a disaster. It is a Marvel Comics disaster movie unfolding on every page. It is pretty brutal.

Art from Age of

Ultron #6.

And then something happens in the middle of the story that is cause for different artists, and that will be very clear when it happens. Brandon is handling one section, while Carlos is handling another section, and they will be merging towards the end, for another artist who is a mystery to everyone, including the other artists. I felt bad that Bryan and Brandon and Carlos don't have a full sense of the big picture, but we have a big surprise at the end of this story that literally five people know. There are people in editorial who don't know, and they're annoyed by it. There are friends of mine who work in comics and work very closely with me who kind of go, "No, you can tell me." I'm like, "I really can't." It is the closest kept secret.

Nrama: Right, I think you said that even someone like Matt Fraction doesn't know.

Bendis: No, he does not know. And listen, this man was there at the birth of my child. He knows everything about me! Except this.

Nrama: So it's that big of an ending?

Bendis: It's that big of a surprise. And no one can guess it. You cannot guess it. And I know you guys put up your 10 guesses. I loved those.

 

It's a gigantic adventure. It is a huge Marvel disaster movie. There are gigantic ramifications for books coming out of it, including books that I'm writing. What I'm very excited about is that it is about the size of House of M in that it's contained, the crossovers are all juicy, but there are not a million of them, and they're shipping very quickly, like they should. This story will unfold very quickly, and I was grateful for Marvel to let Bryan to take the time to finish his issues the way he needed to finish them. You're going to get a unique Bryan Hitch experience, which is getting all the work at once. I'm not dissing on Bryan, I know Bryan sometimes takes this stuff personally, but when you jump into a book with Bryan, sometimes you know you're going to have to wait. This one time, you're not going to have to, you're going to get all of the experience at once.

Nrama: You mentioned House of M just now in discussing it — and like that story, I think people see the Age of Ultron preview pages, and they think, even though it spins out of current continuity, that with the Marvel Universe devastated and only a few survivors, that this doesn’t really "count," or will be overturned by the end of it.

 

Bendis: No. Nope. And everyone knew about this going into their Marvel NOW! books; this was in the plans before Marvel NOW! and even before AvX. People heard about it at the retreats, people were ready for it, people knew about it; some creators taking full advantage of it where they want. But at the same time, I didn't want anyone to feel obligated. But a lot of people jumped on board. You're going to see a very big fallout from this. I'm telling you, last page, you're going to go, "Alright, what do I buy next? Where is it? What do I do?"

It's so nice to have a surprise. It's so hard. I didn't know Elektra was going to die. I didn't know! You did not know. You were buying that book, and no one told you, and you opened it up, "Holy sh*t, for real?" You're looking at the back cover like it's going to transform into something, like Frank Miller's head is going to show up and tell you, "No, that's really it." You keep flipping the book over, looking for the other side. In this day and age, it's a little tough. I did get away with it with Elektra Skrull, and I think we're going to get away with it here, too, because some higher-up people at Marvel are very dedicated to keeping this a secret, which is exactly what I want.

 

Nrama: A few characters have been revealed now who are going to play a big role in Age of Ultron — Hawkeye, it looks like for sure, Wolverine, Moon Knight, Spider-Man, a few others.

Bendis: It is a Marvel Universe book. I know that because it started in Avengers that people think it's an Avengers book, but because the Avengers couch every single facet of the Marvel Universe, things start in Avengers. They just do. House of M started in Avengers, Civil War started in Avengers, Siege, Secret Invasion… that's the place where a giant Marvel event will start. Yes, it started in Avengers #12.1, but you'll see the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and all kinds of people from all walks of life front and center in the first issue of that book.

Some of the survivors are pretty surprising, and so are the people who do not survive. Already you've seen from the artwork, Red Hulk, Black Panther, Moon Knight and Black Widow — who just literally happened to be somewhere where they did not get hit, and now have to figure out what to do next. And Spider-Man and Hawkeye. Some really interesting stuff.

 

That's just in the beginning sections. And then other sections take over, with other people front and center. Just because they survive to get to the first issue doesn't mean they survive to the third issue.

Nrama: It seems significant that Moon Knight was involved in Ultron-related activities in his solo series you wrote.

Bendis: Yes. For people who followed Moon Knight, and god bless each and every 12 of you, you can absolutely look at that as seeds planted. I was writing Moon Knight and Age of Ultron around the same time, and seeding accordingly.

Nrama: You've written a lot of these big stories and events at Marvel, but this one seems different; it looks different, it seems that it has a different type of stakes. How do you see it compared to other big stories you've written?

 

Bendis: I specifically said, if I ever do these again, every one's got to be very different. When I did House of M, there was no expectation. And now when these things come out, it's all expectation. It's like, "Show me something!" I'm aware of that. I'm also aware of some of the things that people worry about — there are too many tie-ins, they take too long. I sometimes agree with those criticisms — and some of those are marketplace criticisms — and I go, "OK, I agree with you, so let's do that." People don't remember, [the first half of] House of M came out every other week. I think part of the appeal of it was that it was happening so quickly. It does seem that the ones that people enjoy the most are when the sh*t happens so fast — start at the end of the kind of thing. So I did it in Siege a little bit, and that seemed to go well, and this is like the bigger version of that.

Nrama: You've made it clear that this isn't an Avengers story, but Ultron is one of the most famous Avengers villains, and it's notable that though you did that story in Mighty Avengers a while back, you didn't really touch the character much in eight years on the franchise. Were you deliberately holding back in preparation for this story?

 

Bendis: If I ever did an Ultron story, this is the Ultron story I was going to do. I remember sitting with my kid watching Next Avengers and thinking, "If I ever do my Ultron story, I'm going to go this far with it." You want to do the story where you can't imagine another story ever happening with this character. I'm sure someone will come along and do that, but my favorite stories are the ones where the writer was thinking, "You cannot possibly think of another thing to do."

I love that Secret Invasion is, for better or worse, the ultimate Skrull story. Same thought process going here.

 

Nrama: Was Ultron a character you always had interest in?

Bendis: I love the origin of Ultron; I love where Ultron came from. It is such a great idea. The Shakespearan tones in which it was handled when they were first debuting it — I loved everything about it, and the promise of the character was always this story that I'm telling. "One day, he's going to do this if we don't stop him." Well, now he's done it. One of the Avengers created him! That's fantastic. A robot with daddy issues. The whole Marvel Universe is daddy issues! This is fantastic.

Nrama: Since this story has been in the works for a couple of years now, did it take much maneuvering to get it to line up with current Marvel continuity?

Fantastic Four

#5AU cover.

Bendis: That's one of the benefits of being part of all of it, and being at those retreats, and having Tom Brevoort be the captain of the ship. It's very easy to do this all. And also keeping the tie-ins to the minimum, and having them be AU issues — it helps everybody.

Nothing would kill me more than screwing up Matt Fraction's FF story. That's certainly not anything I'm interested in at any level. I would wait another three years to tell my story if it would stay out of the way of any of my friends' stories. But we have it down. Every night, I get emails from any of the writers, asking little bitty questions, or just, "what do you think of this, what do you think of that," and I can tell they're having a blast. I bend over backwards to make that happen, so when it happens, it's a relief.  

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