AGE OF ULTRON #1 Post Game: BENDIS on the Destructive Debut

***This article contains spoilers for Age of Ultron #1, on sale now.***

 

It's typical for a big Marvel event series to be announced a few months before the first issue is out. But the 10-issue Age of Ultron has had an even longer lead time, first teased in the 2010 opening arc of the "Heroic Age" era Avengers, and later foreshadowed much more directly in 2011's Avengers #12.1 (also Marvel's 2012 Free Comic Book Day release) and Point One one-shot.

But all that prologue is in the past, and Age of Ultron #1 is now out. The issue — written by Brian Michael Bendis and the first of five illustrated by Bryan Hitch, both veterans of significant stories with lots of destruction — starts with the Marvel Universe already in ruins thanks to Ultron, without a pause to show how things got to this point. The mystery deepens when you consider that everybody involved has made it clear that this story is in current continuity, and will have an impact going forward.

With issue #2 just seven days away, we talked to Bendis about the start of Age of Ultron, perceived similarities to the writer's eventful 2005 series House of M, who survived and why, the widescreen legacy of Bryan Hitch and this story's seemingly unlikely resemblance to the Coen brothers' 1991 film Barton Fink. Courtesy of Marvel, we're also showcasing a few pages from Age of Ultron #2, out March 13.

 

Newsarama: Brian, before this interview I went back and reread House of M #1, because that story feels somewhat structurally similar to Age of Ultron. But in the opening chapter of House of M, it picks up with the Marvel Universe as it was known at that point, and shows how things got to where they were for the bulk of that story. In Age of Ultron #1, you clearly made a deliberate choice, that from page one it'd be craziness, destruction and devastation, without yet showing how things got to that point. Why was it important to go that route for this opening chapter? How do you view it as an effective way kick things off?

Brian Michael Bendis: Not to get weird, but when I wake up in the morning, my first thing is I check the Internet to make sure everything's still where it was when I went to sleep. That's really what post-9/11 America is like. You just kind of wake up and go, "OK, everything's still standing," and then you go about your day. I don't know if everyone does that, but I do it.

I thought that's kind of like what it must feel like to be Tony Stark or Captain America. There's so much that could go wrong that's not their fault, just these things that are out there. One of the things that they're most worried about, as said in Avengers #12.1, is that eventually, [Ultron]'s going to evolve to a place where he's able to accomplish his goal, and it will be too late. And that's what happened. You woke up one morning and a giant artificially intelligent robot who decided we shouldn't be here anymore made it so we're not here anymore. I thought that was the most dramatic way to start. Not with a bang, but with the moment right after the bang. I thought that's where the story gets more interesting. It doesn't really matter how Ultron did it, it matters that he did.

Interior art from Age of Ultron #2.

That's the promise of every Ultron story — that he will do something like this. Well, let's make that promise happen.

Nrama: It also seems like something of a more modern way to tell these stories, getting to the heart of it without worrying about detailing the destination point by point.

Bendis: I've done both, and there's nothing more fun than a big, giant set-up. House of M, perfect example — we set everything up, and let you know who all the players were. In this instance, I just look at it and I go, "It doesn't matter. All that matters is that it happened." And there's so much more stuff that's going to happen after this. I'd just rather get to that stuff.

Garth Ennis, years ago — this is like when I first came to Marvel — he was doing some interview, and they were talking about how in the '70s every time Ultron showed up, there would be like a whole page recanting everything that ever happened that brought Ultron to this moment. There would be a profile shot of Ultron with 16 little panels, just telling you every little thing. He said, "Who gives a crap? Evil robot, move on. That's all you need to know." I kind of thought about that a lot. Sometimes you need more elements to understand the continuity of the character and where the story's coming from, but a lot of times, for a new reader or a lapsed reader or someone who isn't poring over all this stuff like we do, that's all you really need to know. So let's get to it.

 

Nrama: That attitude is reflected right in the recap page of issue #1, which is jus two sentences.

Bendis: It's funny, because sometimes you're at like your sixth chapter of a story, and your recap page is like 18 paragraphs, and you're trying desperately to get it down to like, two. But sometimes your story's that evolved. But if you can get it down to about two sentences, you're usually good to go. That means you've done something right.

Nrama: Obviously this has been a story that's been developing for a while — how long does your script for this date back? Maybe like, 2011?

Bendis: Before then. I will take a look while we're talking. [Pause.] 2011 was the first script, but the first pages that I gave to Bryan was 2010. Like the last half of 2010.

 

Nrama: Let's talk about that Bryan Hitch art — clearly, you give him a lot of room to do his thing with two two-page spreads right at the start.

Bendis: I do like the double-page spreads, and it's something I admire and something I enjoy particularly in an artist like Bryan, who then would add double-page spreads when they weren't any.

I heard that from other writers who worked with him, and I worked with him a couple of times. I remember he was working with Ed [Brubaker], and Ed would write a 20 page script, and it would come out to be 27 pages of art, and I'm like, "What happened?" "He just finds things he likes to draw and blows them up." I'm like, OK, I'll just blow them up for him. But then he'll blow them up more. I'm trying to speak to his language, but he'll always go bigger, which is cool.

Interior art from  

Age of Ultron #1.

Obviously, looking at it, you can see these chapters were written for him and nobody else. They were diving into what he does better than anybody. This is a visual language he invented with The Authority. It's the most imitated visual language in all of comics, and I just wanted to write right into it. What I was really hoping is that this book would ship when he was done with his work; that it wouldn't have that same experience that people who like Bryan are used to, which his almost a quarterly delay between issues. Again, that isn't a diss, that's how long it takes him.  When all the issues were done, that's when we would proceed forth with how to schedule and all that. So that worked out pretty well.

Nrama: Hitch is on the first five, correct?

Bendis: He's the first five. All in. And then something happens at the end of the fifth issue that causes quite a break in the story, that allowed us the opportunity to then have other artists come in and illustrate those. And those artists are primarily Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco, each doing a very specific thing in the story.

 

Nrama: To get to the nuts and bolts of Age of Ultron #1, a bulk of the issue is Hawkeye doing some cool post-apocalyptic action hero stuff. The character seems like a natural choice to lead off a story like this — what made him the right pick for you to lead off the story?

Bendis: I looked at the cast of survivors, and where they are in their mindset, and it seemed to me that Hawkeye, like Black Widow, has probably been in war-torn areas like this before, so he could handle it a little better. Also, there are other people on the survivors' list who are just as dramatic and heroic as he is, but the difference is that Hawkeye didn't lose any family, and some of the other heroes lost a lot of family members. So they're reeling a little bit. Hawkeye could dive right in, less involved than the others, if that makes sense.

He looked more natural, like he's been in settings like this before. That takes us into the group of survivors, and where they are, and how that's working, and sets up what happens in the second issue.

 

There are two things that are going on with the story that I'm pretty interested in: No. 1, the story baton gets passed to other characters. It starts here, and then this brings us to Moon Knight and Black Widow. That brings us to Red Hulk and the Black Panther, and that takes us to other people. The baton keeps passing. The story thread is solid, but the major players have pieces that the other people don't have.

The other thing that happens, when we get to issue #5 and #6, the story takes a shift into what kind of story that it is. I think to movies like Psycho or Barton Fink, where it starts out a certain way, and you think, "OK, I know what kind of movie this is," and then all of a sudden you're like, "Whoa, this is not the kind of movie I thought this was at all." That's what we're doing. And I love stuff like that, and never had a chance to do it. This one, I got there and I went, "Oh yeah, I can do that thing that I love that I never get to do!"

Nrama: Age of Ultron is probably the first Marvel event series compared by its writer to Barton Fink.

 

Bendis:  It's the Barton Fink of Marvel events. I know a lot of people think that "Acts of Vengeance" was more Barton Fink but… [Laughs.]

Nrama: And it was of course a surprise to see Hammerhead and the Owl, among the survivors, though evidently not for long.

Bendis: It's literally about when something like this happens, who survives? You think of any disaster movie or zombie story, it's who survives that's always surprising. Who doesn't think of the scene in Independence Day where the first lady and a stripper are having a campfire?

Nrama: You've said that major names aren't making it out of this story alive, and some may already be off the board. It's mentioned that Thor isn't around anymore, but that could mean many different things.

Age of Ultron

#2 cover.

Bendis: Yes. You'll find out more and more as the series goes on, obviously.

Nrama: Then at the last page we have Captain America looking utterly defeated.

Bendis: They broke his shield!

Nrama: Does that pick right back up in #2?

Bendis: Yes. What you've seen in the first issue we'll follow through, but more and more players will be added as it goes.

Nrama: It's been said that since everyone knew this story was coming so it didn't take much maneuvering to make it fit with the current Marvel slate. So that's Superior Spider-Man in the first issue?

Bendis: Yes. But it's not going to be a major Superior Spider-Man chapter. There's not going to be any big reveals about Peter or Otto in this. For those following, yes, it fits right in. For all intents and purposes to these characters, it's Peter.

Superior Spider-Man

#6AU cover.

Nrama: Spider-Man's dialogue seemed to be written nimbly so that it could reasonably be interpreted either way, as Peter or Otto.

Bendis: I have massaged these scripts up until the moment you read them. And not only just for Spider-Man, but to reference all the Marvel NOW! stuff that we can.

Nrama: Right, like Matt Fraction is writing a Fantastic Four tie-in spinning directly out of their current adventure in space.  And Invisible Woman individually is playing a big role in the series coming up, right?

Bendis: Yes. I hope people are as excited as I was to write it. While I was developing the plot, she kind of crept up on me — and it very well may be because my wife was pregnant — that she is like the first mother of the Marvel Universe, and maybe lost the most, and had the most to lose.

Nrama: With Hawkeye and Spider-Man, we meet the rest of the survivors, including Wolverine, Emma Frost, Beast, Tony Stark, She-Hulk and Luke Cage — with hair.

Bendis: Now you know it's serious. He didn't have time to shave his head.

 

Nrama: What was the process of picking that group? Just a matter of sitting down and thinking, "Who would be the most likely to survive a situation like this"?

Bendis: I had a scene in my head, that these heroes were near each other or by each other doing something. You'll see next issue with Black Widow and Moon Knight — I feel I know where they were when this sh*t happened. And it's characters not where Ultron though they were going to be. He hit all the hotspots, and these characters happened to not be at one.

Nrama: With Age of Ultron #1 now out there in the world, do you have any general thoughts about the issue or the series as a whole you'd like to share?

Bendis: Sometimes the machine of the event can really take over the story. This one allowed us to go story headfirst, keeping the tie-ins to a minimum, making it about something that's happening in this book that is in continuity that does matter. I was thinking about the events like Infinity Gauntlet, where similarily, "Half the heroes are dead in issue #2!" or something, and you're like, "Oh my god!" but it's not being referenced in other books yet, until the ending. I thought that was something this generation of reader was missing.

 

The two things that people complain about, and sometimes they're right and sometimes they're not depending on the story, is the amount of tie-ins, and the pacing of the shipping. A lot of people said they wanted their quote unquote events in a smaller block of time. That one I kind of agreed with. You look at events that we don't do, and by issue #7, you're like, "Alright, get to it." Getting them all in in just a couple of months seemed to be really attractive to me. I'm excited to feel what this feels like. To have a very unique Bryan Hitch experience of having the issues ship so close to each other. That's never happened before. It's not an insult to Bryan, it's just the way it is for Bryan.

Story-wise, people every day are trying to guess where we're headed and what's going to happen. It'll happen in a quicker fashion, and that’s pretty cool.

Nrama: Do you see any lingering misconceptions out there about what Age of Ultron is that you'd like to clear up?

 

Bendis: We're keeping things a little close to the vest, so the things that they're worried about, I understand, and I kind of like that you're worried about them. Hopefully you're worried about them in a way you want to read the story. And I know that some people are really enjoying Marvel NOW!, and they're very worried about it being all screwed up. And that's kind of the point. We're thrilled. That means on many levels, many people are doing their job.

Trust me, as I've proven time and time again — no matter what conspiracies float around about me — I care about these characters a great deal. Trying to bring a story that's unique and exciting and scary, and I'm very much looking forward to the conversations that will be happening at the end of the story.

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