AGE OF ULTRON #2 Debrief: Things Are Bad All Over

***This article contains spoilers for Age of Ultron #2, on sale now.***

 

Another week, another issue of Age of Ultron: #2, out now, sees writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Bryan Hitch moving the action to the west coast, checking up on Black Widow and Moon Knight, who are lucky to be alive in San Francisco. Turns out, it's just as bad over there as it is in New York City, thanks to Ultron's surprise attack.

Over in NYC, Spider-Man relates some details of his capture, and Captain America — seen as an utterly defeated man at the end of #1 — is shown to have the beginnings of a plan to get the Marvel Universe out of this dire situation.

We talked about the finer points of Age of Ultron #2 and the story in general with Marvel senior vice president of publishing and series editor Tom Brevoort. Courtesy of Marvel, we're also presenting some of Bryan Hitch's interior pages from Age of Ultron #3, out in two weeks.

Newsarama: Tom, before we dive into the specifics of Age of Ultron #2, let's talk somewhat more generally about the story. Obviously the first issue has only been out a week, but in-house at Marvel, with the way preorders and everything work, there usually seems to be a good sense of how things are performing even before they come out. You're not a sales person, but so far have things been at the level Marvel was hoping for?

Interior art from  

Age of Ultron #3.

Tom Brevoort: I've seen our sales numbers, and our sales numbers are very good. But on top of that, last Wednesday I breezed through Midtown Comics in the morning, and you could actually see the difference on the shelf. I assume it has everything in the world to do with the embossed, foil cover. They have a whole wall that's new releases, and they have stacks of, I'm going to guess 20 copies [of each], give or take, along the wall — except for Age of Ultron #1, where there was like, two. This was like 8:30, 8:45 in the morning; I presume they had more in the back, and they would re-stock and so forth. You could just clearly see people were picking that book up off of the racks faster than the stuff that was around it.

That's completely anecdotal, that's the one moment I happened to go through; maybe after that, they didn't sell any at all. What it says to me is, something about this event — and the package of it, and the whole promotion, and the creative team — was something that people seemed to respond to. We'll know more now coming to issue #2, where there is no crazy foil to help people on board, but hopefully the story and the reading experience of #1 got them over the hump and onto the ride.

Nrama: It's interesting to hear that a foil cover, something that can be seen as something of a throwback to a previous era, seems to have a renewed effect on getting people's attention.

 

Brevoort: I don't think it's renewed. I think these sorts of cover enhancements were always popular. That's why they were done as crazy often as they were. And they became overdone, and became a symptom of another problem. Used in moderation, used discriminately, whether it's foil and some embossing on Age of Ultron, or crazy Joker faces on die-cut covers on Bat-books, it's a way to once again plus up the reading experience of the tangible copy in a way that you can't really do in the digital world — and just draw attention to something where something special is going on.

I don't think you'll see us do anywhere near the amount of merchandising on our books that we did at the height of crazy in the '90s, where it seemed like, by a certain point, we were doing a couple a month, maybe as many as one a week. And we were increasing the cover price for them as well. That's the other part of this equation — Age of Ultron was a $3.99 book, like all of our other $3.99 books. It had more pages, and it had the foil cover. In terms of it being a good value for money, at least by the standards of every other comic of its type, it's a pretty good package. I'm happy with it, and I stand behind it. But just the fact that it's shiny — people notice it. You walk through the comic shop, and it draws your eye. It looks cool, and people always responded to that.

 

Nrama: We know now at this point that there are two big events in 2013 in Marvel — Age of Ultron and Infinity. They're staggered, and Infinity isn't starting until Age of Ultron has wrapped, but are the expectations a little different for these than they are for an event like Avengers vs. X-Men, where that's the one big event focus for a year?

Brevoort: I don't know that we ever take the field not trying to be as big and reach as many people as possible. Our expectation, going out with Age of Ultron, is, this is going to be a big deal, and we're going to do everything in our power to make people realize that it's a big deal. It'll be our Previews catalogue cover, and we'll send out advance postcards, and all the retailers got a little foil cover in advance so they could see what this thing is going to be. We promoted it, and Brian did interviews. All the sorts of things that we do to communicate that it is what it is.

Interior art from Age of Ultron #2.

I don't think we ever go into this thinking, "This one will just be fair to middling." At the end of the day, the audience and the retailers determine what's successful and to what level. We can't decide how successful something is, and certainly AvX was more successful, probably, than we anticipated. We knew that putting Avengers vs. X-Men on a cover meant you were going to get a lot of people checking it out, and somehow in the particular alchemy of what we put together there — with those creative teams, with the story hooks, with the way the story rolled out — we got a little more than we ordinarily would have gotten. And that's great, and that just raises the bar on us on the next time we come up to bat. But I don't think this is a case where we're going, "Well, Age of Ultron's only got to do half as good, because Infinity is coming up, and that'll take care of the other half." We don't step up to the plate without trying to hit as big and as loud as possible. We don't always do that — sometimes you swing and you get a double, or you get a triple, or you run it out, or you're caught on your way to the base; hopefully not that often. But you don't ever step up there without the intention of trying to maximize what you're doing.

Nrama: Let's get into the specifics of #2 — it was notable in #1 how it starts off in the thick of it, with no look back at how things got to this point, and that's essentially still the case in #2. Will there be some point of the story that rewinds back a bit to show how Ultron accomplished his goal?

 

Brevoort: You see some of it in #2. You'll see more of it as issues go along. In terms of "how Ultron did it," the simplest answer is, it was a Pearl Harbor-style attack. He came down, he blew everything up, and before anybody knew what was going on, it was all over. It's not like he had a secret weapon. It's not like he had a master plan. It was a blitzkrieg. You'll see it in some places. We see some of it in issue #2 from Spider-Man's point of view, we see some more of it in Avengers Assemble #14AU from the Black Widow's point of view. We'll see bits and pieces of it from other characters, both in the main book and in some of the tie-ins. But really, it's not like there's an enormous secret to what Ultron did. Ultron came down and did what Ultron typically does, he just did it big and did it fast, in this case all at once. It was all over before people entirely knew what was going on.

We're going to touch on this a little bit more, but it's not really going to be the focus of a full-on issue. Particularly, the further into this we get, stopping and showing, "Here's what happened before issue #1," as a full issue's worth of material, doesn't seem like the best use of space. As part of an issue's worth of material, or in illuminating some plot point as we move forward, yes.

 

Nrama: It's definitely a different effect on a comic book reader, who are used to more traditionally seeing every step along the way in a story like this.

Brevoort: That, I think as much as anything, is why Brian made this choice straightaway. He couldn't think of another time that we've done a story like this, or anyone's done a story like this. And that was exciting — dropping the reader directly to the center of the stew in issue #1, and putting them in the same sort of position as the characters who are trying to figure out what's going on. It makes it a much more immediate and visceral experience on the reader's part than it would be to see everything play out in a very linear A to B to C to D.

It goes back to one of Brian's favorite writers, David Mamet, who's a real proponent of, "You enter the scene as late as you possibly can." In this case, the choice that Brian made is to enter very late into the scene, and not show you anything that was straightforward or perfunctory. Certainly, having Bryan Hitch illustrate 10,000 Ultron robots coming down and blowing things up would have been at least visually cool. But part of what makes this story different, and the reading experience, and the experience of experiencing it different, is the fact that you come in in medias res, like the characters, and walk in their shoes as they explore this new landscape that they're trapped in.

Age of Ultron

#9 cover.

Nrama: Two of those characters trapped are the stars of the first half of #2, Black Widow and Moon Knight — it's interesting to see them paired up here, since they're not characters with a whole lot of history together.

Brevoort: They were both together, in a limited sense, on the Secret Avengers. They don't have a ton of history, but they've worked side-by-side at least a little bit, and they have a certain similarity in background. The Widow was a spy and secret agent for years, and Moon Knight, when he was Marc Spector, was a mercenary and fought in a number of theaters of conflict. It's not exactly the same thing, but they've traveled in similar circles over the years. On that level, particularly against this landscape — which is sort of San Francisco as a battlefield — these are both characters that are used to walking in such places at different points in their lives.

Nrama: It draws parallels to Hawkeye in the first issue, where we're seeing these street-level characters surviving, while we're not seeing a lot of the more powerful ones out and about.

Brevoort: That changes a little bit in issue #3. We cut to Chicago and we see some other characters there. Some of them are very street-level, but there are at least one or two that are a little bigger than that.

Age of Ultron

#10 cover.

Nrama: Speaking of powerful characters, Thor is mentioned in dialogue in the first two issues and not seen — is there a revelation left to come regarding him?

Brevoort: I don't know about a revelation. [Laughs.] There's not a whole lot of Thor in these next couple of issues, because Thor is kind of dead. Not his day. Fortunately, he's got a film coming up, so bright things are on the horizon for him. But today, not so good.

Nrama: Coming up to the next issue — you mentioned Chicago, and the end of #2 established that Captain America has stood up and has a plan, so that'll likely be explored as well.

Age of Ultron

#3 cover.

Brevoort: Yep. For sure. Going into #3, we'll visit Chicago, and we'll see a couple more survivors, and what they're up to there. We'll begin to get a sense of what has occurred to Cap. We'll see a couple of characters in our cast undertake a dangerous venture out into the heart of Ultron City, and we'll begin to draw the pieces together from these various characters and these various places, as the net tightens. And an appearance of another key character who hasn't yet made a showing in this series.

And it's only going to be another two weeks. These are coming out at a rapid pace — three in this first month, and then three again next month. It's a lot of work coming at you at break-neck speed. So there's not a whole lot of time for introspection or speculation, so get your guesses in now, make your suppositions, put your chips on whatever number that you like, and away we go into another chapter in the shortest amount of time. 

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