Just like its Adamantium-built namesake, Age of Ultron is a tough nut to crack. On paper, Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch are both as close to sure things as they come in comics, but their styles couldn't be any more incongruous. That clash continues five issues in, so while this event starts to pick up steam, it also still feels like it's way behind the curve.
I've mentioned before that this series feels very decompressed, a common critique for Bendis's Avengers run — that there's so much quippy dialogue and lengthy exposition between characters that the story barely has a chance to progress. It does feel like wasted space, and that does happen here, even with 25 pages — having an extended flashback about the Vision, for example, is fine to establish plot points, but then having Iron Man reminisce about that for another two pages isn't enough bang for the buck.
Bendis's dialogue-heavy script is also at odds with the widescreen sensibilities of Bryan Hitch. It's funny, because in certain ways, Hitch actually also is a decompression artist — but the difference is, he stretches out the visual side of the equation. Sometimes, like a three-page destruction sequence in Austin, feels indulgent, but more often than not, Hitch still sells it. His take on the Red Hulk breaking down an underground vault looks (ahem) striking, and the Invisible Woman looks almost ethereal as she takes a journey down a strange Savage Land cavern. But the talkier scenes still struggle, and considering Bendis opens the script up with six pages of straight chatter, that makes for some major slowdown.
That said, in Bendis's defense, he does finally push the story forward, as we see the return of one of his favorite characters and see his secret weapon against a killer android from the future. The best parts of this comic is the cross-pollination between characters, like Bendis bringing in the Invisible Woman, Storm and Emma Frost to interact with Cap, Iron Man and Wolverine — it shows there's still some unmined territory to the Marvel Universe, and it adds some unpredictability to the mix. Yet from a plot perspective, there are also some other issues, namely that it feels a little too reminiscent to another end-of-the-world scenario that had an extended interlude in the Savage Land and the return of a big-name Marvel guest star — namely, Secret Invasion.
That said, the more Age of Ultron goes on, the more it gets caught up in missed opportunities — sometimes unfairly, I might add. You can't always say a comic should be at Point A by a certain issue count, and you can't judge a specific issue by the mistakes of its predecessors. The stakes have been raised this week — thank goodness — and Bendis has put an intriguing new spin in the Avengers' desperate plan to stop Ultron. But that all said, it's clear this series won't be picking up the pace anytime soon, so if you're looking for high-octane action with all your favorite characters... you might want to look elsewhere.