Monday, May 11, 2015

Age of Ultron by Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel's Age of Ultron Companion Book: Do These Titles Reflect the Avengers: Age of Ultron Movie?

Age of Ultron [1]
Age of Ultron Companion [2]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers

     My original Marvel post was a review of Thor: The Dark World Prelude (A Graphic Novel) on 10-29-13, followed by Marvel's Captain America: Winter Soldier on 04-04-14. With this book, we will be looking at the third book review I've done from the Marvel universe: Marvel's Age of Ultron. As a bonus, today, I will also include a short review of the companion book to Marvel's Age of Ultron, Marvel's Age of Ultron Companion.

THE STORY:
     Age of Ultron, the movie, has been out for one week (as I am writing this review). Many of us, me included, have already seen the Marvel blockbuster; many of us, I for one, would not mind paying to go and see it again. Actually, I am planning to take my family to see the movie this weekend.

     The long and short of it is, many of us already know what the movie version of Ultron is all about. Nonetheless, let's take a quick look at the book and movie plots to see how they are the same and how they differ; also, I know many of you would like to know if the graphic novel is worth buying. So, I will be addressing all of this as we go through the story.

[3]
     Entertainment Weekly (Double Issue, July 25/August 1, 2014)  provided an "Exclusive First Look!" at the Avengers Age of Ultron movie. The author of the article, Anthony Breznican, explains the first major difference between the comic book stories, the graphic novel, and the movie version is a difference by virtue of Ultron's creator; Breznican said that Ultron's "...origins remain the same, but the creator has changed." Breznican went on to explain the difference that, "[i]n the comics, Ultron was built by scientist Hank Pym (a.k.a. the first Ant-Man),..." but in the movie, Ultron's father and creator is Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey, Jr. [3]

      OK. So, that major difference having been stated, we find out from none other than the Director of Avengers: Age of Ultron's, Joss Whedan, that even though many people might expect the Ultron story-line to originate in the comics because the movie was titled, Age of Ultron, and because of the newly released book entitled, Age of Ultron. that that is simply, "not the case." Whedon had stated that they had decided, instead, to do their "own version of the origin story of Ultron." [4]

Ant-Man movie poster. [5]
     For those who know the origin story involving Hank Pym, a.k.a. Ant-Man, and Ultron, readers might have surmised that the origin story would be followed, perhaps in part due to the upcoming Ant-Man movie due for release on 07-17-15. Before the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie came out, some had speculated "...that Ant-Man could debut in The Avengers 2 before spinning off into his own movie." At the time of the interview with the Director, Joss Whedon, he denied an Ant-Man appearance in Avengers, Age of Ultron. Now, obviously, we know that Whedon was being forthright. [4]

     Regarding all of the brouhaha around the "origin story," Whedon commented that they were "taking the things from the comics for the movies that we need and can use...[but] a lot of stuff has to fall by the wayside." Whedon went on to say, "...I was amazed [that] anybody was surprised...."  [4]

[6]
     Whedon's statements go hand-in-hand with the definition of "adaptation." When a book is adapted for film, it necessarily undergoes some kind of transformation. Often, die-hard fans of the books are disappointed in the loss of a character, or in the change of a beloved scene, dialog, appearance of a character, or as in the case of Ultron, the change of story-line.

     The change of story-line is not all that changes from the book to the big-screen; when you step out to the theaters to see the Avenger's: Age of Ultron, see if you spot other changes. Now that we've explored the story-line by comparing the book to the movie, let's move on to the rest of the book to see what is in store for you as a reader.

THE COLLECTED EDITIONS OF AGE OF ULTRON:
[1]
     Brian Michael Bendis has gathered together for readers eleven issues of the Marvel Universe under one cover with the theme of, Ultron. The first collected issue is Avengers #12.1, followed by the other ten to include, Age of Ultron, #s 1-10. Note that it is not uncommon for one comic book, or a major character to cross over from one series to another--just as the Avengers join the Age of Ultron in this collection.

     Also, this would be a good time to point out that in our first story, S.H.I.E.L.D., S.W.O.R.D., and Avengers are mentioned as the "good" guys, as are Hydra and the Intelligencia as the "bad" guys. Moreover, keep in mind that individual characters like Jessica Drew have been involved in several groups at one time or another; here, Jessica Drew has been a member of S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA, The Avengers, and S.W.O.R.D. In this book, Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, is a member of S.W.O.R.D. and The Avengers, and bumps heads with the notorious bad guy group called The Intelligencia.

     NOTE: In the comics and graphic novels, the so-called, "bad guy" group spells its name "Intelligencia" vs. the dictionary spelling, Intelligentsia. I wonder how many young readers came away from the story thinking the intelligencia was the correct way to spell the word. If this misspelling was done deliberately by Marvel, it is a truly an ironic twist of the definition of the word--and definitely, very dry, and sly humor.

Jessica Drew, a.k.a. Spider-Woman, from Marvel's Encyclopedia. [7]
   After being kidnapp- ed and interrogated, Jessica Drew is res- cued by The Avengers. At first, The Avengers (including Iron Man, Wolverine, and Hawk- eye) do battle with The Intelligencia, but soon the fight turns ugly and the whole place seems to explode--The Avenger's realize, to their horror, . . . ULTRON IS BACK! After a brief discussion about how to find Ultron, Iron Man says that he has "seen the future," and that when Ultron returns, it will be because "he has brought the human apocalypse." Perhaps this scene inspired Iron-Man's vision in the movie? What do you think?

     With the knowledge that Ultron is back, we know that in this story-line, we will not see the creation of Ultron; that story is covered in other Avenger's comic books. In The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the movie, we see the origin story covered in a "Starkly" different manner (Ha, ha!). So, where, then, does the story line take us after the revelation of Ultron's return? Take a look at the snapshot, just below.  

In this snapshot from Marvel's Encyclopedia (p.381), see the little box on the right that indicates the "Essential Storylines" for the Ultron story. They are not the same as the ones presented, here, in the Age of Ultron, by Brian Michael Bendis. If you look at the text above the box, you can see where this storyline begins. Ultron caused the explosion that demolished the building, and made his escape. The final sentence also gives away the basic plot of the rest of the storyline--Wolverine and the Invisible Woman (from The Fantastic Four group) time travel to stop the creation of Ultron by Henry Pym. Boy, that sounds like a storyline from The X-Men, doesn't it--you know, time travel back in time to save the future? On the left side of the picture is an image of Ultron and Vision fighting each other. [1, page 381.]


     So, the rest of the story is quite simple. On the edge of annihilation, Wolverine, and Susan Richards of the Fantastic Four, travel back in time to murder Henry Pym. After Wolverine's nefarious deed, the two return to find things even worse than when they left. Commanded to not return to the past to attempt to fix the murder of Pym, they, quite naturally, go anyway. After some misadventures, Wolverine and Susan Richards (The Invisible Woman), manage to do something unbelievable; they return to the present day and help to stop Ultron. But the magic in the story, is how they do it. You will have to read the story to understand why it is so compelling.

WHAT DIDN'T WORK FOR ME:
Grumpy Cat. [8]
     Some places in the story were confusing and not well-prepared for the reader to understand what was going on. I'm not talking about building tension for the enjoyment of the story, but actual confusion about what is happening. For example, in Age of Ultron, #1, the story opens in New York and we follow a woman into a house where it appears she is willing to trade sex for drugs. An unknown character enters and starts a fight with the thugs; an explosion occurs and then the story makes a jarring cut to a hostage scene where the hostage appears to be Spider Man. Someone starts shooting arrows--it appears to be Hawkeye.

     Then, one or two?--apparent Avengers continue fighting. All of a sudden flying robots enter, a countdown occurs, a bomb goes off and Hawkeye and Spider-Man make their escape. Not knowing who the characters are might be OK in some situations where you later learn who those characters are. It is mightily confusing, though, to have the story shift suddenly without dialog boxes to explain what is happening, characters you don't know, shifting to a location that is disorienting, and, then, add in action that is unclear.

[1]
     Also, I read this book one time and took a couple of photos of it. Just take a look at how the pages are already coming away from the binding. I don't know what happened, here, because Marvel books are generally better constructed than this. It is disappointing that I paid $22.13 for the paperback and it is already falling apart. See the photo? I can't say if all the Age of Ultron books are like the one I have, here, but I wanted you to know that if you decide to buy the book, you should be aware of its possible deficiencies.

     Finally, I do not like the cover. The cover is just way to busy to be a good design. I do see Ultron in the middle and Captain America on the right, but the rest of it just gets muddled with the dark, dull colors.

AGE OF ULTRON COMPANION:
     First, the nuts and bolts, so to speak, about the companion book to Age of Ultron. The Authors are credited as Al Ewing, Matt Fraction, Cullen Bunn, Christos Gage, Kathryn Immonen, Gerry Duggan, Rick Remender, Matt Kindt, and Mark Waid. Illustrators are listed as Butch Guice, Andre Araujo, Phil Jimenez, Dexter Soy, Amilcar Pinna, Adam Kubert, and Paco Medina. The paperback book edition is a mere 200 pages, just under two thirds the size of the Age of Ultron (288 pages), and yet the hefty price ($21.11) for this "gold leaf," "paperback" edition is only $1.02 less than the larger book. The Collected Edition collects under one cover the Marvel editions as follows [1]:
AU is the designation for gold. Here,
however, it is not used for gold,
but for the Age of Ultron. [10]
  • Avengers Assemble #14AU-15AU;
  • The Fantastic Four (2012) #5AU;
  • Fearless Defenders #4AU
  • Superior Spider-Man #6AU; 
  • Ultron #1AU;
  • Uncanny Avengers #8AU;
  • Wolverine & the X-Men #27AU; and
  • Age of Ultron #10AI
     If you are wondering what the funky numbering is after the title, like AU and AI, just know, that I was wondering about that, too. I discovered that AU is a designation for the Age of Ultron mini series. These books are crossovers from other series of books that deal with the Age of Ultron storylines. The A.I. designation refers to an Avenger series that takes place at some point after The Age of Ultron. The world "has been colonized by A.I.s [artificial intelligence drones] 'who may or may not have positive feelings about the way humanity has been treating them....'" The mini series ended in 2014. [9]

     AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #14AU-15AU:
As this title indicates, #s 14AU-15AU, are about the coming together of the Avengers. Initially, in #14AU, we see the world before the apocalypse, before Ultron's attack and the devastation of modern society. Suddenly Ultron attacks and sends his drones to annihilate society--Black Widow tries to help civilians escape underground. Making it to the safe house, she finds only one other Avenger: Marc Spector a.k.a. Moon Knight.

     AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #15AU: Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel, is stuck on the Americas side of the ocean as the Ultron drones attack; quickly, she saves a civilian. In London, at the British Museum, the magical sword, Excalibur, connects with other magical artifacts to keep Ultron's drones away. Dr. Faiza Hussain, the current caretaker of the sword, Excalibur, also has magical powers to heal, and does so with the civilians huddled under the British Museum's roof. The balance of the story features "Computer Grahame," Brian Braddock a.k.a. Captain Britain, Dane Whitman, The Black Knight, wielder of the black "Ebony Blade (the Anti-Excalibur), and Mel Kapoor, a.k.a. Magic Boots Mel. Computer Grahame attacks within the machine giving it a "bad code." Half of the heroes die, but Ultron's signal has been blocked, giving Earth's heroes a chance to regroup.

     FANTASTIC FOUR (2012) 5AU: The Fantastic Four realize Earth is under attack and travel to the planet to find it devastated. The story alternates between Fantastic Four action on earth and a Fantastic Four base where two children wait for their parents. Apparently all four are killed, but then, suddenly, Sue Richards is rescued from the rubble. The children wait for the Four's return.

     SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #6AU: We find Peter Parker, Spider Man, rise from the ashes of the apocalypse, but not quite. Dr. Octopus had transferred his consciousness to Parker's body, and what arose from those ashes was "Superior Spider Man," both Parker and Doc Oct. Superior Spider Man schemes to make the Ultron drones fall under his control. The Superior Spider Man fails but realizes that with the right people at your side, Ultron can be defeated.

     ULTRON #1AU: This story is about Victor Mancha, cyborg, and son of Ultron. Victor grieves for his lost friends, but with eidetic memory, he can recall every last conversation and detail about them. We find Victor in the ruins of the apocalypse, as he does everyday, searching for lost children--he finds a young boy, Jaime, and returns to the hideout where other lost children hide. Soon the Ultron drones attack, destroying the hideout. Victor cries out that his father may be Ultron, but his mother is Marianella Mancha, and he enjoins battle against the drones.

     WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #27AU: This episode starts out very similar to an episode in, Age of Ultron, by Brian Michael Bendis. After Wolverine and The Invisible Woman arrive in New York at a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. laboratory, each go in different directions. Wolverine heads to the laboratory and finds an alien life form pleading for freedom--Wolverine releases it and immediately the lifeform enters his body through Wolverine's mouth--he does battle with others like it. Invisible Woman checks surveillance monitors trying to remember something important--suddenly she remembers. Wolverine gets back to the car first and Invisible Woman shortly after; with an alien growing inside Wolverine, the two head off in search of Hank Pym...Ultron's creator.

     UNCANNY AVENGERS #8AU: This story revolves around Kang and his "Twins of the Apocalypse," Uriel and his sister, Eimin. Kang fills in background by speaking of the altering of time and of plucking the Twins from their timeline; Kang sends them on a test: to kill Captain America. Meanwhile the Captain has gone below ground to the land of the Morlocks in search of Caliban to bring him back for a murder. Eimin manages to kill Rogue, but Uriel protects Cap to keep him from being killed. The Twins failure causes Kang to send them to "camp," as punishment so they can better learn not to be merciful.

    FEARLESS DEFENDERS #4AU: The time frame is the post Latveria-Asgard Wars, the location is Lord Doom's Domain. Demonic Air-Sentries shoot down a plane killing the former Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta. During the following three days, the Amazons were destroyed, apparently, by Lord Doom's forces. Hippolyta is brought back from the dead by the gods; she is then captured and sentenced to the "War" Arena to fight against other captured Amazons. Hippolyta disarms her own Amazons and frees them, and then destroys the fake Lord Doom. Finally, Hippolyta fights Ares, her real father, and lets him live. Hippolyta says, "...The Amazons will fight by their Queen's side!"

     AGE OF ULTRON #10: The final story is the culmination of the book. The story takes us through the sweet and sour of Hank Pym's childhood, through his monotonous days of lab work for a big corporation as a "little worker ant" before he quit his job and began experimenting on a serum to make himself small. Having succeeded, he played at being the hero, Ant-Man, then a "giant," then a "Goliath," a "swashbuckler," and eventually, a father. Trying to create something practical he then created Ultron, who nearly annihilated mankind before he was able to stop it. After contemplating suicide and feeling dejected, Pym finally realized that he did matter...he started life, anew.

WHAT I THINK ABOUT MARVEL'S AGE OF ULTRON COMPANION:
     First, I like the cover better on the Companion than the Age of Ultron cover. It is a simpler, less chaotic cover; it is much more appealing than the latter.

     Second I also like that the book is more understandable than the Age of Ultron book; look, for example, at the photo of Avenger's Assemble 14AU. I find all the stories, in general, clearer and more understandable than the Age of Ultron.

[11]
     Even though the companion book introduces some Marvel heroes that are new to me, I did not feel lost. The hero was described, his/her powers, and sometimes even a basic background given. As I have indicated in another post, I am not a comic book aficionado, but I do enjoy reading graphic novels relating to other books, books made into graphic novels, and those that have been adapted to film, or are coming to the big screen. On the negative side of things, this book lacks cohesiveness and is an oppressive read--it has few redeeming aspects, as a whole, with which to recommend it.

MY RECOMMENDATIONS AND RATING(S):
     Comic books or graphic novels are what they are; that is, children and young people have always been the target audience for works of pulp fiction. Modernly, however, many graphic novels have been written to appeal to adult sensibilities. So, in these two works, we seem to have a bit of both. If you are an adult, these graphic novels or collected editions will work for you. If you are a parent who regulates what their children read, then perhaps consideration should be given to the apocalyptic themes of murder, killing, destruction, consideration of suicide, etc.

     MY RATINGS FOR EACH BOOK:
For Age of Ultron by Brian Michael Bendis:
[12]
     I have, above, already indicated that the story is muddled and confusing. First, if you haven't followed the comic book story-lines, and second, by virtue of the lack of scene descriptors and dialog prompts, and by having art work that seems to jump from situation to situation without explanation. Moreover, the story is apocalyptic, without the redeeming qualities of such works. It was not only bleak, the art work added to the overall glumness and gloom of the book. Finally, in one photograph, above, I showed the pages coming away from the binding. This paperback book was not cheap, I paid $22.13 for this book only to begin falling apart after one reading. I find that almost unconscionable. The only good thing that might come of this is that you will know to buy the Kindle ed. over the paperback. Given this, and all of the above reasons, I rate this book 2.5 stars out of 5.

[13]
For Age of Ultron Companion by Marvel (and all the above-listed authors):
     This companion book is better than the Age of Ultron book it accompanies. A big, however, here, this book is still expensive at $21.11, comparing it to the Age of Ultron at $22.13. Moreover, a reader gets less bang for the buck, because there are 88 pages fewer than Age of Ultron. And while I liked the companion book better than Age of Ultron, it had a lot of room for improvement.

[14]
     I understand, this book is meant to augment, accompany, or add to the Ultron book, but even giving it a break for that reason, I still find it lacking. Yes, the art is better and the selections more comprehensible, but overall it lacks a cohesiveness that I'd like to see there. Also, like the Ultron book, it is oppressive with negativity and dour attitudes. I realize it is apocolyptic in nature, but I find few redeeming aspects. So, because it is better than Age of Ultron for the reasons I mentioned, above, I rate this book at 3.5 stars out of 5.

     Thank you for joining me this week as we got a close up look at the Age of Ultron and its Companion book. I hope you have enjoyed checking out these two titles since we now have the movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron out in theaters to help stimulate our desire to read more about this movie theme. Join me next time for a new title and a new review.
       
Until next time...

This flower is a double, white Rose of Sharon. [15]
...many happy pages of reading!

My best to you all.

Sharon.

 


_________________________________________________________
REFERENCES/SOURCES
[1] "Age of Ultron." [Brian Michael Bendis] amazon.com. Retrieved 05-05-15.
[2] "Age of Ultron Companion." [Al Ewing, Cullen Bunn, Christos Gage, Kathryn Immonen, Gerry Duggan, & Rick Remender.] amazon.com. Retrieved 05-05-15.
[3] "Avenger's Age of Ultron." [Breznican, Anthony. "Avenger's Age of Ultron." Entertainment Weekly, July 25/August 1, 2015: 26-32.] Print. Retrieved 04-10-15.
[4] "Joss Whedon says The Avengers: Age of Ultron Not Based on Age of Ultron Comic; Promises New Ultron Origin Story, No Ant-Man, and More Sci-Fi." [Brendan Bettinger, 07-21-13] Collider. Retrieved 05-07-15.
[5] "Evangeline Lilly Talks Up Marvel & 'Ant-Man.'" [12-18-14] apocaflix. Retrieved 05-07-15.
[6] "HTTPresents--Adaptations: You're Doing it Wrong." [HTTProductions, 04-30-11] httproductions.blogspot.com. Retrieved 05-07-15.
[7] "Spider-Woman." [Marvel Encyclopedia, First American Ed., New York, N.Y.; DK Publishing, 2015. Print.] (Purchased on amazon.com.).
[8] "no." [grumpy cat] edplaysgames.wordpress.com. Retrieved 05-09-15.
[9] "Marvel AU Comics Question." [comic book forum] comicbookrealm.com. Retrieved 05-09-15.
[10] "Ron Paul vs. Bernanke: Is Gold Money? (Well is it?)." sodahead.com. Retrieved 05-09-15.
[11] "Dark Mood Icon." iconarchive.com. Retrieved 05-11-15.
[12] "Books, The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy." [2.5 stars] abookvacation.com. Retrieved 05-11-15.
[13] "Expensive Sign." binfind.com. Retrieved 05-11-15.
[14] "Kodak Easy Share Picture Reviewer." [3.5 stars] dpnow.com. Retrieved 05-11-15.
[15] "Pictures From My Garden." sparkpeople.com. Retrieved 05-08-15.