Warning: this review discusses the plot of Age of Ultron #6 in some detail, and thus contains spoilers.
Having only just started this blog, I’ve found myself delivering a bit of a kicking to Brian Michael Bendis’ current work, with my two major complaints being “lack of action” and “lack of direction” (with reference to Age of Ultron and All-New X-Men respectively). I’ve read and enjoyed a fair bit of his Marvel work in the past, and so it’s nice to be able to be positive about Age of Ultron #6, an issue that addresses the key complaint many critics have had about this series to date (“the plot moves too slowly”) in the best possible way.
After the events of the last issue we’re left with a rather simple setup: in the past, Wolverine intends to kill Hank Pym before he has a chance to create Ultron (with Sue Storm accompanying him and wrestling with her conscience), whilst in the future the remaining heroes lead an assault on Ultron. Cutting between the two scenes, we watch the future mission go completely wrong, thus adding ever-more importance to events in the past. Bendis plays with the reader’s assumptions expertly; genre conventions dictate that Sue Storm will do the “right” thing, and save Pym from Wolverine’s assault. She elects not to, allowing Wolverine to slash Pym’s throat in a moment that is both suitably shocking and powerfully executed. It also sets up a direction for the rest of the series that is genuinely fascinating.
The sole criticism I have to make seems almost churlish: too much happens. The plot is accelerated in a way that reads downright bizarrely compared to the slow, methodical pace of the previous five issues. Both the past and future scenes would have benefitted from a little more time to breathe; as it is, there’s a sense of abruptness in terms of how quickly the two separate branches are resolved. But that’s a minor quibble, especially since the series desperately needed some plot advancement.
This issue sees the art shared between Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco. Now, Bryan Hitch is a fantastic artist, but he was definitely miscast on this book. His strength is hyper-detailed layouts, and given the structure of this story he was basically tasked with drawing five issues of hyper-detailed rubble, which is not the best use of his talents. Peterson and Pacheco stay true to the visual style Hitch established, and if the end result is functional rather than spectacular their efforts still serve the story well. Peterson handles the future, which essentially amounts to one big fight scene. It has the sense of energy you’d hope for, although perhaps not the epic sense of scale. Meanwhile, in the past Pacheco’s Wolverine is a particular highlight; his facial features are somewhat ugly and decidedly vicious, which makes a nice change from the “cuddly Uncle Wolverine” approach that has become the norm, as well as fitting this particular story perfectly.
All in all, Age of Ultron #6 goes a long way toward redeeming a series that had previously looked like another unnecessarily bloated big event. Hopefully the remaining issues can maintain this standard.