Age of Ultron continues to build steam thanks to major status quo shifts in issue #6. - coltens14
Age of Ultron continues its upward swing after an initial batch of slow-paced, stage-setting issues. Issue #6 kicks off act two of Brian Michael Bendis' storyline, as the Avengers are now divided across two distinct time periods. In the past, Wolverine and a reluctant Sue Storm fight to end Ultron's menace before he's even created. In the future, Nick Fury and Captain America lead a small squad in a desperate attempt to battle Ultron directly. The series has its sense of purpose now, and any complaints about slow pacing can be safely laid to rest at this point.
The most immediately obvious change with issue #6 is the shift in art style. Bryan Hitch wrapped up his involvement on the series last week. Now Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco have stepped in to take over. Fortunately, the story easily justifies the shifts between the two artists. Pacheco renders the material set in the past, while Peterson tackles the eerie realm of Ultron's futuristic empire.
Peterson is particularly well-suited to that half of the story because his work relies so heavily on digital elements and CG rendering. That's often problematic, as his figures can wind up looking as stiff and awkward as they do on the cover of this issue. But his interior pages do a better job of lending much-needed weight and texture to the figures. Only a handful of panels where the facial work is marred by thick, jagged lines really detract from his work.
Pacheco's work, meanwhile, is a bit more gritty and intimate, reflecting the smaller cast and more singular mission goal. Pacheco is probably the most visually consistent of the three artists, particularly in the realm of facial expressions, though his figures do look a bit flat at times. His pencils are enhanced by a unique coloring approach that lends everything a faded, Bronze Age Marvel look.
Again, most complaints readers have regarding the story direction and pacing should fade away after reading this issue. This issue develops a fun parallel story structure as both parties arrive in the Savage Land in different eras and move in their separate directions. The biggest complaint I can see arising from this issue is Wolverine's decision that killing Hank Pym is the best way to solve the Ultron predicament.
It's a pragmatic but not heroic course of action. But is that so out of character for Wolverine? He tried a similarly proactive approach in Avengers vs. X-Men. The only difference now is that there's no one left who cares enough to stop him. A more legitimate concern is the fact that Sue is willing to assist him in his mission. But even there, Bendis' depiction of Ultron's rule and the many losses Sue has endured are enough to justify her behavior. And to be fair, she's nothing if not a morally conflicted character throughout this issue.
The quality of Bendis' characterization and dialogue has been a bit spotty until now. But by narrowing the cast and finally diving into the heat of the conflict, the overall quality of his writing has improved markedly. The character voices are far more distinct than they were in the first few issues. Wolverine and Sue develop a strong dynamic that might have some strong ongoing potential beyond Age of Ultron.
Honestly, my one real complaint with the story at this stage is that the future timeline feels almost incidental when held next to the past. Most of the dramatic impetus falls on Wolverine now. There's fighting and even death in the future, but the death only highlights the fact that much of this story will be wiped away by the finale issue. There's no longer any doubt as to whether Age of Ultron will have lasting ramifications for the Marvel Universe, but we need to see more of this future realm and Ultron himself before it becomes clear whether those ramifications extend to all angles of the story.