A few weeks back, CBR's regular AXEL-IN-CHARGE column welcomed Marvel Comics VP of Sales David Gabriel to the discussion for some frank sales talk and – in the call's final moments – a tease of when exactly the promised "Age of Ultron" event would arrive in stores. Announced over a year ago, the Avengers story by Brian Michael Bendis and artist Bryan Hitch was meant to be both a reinvention for the classic robot villain and a capper on Bendis' years writing Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Yet as the writer prepared to wrap his run this month on the Avengers monthlies, still no word was available on when "Age of Ultron" would hit, and Gabriel played coy with specific dates.
Well, today the wait is over. In their latest "Next Big Thing" conference call, Marvel and Bendis sent word that the book has finally been scheduled for release and talked up the story with reporters.
Bendis was joined by SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort and Sales and Communications Director Arune Singh who explained that "Age of Ultron" will be ten issues, and all of them will ship from March to June with artists Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco joining the team midway through the series for reasons Singh promised was story driven.
Bendis explained that the story is about Ultron fulfilling his plan to take over all the earth and "from page one" the villain will have control over the whole world. "Though this book started in 'Avengers'...it was always meant to be a Marvel Universe book. It stars everyone, not just the Avengers." He said that the goal from the beginning was to not solicit the book until the notoriously time-consuming Hitch art was all in the can, allowing them to tell the story all in one fell swoop and on an accelerated schedule.
"Out last pages are so shocking that there are literally only six people in the whole world who know what they are," Bendis added, saying that they were keeping the twist ending a secret from even some of the artists drawing the story. "After Bryan Hitch comes in, something happens in the story," the writer added noting that the change would necessitate Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco.
Brevoort added that Hitch's issues – which are the first five in the story – are all in the can and have been done for a while. All five will ship through March and April before the artist switch takes place. "Even when Hitchy has shown that he can produce on a regular basis, people had some skepticism," he said about the market's response to the artist's work. Brevoort promised more preview pages from his issues will roll out in the days ahead.
Bendis spoke to the difference between this event and others like "Siege" or "Secret Invasion," saying that the team who launched this was a bit smaller. "We talked about if I were ever to do something like this again, what would I do differently and what would I do better?" he said, saying that the accelerated shipping schedule was part of the answer but so was containing tie-ins to a more manageable amount of books for readers. "That's something I felt a lot of passion for as well...it'll be much like 'House of M' where there will be tie-ins, but it won't be a budget buster." He said that the tie-ins will be of the variety where fans can buy what they want or only focus on the main story.
"It reminds me of 'Infinity Gauntlet' in that these events are so outrageous," Bendis said, talking up his artists again. Brevoort said, "This story opens where other stories tend to end." From the beginning of the story, the event will focus on a ravaged Marvel U already under the thumb of Ultron. He added that the book is happening today in the Marvel NOW! universe and in continuity. "This is NOW with at least three exclamation points," Bendis joked.
The writer said the place for fans to prep for the story is the "Avengers" 12.1 issue that came out last Free Comic Book Day where Tony Stark warned that Ultron comes back smarter each time he's reborn.
When asked about tie-ins by the press, Brevoort said that most tie-ins will be in one issue, and they will spread over no more than six or seven series. "Fantastic Four" and "Superior Spider-Man" issues in May will tie in, for example, and their numbers will be modified to slide in between regular issue much like Marvel's "Point One" comics. Instead, they'll be called "Fantastic Four" #6.AU. The editor promised no more than ten tie-in comics overall.
The Marvel staff said that this was the big event for 2013, but they were trying to make it different as a publishing event from previous stories like "AvX" to aide fans who want the stories but who are warry of the buy-in. "People do like them and get excited about them, and they say 'But could you do this?' or 'Could you do that?'" the writer explained.
Bendis said he went back to the original conception of Ultron as a villain to build what this story would be. "He's got severe daddy issues, even for a Marvel character," Bendis said. "His logic is that it's his time to take the earth and the only thing standing in his way is the humans." The writer compared that mindset to Magneto in that the idea of Artificial Intelligence replacing humans can makes sense on paper or be argued for, but of course, humans want to live. "This is the Marvel Singularity," he said comparing Ultron's ascent to a piece of technology that changes the world forever.
As far as the heroes of the story, the writer said, "We're hesitant to say who survives" when asked about Hank Pym and the Wasp. "But you can count on the Vision being a pretty big part of this story."
He also said that this story would not carry over plot threads from his "Avengers" era. He plans on wrapping everything with his final issues this week, and he is no "a full on X-Men writer." While "Age of Ultron" spins out of Avengers in a general sense, it includes heroes like Moon Knight, Spider-Man and Hawkeye. Asked if things in the story had to change as the book was delayed until now (or NOW! as the case may be), Bendis said that since he and Brevoort were always in the story meetings for the Marvel U "It's been pretty smooth sailing on our part." Brevoort compared the book to "Children's Crusade" – the long-gestating Young Avengers story – in that some background details might be a little off, but overall the thrust of the story will be placed in the here and now. "That's going to be the exception and not the rule."
The writer explained that the series has a few "point of view" characters that the reader can identify with as the tale takes place in multiple locations through the Marvel U. "What I'm most excited about is that our ending is such a whopper that you can not guess this ending," he added, laughing. "I'm telling you, I'm involved in this, and every couple of days, I go 'Realy?!?!'" Brevoort agreed, saying, "It would take a VERY lucky guess" adding jokingly that the staff was using pass codes to keep the secret on lockdown.
As the question went around the call as to who could guess the ending, reporters best guesses included the introduction of Marvelman and this reporter being given a million dollars (worth a shot).
Asked about characters who would make it through to be a part of the resistance, Bendis said, "Moon Knight is one of the people to make it through, and he's as shocked as anyone to find that out." Other characters who will help make up the resistance include Spider-Man, thought the writer said that the Ultron casing from he and Alex Maleev's "Moon Knight" series will play in to this series for those who followed that book.
Offering final thoughts, Brevoort said that the most exciting thing about this event is the rapid pace the books will come out at. "At this point, doing an event that's eight months long starts to feel slow," he said. "That combined with the fact that Htich really went to town and knocked himself out...it's a magnificent piece of work."
Bendis summed it up saying, "Literally not a day has gone by over the past year and a half without people asking me on Twitter where this was...I know that people are looking forward to this, so to finally debut it, and for it to be – I imagine – better than people thought it would be is great...it takes one of Marvel's classic villains to a level we've never seen him before, and it pushed our Marvel heroes to a place they've never been before."
The ten-issue (plus an epilogue) "Age of Ultron" series ships March to June 2013 from Marvel Comics.