"Age of Ultron" #4 from Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch is the sort of single issue that represents the decompressed event era of comics far too well. There is one major plot development in this issue, the rest of it works to get all of the characters onto the one stage so they can discover this secret together. Next issue will deal with any real aftermath. Granted, Bendis handles the entire Marvel Universe, so it’s a lot of juggling -- but that still doesn’t excuse the fact this issue is only concerned with moving characters and not using them.
This is the issue where Ultron’s shocking secret comes to the fore. There has been a build to this moment and the reveal is something that should twist this story effectively. It is a great plot development and one Bendis should now have a lot of fun with. It is interesting to watch this cerebral reveal get backed up with half an issue’s worth of what wants to be high-octane, action-movie thrill. This is a superhero comic and as such most people demand action but the sequence involving Luke Cage fell flat with me because it’s mostly padding. There are some action beats to it, and it needs to happen for the plot, but it felt incredibly ho-hum -- possibly because it goes on too long. It was punching and robots for its own sake, which might as well be the tagline for this issue.
It’s unfortunate that this issue will mostly be remembered as the time all the heroes convened elsewhere as readers watched them travel. It’s like the walking parts of “Lord of the Rings” but with a quinjet and Storm’s powers over wind to create flight. While the sequence gets the information to the main heroes -- which is a necessity -- there are surely more innovative and engaging ways to pull it off. One page advances time very quickly and that is a relief. Then a deus ex machina via Fury is hinted at in the final pages, which is a bit of an innovation let down. It feels like Fury is used as the human equivalent of Ultron, constantly growing in intellect and plans to the point of being an unusable plot point.
Bryan Hitch’s art, with Paul Neary inks and Paul Mounts colors, are pretty in parts and they world build to satisfaction. The widescreen style can be effective but with such little dialogue or plot meaning, it’s hard not to think you are just seeing action for its own sake. There’s no doubt though that Hitch’s style works for such an epic event and Mounts does a great job adding some effective colors to some of the battle scenes. My smallest problem actually came with Luke Cage’s hair as its edge looked like a straight black line drawn in digitally. It felt incredibly off in a world where Hitch usually shown more nuance.
"Age of Ultron" might be a satisfying event for many but issue #4 was incredibly thin and only serves to enable the next act without standing on its own. There is some action, some brutal character deaths, but there is little heart. This is a tentpole action event and not a cognitively visceral ride. Yet even as that, this issue doesn’t quite reach the mark.