It turns out Brian Bendis’ Age of Ultron #1 is precisely the sort of Brian Bendis comic one expects of Brian Bendis. Brown, gray, po-faced, trite, pseudo-populist horseshit which nonetheless manages to throw in random bits of Scary Movie humor like this:
Of course, Bendis takes Bryan Hitch, an artist known for his large-scale, hyper-detailed action scenes and gives him several pages of various brown-haired men with more stubble than actual hair gritting their teeth at each other in narrow panels. Sure, he gets his share of big budget moments (including an aerial view of an explosion from atop a floating citadel), but Hitch mostly draws grim grit action, a box he’s been trapped in because people at Marvel didn’t understand Warren Ellis’ The Authority and Mark Millar’s The Ultimates were meant for a laugh.
Calling Ultimates a satire was always a stretch, yet Millar’s oeuvre has always been one of tongue-in-cheek audacity, calling direct attention to how ridiculous his work was. Hitch was perfect as the guy to take Captain America screaming “You think this letter on my head stands for France?!” and balloon it into a splash page, because he could carry enough emotion on the page to make the image both a fawning endorsement and a scathing indictment of America’s ego. That self-deprecation, that love of making the very stupid things Millar and Hitch were commenting on in their comic, is lost in Hitch’s post-Millar work (Avengers, Ultimate Fallout, etc.).
And no, the Bendis snark doesn’t count. When the Owl berates Hawkeye for still using a bow and arrows (“That’s why no one likes you.”), it’s cold and witless, Bendis trying badly to write Mamet. He even throws in a lot of swear words because he’s a Man’s Man, and he’s gonna make your kids into Men, except every curse but “ass” is censored ‘cuz gosh darn it nobody needs to see the word “fuck” in a Marvel comic about guys killing other guys with arrows before growling “Who’s next?” and chucking a bomb. No sir.
Even when something is done right–dropping readers in media res with Hitch’s two-page spreads of Ultron’s ship hovering over devastated New York–Bendis goes and stumbles into a ditch. The issue centers around Hawkeye assaulting a gang hideout/sex slave operation to rescue Spider-Man, but apart from this oh-so-brief intro, we get no idea what New York is like under Ultron’s rule, just the same reactionary “super-hero as amoral para-military commando” garbage Marvel has tried recreating since Cable was introduced. Any shock to be had at Hawkeye’s callousness towards a prostitute/addict falls flat, and it’s definitely not awesome (Bendis’ intention). If anything, it’s yet another nail in the coffin to the idea Marvel’s comics have any consideration for the world outside of musty comic shops.