Event fatigue. It's a term I hear banded about more and more. Comic readers moaning that they are sick of the annual crossover events from the Big Two and claiming that they need a rest.
Personally I'm in two minds on this matter. On the one hand, it's big business for everyone in the comic trade - including myself as a retailer. An exciting event will often pull lapsed readers back in and may even entice the odd new reader into the fold. It creates a surge in sales, which inevitable tells the publishers that they need to do more of these events. It creates a boost in revenue for small shops like mine, which is invaluable during these tough times. So in many ways, I feel that big comic crossover events are a good thing and fans need to stop whining and accept that comic books aren't free, most people involved still need to make money!
However, the flipside of this is I am also a comic fan. I love comics. I'm not just in this business for the money; trust me I could make a lot more money for a lot less hassle working in an office somewhere, Like most comickers - be it creators or retailers - I'm in it because I'm passionate about the unique alignment of story and artwork! Comics are a diverse creative medium that covers more than just the superhero genre, so when a crossover event from Marvel or DC swamps my shelves in tie-in issues, drown out other exciting new prospects from other genres. It eventually becomes frustrating to me as well - no matter how exciting said event seemed at the start.
Marvel's biggest ever event was Secret Invasion, spanning an eight issue miniseries and over a hundred additional tie-in comics. In recent years, they have calmed down a bit, but both Fear Itself and Avengers Vs X-Men had over fifty tie-ins as well.
Thankfully, this year Marvel appear to have decided to do two, much smaller events. The second one will be Infinity by Jonathan Hickman and will debut on Free Comic Book Day. This brings us back to the current one, Age Of Ultron by Bendis. First teased in his Heroic Age run on Avengers, it was my understanding that this story was originally meant to be an arc of that title. Instead it has since grown into a separate miniseries, which was a bit of a concern. Mercifully, the publishing schedule is a gratifyingly tight affair though, ten issues in four months plus an epilogue and only a handful of tie-ins. And I mean only a handful - eight in total. To my mind, it shows Marvel may be beginning to understand that event fatigue isn't just fanboys whining! Here's hoping.
The danger of this first issue is that it could have felt like a rehash of House Of M, except with robots. We're in a seemingly alternate timeline - it's certainly different from the Marvel Now setting - where Ultron has conquered the Earth and humans survive in the ruins. Rather than starting in the normal continuity and then pushing us into the new status quo as House Of M did, here Bendis thrusts us straight into this milieu with a massive sprawling domed city sat atop the ruins of Manhattan. The tattered remnants of humanity scrabble for survival. It's all very Terminator-esque but also slightly reminiscent of Annihilation Conquest.
In the midst of this, we find Hawkeye launching a one-man rescue mission to extract a captured Spider-Man from a gang lead by Hammerhead and the Owl. It's very telling that none of these individuals are particularly powerful in the grand scheme of things. The villains seek to turn Spidey over to Ultron in exchange for some free passes. No one is living well here, the Age of Ultron is not a safe environment by any stretch of the imagination.
This fact is reiterated when the fleeing heroes make it to a crashed and ruined Helicarrier in Central Park, the refuge of some other surviving heroes - mostly Avengers. They're basically sat on their hands, doing nothing. Even Tony Stark is hamstrung and armour-less, fearful of using technology in this world ruled by a dangerous machine. The final page reveals a beaten and demoralised Steve Rogers, curled up and seemingly broken. The others hold onto the hope that he is working on a plan, though it's very clear Hawkeye is the only Avenger currently taking any action and is losing faith in Cap.
It's a compelling first issue and further evidence that Bendis is back on form, especially when considered alongside his work on two Marvel Now X-Men titles and Guardians Of The Galaxy. The artwork from Bryan Hitch is the same superstar work we saw on two volumes of Ultimates - with epic scope and beautiful details when it counts. Every normal issue #1 comes with a chromium wrap cover at no extra cost as well - this comic should practically leap of the shelf into your hands!
One final note on the big crossover events. If you hate them, by all means don't buy them. But please, don't stop there. Promote the comics you do like do your friends and indeed on the internet. Money talks and by encouraging others to buy the comics that you prefer, you stand a chance of helping our industry breakout of the reliance on big superhero summer events. You have the power to affect change, never forget that.
Ben Fardon needs more hours in the day.