When I was growing up, one of the comics I enjoyed reading most was The Avengers. I always enjoyed seeing a team of superheroes matching up against threats too powerful for any one of them to defeat, and foremost among them was the indestructible robot Ultron. For a while I even spent the money to collect the old issues featuring his early storylines, and while I don't have them anymore the character is one close to my heart. In spite of this, it has taken me some time to get around to reading Brian Michael Bendis's Age of Ultron series. Largely this has to do with availability; usually I read comics only after they have been published in collected form. Yet it wasn't until I was perusing the shelves of my local library that I spotted this and decided that it was time to read it.
And i have to say that I was underwhelmed. The premise is that a group of not-quite-as-clever-as-they-think supervillains come across a piece of alien tech, It turns out to be Ultron, who after years of spreading misery on Earth decided to take his brand galactic. He emerges, decides that now is the time to get serious about the whole "wiping out humanity" thing, and the the comic jumps eight days forward to show a Earth experiencing widespread devastation from Ultron drones, with Earth's surviving outmatched heroes scrambling for a way to defeat the robot before it's too late.
My first problem is with the plot that I've just described. The overall story isn't a bad one, but the idea that Ultron's previous plans to destroy humanity (including an epically badass story where he wipes out the population of an entire country) were not real efforts seems a collective slap in the face of every previous writer of an Ultron storyline. I get the impression that Bendis has a major ego, and this is the starkest example of it yet.
Yet this is minor to my main complaint: for a story called "Age of Ultron" in which Ultron essentially wins, there's an astonishing lack of Ultron. Basically he makes an appearance in the beginning, a somewhat longer one in the end, and that's it. The rest of the book consists of superheroes either 1) attacking Ultron drones, and 2) engaged in indirect efforts to defeat him. Where are the face-to-face match-ups? The showdowns that are a hallmark of Ultron stories? The ones that matter here are all off-panel; we hear about a lot of heavy-hitters being killed, but they're described rather than shown. Is this really why Bendis thinks people read a series in which superheroes fight Ultron?
This is not to say that there weren't enjoyable elements of it. I thought that Bendis's use of time travel was decent (thought marred by the retrofitting in of a Neil Gaiman character that Marvel felt it necessary to pick up) and the alternate world stuff was interesting. But I finished it with an unavoidable sense of disappointment at the missed opportunity that Age of Ultron represented. Marvel has done some great "supervillain triumphant" storylines before (such as Emperor Doom and The Kang Dynasty), but this isn't close to measuring up to those superior efforts.