Comic Book Review – Hail Hydra! and Avengers: Rage of Ultron

Hail Hydra! (2015)
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Roland Boschi

Avengers: Rage of Ultron (2015)
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jerome Opena

The Marvel Universe has collapsed at the hands of Doctor Doom and been reconstructed as Battleworld. This mosaic planet features alternate pasts, presents, and futures. One such region is Manhattan if Hydra and the Nazis had won World War II. Captain America is a symbol of fascism, and Arnim Zola rules over all in his most expansive consciousness to date. The presumed dead Nomad finds himself alive in this bizarre reality thanks to SHIELD’s Infinite Elevator. He’s faced with his duplicate in this world as well as a Steve Rogers who never raised him. Once Secret Wars is resolved, a new Avengers team is formed and find themselves reliving the sins of Hank Pym’s past. Ultron returns from deep space and wants to punish his “father” in profound and horrific ways. The conclusion of this story will change the lives of Pym and Ultron forever.

It was evident that it was all over. In an interview from March of 2015, Remender states that “I’m working on the big post-‘Secret Wars’ project right now, and it allows me to give readers a very clear and true starting point with a beloved franchise. It enables me to pick and choose what I think are the most integral and exciting aspects of that property. Coming out of the other end of ‘Secret Wars,’ I’ll have the opportunity to do things in a much cleaner fashion.”

When you read Hail Hydra, it shows that this plans had been abandoned by July 2015. This mini-series is undoubtedly a way to close out the story of Ian Rogers, the briefly new Nomad. It has all the trappings of a Secret Wars tale with Hydra-ized versions of Venom, Iron Man, etc. However, the core of the story is Nomad facing what he could have become without Steve Rogers in his life. The story ultimately fails in exploring that story to any meaningful degree and ends up being a sloppily plotted mess that completely loses any character development along the way. But that makes it a pretty average Secret Wars tie-in, a series that was pitched on a gimmick rather than a strong idea or examination of a theme. The artwork is expectedly unimpressive, feeling rushed to keep up with the manic schedule of the line-wide event.

I was sad to see Nomad’s story closed out in such an unremarkable fashion. However, this seems to be par for the course with Marvel and its fostering of legacies. DC Comics has found a way to add to its mythos and keep new characters around, rather than continually slamming the status quo reset button. Look at Cap and Thor for the last few years, both names used by new characters, but ultimately returned to their original bearers. Sam Wilson and Jane Foster end up relegated back to the forgotten heap again. I was excited about Laura taking on the role of Wolverine after Logan’s death but as we can see in the X-titles that is another legacy being reset.

I suspect the project Remender mentioned in the interview quoted above was The Avengers ongoing post-Secret Wars. This is a “beloved franchise” and was going to get a reboot in the wake of Secret Wars. However, somewhere along the way, things soured and likely reasonably so. Marvel editorial has a nasty habit of canceling swaths of books so that they can relaunch with #1 on the cover and act as though this is a “brand new era.” Remender’s remark of doing things “in a much cleaner fashion” belies his personal feelings about how editorial supremely screwed up his original plans for AXIS. Maybe, he thought, after Secret Wars I can settle into the Avengers and not be bothered.

You can see the story roots emerging from Remender’s other titles in the Rage of Ultron graphic novel. The most obvious is the art of Jerome Opena who became the visual signature of Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, arguably the writer’s best work at Marvel. Beyond that, Remender reuses (for the last time) the Descendents he developed in the pages of Secret Avengers. Just like Nomad, the writer gives a definitively final ending to these characters exuding the sense that he would prefer no future scribe think to use these android antagonists again.

Rage of Ultron is a love letter to Stan Lee era Avengers with its long passages of opining by Ultron about the nature of life and his hatred of humanity as centered on his creator Hank Pym. Remender manages to evoke the classic era and deliver an intelligent commentary on the cyclical nature of conflicts in comic books. There’s a clear contrasting of the classic Avengers line-up and what appears to have been the roster Remender had planned for his never to be run (Cap Falcon, Lady Thor, Giant-Man, Sabretooth, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and The Wasp). The story reads quickly at just a little over 100 pages but is not a work that can be penetrated easily by the casual reader. There is a lot of dense Marvel history and lore that is intimidating to work through.

Remender’s tenure was a tumultuous one where he managed to find something redeemable in characters I’d personally written off. His best Marvel work, in my opinion, is Uncanny X-Force. That was a title that continued to shock me and did what I love best about comics, building off a long history and finding ways to weave together classic elements with new ideas. Remender continues to write multiple series for Image Comics and is even maintaining his work relationship with Jerome Opena on the fantasy series Seven to Eternity. I’m still hoping for a return someday in the future where he gets to finish his storylines from Uncanny Avengers in the way he intended.

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