Perhaps I just don't know Black Widow as well as I thought. Age of Ultron #2 brings the focus squarely onto Natasha Romanova in the first act featuring the ex-KGB Avenger facing off against a nameless civilian in the streets of a devastated San Francisco. The thing is, Natasha isn't her usual collected self -- beyond the physical trauma we see that's still a mystery at issue's end, she comes across as a far more violent and angry person than ever before. Of course, it's no small thing to have one's entire planet conquered and one's entire species annihilated. It could push anyone over the edge. With that in mind, Black Widow's overly rash attitude still seems as off-putting and uncharacteristic.
Beyond this minor mishandling of Black Widow, Brian Michael Bendis does an excellent job with AoU #2. When reading the first issue, Spider-Man's captors -- The Owl and Hammerhead -- discussed their plans for turning everyone's favorite wall-crawler over to Ultron in exchange for mercy in the robot's quest to rid Earth of humans. It seemed somewhat inconsequential at first, like the awkward flailing of a fish out of water with no other option than to desperately attempt to flop back into the water. Especially when some Ultron patrol units arrive to lay the smack down on their entire operation. Now, it's very obvious that Ultron's apparent superhuman black market is more important than this reader originally anticipated.
Another important aspect of this issue is Peter Parker's flashbacks. Since Age of Ultron began in the middle of the storm, so to speak, Bendis needed to give readers more context from which to understand how things got so bad so quickly. Though he was unconscious for most of Ultron's razing of the planet, he witnessed the initial strike, and it was a doozy. Bryan Hitch's artwork again makes the issue with his sweeping spreads and skewed perspective. Peter's flashback sequences radiate with terror as Spidey swings into an onslaught he has no hope of fighting. The only place where Hitch falters is the final page; Captain America's appendages and extremities all seem deformed and the angle of his entire body looks strained and slouched at the same time, which I didn't even know was possible.
Age of Ultron #2 isn't as strong as the first issue, and that's mainly because necessary exposition is rarely ever as exciting as the drama and terror that comes from seeing a post-apocalyptic world for the first time. Bendis delivers as much as he can while still bringing readers up to speed on the current standings, piece by piece. In a way, it's a self-defeating notion to sacrifice story development for the sake of explaining the backstory of the current status quo. Fortunately, Bendis pulls it off, more or less, and gets things prepped for the next issue. At ten issues, Age of Ultron is going to need a lot of twists and turns to keep readers interested; I'm confident Bendis is up to the task.