Spencer: A few months ago Patrick and I covered Inhumanity 1, and while most of my complaints about that issue still stand, at the time I misunderstood its purpose; it wasn’t meant to be the beginning of a story, but instead to serve as a primer to catch new readers up on recent events in other titles. In a way, Mark Waid and Jim Cheung’s Original Sin 0 is almost the complete opposite of Inhumanity 1; I enjoyed the story much more, but it’s a story that looks to only have the vaguest of connections to the upcoming Original Sin miniseries.
Sam Alexander — Nova — has a serious case of Watcher-on-the-brain. After stumping the Avengers in a round of Watcher-trivia (“I’ll take ‘Why does the Watcher watch everything?’ for $200, Alex”), Sam flies off to the moon to pay Uatu a visit. When he arrives, his helmet sets off some serious alarm bells, triggered by Uatu’s vast weapons vault and the multiversal engine that powers his home.
The Watcher silently walks Sam through his origin: His people — led by a suggestion from Uatu’s father — once tried to use their phenomenal power to benefit other civilizations, but when the first of those civilizations destroyed themselves in a nuclear holocaust, Uatu’s race made a vow of noninterference and took up the role of simply watching and observing the universe. Turns out Uatu’s been using his multiversal engine to look for a universe where his father’s idea didn’t backfire, but that moment appears to be the one multiversal constant. Sam can relate — he spent years hoping his drunken father’s tales of superhero-dom were true — and that brings him to why he really came to see the Watcher: he wants to know if his father is still alive or not. Uatu tells Sam that he is.
The issue ends with a teaser for Original Sin bearing the tagline: “Nova’s warnings come to pass in: Original Sin 1.” My question is: what warnings? For the life of me I can’t find any warning from Sam in this issue, nor can I find much of anything that seems to relate to the murder mystery or spilling of secrets that Original Sin has been so heavily advertised as. As a prologue to Original Sin, this issue only really seems successful in establishing the Watcher’s abilities, personality, and origin for any readers who might be unfamiliar, which, admittedly, is a pretty important job.
Actually, what might be even more significant is how the issue humanizes the Watcher through his relationship with Sam. Uatu only speaks three words throughout the issue, but those three words mean a lot. Sam’s childlike sincerity — and perhaps just the fact that he actually took an interest in Uatu as a person, which few have done — disarms Uatu. He seems to cherish Sam’s housewarming gift, opens up to Sam about his origin, and even breaks his vow of noninterference to tell Sam that his father is alive. I’ve always thought that the Watcher was a fun concept, but this is one of the few times I’ve really cared about him as a person, which will make the impact of his sudden murder hit even harder.
Still, despite promises of tying into Original Sin, this book is basically an extra issue of Nova. Fortunately, it’s a good one; Sam discovering that his father is alive is an important milestone for him, and Waid has a strong handle on Sam as a character. There’s once or twice where Sam’s monologue or dialogue seems a little too sophisticated, but for the most part, Waid nails Sam’s enthusiasm and especially his childlike way of viewing things.
Here in particular Waid shows that Sam’s thought process is very childlike, but also that his unique way of viewing events is what helps him ask questions others haven’t even considered asking before.
Jim Cheung and Paco Medina’s pencils perfectly bring Nova and the Watcher’s emotions to life despite both designs — Sam’s helmet and Uatu’s rather alien form — not being especially conducive to showing facial expressions. In fact, they’re so good at this that they render some of the text redundant.
The joke in this image, for example, would be much stronger without all the copy muddying it up — the laughs just come from Sam’s face and body language as he tries to back out of the room, and the readers are smart enough to intuit why he’s so freaked out just from the image and the mention of the Ultimate Nullifier earlier on the page.
In fact, if there’s any weakness in this issue, it’s probably that there’s way too much text. I understand that Waid has a lot of story to convey, and thanks to Sam’s more boisterous personality the exposition never really becomes a chore to get through, but Waid certainly has strong enough artists on this issue that he could have let them carry more of the story.
Fortunately, letterer Chris Eliopoulos breathes life into Waid’s words, making them feel organic to the book’s characters and situations.
I love how the font changes in size and intensity here as Sam gets more and more worked up — it really helps bring across the emotion in Sam’s words, and this holds true for the rest of the book as well.
As a prologue to Original Sin, this issue gives us an excellent introduction to the Watcher and why he’s so interesting as a character, but I’m honestly not so sure that anything else in this issue will have that much bearing on the miniseries. Fortunately, the story itself is strong and generally well told, and if I had to choose whether a story was relevant or whether a story was good, I’d choose the latter anytime. Patrick, do you feel the same?
Patrick: Oh, Spencer, you know full-well that my preference is always for good stories over “relevant” (whatever that even means) stories, so I was mightily pleased with this issue. I also think you might be selling the importance of establishing the role of the Watcher in the Marvel Universe just a little bit short. I’ve always sort of suspected that Uatu is supposed to be an audience surrogate — I mean, the dude intently watches all the same stories we are, and has about as much agency to effect them as we do. This prelude doubles down on this idea, and has insightful things to say about why we might all be reading these crazy stories about gods and iron men and mutants in the first place.
As Uatu shows Sam the vast multiverse he has searched for meaning, Sam asks a question that spoke to me directly: “You — you keep tabs on all this, too? All the pasts — all the futures? My brain is melting! Make it stop! How do you stay sane?” I always feel like I’m taking in way too many narratives, and the act of juggling all of those characters and incidents is taxing. Even just within the Marvel Comics line, there are so many conflicting origin stories that trying to literally understand it all is a fool’s errand. The Watcher is a comic book enthusiast, an eccentric, trying in vain to hold all the continuities in his head. Uatu has a very specific, very personal reason for doing this, and it’s no coincidence that it lines up so specifically with Sam’ experience – it doesn’t. Sam is projecting when he says “I wanted my dad to be right, too.” The Watcher’s disappointment, and his reason for losing himself in these stories, is universal. You know that moment when a book or TV or movie suddenly strikes you core emotional being? That’s what just happened for Sam. Waid and Chueng do a beautiful job of approximating this feeling, as the revelatory connection is the only copy on that page. The Watcher even turns off the multiverse engine, as if putting the book down to fully absorb the moment. It’s an arresting sequence that perfectly aligns us with poor, doomed Uatu.
I reached this conclusion over the weekend, but Original Sin seems to be Marvel’s answer to Identity Crisis (only, y’know, like 10 years later). Both are murder mysteries that look to mine the shared secret history of their heroes. IC‘s main mystery — who killed Sue Dibny? — is a doozy, but the story is remarkable because of how sincerely that series treats the relationship between Ralph and Sue. The whole first issue is used to set up just how much they mean to each other. Their marriage is far from perfect, but it is profoundly lived-in. By the time we see Sue’s body on the final page of issue 1, it feels like a genuine loss. The twists and turns and whodunits that follow actually mean something.
That’s what we have here: the emotional stakes are set. What’s most remarkable is how Waid is able to take a personal story and blow it out to a scale that could effect the entirety of the Marvel fiction. That’s the beauty of this set-up: Waid makes our own love of the stories we’re reading the emotional crux of Uatu’s journey. When he gets shot (or… however you kill a Watcher…), it will be a loss, like losing touch with your comic book friends.
I obviously don’t expect every issue of this event to be so thoughtful — with all the crossovers, we’re talking about 40 issues here — but I am extremely hopeful that this is the call to action. I’m ready to plumb some secrets of the Marvel Universe. Let’s all feel this one together.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?