Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On the last 50 pages or so of Marvel's Original Sin hardcover collection

Last week I discussed Original Sin, the eight(-ish) part miniseries by writer Jason Aaron, artist Mike Deodato and colorist Frank Martin that dominated the 390-page Original Sin hardcover collection. Tonight I wanted to look at all the supplementary material included in the collection, almost all of it from the pages of the five-issue tie-in anthology entitled Original Sins...which is only one letter's difference from the main series, because comics are weird and dumb and evil. There are also two issues of Original Sin: Secret Avengers Infinite Comic, which I believe was a digital-first comic, which might offer an explanation for why it has two people (?) named "Mast" and "Geoffo" credited as "storyboard artists" rather than with more typical "layouts."

Almost all of these stories, which range in length from Ryan North, Ramon Villalobos and company's 40-page Young Avengers story to a handful of two-page gag strips, deal with the fall-out of a single event early on in Original Sin, The Orb's use of one of the Watcher's gouged-out eyes as a secret-disseminating "truth bomb" to disorient the heroes gathered to apprehend him and his accomplices.
The scene is actually a very small, not terribly important part of Original Sin, but it is the part that allows for other comics to tie-in to the "Original Sin" brand and try to stretch Aaron's story into something that could—at least theoretically—sustain a line-wide crossover. Original Sins—with an "s"—allowed Marvel the chance to check-in with a bunch of other, mostly book-less heroes and, in the process, give a bunch of other creators a chance to play in Marvel's sandbox.

I can't imagine Original Sins was a very satisfying read if read as it was serially published. Each $4, 20-page issue contained a trio of stories—a 10-page lead feature, 8-pages of the five-part Young Avengers story and a 2-page gag comic. If you wanted to just read that Young Avengers story, you were stuck paying $20 for it, and getting little else that would interest you. If you wanted to see favorite, unlikely creators like, say, Richard Geary or Chip Zdarsky drawing Marvel characters, you'd be paying $4 for 2 pages of comics, and getting a lot of stuff that likely wouldn't appeal to you in the process.

The way they're packaged in this collection, the Young Avengers story kicks off this section, and then the rest seem to follow as they were published.

Let's take them one at a time.

"Young Avengers: Hidden In Plain Sight" by Ryan North, Ramon Villalobos and Jordan Gibson

By far the highlight of the book, I don't want to say too much about this here at the moment (As I talk about it here). The Ryan North who wrote it is the same Ryan North who writes Dinosaur Comics and Boom's Adventure Time comics, and, as with the latter, he includes little alt text like gags along the bottom of most of the pages. It is a very funny comic, but funny within the bounds of the Marvel Universe (that is, no one breaks character or the fourth wall in the way some of the other, shorter, comedic pieces in Original Sins-with-an-"s" do).

Hulkling sees, via social media, that all the superheroes seem to be fighting Noh-Varr's ex-girlfriend in Manhattan, so he texts Prodigy, they go to space to pick up Noh-Varr, and head to Manhattan to see what they can do. The fight is over, but they stumble upon a post eyeball zap adventure that pits the three Young Avengers against The Hood (The rest of the team is present, but they literally text in their appearances).

It's seriously great stuff, and made me wish Marvel hadn't ended the last volume of Young Avengers when its creative team of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton departed, but rather kept it going under North and Villalobos.

"Terminus" by Nathan Edmondson, Mike Perkins and Andy Troy

This one is a bit of an odd story out in that rather than checking in with a book-less character, it's a 10-pager starring the new Deathlok, who has a new series, and it therefore seems to be here to remind readers of Original Sin that there's a new Deathlok comic they might want to read.

Henry Hayes, a former soldier who now works for Doctors Without Borders, is accosted by an off-duty SHIELD agent who explains he was there when "The Watcher's eye exploded downtown," and now he knows Hayes' secret. That secret being that he's secret Deathlok, a cyborg assassin who doesn't seem to be half-zombie in this iteration, and who now more closely resembles the one from the TV, I guess. Oddly, Hayes himself doesn't seem to know the secret, so I guess that's the premise of the new take on the character.

Mike Perkins draws this sort of realistic, espionage-style action comic very well, as he's proved in the past, and while there's not much here, and nothing that really piqued my interest in the series, it's a pretty effective pitch for that series.

"Lockjaw: Buried Memory" by Stuart Moore, Rick Geary and Ive Svorcina

At just 16 silent panels over two pages, this is a very fleet read. There's only a single joke to it—Lockjaw suddenly has a memory, and seeks the aid of a Marvel superhero—and it's not that funny a joke, really, but if you ever wanted to see Rick Geary draw not only Lockjaw, but the current versions of Luke Cage, Iron Man, Emma Frost and others, then this comic certainly fulfills that desire.
Kamala "Ms. Marvel" Khan appears in one-panel of this story, as one of the several heroes to deny Lockjaw help, and it constitutes her only appearance in Original Sin, despite being depicted, along with a bunch of other heroes who weren't drawn there by Deodato, at ground zero of the eyeball bomb in Manhattan on the cover of Original Sins #1.

"Black Legacy" by Frank Tieri, Raffaele Ienco and Brad Anderson

Is Marvel Studios developing a Black Knight film, or is he going to appear in the third Avengers movie or on Agents of SHIELD or something...? For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why this story existed at all.

The Black Knight, who I was fairly certain was based in England (I only read the first half of the Revolutionary War trade; am I misremembering his presence in it?), is holed up in his apartment, which he hasn't left in what appears to be a long time, wearing only his briefs and clutching his ebony blade (Should I rewrite that last bit to make it sound less suggestinve? Nah). A writer and expert on the Black Knight legacy and the ebony blade is knocking at his door, saying she knows his secret, which is that the blade is addictive and makes folks who wield it crazy, eventually killing him.

I'm not sure why The Black Knight, who seemed to be in a pretty good place last time I remember seeing him (If not in Revolutionary War, then definitely in Captain Britain and MI:13) is made all Howard Hughes for the sake of a ten-page story which, incidentally, has nothing at all to do with Original Sin except, perhaps, thematically. During my first read-through, I thought the Knight was caught in the blast—which would have mandated his presence in Manhattan, not England—but on rereading, I see that not only was he not in the blast, it's not clear which city he's in during this story. Also, the writer, who knows his secret, knows it from research and inference, not because she was caught in the blast.

So either Tieri's got a Black Knight series on the horizon, or Marvel's got a Black Knight media adaptation on the horizon, or man, this is one out-of-left field page-filler.

"Before Your Eyes" by Ty Templeton and Paul Mounts

Templeton writes and draws this Howard The Duck two-pager, in which Howard finds himself ejected from his car by a faulty—and apparently very powerful—air bag, and his mind races through what he recently learned from "the eye of a dead Watcher".

Howard The Duck's troubled history, and his existence as a sort of flashpoint regarding a big comics company and a creator in conflict over who owns what and who gets and deserves credit and money for what, makes Howard The Duck comics incredibly difficult to read, something that will never change now, given the fact that Howard's creator Steve Gerber has passed away.

I'm a big fan of Templeton's work, and while this isn't really a great example of it—consisting as it does of only 14 panels of Howard in a suit—it ends with a pretty charged, I-can't-believe-Marvel-published-that statement: "You are Howard The Duck. The greatest example of wasted potential in the known galaxy."

I suppose there are a couple of different ways to read that, but there's only one way I could read it.

"Whispers of War" by Charles Soule, Ryan Browne and Edgar Delgado

This is the only story in this book I couldn't read all the way through...I made it onto the fourth page of the ten-page story before giving up. It opens with a spiky headed guy who I at first took to be Iceman, with a goblet in a penthouse hot tub, talking to a trio of faces that are merging from his body, one of which is that of a frog.

I guess this is what The Purple Man looks like now, which was a bit of a surprise, given that the last time I saw him (Alias, maybe?) he just looked like a man. Only purple. On page four, The Inhumans appear, so I then assumed he might have gone through some Terrigenisis mutation or whatever and then I got so bored I had to stop reading.

The cover for the particular issue of Original Sins appeared in has Blackbolt and The Purple Man on the cover, and says there's an "Inhuman" story within, so I suppose this has something to do with the ongoing u series. Lockjaw's in four panels of it, but that's just not enough Lockjaw to get me to give a shit about The Inhumans. Sorry.

"Bury The Lead" by Dan Slott, Mark Bagley, Joe Rubenstein and Paul Mounts

This two-pager is teased as a J. Jonah Jameson story on the cover, and it is. There's only one joke in it, and it's a fairly strong one if you know the character at all from any medium, but that also means I can't really say anything about it here without ruining it. Suffice it to say that it's a fun little piece by a writer and penciler strongly associated with Spider-Man and his supporting cast and, I suppose, that this is another Original Sin tie-in that has nothing at all to do with Original Sin—it involves someone discovering a deep dark secret about JJJ, but not through a Watcher eye-blast or anything like that.

"Checkmate" by James Robinson, Alex Maleev and Cris Peter

This is a Dr. Doom story written by current Fantastic Four writer and drawn by Alex Maleev in his signature realistic, but grittier style. The actual protagonist is a scummy, investment advisor Wall Street type—someone you won't mind knowing gets killed by Dr. Doom, essentially—who learned some of Doom's secrets from the Watcher eye-bomb, and makes elaborate plans to blackmail Doom.

It goes about as well for him as you might expect.

Maleev's Doom is very cool-looking, despite only appearing in the splash pages that book-end the short story. He gives Doom red eyes, which is a small but effective tweak of the design. His protagonist is much less well-drawn, however, and I found myself being repeatedly distracted by trying to place the Hollywood actor he seemed to patterned after in any given panel: Here he looks like Ben Affleck, there Chris Evans, ooh in this sequence he looks like Eric Balfour...interesting choice.

The backgrounds and establishing shots, on the other hand, appear to just be traced or mildly manipulated photographs, which is pretty disappointing. But it's only ten-pages long, so it's hard to get too disappointed in the artwork either way.

"Catharsis" by David Abadta, Pablo Dura and Erica Henderson

This is another two-pager, which thus far has meant a funny story, but there isn't really a joke here, just a premise so unusual that it would only really fit in a gag format strip. Well, I think there's an attempt at a joke in the final panel, but I didn't think it really worked.

This does give a nice preview of what upcoming Unbeatable Squirrel Girl artist Erica Henderson's Marvel work could look like though. Verdict? Pretty nice!

"How The World Works" by Al Ewing, Butch Guice, Scott Hanna and Matthew Wilson

Billed as a Nick Fury story, this is as much a Dum Dum Dugan story as it is a Fury one, and the revelation that occurs in it seems to me to be at least as big a one as any of those regarding Fury in the main Original Sin series (i.e. that he's really old now for real, that he has a small army of super-LMDs of himself as a strapping young man, that he assassinates space monsters in his down time, that he almost blew a hole in Spider-Man's head, etc).

It's also the story that most directly ties in to the events of Original Sin, in terms of content and visuals, with Guice's pencil art, inked by Hanna and colored by Matthew Wilson, most closely resembling that of Deodato. It takes place during the time in which The Orb is in custody, and involves Dugan confronting Old Man Fury about all the shitty things Fury's been doing, only to discover a super-shitty thing Fury's been doing, a sin that seems a lot worse than some of his other sins.

"The No-Sin Situation" by Chip Zdarsky

Probably the best two-pages in the whole book, regardless of how much I might have talked up that Young Avengers story, this Zdarksy strip is billed as starring "Everybody Else." It's only two-pages long, but it has 28 panels in it! It opens with Nick Fury sitting down Gambit in an interview room and telling him that there's a situation where everyone's secrets are being revealed and that "I just want to get aheaed of it and see what we should prepare for." Fury assures the ragin' Cajun that "Everyhing you say here will be off the record and not in continuity."

The rest of the strip then consists of single-panels featuring a different Marvel character, introduced in a narration box naming them and defining them in a manner similar to Original Sin, revealing a deep, dark secret about themselves (The Black Panther and Namor, The Sub-Mariner are exceptions...they get two panels).

They are mostly very, very funny. For example:

I found two elements of the strip striking in that they paralleled Andrew Wheeler's "Original Spin" coverage of Original Sin for Comics Alliance. The first was that Zdarsky introduces The Watcher as "Moon Creep;" the first headline in the first installment of "Original Spin"...? "Moon Creep Murdered! Sex Games Gone Wrong?"

Also, Dr. Strange reveals that he changed his surname to Strange because he wanted to be in a metal band, which also explains his hand gestures. One of Wheeler's running gags for the Dr. Strange/Punisher team-up plotline of Original Sin was that the pair were a "retro psychedelic prog rock" band called Strangecastle.

"Original Sin: Secret Avengers" by Ales Kot, Mast, Geoffo, Ryan Kelly and Lee Loughridge

This is the apparent digital-first comic, referred to in the table-of-contents, where it is misplaced as coming before the issues of Original Sins rather than after them, as "Original Sin: Secret Avengers Infinite Comic #1-2." As I said, I'm not entirely sure what it's doing here; I suspect Marvel wasn't sure where else to put it, but then, the back of a Secret Avengers trade seems like the more obvious place, doesn't it?

It's only tangentially related to the goings-on of Original Sin—odd, since it stars two of SHIELD's "name" characters, one of whom is Nick Fury's namesake—as "The Event" (as the eyeball attack in Manhattan is here referred to) reveals the fact that this scientist guy that this Nick Fury—the young, black one who looks more like Sam Jackson then the old, white one does—and Agent Clark Gregg thought was dead is actually still alive, and he needs to be captured and stopped. Preferably before this guy with a weird face wearing a SHIELD uniform but commanding Hydra, a guy who no one ever names, gets his hands on him. As for the scientist, he developed a way to manipulate the universe through code, which he plans to have go open source. It is all apparently following up on plot points from comics I have never read, so I never really understood the exact nature of the conflict or the impetus for it, but I did manage to read all 32 pages of it, so it wasn't as boring and confusing as that Inhumans/Purple Man story was...


Anonymous said...

Sounds like they're trying to turn the Black Knight into the bearer of Elric's runesword. Which isn't worst way to reinvigorate a fairly moribund character, the more I think on it...

SallyP said...

I am intrigued by this, because of the Young Avengers story, although I avoided the actual crossover like the plague. But still...I do miss the Young Avengers.