Now that the Big Two are deep into their mandatory summer crossovers – as opposed to their mandatory winter crossovers, their mandatory spring crossovers, and their mandatory fall crossovers – I can’t tell the players without a scorecard.
At the core of both series is the same plot: all or most of the sundry parallel universes are going to collide into one, if, indeed, that many. This does not envelop either series in an aura of originality, particularly when Marv Wolfman and George Pérez did this 29 years ago. You may not think they did it better way back in the early days of the Gilded Age of Comics (and you’d be wrong about that), but at the very least you could understand that story. Original Sin and Future’s End… not so much.
At least Marvel’s Original Sin is built around a clever plot point: somebody offed The Watcher and stole one or both of his eyes… and then, one eye exploded implanting various deep dark secrets held by various characters into the brainpans of those who were within the blast radius of the eyeball.
No, I don’t know how big the blast radius of a Watcher eyeball is. And I’m a bit pissed off at offing the big bald guy anyway, but it’s comic books, where death has no meaning whatsoever. If they ever kill Aunt May off, she’ll be back in a few months with a bionic bustle.
DC’s Future’s End simply makes no sense. Batman Beyond is sent back in time to prevent the end of the world as we know it, but he misses his mark and arrives later than he was supposed to. Well, fine. That’s it. The hero blew it and it’s over, right?
No such luck. All the characters wander around slapping their foreheads and mumbling woe is me a lot. It doesn’t help that this series features the New 52 version of the DC Universe, which really hasn’t been very well-defined or thought out, but has been compromised after-the-fact by bureaucrats who wouldn’t know a good comics story if they bothered to read one.
It was time to retire the mega-event crossover before we started worrying about Y2K. But these puppies make money, so the Big Two are going to keep on hitting the event button like a crack whore with new kneepads.
It’s easy to understand why comics fans like the Marvel movies. They exist in a comparatively small universe with clear roadmaps. DC doesn’t have that goodwill going for them, and Man Of Steel offered little hope.
But we continue to hope. These are great characters. We love them, and we hope that someday the powers at Warners and Disney start to trust those characters as much as we do, before the core audience is all on catheters and people start to view Superman and Wolverine the way we view The Lone Ranger and Buck Rogers.
Written by Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen. Art by Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessey, and Jason Kieth
After last week’s insane rant, I came onto a book like Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man with both arms up. Let’s face facts: Hulk and Iron Man seem to fight once a year. If not in the 616, then in the Ultimate Universe, or any other iteration of the Marvel U. It’s like they’re a match made in pugilistic heaven. One man, the unstoppable juggernaut… the other a walking arsenal. It’s short range versus long range. It’s rage versus hubris. And really… it’s beating a dead horse by now, isn’t it? Each time they fight, Tony unloads a continent-stopping amount of tech and boom-boom-booms on the emerald giant, who is phased long enough to get pissed, and then we cue epic punching. Tony flies and flails, maybe has a little inner-caption angst party, and then we repeat the cycle. Maybe Steve Rogers or Maria Hill jump in after a while to stop the fracas. Suffice to say, Hulk and Iron Man have been done just about as much as Batman and the G-D-Joker.
How amazing is it then that Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen play a little retcon-history gambit and come out unscathed! This issue, spending most of its running time setting the scene, is a shining example of being able to use common tropes in all the right ways. Here is an issue that truly is made better by the sum of its parts, than it is when you deconstruct it. And what an amazing segue that was. Let’s cut this sumbitch’ open then, aye?
So, the skinny is simple: The Watcher was murdered. A mort came out and declared he was the dude who done did it. He didn’t. But he was able to attack a ton of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with a psychic bob-omb. And with that attack, each hero – or pair of heroes in this case – get a big ole’ chunk of Watcher-vision in their brainpans. Specific to this book, Tony and Bruce Banner share their memories chained to the fateful detonation of a gamma bomb. And the SPOILER retcon of it all: Tony tinkered with Bruce’s bomb. Yup, while both Mr. Stark and Banner were science bros at one time in their youth… at a pivotal time when they were truly working to hone their identities, they ended up on either side of a potent fence. Bruce, the pacifist. Tony, the war monger. And one pithy, snarky barb begat another, and soon thereafter, Tony (in his alcoholic days, mind you) took Bruce to task for potentially inhibiting his gamma bomb. Throw in Thunderbolt Ross, and presto! Revisionist Marvel history that bleeds into why this book should matter.
And matter it does. As I’d noted before, there’s little to no need now to show another green goliath versus the tin can man bout. But, like Vince McMahon, Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen know that with the right story even the umpteenth fight can matter a whole lot. By introducing this snag into the history of the Hulk, and layering it over the current storyline in Waid’s Hulk-ongoing – where Bruce himself is now laced with Extremis in his cerebral cortex – we end up with a fight that is built on far more than another silly misunderstanding. And because the Extemis in Hulk’s brain now brings Banner to the forefront of his angrier half, there’s a level of threat raised here to an all-out extreme. An angry Hulk is still handicapped by his less-than-stellar thought capacity. But a smart Hulk is indeed a scary thing. Especially true when the whole “the angrier he gets the stronger he gets” card is played.
I’d noted above how this was a book of tropes. And let it be stated for the record: this is. Waid and Gillen’s plot is so by-the-numbers, it nearly stings. Or maybe it just stinks. Having to use revisionist history to create conflict is such a comic-book thing to do, I’m left again wondering if that is the modus operandi of Gillen – who I called out for doing as such in his recent stint on Iron Man. I’m all about playing to the cheap seats mind you (I do love pro-wrestling… I mean… sports entertainment after all). But when the rest of the script is really just getting us from point A to point B, there’s little to celebrate specifically about the delivery. There’s really just the employment of typical flashback – flash forward presentation after an action-packed cold-open. Maybe I’m still grumpy over Future’s End, but when I see Waid’s name on a cover these days, I expect greatness.
Artistically, you can’t get more straight-line-bombastic than Mark Bagley. He’s kinetic, epic, and clean in his storytelling. He doesn’t try to bend the rules… he doesn’t need to. It’s akin to Ocean’s Eleven as recreated by Soderbergh – this is a master playing a riff on common themes. As we all know Bagley’s ability to whip out acceptably modern comic book pages, you’re getting exactly what you’d expect from this book. And as a bonus Scooby snack… we also get a few attempts to stretch the common style. Andrew Hennessey’s inks, and Jason Kieth’s colors render an even slicker Bagley page than one is used to. Specifically Kieth’s bold choice of colors, and smart use of glows and knockouts elevate the final product to the epic-crossover level one can appreciate. Knowing that this is Marvel’s flagship blockbuster for the summer, here the art team does their job swimmingly, in giving us visuals that play to the strengths of the script.
Original Sin: Hulk Vs. Iron Man is the kind of popcorn-comic I can get behind. While it’s a bit of a copout to need to introduce new history in order to carry a story, here things move so briskly we hardly have time to savor it. And because of that smart pacing, we’re left with an inaugural chapter amidst the ever-winding checklist within the event that gives us real foot holes to anchor ourselves in for the next chapter. While I’m still not at all interested in who killed the Watcher, I can hang my hat on Hulk’s deserved rage. And therein lies the real point to why I’ll celebrate this book one week and trash DC’s attempt just seven days prior. Original Sin pays attention to the story and reasoning behind it, rather than merely announce “it’s time for punching and new team affiliations!” While the underlying structure may not be all that different, at the end of the day it’s the technique and execution that elevated Mickey’s efforts far more than the Brothers Warners has in a good long while.