Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Breaking Down A Prelude: Original Sin #0

The following is my review of Original Sin #0, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

Not long ago, the concept of an Issue #0 for a comic seemed about as absurd as an issue that had a decimal for a number. Yet in the past three years, Marvel and DC have done both. But beyond introducing a numbering system that’s more complex than first grade math, these issues have created an entirely new category of comic. They aren’t meant to be part of an arc. And most of the time, they have little impact on the ongoing series. It’s possible to completely skip over these issues and not miss a thing in the main series. That a relief in some ways because some series are complicated enough without decimals and the number 0 being added to the mix. But it also presents a major challenge. If these issues can be glossed over like an extra on Star Trek, how do these issues become meaningful?

The key isn’t to add more complications to the story itself. The real strength of these issues is adding some emotional weight to the impact of the larger story. That’s the task set forth in Original Sin #0. In some respects, this issue has an even greater challenge than most elaborately numbered comics. The first issue of Marvel’s big summer blockbuster has already been spoiled, not unlike a movie trailer that reveals too much too soon. Uatu the Watcher is going to die. Somebody is going to murder him and take his eyes. So him being one of the main character in Original Sin #0 is a bit of problem. It must now get people excited for this event after they already read the spoilers on a message board.

And this issue accomplishes that by making the story personal on multiple fronts. Most of these personal elements come from the perspective of Nova. His life has already been documented, but this issue takes some time to offer a brief refresher course on all things Sam Alexander. It won’t tell anyone anything they can’t find on Wikipedia, but it does help create a more personal tone for the story as a whole. That tone is somewhat lost at times in an overly generic battle against some killer robot pretending to be an Aztec God. It’s one of those concepts that’s as ridiculous as it sounds. But it does help show that Sam Alexander is still a teenage boy with a very immature mentality. Yet it’s this mentality that leads him to confront Uatu the Watcher for an overdue conversation.

That alone doesn’t sound too daunting, but a conversation with Uatu the Watcher isn’t that different from a conversation with a statue. For most of his history, Uatu has acted either as a narrator for readers or a silent witness who only occasionally makes his presence known. He fits the definition of a flat, static character to the letter and he’s supposed to be that way. He’s never presented as anything else. However, Nova’s conversation, as one-sided as it is at times, helps give the Watcher a depth that he was never supposed to have. He finally shows a little personality. It’s not much, but it’s better than a statue.

For a brief moment, Nova gets to see things from the Watchers perspective. He gets to see the breadth of the people and events he observes. He even gets to see the very mechanisms that allow the Watcher to observe the alternate worlds that make up Marvel’s colorful What If line. The meaning isn’t apparent at first and this is where the one-sided conversation gets a little complicated. For all his cosmic powers of observation, the Watcher is painfully inefficient at making his point. But he does eventually make it in a very meaningful way.

This meaning is only fully conveyed when Uatu reveals the history of the Watchers. He shows Nova what happened when his race, led by Uatu’s father, attempted to use their superior knowledge to assist a civilization. And for a time they did. That civilization flourished. But eventually, that civilization used the knowledge and technology given by the Watchers to destroy themselves. It devastates the Watchers so much that Uatu’s father proclaims that the Watchers will never interfere with the development of a civilization again. It essentially lays the foundation for the strict code of non-intervention that the Watchers must uphold. It’s no longer just an excuse. There’s a reason why Uatu only watches and it’s a pretty good reason.

It’s also a reason that has played out on a smaller scale in the real world. There’s a reason why advanced technology seems like magic to primitive minds. By not understanding technology, it’s difficult to appreciate it. By not appreciating this technology, it’s much easier to be misused. The Watchers are somewhat akin to whoever invented the ski mask. They had the best of intentions. Whether it’s helping a civilization achieve greatness or protecting peoples’ heads from bitter cold, these endeavors are noble on paper. But when their fruits are misused, the damage can be pretty bad. The burden for whoever invented the ski mask is probably hard enough, but the Watchers must deal with the burden of full blown genocide.

To further add to this burden, Uatu also reveals that no matter how many realities he uncovers, he doesn’t find any of them that show his father’s endeavor succeeding. It shows that the abuse and misuse of knowledge is akin to the law of gravity. He cannot escape it. And given the stated premise of Original Sin, it paints a more dire picture for all those involved. Nova only got a taste of what the Watcher sees and he never got a chance to misuse it. What will happen when someone has that chance?

That’s the daunting question that readers are left to ask at the end of Original Sin #0. While the details tended to drag and were sometimes obscured by Nova’s immaturity, the emotional stakes are definitely raised by this story. It may not be necessary in the overall Original Sin event, but it gives a great deal of emotional weight to the story. It’s like adding chocolate sauce to a hot fudge sundae. It may get lost in the mix, but it still improves the overall product.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

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