The Watcher: He's witnessed all of human history. He's seen everything you've ever done. And now he's been murdered.
Usually a peripheral figure in his publisher's universe, the Watcher is the focus of "Original Sin" (Marvel), this summer's big comic book crossover story. Such stories are annual multivolume events designed to hook readers in with a tale so engrossing that fans will be willing to follow the saga through different titles and across several weeks -- thereby buying a lot of comics.
So does "Original Sin" have what it takes to succeed over the long haul? Will vacationing and poolside readers hang on through the summer months? Probably, but it's equally likely they won't remember this story for very long after they turn the final page.
The plot of "Original Sin" is a simple whodunit. The Watcher is a giant, bald, toga-wearing alien who comes from one of the oldest species in the universe.
On earth, one of them has stood by passively for years and decades, observing human history -- and superhero chaos -- unfold. Watchers have been part of the Marvel universe since 1963, when they were created by the brand's pioneers, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
In "Original Sin," a Watcher is slain and his eyes are removed. The motive is information: Watchers have seen everything, and have a memory bank that records all their observations.
To any one of Marvel's many villains, obtaining a Watcher's eyes would mean gaining insider data about the full array of superheroes. This would include not only the good guys' secret identities, but their "original sins," things buried deep in their past that they themselves might never have known about or with which they have yet to come to terms. It's "The Avengers" meets WikiLeaks.
This is a clever setup, and "Original Sin" has the requisite action, false leads, and surprises to make it good beach reading. The story by Jason Aaron moves at a brisk pace, and Mike Deodato's art is superb.
There is no mature content, aside from one grisly image of the bloody postmortem on the Watcher, who is seen sans eyeballs. The action throughout is kinetic and not too graphic. Still, the gruesome nature of the crime and relative complexity of the mystery make this unsuitable fare for young children.
The one major problem with "Original Sin" is that it's underwritten. Hidden transgressions and their potential revelation should be treated as a heady moral and theological theme, one that calls for more than just the ordinary action sequences and predictable quotes from the Bible.
What's needed in "Original Sin" is the classic Marvel approach that prevailed back when Lee was the main wordsmith: big, text-heavy panels full of psychological and character-driven exposition. Such soliloquies laid out for the reader the depth of the hero's angst.
Aaron's narrative, by contrast, flies along at summer-blockbuster pace. The characters are never allowed to stop and ponder the meaning of having their shameful secrets exposed. Nor are readers provided with the kind of depth that might have made "Original Sin" not only enjoyable but memorable as well.
The Catholic News Service Classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Marvel Rating System rating is T+ Teens and Up -- appropriate for teens 13 and above.