Today the final issue of Original Sin, Marvel's latest crossover series, was released, solving the mystery of who killed The Watcher and setting up new players in the Marvel Universe. Along the way the series, by Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato, upped the ante for sheer oddness in the Marvel Universe while also laboring mightily to tie into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For those unaware, The Watcher is an ancient cosmic being who lives on the moon and who, as his name implies, watches. All he does is watch, and his whole race does the same, and has since just about the beginning of creation. They've sworn to never interfere, to only watch, but our guy - Uatu is his name - has on many occasions given the Marvel Superheroes a heads up about impending threats. At the beginning of the series he's found dead, a bullet in his brain and his eyes missing. One of the eyes end up in the possession of a very, very lesser-known villain named Orb (II), and it accidentally gets activated, sending out everything Uatu had seen with it. See, Uatu didn't keep notes, he just recorded shit with his eyes, and since he is omniscient he has every secret in the world in his eyes.
Meanwhile the heroes - the ones who don't get sidelined by the revelations of their secrets - are investigating the murder. As Captain America and the Avengers do their shit, a mysterious figure gathers together a team that can only be called MCU Phase III: Doctor Strange, Rocket Racoon, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Moon Knight, the Punsher, Emma Frost, Gamora and The Winter Soldier. It's like the series was specifically designed to include these characters who will definitely be - and some who hopefully will be - important in upcoming Marvel movies and TV shows. Anyway, that team spreads out to investigate the murder, and along the way the bullet used to kill Uatu is similar to bullets used to kill mysterious monsters under the Earth, in alternate dimensions and even in space. In fact one bullet killed a sentient planet (but not Ego).
The big reveal ends up being that the mystery guy is Nick Fury, who is now old. The Infinty Formula that kept him young had worn off, and he's dying. It turns out that Nick has been living a secret life - not only has he been the head of SHIELD and the Marvel Universe's number one spymaster, he's also been a secret defender of the planet, killing any threat he finds before it becomes known to the public or the heroes. He first got this job in the 50s, taking it over from Woody McCord, who had been the "watcher on the wall" for Earth for decades, clandestinely taking out aliens and monsters before they could wreak havoc. Nick (and Howard Stark, continuing the move towards MCU characters) see Woody die, and Nick takes over his job. He has been assassinating aliens, monsters and weirdos for sixty years in secret. Now that he's dying he wants someone to take over, and that's why he recruited this team - one of them will take his place.
Speaking of the MCU - all of this is happening because Marvel has introduced a new black Nick Fury in the comics, Nick Fury Jr (I shit you not). Knocking off old Nick allows the comics to have a black Nick just like the movies. Beats blackface, I guess. The whole story doesn't quite make sense - if Nick is running SHIELD why does he have to act alone? What about SWORD, the counterpart to SHIELD that deals with alien menaces? I get the appeal of having this secret "watcher on the wall' character, but Fury's centralized placement in a top secret, not at all above murder agency makes it weird for him to be moonlighting. It would just be more reasonable for him to bring these brands together, you know?
The end result is that these weird characters team up in weird groups (Doctor Strange and The Punisher hanging out is a joy) before discovering that Fury is actually behind it all, and that he actually killed The Watcher. But only after The Orb and Dr. Midas (another nobody villain) stole one of his eyes. And it seems like The Watcher wanted to die - he basically committed suicide by Nick Fury. There's a huge stand-off at the Watcher's home and events of immense cosmic import happen. But what's weird is that none of the big Marvel heroes are there - Cap and Thor and Iron Man are all off doing other shit, leaving this massive change in the status quo to be seen only by the secondary characters.
That's actually neat. I know that this group was partially chosen because of their multi-media existence, but it's still cool to see a major event go down and Dr. Strange and Black Panther are the top tier guys involved. That's all a part of the charm of the series - it has enormous implications, but it plays out small, with an initimacy and featuring oddball characters who never topline this kind of thing.
In the end The Winter Soldier becomes the new "watcher on the wall," and it turns out that Nick Fury doesn't die - he's now chained to the surface of the moon and tasked with being a Watcher-like character, but not actually a Watcher (they're a separate race, after all). He's now called The Unseen. And I couldn't help but wonder - is The Unseen the new Watcher because Fox owns The Watcher? Could The Unseen fill that role in future MCU movies, showing up to record the events of The Avengers vs Thanos in The Avengers 3?
I liked Original Sin because it was so unique and didn't fit the mold of previous crossovers, which have been too big and too sweeping and filled with too many characters just padding panels. That was cool when George Perez did it in Crisis on Infinite Earths, but by the time Marvel did Infinity it just felt overstuffed and hard to follow. Original Sin's streamlined murder mystery kept the story chugging along, and the obscure villains meant that it wasn't a story bogged down in tedious continuity. On top of that the crossovers spun out of the book, as opposed to spinning in - you could fully ignore every tie-in and be perfectly content with the story. I pretty much did; I'll catch up with the tie-ins on Marvel Unlimited in six months. What's more, Original Sin knows that it's silly and ridiculous, and Jason Aaron walked a fine tightrope of taking it all seriously and being sort of tongue-in-cheek.
The Winter Soldier becoming a cosmic defender of the Earth might be the biggest status quo change of the series (I imagine Uatu will be back, and since Nick Fury's story feels cribbed from the Hal Jordan/Spectre storyline, I imagine that'll be undone some day as well) because it redefines the character. Bucky Barnes is a spy, and having him in space with a helmet and a huge-ass space gun radically shifts the tone of the character. Will it work? Will it all be undone in time for Captain America 3? Only time will tell.