Prose novel adaptations of existing comic stories are a strange thing. The story already exists in one medium already, and whilst you often get novelisations of films or games, to get one of another type of book is probably rarer, and getting one that works well seems to be even more rare.
Comics aren’t just a medium, they have their own styles, their own methods of storytelling that work because of the medium they’re in. If you copy across that story as-is into prose the difference in mediums can quickly cause the story to break down. You have to make sure to get the right writer for the job. Luckily, Titan Books’ latest Marvel prose novel, Original Sin, not only gets this right, but manages to make the prose novel a lot more enjoyable than the comic version.
Original Sin begins by taking the reader to an ancient alien city on the Moon, where a powerful entity known as The Watcher makes his home. As the Watcher, who can see everything, goes into a state that makes him essentially shut down for several minutes, two mysterious figures break into his home and do something. After this, we jump forward a few years to join Nick Fury, Captain America, Black Widow, and Wolverine as they meet up for ‘meat night’ and decent steaks. When Cap gets a call from Thor about an emergency on the moon, the four of them head out; with the retired Fury being brought along for his expert opinion. Arriving on the moon, the group discover the body of The Watcher. Shot in the head, and with his eyes cut out, the powerful entity has been murdered.
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Thus begins a murder mystery investigation as the Avengers, with the help of Fury, try to figure out who, or what, could be powerful enough to kill The Watcher. The investigation will lead them into conflict with several villains, and will lead to some dark secrets being revealed. But as the heroes try to solve the case, a mysterious figure approaches several others, including Emma Frost of the X-Men, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and the Punisher, and sends them on secret missions that start to reveal pieces of the puzzle. But who’s behind it all, and why are they sending these heroes on these weird missions?
Original Sin was an eight-part story (kind of) that was published in 2014 by Marvel Comics that featured several big-name heroes that are brought together to solve the murder of a character that by their very nature should never be able to be killed. Even though this was after my time working in a comic book shop, this was a big enough deal that I heard about it when not following Marvel anymore. It was a story that had people intrigued just by the concept, and this is something that Smith brings to this novel in spades.
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This book doesn’t read like a comic-book adaptation, it reads like a mystery novel. Instead of cops or private detectives though, it’s super-soldiers, mutants, and vigilantes who are looking into things. There’s also a big feeling of espionage and spy thriller that creeps its way into the book as things progress, especially when the identity of the person pulling the strings becomes known. And having read a lot of comic adaptations where the writer simply takes the events and translates them without changing things up much, this new approach works a lot better. Nothing is dropped from the story, no big beats are changed, but Smith is able to make it feel fresh and interesting in ways the original just wasn’t.
One of the issues I had with the original was the art. The book was very dark visually, and it often took me out of the story and made everything feel dark and depressing. It felt like the comic was trying to push the idea that this was a grim, ‘adult’ story by reflecting it in the art, but here Smith simply tells the story, gives the characters room to exist and feel real, and because he’s not pushing it to be gritty or grim it works so much better. It’s still a darker story than some would expect from superhero comics, but it doesn’t feel like it’s trying as hard, and it makes for a much more enjoyable read.
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One thing I do feel I need to talk about for a moment is the cover. I know you’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, and in this case I’d push that saying even more. The first thing is that the cover has taken a cover from the comics and used it here. Which is all well and good, except the cover isn’t from Original Sin, it’s from Original Sins. Might not sound too different, but the latter is a series of one-shot comics that featured other characters. As such, of the 16 characters on the cover, only 7 appear in this story, and even then, two of them are barely there and one doesn’t even say a single word. The cover also seems to have been blown up a bit, and the more you look at it the more you realise it’s actually quite pixelated, and lacks detail. So if you’re looking at the cover, and either being put off, or expecting Ms Marvel to show up, please just discount that altogether.
Overall, this is one of the better comic adaptations I’ve read, and ended up being a really well put together mystery story. The characters were written well, the bombastic comic book moments didn’t feel weird or out of place, and Smith translated the plot into an enjoyable experience. Even if you’re not a big comic reader I suspect that you could pick this book up and have a very good time with it.
Original Sin is out on 18th October from Titan Books.