Marvel Comics’ “Original Sin” event has opened a lot of closet doors and revealed plenty of heretofore unknown or forgotten skeletons behind them, making a somewhat divisive event throughout the Marvel Universe. Writers Kieron Gillen and Mark Waid mitigate this somewhat in “Original Sin” #3.4, drawn by Luke Ross, and the final issue of the “Hulk vs Iron Man” mini-series within a mini-series, which had revealed Tony Stark’s secret involvement in the gamma bomb project responsible for Bruce Banner’s transformation into The Hulk. Neither character can be ordained as a saint upon the conclusion of this story, but at least Gillen and Waid avoid totally trashing the reputations and heroism of two of Marvel’s oldest characters, as it seemed they were driven to do in the prior issues.
This series isn’t the first to portray Stark as a drunken and egotistical jackass, but it’s the most recent example that’s probably done a better job of it than any other story in recent memory. In this issue, though, the writers make sure that Stark is a drunken and egotistical jackass with a conscience, and ultimately a hero, if not a terribly likeable one. Likewise, Gillen and Waid are among the best at making sure Banner is always the ever-raging victimized loner, but soften him up a bit as well when The Hulk finally sets that rage aside for a moment.
Both Stark and The Hulk have been made the bad guys plenty of times over their publishing histories, but after dangling that very realistic possibility once again in front of readers for the past three issues, the writers withdraw their tease and manage to end things with a new, if uneasy, status quo, rather than a new game-changing dynamic that many readers expected, and feared.
Ross keeps the characters balanced throughout the story; his Hulk is a definitely mean and imposing one, made more so by the frequent use of heavy shadowing. His Green Goliath is also a manageable foe for Iron Man; still the strongest one there is, but without resorting to rendering him as a three-story, muscularly-caricatured brute like artists have done in the past. His Iron Man is largely faithful to the version already established by Gillen and the art team over in “Iron Man;” powerful-looking, but not to the point where he appears like he could obliterate The Hulk with his pinky-repulsor.
Ross moves the first half of the story along quickly with only a few large and dynamically laid-out panels per page, which is where most of the action takes place. Things slow down in the second half, as more revelations come flying and Ross ups the panel count to allow for Gillen and Waid to provide the explanations readers have been waiting for. The sedate finale is a seemingly odd way to end the story, but it’s only the action that stops, not the twists and surprises, which the writers keep coming, right up until the very and literal end. They also put forth a web of events that make readers ponder just who ultimately was responsible for The Hulk’s creation, a question that lingers even after the story’s satisfying-enough conclusion.
Ultimately, the writers rework the nature of the acts committed and the past events driving this story into acts that are more akin to mistakes, albeit huge and costly ones, than actual sins, which makes this story as a whole go down a lot smoother than the past three individual issues did. “Original Sins” #3.4 is a nice save for the series, allowing this story about mistakes from the past to exist without corrupting these characters’ futures.