"Behold the Watcher" (the title I will use from now on in order to avoid confusion with the Marvel NOW Point One issue) opens with an obvious, but clever frame story. The title character, the Watcher, can see all time and space at once, and so must descend into a fugue state every three years in order to "upload" the memories to a collective of sorts. The specifics of how the Watcher works isn't all that relevant; rather, the character becomes a fixed point from which we can see the major events of this universe unfolding, which is relayed to us through two "data robbers" who have infiltrated the Watcher's "lair" during one of those fugue states in order to retrieve information. We're not sure what these robbers are going to do with that information, but the act of infiltration allows us to see what is going on in the various "realities" of the Marvel Universe as the robbers dig through the memories in search of...something. What we learn is this:
- Nova tries to warn friends and foes alike that a familiar force is returning, hell bent on destroying everything (even planets) in its path.
- In the Earth-295 universe (one of many Marvel alternates), the Red Prophet (part of the X-Terminated) exacts revenge on a mutant foe, setting the stage for a new conflict between a decimated human population and a newly-risen mutant one.
- A cured Kaine (clone of Peter Parker) mulls over his past and what it means to no longer suffer from genetic degradation, eventually revealing himself as the Scarlet Spider.
- Two twins, Coldmoon and Dragonfire, discover not only that they have been lied to their whole lives, but that when together, their powers are amplified. In an effort to destroy the people who kept them apart, they join the Avengers.
- Dr. Strange ponders the bizarre mental state of a local Greenwich Village man, only to discover that trapped the man's mind is Strange's future with the Defenders.
- Lastly, in a future where Ultron has returned and threatened to destroy all humanoid lifeforms, Hawkeye and an injured Spider-Man barely escape death (presumably this is a precursor to the 2013 Age of Ultron arc).
That's a lot of material, I know, but as I said, the purpose for "Behold the Watcher" is to introduce new and old audiences alike to the major threads that have since dominated the Marvel Universe. And as a gateway, it succeeds. As someone who has been "out of the game" for at least fifteen years, one of the necessities for any gateway comic is the absence of confusion. While I didn't recognize all of the characters here, the various sections were appropriately framed as snippets into their lives, rather than as full-fledged narratives. There is a lot I still don't know about these various universes and characters, but having read this issue, I have gained a clear sense of the direction for the narratives to come.
If there is one flaw in "Behold the Watcher" (aside from its suspicious absence of female main characters), it is its seemingly inconsistent artistic style. While I suspect the variation is meant to keep in line with the series to come, most of which will be written and drawn by different people, I found the shift back and forth between the frame narrative and the introductory sections jolting. There is a stark contrast between the more minimal style of the Watcher sections and the more flamboyant style of the Nova or Ultron sections. Personally, I preferred the artistic formats for the introductory sections more than the Watcher ones, in part because I am rather partial to the glossy and detailed American format. Minimally-detailed frames serve to target the reader's focus, but the Watcher sections aren't just minimal, but unnecessarily simple for such a grand narrative.
In any case, while I can't comment on any character arcs, given the nature of this issue, I can say that I quite enjoyed "Behold the Watcher" and expect to dive right into the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover soon (if not at some point tonight). If anything, this issue gave me a nice little starting point for keeping up with all the stuff that has gone on since the 90s, even if I missed out on some of the important main events that precede the Avengers vs X-Men crossover. Hopefully the AvX series will provide a deeper look into the characters than the New Avengers: Breakout trade paperback did (I was not at all impressed with that one). More importantly, I hope the female characters I know exist in this current universe will not receive their normal treatment (read some of the old X-Men comics and you'll know what I mean). I want some serious depth in these female superheroines. Hopefully I won't be disappointed...