Marvel 1602

Summary:  All’s not well in the Marvel Universe in the year 1602 as strange storms are brewing and strange new powers are emerging! Spider-Man, the X-Men, Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Dr. Doom, Black Widow, Captain America, and more appear in the waning days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. As the world begins to change and enter into a new age, Gaiman weaves a thrilling mystery. How and why are these Marvel stars appearing nearly 400 years before they’re supposed to? Collects Marvel 1602 #1-8.
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Marvel 1602, by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove 7.75

I had read ‘Marvel 1602’ a few years ago. I honestly don’t know why I did. Was it because it was written by the reputed Neil Gaiman? Or was it strictly because I was bingeing on all the new graphic novels that the local public library was suddenly getting? I honestly don’t know. But I had enjoyed it enough that, when the opportunity to buy the set in trade paperback format came, I did – I knew that I’d want to re-read it someday.

It was well worth it.

‘Marvel 1602’ may not be the best book I’ve ever read (I still don’t really understand all the adulation that Gaiman receives from fans and critics alike), but it’s nonetheless a rather fascinating alternate take on many of the key Marvel Comics characters – transposed in this case to the 17th century. Much of the action takes place in London, but also in Spain, Scotland and America, and it finds these familiar heores and villains in unfamiliar situations and guises.

For instance, Nick Fury works for the Queen of England, Captain America is a North American aboriginal, Dr. Strange is a Queen’s consul, Daredevil is a free agent working for Fury, The X-Men call themselves the Witchbreed and reside in Spain, Magneto is the Grand Inquisitor, and Otto Von Doom is the handsome (yes, handsome!) ruler of Latveria. (And what of the Fantastic Four, you ask? And Spider-Man? And Hulk? And Thor? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out, won’t you?)

Personally, I was quite pleased with the way that Gaiman gave all these characters new situations or origins and then wove them all into a tight fabric. I didn’t quite like the explanation he gave for this weird trip in time, but it was alright enough to let it slide. Mostly, I enjoyed how confidently he introduced these Marvel icons in a historical context and somehow made it work – let’s face it: injecting super powers in 1602 Europe is hardly a fail-safe formula.

Andy Kubert’s artwork is decent, but nothing outstanding. In fact, I sometimes found it sloppy, as though they were incomplete drawings or rush jobs. Thankfully, the penciling was elevated by Richard Isanove’s colouring and the inking job, which gave the book more depth. I can’t even fathom how cheap this book would have looked with basic colouring circa 1970-80. Having said this, the cover artwork for the individual issues was outstanding – the perfect blend of old etchings and modern comic book art.

All in all, it’s a successful endeavour. I wouldn’t recommend ‘Marvel 1602’ to everyone, because it messed around with the Marvel Universe to such an extent that casual comic book readers would find it too unrecognizeable to be enjoyable. But fans would no doubt appreciate the way this was put together, and how creative Gaiman got with this completely different, alternate take on their beloved characters. It’s a must for the curious, at least. Personally, I would love to see a similar exercise being done in different eras and/or settings.

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