Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, and Richard Isanove: B

From the front flap:
The year is 1602, and strange things are stirring in England. In the service of Queen Elizabeth, court magician Dr. Stephen Strange senses that the bizarre weather plaguing the skies above is not of natural origin. Her majesty’s premier spy, Sir Nicholas Fury, fends off an assassination attempt on the Queen by winged warriors rumored to be in service to a mad despot named Doom. News is spreading of “witchbreed” sightings—young men bearing fantastic superhuman powers and abilities. And in the center of the rising chaos is Virginia Dare, a young girl newly arrived from the New World, guarded by a towering Indian warrior. Can Fury and his allies find a connection to these unusual happenings before the whole world ends?

The basic premise of Marvel 1602 is an interesting one: characters from Marvel’s roster of heroes are born 400 years too early, and here we see them as they would appear in the final days of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Nick Fury is Elizabeth’s intelligence chief, Dr. Strange is her physician, and various other familiar characters appear as either “witchbreed” (the X-Men), inquistors (Magneto), freelance agents of the crown (Daredevil), or antagonists (Doctor Doom).

This would seem like a recipe for much coolness, but unfortunately the plot is a rather convoluted. There are no less than four subplots going on at once, and though they do converge at the end, early chapters are rather disjointed and later ones feel rushed. Even though I was never really invested in the story, it’s still fairly decent overall, with some elements that are more appealing than others. One thing that I thought was kind of lame was having characters make prescient comments, like when Professor Xavier remarks, “Sometimes I dream of building a room in which danger would come from nowhere.” Okay, even I get that and know how cheesy it is.

Possibly I would’ve liked this more had I more readily recognized the characters that were being portrayed. Certain ones are easy—I can recognize most of the standard good guys in Marvel’s stable of stars, it seems—but I completely failed to grasp clues as to the Grand Inquisitor’s identity (two major ones being the identities of his two helpers) until his ability to manipulate metal made me go, “Ohhhh.” I’m sure that real Marvel fans had figured it out way before then. I’ve also never before encountered the character of Black Widow so I didn’t recognize her. Kudos to Gaiman for employing her in a role—a freelance agent helping Nick Fury and Daredevil—that seems to be perfectly in keeping with the character’s established history.

In the end, Marvel 1602 is a pretty fun read. It didn’t rock my world or anything, but it did familiarize me a little more with some elements of the Marvel universe, even while presenting them in an alternate time line. I can’t complain about that!

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  1. It’s been a while since I read it, but I remember enjoying it. Some of that dialog though…I agree it’s a little too obvious.

    Stay away from the others, though, as I think I mentioned to you before. They’re little more than an attempt to milk Gaiman’s take (without Gaiman), and were fairly disasterous.

  2. 1602 is so laden with Easter Eggs it amazed me that Gaiman knew so much about Marvel. For instance, the fact that Peter Parker’s parents worked for Nick Fury is a reference to Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5. I loved that series when it came out!

    • Neat. 🙂 I’m sure I missed most of the Easter Egg-type things, but at least the story was enjoyable for a neophyte, too. 🙂

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