by Neil Gaiman
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
I should probably start out by saying that I'm never really gotten in to graphic novels or comic books, as they were called when I was growing up. In fact, I recently discovered that the comics I remember most fondly from my childhood were not only the ones focusing on the less popular characters, but actually predated my own birth, read when I was visiting a cousin who was several years older than I. However, when I do pick up graphic novels, I tend to look for the ones which are not standard stories of the various main characters. For that reason, combined with my enjoyment of alternate history, I was excited to take a look at Neil Gaiman's alternative take on the characters of the Marvel universe in Marvel 1602.
The basic premise of the book is that the individuals who make up the primary Marvel characters lived in the early seventeenth century and something happened to make them gain the abilities they are known for. Dr. Stephen Strange is a sorcerer and physician to Queen Elizabeth, Sir Nicholas Fury handles her spies, Otto von Doom rules Latveria as a handsome prince, and Sir Carlos Javier gathers the strange witchblood to his school in the English countryside. The world appears to be coming to an end and these and other characters must figure out what is happening and how to stop it.
While part of the fun of 1602 is figuring out who some of the characters are, especially for those who are not as familiar with the Marvel universe, Gaiman's story and Andy Kubert's art form the basis and strength of the book. Gaiman's story is told with intelligence and attention to historical detail while Kubert's art is subdued even when he is illustrating the most fantastic events.
Gaiman does introduce a science fiction element to the tale, which works well on all levels, explaining why these characters, for all their similarities and differences, appear at this time instead of the period for which they are better known. While the book can be read quickly, there is enough detail to satisfy those who want to take their time to more fully enjoy the marriage of art and prose.
One of the nice features of the collected 1602, for it began life as an eight book series, is the inclusion at the end of the book of some of Gaiman's original script and his instructions to Kubert, which demonstrate not only the most raw form of the book, but also give an indication of the method the two men had of working together and how they grew to know each other and were able to play off each other's own abilities as the work progressed. Several preliminary sketches also appear in this section.
While 1602 will be most appreciated by those who have the most familiarity with the characters of the Marvel universe, it is a work that can be enjoyed by those whose only knowledge of the characters comes from the book itself or from the general public knowledge which accompanies these characters because of their longevity and films. The story and art are wonderful and provide a look at costumed superheroes without the costumes.
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