Reviews: 1602

Published on July 14th, 2009

Another Tuesday and another Trade. We’re heading back 400 years and we’re bringing the Marvel Universe with us to ‘1602’, Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s alternative Marvel universe set in Elizabethan England.

I love a good alternative universe tale, stripping great characters back to their iconic essence and placing them in new surroundings which can either highlight or even destroy their known legacy. When done well these stories cement our love for the characters. When done badly… well…

Fortunately this tale is excellent and follows many disparate threads that slowly draw together. The head of the Queen’s Secret Service, Sir Nicholas Fury, and her personal physician, Doctor Stephen Strange, defend Queen Elizabeth. Plots against the Queen’s life are a regular occurrence and dark times are foretold. A mysterious weapon is being brought from Jerusalem and the enemies of the Crown seek to intercept it. In Spain the Catholic Church wage their Inquisition against Witchkind, who are tolerated in England and protected by Master Carolus Javier in his College for the Sons of Gentlefolk. Legends tell of Sir Reed Richards and the crew of his ship The Fantastick who gained strange powers after sailing through a strange storm, and now they have disappeared. A young girl, Virginia, and her Native American bodyguard bring news from the New World. The politics play and the routes lead to Latveria and the New World itself.

The way all the characters are both introduced and set in their surroundings is masterful. Knowing the true histories of the X-Men, Bruce Banner, Peter Parker and Magneto just adds to it all. A running joke has Peter Parker being fascinated by spiders, yet constantly narrowly avoiding being bitten by them.

As is often the case with Neil Gaiman it’s a very wordy book but it gives it a depth and atmosphere that helps nail it firmly to its period. There are a number of good twists and it even manages to link back into proper Marvel continuity, give or take. The artwork is beautiful and has a painted quality that makes it a joy to go through. We even get a moment where Sir Reed Richards is so clever that he suspects that they may all be characters in a comic book. Now that is too smart.

It may not be to everyone’s taste as it stands proudly outside the standard Marvel world, but this is definitely one to read and in my opinion one to own.

Mat Hyde


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