21 May 2008

"Marvel 1602" Written by Neil Gaiman

Marvel 1602
Written by Neil Gaiman
Pencils by Andy Kubert
Digitally painted by Richard Isanove
Covers by Scott McKowen
Date of Publication: 8 March 2006
Cover Price: $19.99
248 Pages
Oldham County Public Library

I should preface this response by confiding that I have always been a DC reader and not a Marvel reader, and so begins a recent foray into reading works published by the House of Ideas. This is the first of three Marvel projects I have recently read, courtesy of the Oldham County Public Library.

Marvel 1602 posits the principal characters of the Marvel Universe as 1602 versions of themselves. The same themes--persecution of mutants, dual identity issues, questions of loyalty, individuality vs. teamsmanship, etc.--are still there, and the heart and soul of the characters are still clearly present. Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, Peter Parker, the Fantastic Four, Professor X and the X-Men; they're all instantly recognizable. And yet, there is something to be said for this interpretation of characters, where none of the "real" continuity matters; author Neil Gaiman was entirely free to explore the pure nature of these characters and their universe. Indeed, Gaiman prefaces this collection by explaining that it was his first post-September 11th work, and that he wished to get away from the real world for a while, to strip these characters down to their essence and enjoy the things they have to offer us as readers, which is inspiration.

The plot is fairly straightforward: The Spanish Inquisition, run by a 1602 version of Magneto is hunting down mutants and enters into a conspiracy with Count Otto von Doom and Scottish King James against English Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth's right and left-hand men, Dr. Steven Strange and 1602's Nick Fury, must pool their resources in face of this growing threat. Driving the entire thing is a supernatural weapon that only an old monk knows about, and everyone is trying to get their hands on it. Eventually, the warfare chases the Queen's protectors and their forces out of Europe and into what would one day become the United States.

As a mystery, and as an adventure, Gaiman has succeeded quite well in crafting an engaging and fascinating tale. Being a Marvel newbie, I was able to instantly follow the entire story, and even to recognize most of the characters immediately. Taken in the context of a post-September 11 story, Marvel 1602 suggests that perhaps we've become too narrow-minded about seeing our modern day selves as the extent of the story. These battles between "good" and "evil" were fought four hundred years ago, and will be fought four hundred years henceforth. The messages are clear: Don't fear today's battle; realize it is part of a larger war; take comfort in and inspiration from its heroes.

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