Neil Gaiman – Marvel 1602
64. Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, Richard Isanove, Todd Klein, Scott McKowen (2005)
Length: 248 pages
Genre: Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
Started / Finished: 08 June 2010
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I was browsing the library graphic novel section and figured it’s Neil Gaiman, so even if it’s superheroes, it was worth a try.
Being a super-
hero was easier back
when tights were normal.
Summary: What if the Marvel superheroes had originated four hundred years earlier? That’s the premise of Marvel 1602; the superheroes originating in Renaissance England, rather than in the Silver Age of comic books. Sir Nicholas Fury is the spymaster for an aging and ailing Queen Elizabeth. Carlos Javier runs a school for the “witchbreed” that are being persecuted by the Inquisition. The Fantastic Four were members of a ship called the Fantastick that ran afoul of a strange electrical disturbance. (Peter Parquagh (pre-spider bite), Dr. Strange, Daredevil, and a variety of other Marvel characters also make their due appearances.) And Virginia Dare, the first child borne in the American colonies, has returned to England to beg for help for her father and her people, and her appearance seems to be linked to some increasingly strange disturbances that threaten not only England, but also the world.
Review: I wasn’t expecting to like this nearly as much as I did. I’m only conversant with the Marvel superheroes from having seen the various movies; I’m certainly not familiar with the subtleties of the Marvel Universe from any actual comics. But apparently my level of knowledge was sufficient to understand what was going on and how most of the characters fit into their new seventeenth century roles, although I’m sure there were details I missed. The superhero tropes actually fit to the Renaissance remarkably well, and the overall story arc is interesting, intricate, and generally well put together. Plus, it’s Neil Gaiman’s storytelling and writing, so you know that’s going to be good. The artwork is also fantastic – it’s not a style with which I was particularly familiar, but it managed to be bright and atmospherically moody at the same time, easy to follow, and with plenty of interesting panel layouts and gorgeous full-page paintings. The only point at which I felt that the story went off the rails a little bit was when one of the characters started waxing rhapsodic about the power of stories. It’s a familiar theme for Gaiman, but he usually handles it with more subtlety; it’s presented pretty bluntly here, and it felt inorganic to the rest of the book. Other than that, though, I loved just about everything else about this book, and I’m so glad I spotted it on the library shelves. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who has absolutely no knowledge of the Marvel superheroes, but I feel like if you’ve seen X-Men, Spiderman and/or The Fantastic Four, that should provide enough background, and I think most historical fiction fans will get as much of a kick as I did out of seeing the clever ways in which Gaiman meshes superheroes and history.
First Line: “For a whole week the skies over London have been blood red at noon.”