After watching the latest X-Men movie, “Marvel 1602” seemed like a good follow-up to read – it’s an Elizabethan re-imagining of the Marvel universe, with a lot of focus on the X-Men.
I picked up the trade paperback, collecting all 8 issues of the comic written by the legendary Neil Gaiman – usually a DC comics writing, so it’s nice to see him taking a spin at Marvel.
Here’s the Amazon summary:
The always inventive Gaiman has concocted an unlikely—but fantastically successful—superhero comic that transfers Marvel’s classic characters to the Elizabethan period. Nick Fury is still a lethal government operative, but now he’s an adviser to Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty is equally reliant on magician and doctor Stephen Strange. X-Men mentor Charles Xavier still shepherds a band of mutant teens, only now he’s called Carlos Javier, and the mutants are known, and mistrusted, as “witchbreed.” Carlos’s mysterious nemesis has taken on a new job: grand inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. Peter Parker (here “Parquah”) is still a confused but well-meaning teenager who has yet to be bitten by a radioactive spider. Placed in a period landscape (rendered in rich, painterly panels by illustrator Kubert and digital painter Richard Isanove), these familiar characters must grapple with the issues of the day, chief among them the machinations of the evil King James of Scotland. And, in classic superhero style, they must save the world. The improbable combination works remarkably well, as the superheroes’ strange abilities adapt to Elizabethan culture.
So that’s the plot, and it’s exactly what it sounds – as many Marvel heroes reimagined in Elizabethan style as possible. Sometimes the plot, a nice mystery with political intrigue and spy elements, gets pushed ahead in favour of cameos. This does weaken the story, but as long as you’re a Marvel fan you’ll still enjoy it – for the re-imaginings, the references and in-jokes, and the plot lines.
The dialogue is strong for a comic book and it fits the period. The period setting is well done, if confusing at points (there are dinosaurs. I have no idea why. Google eventually told me this was a reference to the Marvel ‘Savage Lands’). The time period could have been used more blatantly, but it has lots of old-fashioned ships so I’ll forgive it. It also uses some unexpected plot twists – a few famous Marvel characters appear towards the end that I completely didn’t expect to show up.
The art style is relatively unique – pencils taken immediately into digital colouring, with a lot of the pencil lines still visible to give it a ‘scratchboard look’. Skipping the inking stage definitely makes it stand out.
the penciller isn’t always that great with faces – characters pull some really jarring, unnatural expressions. It gets less noticeable towards the end, maybe because I was more ‘into’ the story.
One thing I wish the collection had would be character bios, so that relatively new Marvel fans like myself could keep up. Sly references to their modern superhero names help clear this up (one of Daredevil’s opening lines, as a blind Irish bard, is along the lines of ‘If the devil is one who dares, then I am the devil.’ I see what you did there, Neil Gaiman) If you’re already familiar with the Marvel universe, you’re fine – and you should really enjoy this.