Well. This is an odd comic book yarn. Appearing first as an eight-issue miniseries and then reprinted in a hardback collection (which is where I read it), MARVEL 1602 takes the core characters of the Marvel Universe as they appeared in the early to mid-Sixties and transplants them to Elizabethan England. Nick Fury is now Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Dr. Strange is the court physician, Matt Murdock is a blind Irish minstrel with odd powers, “Carlos Javier” runs a school for gifted youngsters . . . You get the idea. It’s gimmicky – really gimmicky at first – but the story gets extremely complex as it goes along, and then about three-fourths of the way through, author Neil Gaiman throws in a beautiful plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all which makes the story about something else entirely.
Not surprisingly, even considering how little I’ve read of his work, Gaiman’s script is very well-written, and the art by Andy Kubert is great. The characters all look enough like their modern-day counterparts that they’re recognizable, without being slavish imitations. The story actually doesn’t have much action in it, but Gaiman keeps the pace moving along briskly anyway as he peels back the layers of the plot. This is one of those comic book stories where you really have to be a long-time fan to fully appreciate it. In a nice afterword in the hardback collection, Gaiman talks about first reading British reprints of the early Marvel comics in the late Sixties. I was there a little before him, reading the originals from 1963 on, and we obviously feel the same sort of affection for those characters and stories.
MARVEL 1602 is one of the best and most satisfying books I’ve read so far this year. If you’re a long-time Marvel fan, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I got the same sort of feeling from it that I did from Kurt Busiek’s and Alex Ross’s MARVELS (a graphic novel that I need to reread real soon now, by the way), an off-kilter but loving revisiting of an era that still means a lot to me.