Chris's Reviews > Marvel 1602

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman
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Aug 19, 08

bookshelves: apocolypse, gaiman, graphic-novels, history, top-shelf, super-heroes
Read in August, 2008

Another comic - er, graphic novel for you. But it's a good one, I swear.

As I'm sure a few of you know, I'm a huge comic book fan. I've been reading comics since I first got my hands on issue 10 of Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1985. The cope of the story, the characters, the absolute epic nature of it hooked me, and I've been reading comics ever since. DC Comics, to be specific.

For those of you who might not be comics-literate: there are two major publishers in American comic book history: DC Comics and Marvel. DC owns Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Justice League, and many others. Marvel owns Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, Daredevil, and many others. There are also a lot of smaller publishing companies out there, printing good stuff - Image, Dark Horse, Oni, and so on - but Marvel and DC rule the roost.

There's a lot of... tension between fans of the two companies, and it's really hard to be a fan of both. I think it depends on which one you were exposed to first - much like a baby chick imprinting its mother onto its consciousness, the first comic book character to reach into your heart will be the one you follow. And, much like Sunnis and Shiites, Catholics and Protestants, electrons and positrons, there's no way for fans of the two companies to really get along. No matter how civil we try to be, we all believe that Our Guys could beat the snot out of Their Guys. We are, of course, right.

The two companies do occasionally do joint publications, to satisfy their fans' unnatural urges, and they're usually very well-balanced in the snot-beating department. They probably think they're trying not to offend too many fans. I say that Batman could kick Captain America's star-spangled butt.

Having said that, and in full acknowledgment of my allegiance to DC Comics, let me say that Marvel 1602 is one of the finest stories I've read in a long, long time. Of course, it was written by the incomparable Neil Gaiman, so expectations are high, but it's still a masterpiece. And the good news is that, unlike a lot of Marvel comics, you don't need to know a whole lot of history before you go into it. Chances are that you already know everyone who appears in this comic, even if only tangentially.

It is, as the title suggests, the year 1602. The world is... changing. Strange weather is moving across the globe, unrest and evil are abroad, and strange people with strange abilities are appearing across the continent. They might be heroes, they might be monsters. No one is really sure, but their fate is tied to the world's. Queen Elizabeth has summoned her two most trusted lieutenants, Sir Nicholas Fury and Doctor Stephen Strange, to find a way to avert the coming crisis, if they can.

Into this maelstrom of unnatural activity we meet old friends, often with new guises. They look different, and they talk differently, but they're the people we all know from the classic core of Stan Lee's Marvel Comics.

There are two great things about this, other than the enchanting artwork and the generally great writing. The first is that there are no superfluous characters - every single one has a role to play, without which the ending simply could not have happened that way it did. The second is that, even though these characters are products of the sixteenth/seventeenth century, rather than being 20th century transplants, they are still recognizably the characters that we love. The essential core of people like Nick Fury, Reed Richards, Scott Summers, and everyone else shines through the cultural veneer that's been put on them. Seventeenth century or twenty-first, we know these people and we want them to end well.

So, since the love of a great story supersedes my loyalty to the DC Universe, I can heartily recommend this book. Pick it up and get lost for a while....
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