Antonomasia's Reviews > 1602

1602 by Neil Gaiman
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Dec 29, 14

bookshelves: graphic-novels, 2014, historical-fiction, decade-2000s
Read from May 17 to 19, 2014

[3.5] I'd wanted to read this for about ten years, so when it arrived I was dismayed to find that I really didn't like the art style (resembles computer games or illustrations for kids' non-fiction). Fortunately, once I started reading, I got used to it. An involving, pulpy story of superheroes in early modern europe was just what I'd wanted. (Shame that John Dee wasn't, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-style, one of the superheroes, as I'd always assumed from the cover... But I grew to have an affection for his stand-in, Dr Stephen Strange and his wife Clea, far more than I would have for Dee himself, and I found their storyline the most moving of all.) Readers who know the back story of all the Marvel characters have doubtless got a little more out of this with reference-spotting hijinks. I looked through the 1602 Wikipedia page to find out the origins of the less-famous characters (including Strange, and Nick Fury, here acting as a Cecil-replacement) and quickly gave up after being thwacked in the face with several massive spoilers.

The cultural arrogance of comics - something I hear more about from articles than from the sort of graphic novels I actually, occasionally, read - was in evidence here; very difficult not to do especially if using a bunch of characters from decades past (e.g. Strange's oriental mysticism). Captain America's role leant so far that way I'm still not sure it wasn't satire...

I'd have liked to hear more about how some characters were actually affected by their lives (especially those who'd been imprisoned for years - these days superheros being as subject to PTSD as anyone*) but expository dialogue got in the way of character building a little too often.

All-out fantasy can be a more fun way to read historical fiction if you're as picky as I am - there's no point grumping about accuracy when it was never the point in the first place. There were a few rubbish puns, the dialogue was cliched and info-dumpy at times - as were scenes like a house in Greenwich which wasn't just villagey looking, but like the Addams mansion. I could have done without the aliens, although their metafiction-ish role evidently had a purpose. (Probably novel in the context of superhero stories, but much less so coming from general fiction.) And there were a few panels - more than in any other GN I've read - where I couldn't tell exactly what happened. (I'm not feeling my best but I should still be able to grasp a picture of an exciting fight scene.) I'd have expected a little better than this from Gaiman. But then I did say "pulpy", and overall it was still lots of fun. (Just as you wouldn't watch a superhero movie expecting to see something on a par with Bergman.) I would certainly read the sequels, especially Fantastick Four.


* Are there modern characters who have a mental resilience superpower, like Wolverine's physical one? Or psychological healing powers to use on others? There should be but it's not something I hear of second-hand.
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