As anyone who has followed my literary exploits here at the lair already knows, I’m a bit of a Neil Gaiman fan. Even when I don’t particularly like one of his offerings enough to add it to or keep it in my collection, I still am able to find aspects of the story to enjoy and carry with me. And the stories are always intriguing enough that I keep returning to him as one of my favorite modern genre writers.
My latest library discovery belonging to Gaiman is his 2003 graphic novel Marvel 1602. The year is…1602, and strange events are transpiring all throughout the realm of Queen Elizabeth I. Strange meteorological events, the existence of dinosaurs in the New World, disappearing colonists, savages, demented villains…and the premature arrival of some strangely familiar characters.
That’s right: Gaiman transports a large selection of Marvel heroes and villains back in time to Elizabethan England. Part of what I enjoyed most about this novel was trying to deduce who was whom. Some are easy: Sir Nicholas Fury, Dr. Stephen Strange, Peter Parquagh, Sir Richard Reed, Carlos Javier and his “witchbreed” students.
Wait. I always enjoy saying that name out loud a few times. In a bad impression of Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island. Carlos Javier.
Others are a bit more difficult to suss, but they’ll come to you sooner or later. One is actually the key to the early arrival of our favorite Marvel characters into the timeline of Human existence.
Gaiman’s transition of these characters into an earlier historical period is quite well planned and executed. It definitely helps that his tale is supported by a beautiful pencil and coloring collaboration between Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove, with gorgeous “scratchboard” covers by Scott McKowen. The artwork itself has a rather unique appearance. I did a little research and learned that, rather than sending the pencil work first to an inker, Kubert sent his pencil drawings straight to Isanove for digital coloring, creating what is referred to as an “enhanced pencil” technique. It’s a beautiful and unique art style that I enjoyed immensely.
It’s also enjoyable and impressive, how well Gaiman slips his selected Marvel representatives into historical reality, nipping and tucking the timeline or simply splitting it open per his own crazy creative whims. I’m by no means an historical expert, but I’ve studied enough English history and the early history of America to be able to recognize several real events scattered through Gaiman’s story and to be able to laugh at how Gaiman tweaked them for his own purposes.
Because I’m a bit of an all-around nerd, this kind of historical/fictional commingling amused me greatly. Do I think it would be everyone’s cup of tea? Probably not. Hard-core history nerds would probably grind a molar or two flat out of frustration, and hard-core comics fans might find the historical angle more than just a little below their expected “BAM! WHAM! KAPOW! ZING!” enjoyment level.
However, if you find yourself amenable to all variety of nerdery, and especially if you have a bit of a soft spot for Gaiman and/or characters from the Marvel universe, I think this might be an enjoyable exploit.
Final Verdict: I might be tempted to add this to my library at some point, but not today. However, if you do read and enjoy this collection, you might be interested in knowing it spawned three sequels. One was even written by Peter David. Do with that knowledge what you will.