BookBin2012: Marvel 1602

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.

Heh.

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.

BookBin2011: Eternals

So when you’re lucky enough to find not just one but two graphic novels written by Neil Gaiman at the local library, you take that as a sign. A sign that you’re meant to read both, even though one of them is for a comic book with which you are admittedly completely unfamiliar.

Best way to learn is to dive in, right?

Thus it was when I found Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? nestled on a shelf right next to another Gaiman story entitled Eternals. A quick perusal of the cover jacket let me know that this Marvel title belonged to a story originally begun by Jack Kirby back in 1976. However, additional reading has led me to believe that the origins of the Eternals crosses a bit more time…and another big name comic publisher.

Whatever convolutions of concept and creation existed for these Eternal guardians of humanity, I figured that if they’d been around as long as me, and Marvel felt they were important enough not only to revive but to task a writer as skilled as Neil Gaiman with breathing life back into their story…well, then they must be worth a bit of my time.

Plus, I was pleased to see John Romita, Jr., linked with this project, providing the artistic interpretations for Gaiman’s story. He’s perhaps best known for being the artist behind Kick-Ass. Here, he provides solid old-school comic artistry. Nothing exceptionally fancy, but a solid four-color world for our heroes to plunder and save in true comic form.

I wish I could rave about this novel the way I did about Gaiman’s Batman tales. However, there was something off about this series of comics that never captivated me the way Gaiman’s Dark Knight did. I don’t fault Gaiman for this. Sometimes, I simply don’t like a story or character concept. I think that was the case here. Nothing about the story of the Eternals captured me and made me either care about them or want to continue reading their story.

Really, I found myself simply finishing the book because Hurricane Irene was battering us left, right, and center, and I figured that was as good an excuse as any to read something. Unfortunately, I was about as apathetic about finishing Eternals as I am about writing about it now.

Final Verdict: Back to the library go the Eternals. Perhaps someone else will find their tale a bit more captivating than I did.