Marvel 1602 Review – All the Universe is a Stage
Marvel 1602 Review
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Art by: Andy Kubert
Colors by: Richard Isanove
Published by: Marvel Comics
Yes, I know Doomsday Clock just wrapped up, but the fact of the matter is, you’re either reading it or you’re not, and there’s nothing I wanna say about it that feels particularly relevant or interesting. I’ll probably reread the whole thing and do a full review, but for right now I’m just going to review a great miniseries that I just reread yesterday.
In 1602, the world is seemingly coming to an end. There’s weird weather and crazy storms, and Queen Elizabeth I is talking with Nicholas Fury, a trusted confidant and cunning intelligencer, and Doctor Stephen Strange, her physician, trying to figure out what they can do about it. Strange talks about a powerful weapon from the Templars that’s going to be delivered to him and that could potentially fix everything, so Fury and his servant, Peter Parquois are going after it. But there are darker machinations in the mix, having to do with King James of Scotland, the new race of people called the Witchbreed and the plans of Count Otto Von Doom, the handsome. What is causing the strange weather? Is the world ending? And what does Virginia Dare, the first English woman born in America, have to do with it?
That plot synopsis is long, and that’s without even mentioning the various subplots because Neil Gaiman is a goddamn master crafter. In a world of Bendis’s and Tom King’s, who have to stretch themselves to fill a 5 issue arc, it’s always nice to remember that you can have a lot of content in a tight space (8 issues, in this case) without it feeling overcrowded or confusing.
1602 feels very distinct from most other superhero books, not just because of its setting or presentation, but its very structure and pacing feels unusual. This is less about the fighting and the superheroics (although there is a bit of that) and more about intrigue, figuring out plans, and the various factions that occupy this universe. Despite having to introduce an entirely new universe in just eight issues, Gaiman was able to show a wide scope of events, connect them together and not feel overstuffed.
His reinterpretations of the Marvel characters in the new context are mostly smart, subtle and walk that fine line between believable for the era but also having something of the fantastical and wonderful about it. I could imagine a lesser writer doing something dumber like making Iron Man into a knight or having Spider-Man invent liquid cement for his weblines. In 1602, Neil Gaiman carefully maneuvered things to fit in where they should and to figure out what characters would, logically, have importance above others in this setting. That’s basically the reason why Doctor Strange has such a large role in the book because, before medical science really became a thing, a lot of people trusted in “magical” cures and old wisdoms.
Marvel 1602 Review
The intrigue itself is also very interesting, from the politics of kingdoms that bring Shakespearian tragedy, to just plain old religious prosecution, it all evokes the time and weaves in naturally with the characters that are shown.
As for complaints… I guess the stuff with Inquisition isn’t terribly important, and it’s really only there because due to who those characters are it NEEDED to be there. But apart from that… I dunno, I got nothing. It’s just a cool, interesting and well-told story, with a solid concept and great ideas. No fuss, no pretension or portentousness, just honest to God fun. Gaiman says in the afterword of this book that he reread it about two years later on a nice day on a boat, and that’s kind of how it should be read. Just sit back, relax and let it wash over you.
I’ve said before that I’m a bit mixed on Andy Kubert and this book does have a very particular style, which is both a blessing and a bit of a problem.
For 1602, Andy Kubert used something called “Enhanced Pencils”, wherein the book goes directly from the artist to the colorist, no inkers in between. Now, on one hand, this is good, because it allows Kubert to a be a bit freer and more experimental with the book instead of just going for straight superheroic action, helped by the distinct colors which give the book a more painted style (fitting in with the setting).
On the other hand, the looser style means the pencils look a bit more sketchy and “fluid”. It’s not a big problem, and most of it is really steady, but it can sometimes give things a meltier look. It’s not something that can even be called a “flaw”, it’s more of a stylistic choice that I, personally don’t much enjoy. I realize that it’s an unbelievable nitpick but it’s just something that bothers me personally.
In conclusion, Marvel 1602 is an intriguing, fun and exciting ride, with tons of fun adventure and personality. The art may not be up everyone’s street, but it’s still impressive and very distinct and, overall, you’ll just have fun reading this book. It’s perfect for introducing newcomers to superhero comics (or, hell, comics in general) because it has characters they sort of recognize, in new contexts that require no backstory. So, if you’ve avoided reading Marvel 1602 for this long, know that it comes with a hearty recommendation from me.
Marvel 1602 Review