Monday, September 15, 2003

1602 #2 - A Review

Written by: Neil Gaiman
Penciled by: Andy Kubert
Inked by: Andy Kubert
Colored by: Richard Isanove (Digital Painting)
Lettered by: Todd Klein
Editor: Joe Quesda
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Neil Gaiman has come to Marvel Comics. 1602, for those of you who somehow missed out on Issue #1 last month, is a story set 500 years in the past of the Marvel Universe. Yes, that’s right. No alternate time-lines. Not a “What If?” tale. This is, according to Gaiman, official in-cannon history.

And what a history! This isn’t the first time Gaiman has tackled the period, of course. Several of his Sandman stories were based around this time period and the story is full of vivid detail and true historical figures. Mistress Virginia Dare, for example, is a real person- the first child born of the English colonies and, so it is hinted here, a mutant and probably cause for the disappearance of the infamous lost Roanoke colony. Gaiman also seamlessly plants classic Marvel characters into real, probable roles based on real history. Doctor Stephen Strange, for example, has replaced the famous Dr. John Dee as Queen Elizabeth’s court magician and physician.

Of course the treat of this book for us comic fans is spotting the way our favorite Marvel heroes are changed. Some like Sir Nicholas Fury (the head of State Security) and his apprentice, aspiring “maker of things” and spider-lover Peter Parquaugh are rather easy to spot. Others, such as Virgina Dare’s bodyguard, the Native American Rojhaz are not quite so easily identified… at least until the final few pages of this issue.

And, as usual, there are a ton of subplots and plots within plots to follow. But would you expect any less of a Neil Gaiman story? But for those who want to keep score…

• Queen Elizabeth is near death, strange storms wrack the land and Dr. Strange is doing what he can to solve both problems.
• Sir Nicholas is investigating various plots against the queen, assigning his apprentice Peter to watch over the newly arrived Virginia Dare, who is to be presented to the Queen.
• Sir Nick’s agent, a blind Irish bard by the name of Matthew is enroute with an Admrial Nelson to meet with another agent named Natasha, in order to intercept an old man guarding a treasure belonging to the Templars.
• They are being chased after by Count Otto Von Doom, often called “The Handsome”.
• The Spanish Inquisiton continues, with the head inquisitor hunting down a new breed of witch (ie mutants), with the aid of two “blessed” assistants (one “holy” witch and one young man named Peter who can run very fast). They are chasing after…
• Carlos Javier, who runs a sanctuary for the witchborn and is training his students...
• Who just rescued a young man with wings, called “The Angel”

Of course the writing is the biggest draw on this book, but the art is equal to the task of matching Gaiman’s words. Kubert’s pencils are as clear yet detail-filled as ever and are served well by the digital painting techniques used by Richard Isanove. The covers by Scott McKowan so far have been wonderful, and the hedge-maze on the cover of this issue seems a fitting metaphor for the connections between the characters that I partially described above. And it’s not often that I notice the lettering in a book, but Todd Klein shows, in scenes like the one where Sir Nick is writing a letter, how very difficult and unappreciated the art of writing out the words is.

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