Collects: 1602 #1-8
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove
By Doran Murphy
Years ago, Marvel had a somewhat successful line of comics called 2099. The premise was to take the idea of Spider-Man, The Punisher and even Dr. Doom, and move them roughly 100 years into the future. Through this, a new universe was created where people had similar powers and motivations to their modern counterparts, but they were different enough so that they weren't reflections of Peter Parker, Frank Castle and Victor Von Doom. With Neil Gaiman's 1602, Marvel has done it again. However, instead of jumping 100 years into the future and creating new heroes under the capes and cowls, Gaiman quite literally imported nearly every Silver Age character 400 backwards.
While some characters have been disguised better than others, most are clearly recognizable. For instance, Carlos Javier (Charles Xavier), Peter Parquagh (Peter Parker) and the Grand Inquisitor (Magneto) are just a few of the face you'll recognize along the way. In fact, any comic book fan with a keen eye will be able to pick out most of the characters with relative ease, and it's hardly a chore to guess who the rest are once you get into things. There are some minor changes, such as the mask-less Count Doom is now known as "The Handsome" because he has strikingly beautiful physical features, and the young Peter Parquagh is not the arachni-human we've all come to know and love. But those are minor differences, and easily forgivable in the context of this book.
All that aside, there is something very wrong in the world of 1602. Time is slowly unwinding — that's why the characters from contemporary times are popping up 400 years too soon. So it's up to Dr. Strange to fix the sordid mess that will eventually end the world. What he finds out is both shocking and plainly obvious. It is one of those forehead slapping moments where you go, "How the hell did I miss that?" It's really subtly brilliant on Gaiman's part. There's also a minor dilemma in his writing: He writes about a Ms. Virginia Dare, who doesn't fit in the Marvel universe, but into American mythos. The problem is she's not as familiar to people as Spider-Man, or the X-Men, so some of the story's meaning is lost. It's still quite understandable, just find a quickie bio on Virginia before you read 1602. [Editor's Note: Many people erroneously assumed that Virginia Dare was in fact Snowbird of Alpha Flight, which prompted the author to respond on his journal. And, to his surprise, he came to realize that most Americans — comic book fans and otherwise — were blind to the myth of Ms. Dare.]
Part of what makes 1602 so interesting is its historical context. It blends the Spanish Inquisition with King James' ascension to power with the Knights Templar with the adventures to the New World. (The first colony at Roanoke, to be specific.) Now, it's by no means a history textbook, so don't be writing papers on how Count Otto Von Doom ruled Latveria in 1602. (In fact, do right a paper on that, cite this book and tell me how it goes.) Either way, the blend of historically factual events, comic book legends and folklore proves to be very interesting.
Another thing that makes 1602 so exceptional is the artwork. The Origin team of Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove return with some amazing work. Kubert lined each page — each panel — to give the book a dated feel, and it comes off very well. The best part is that it's almost completely unnoticeable until you go through a second time to marvel (terrible pun fully intended) at the story. The effect is achieved through a technique Marvel has dubbed "enhanced pencils", which basically means there's no inker. The art is illustrated — as it normally would be — but the inking step is skipped and the art is instead sent straight to the colorist who then darkens the appropriate areas. The result is a book that is brighter than most.
Every panel in 1602 is laid out brilliantly, and every inch of the book adds to the story. There are wonderfully artful transitions and frames everywhere. It may very well be better than Origin art-wise. (It's definitely better than Origin story-wise.) And the remakes of contemporary characters set 400 years in the past are very cool looking. I mean, they can't wander around in jeans and t-shirts. The Fantastic Four can't go to Freedom Plaza and into their giant tower. It's just really cool to see some of these Renaissance takes on classic characters such as Daredevil, Black Widow and Nick Fury.
The hardcover graphic novel edition is quite the beauty, too. It comes with some really great bonus features, a foreword by Peter Sanderson, an afterword by Neil Gaiman, the entire first script, preliminary sketches, original pencils of some particularly memorable moments, unused covers and a few pieces of influential Renaissance artwork.
Simply put, 1602 is just great. Great art, great writing and great extras. There's not really a lot more anyone could ask for out of a comic book, and will prove to be of great interest to any Marvel fan.