Marvel 1602

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman 

Introduced by Lesley Arrowsmith, Hay Cinema Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye 

I have only paid attention to comics in the last few years – when the first Iron Man film came out. I had no idea who he was, and I had this thought in the back of my mind that superhero comics were aimed at teenage boys, and were not very interesting.

I knew, however, that Neil Gaiman had started his career in comics, and created the highly acclaimed Sandman series. I love his novels, so I thought that reading 1602 might be a good way to find out who some of the well known superhero characters were, and what they were like.

Well, sort of.  The graphic novel is called 1602 because that’s when the story is set, and the well known superheroes are re-imagined as being from that period.

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In the first few pages we get Doctor Strange and Sir Nicholas Fury the spymaster, Captain America, Spiderman and Daredevil.  They are soon joined by Scarlet Witch, various X-men, the Fantastic Four and Count Otto von Doom, Black Widow, the Hulk – even Thor makes an appearance, and all within a story that makes sense for the dying days of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  It’s an impressive feat, to keep all those characters true to their originals, while also fitting into the Elizabethan plot.

Oh, and the New World is overrun with dinosaurs – and that, too, is pertinent to the plot.

It’s all a great deal of fun, and led me on to read more about Daredevil (in this version a blind Irish minstrel) and Black Widow in particular. 

The artwork is gorgeous, too – in the script for the graphic novel, Neil Gaiman put notes to guide the artists Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove, such as suggesting that they use films like Shakespeare in Love as reference material, while also referencing some of the classic comic artwork for the various characters.

There is a sequel to this, not written by Neil Gaiman, which is not quite so good – Peter David can’t seem to work out how big the Roanoake colony is, for a start.  It’s big enough to have its own newspaper one minute, and small enough to be mostly destroyed by a single T-Rex the next. 

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