Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman

details
Title: Marvel 1602.
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman.
Illustrator(s): Andy Kubert.
Digital Painter(s): Richard Isanove.
Letterer(s): Todd Klein.
Publisher: Marvel.
Format: Paperback.
Release Date: August 2nd 2006 (first published October 29th 2003).
Pages: 248.
Genre(s): Comics, Science-Fiction.
ISBN13: 9780785123118.
My Overall Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

thoughts

Retellings offer writers the chance to explore the core personality of heroes and villains as they pursue their lives in never-before-seen settings. Often, this allows readers to ponder questions that reshape their own understanding of life, faith, hope, and beliefs. What does destiny have in store for us? Will our decision-making process remain intact, favouring good or evil based on who we once were? Rediscovering the characters under different lights remains nonetheless revealing in ways that no one can see coming and this is the case with the beloved 2005 Quill Award winning graphic novel. Teamed up with illustrator Andy Kubert and digital painter Richard Isanove, award-winning writer Neil Gaiman presents fans with a stunning, thoroughly-researched, and historically-accurate origin story reimagining the faiths of beloved heroes and villains with the universe threatened to collapse.

What is Marvel 1602 about? Set during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the story presents classic Marvel icons in the midst of an apocalyptic event. The Queen’s court magician, Doctor Stephen Strange, speculates that powerful beings might be responsible for the environmental turmoil, forcing the Queen to ask Sir Nicholas Fury, her head of intelligence, to safely bring a secret treasure of the Knights Templar to Europe while it remains overseen by Stephen Strange. As they partake on their respective duties, they find themselves pulled into a web of conspiracy and treachery that will require them to find help where they least expect it. As the story unfolds, renown heroes and villains surge from the shadows to fight for their most profound causes while avoiding death from those who see them as anomalies.

“Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis. All things change, and we change with them.”

— Neil Gaiman

Drawing upon his passion for mythology, writer Neil Gaiman explores the foundation of Marvel’s iconic superheroes as he establishes them in a Elizabethan historical era with a supernatural narrative twist where magic and mayhem go hand in hand. The story evolves in a gracious and folkloric pace that evokes prophecies and dreams, while continuously introducing beloved heroes and villains in unexpected roles and disguises. The clever twists in their respective personas make for an addictive and compelling adventure as each piece fits into the larger, more mysterious puzzle as readers hold onto the promise of a breathtaking climax. Whilst juggling many classic heroes at the same time, writer Neil Gaiman does accomplish a surreal job in delving into each of their most troubling existential dilemmas, whether it be moral responsibility or absolute justice. While well-versed readers will draw immense pleasure in identifying iconic events retold in this story, new readers will just as well appreciate the complexity of each subplot introduced and explored here.

Accompanied by Andy Kubert’s rough and archaic artistic style, the story takes on a life of its own, one that alludes to legends and fables. Traditional white gutters (the space between and around panels) is substituted for an absorbing black to take over, easily allowing the story to embrace its darker and dreadful atmosphere. Richard Isanove’s digital paint also magically fills the pages with a unique tone that conveys a time where sorcery and mysticism where commonplace. While fluidity in movement is not the priority in terms of panel transition, the artwork rather focuses on capturing the gravitas of key events in the narrative, evolving and steering the plot towards its resolution. Leave it to writer Neil Gaiman to also surprise readers with the reveal of beloved characters with unique designs, whether it may be the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, or Daredevil. It’s safe to say that he succeeded in establishing this graphic novel among the best Marvel stories out there for new and old fans to discover.

Marvel 1602 is a compelling and telltale reimagining of the Marvel Universe as heroes and villains engage in a historical battle bound to shape their lives forever.


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32 comments

  • Hah! Glad you enjoyed this one, Lashaan! It’s not mind-blowing, but it’s very charming, full of tongue-in-cheek inside jokes and yet retaining a sense of wonder – and Cap’s ambiguous role (no spoilers!) works wonderfully well. Fab review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank YOU for pushing this higher on my TBR (alongside Eternals, which I’ll probably start reading when some kind of trailer drops for the upcoming movie). It was indeed wonderful and impressive in how he inserts and plays with these characters, drawing parallels with relationships that fans are bound to recognize in their heroes. Cap’s role was indeed a huge surprise for me too. I should’ve taken a second to think about his disguise but I let that slip and was gladly surprised by that twist! Thanks again for reading, Ola!

      P.S. I want to also hunt down one of the pretty editions for the classic Punisher run but I wanted to make sure that we’re both on the same page here since we all know how much you love that character’s background. It is Garth Ennis’ run that impressed you the most? Or do I have it all wrong and you have no fondness for any Punisher story, besides the cancelled Netflix series? 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I started with comics, Netflix was later 😉

        Garth Ennis’s run of The Punisher is absolutely the best! 🏆 Not all of his arcs are equally good (I’m particularly not fond of Barracuda though even this story is still head and shoulders above the other writers) but his Punisher Vietnam War stories are a must-read masterpiece. Start with Born, and if you can, get the soldier/skull edition, the cover is amazing 🤩

        And while we’re at it, give Ennis’s War Stories a chance, too! 😁 I don’t care for his Thor, but War Stories are just perfect, with an impressive cast of artists illustrating the gut-punch stories.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Love this book, and even onced referenced it when writing an assignment for my degree a few years back. It was an essay exploring whether superheroes are actually good role models for kids, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s hilarious! I love the idea of that thesis, something that many would probably still argue about today. Bet with how DC movies tend to be darker than their Marvel counterpart, many must prefer the bright and shiny Marvel universe and its heroes to be their role models too. 😀 Have you ever tried the sequels of Marvel 1602? 😮

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    • Nop. I find that he found the perfect balance to make the story work without drowning it with too many recognizable heroes, like Civil War where everyone and their grandma was involved and only some were central. In here, I mostly found the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spidy, and Daredevil were central. There are a couple more that play interesting roles for some of the subplots but I definitely noticed that other beloved heroes didn’t make the cut. Then again, they did make sequels for this with other creative teams (Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert were not part of those teams). I’m not sure yet if I dare look into those though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good that he seemed to find the balance then.
        I don’t know what to tell you about the sequels. I’ve never even heard of them, so I don’t even a “rush to judgement based on the cover” feeling 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • I did indeed find Doctor Strange such a perfect fit into the story; good thing he plays a central role too. So many of the others have really clever roles though. For example, Spidy doesn’t really exist as we know him here, he’s simply Peter Parquagh and he works under Fury as a spy who is learning the curve and trying to understand where his moral compass points at. Rest assured that everyone else has a similarly clever role too. Captain America is a huge twist in this case. You’d think he’s not even going to show up but what writer Neil Gaiman does with him is quite original here. He basically serves as the medium through which Neil Gaiman reminds readers that even if all these heroes are set in an Elizabethan time, they are American at heart. Somehow. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  • The story was a perfect way to freshen up the franchise and reboot some of the hero’s storylines. Considering how much I loved this book, I wanted to read further into the series but then discovered that different authors and illustrators took over future volumes. I briefly flipped through them but was not interested. Why change the creative team? I felt the same way with Old Man Logan- great start, then lousy followups.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It indeed was! I like how they also officially turned this story’s universe into Earth-311 too. I saw the sequels/spin-offs and whatnot that came after this one but also hesitated immensely on picking them up knowing that Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert aren’t involved. At least this one reads quite well without any additional sequel! Thanks for reading, Nancy! Always a pleasure to hear from you. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  • Interesting. I’d seen this out there before but didn’t really know what it was about. I like the idea of a story set apart from all the normal monthly series, with no need to invest in some huge collection to get anything out of it. I might have to pick this one up. Thanks for the review, Lashaan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is indeed one of those stories that don’t necessarily require any prior knowledge of ongoing Marvel events. What’s also cool is that they ended up officializing this universe into Earth-311 too. I do think that fans who have some knowledge of the characters, the relationships, and some known Marvel events will find this one even more rewarding (especially X-Men-wise). I do hope you get the chance to try it out for yourself, Todd! I would love to hear your thoughts on it when you do. 😀 Thanks for reading as always, my friend!

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  • I’d read this (and the first sequel) years ago, and had completely forgotten about them until I saw this post. A fun alt-take on the Marvel ‘verse. I should try to re-read this…

    Liked by 1 person

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