Of the dozen or so graphic novel titles I have consumed in the last few weeks like a plague of locusts on wheat (or something), Marvel 1602 was actually my favorite, even though I am not really a reader of Marvel and was unfamiliar with quite a few of the superheroes in this story. I thought it was intriguing, well-written, and a very fun idea to ponder. It wasn’t perfect, but it sustained my interest.
I was vaguely familiar with the Fantastic Four, Nick Fury, Spiderman, Daredevil, the Black Widow, Thor, and Captain America, but I had no familiarity whatsoever with Doctor Strange, Count Otto von Doom (what a name!?!), and I can’t place the Grand Inquisitor (aka Magneto’s) disciples, Sister Wanda and Petros. However, at one time I was quite up on the X-Men so I expect I knew their story best (although—no Wolverine?!?!?! Are you crazy?!?!). Certainly it must have been difficult enough to weave in all the characters mentioned as well as Queen Elizabeth and King James (James has never been portrayed as a good king—like John, he gets all the stick). So I can accept who Gaiman decides to exclude from Marvel 1602.
It is a fabulous idea because he’s judged the setting correctly. The English court is always going to be a hotbed of espionage and manoeuvring, and to include within this the legend of Virginia Dare, the first white person born in America (that we know of) and in so doing bring in the mystery of Roanoke, one of my pet subjects, plus include a Voltaire-esque Inquisition, was nothing short of inspired. To me, the whole upset in time could be completely eliminated and I would have been more than happy. Frankly, I hated the brain-man on the moon looking down and giving advice—even if this is part of the Marvel universe, it moved me not at all. I suppose there would have been no way for Doctor Strange to figure out what was going on otherwise, but I found this particular re-set button annoying. The business with Captain America was intriguing, especially since I had gotten halfway through the graphic novel about to lambast Gaiman for his stereotypical depiction of the Lumbee, Chowanoke, or any related Powhatan group tribe as manifest in Rojhaz. (The business of his blonde hair and blue eyes being explained away as one of Madoc’s Welsh Indians was amusing but could hold little water.) I’m still not entirely convinced the costume is accurate. (For more information, have a look here: http://www.lost-colony.com/home.html) I also like the notion that America would be the place where the “Witchbreed” would look to for acceptance much as the Pilgrims et al looked to it for religious freedom.
The characters are all fascinating, and I have a soft spot for Virginia Dare, for reasons I already mentioned, and also because she looks a lot like how I envision my own character, Cécile, to look. Andy Kubert’s art, is, as you know, omnipresent, but I can’t say I agreed with the enhanced pencil look of the story. Quite frankly, although Kubert’s pencil sketches as included in the appendix show that he is an extremely talented draftsman, I dislike the computer-generated painting of the color applied afterwards. I agree it would probably have been too much work to ink and color in the traditional style, but it causes the pages to look cartoony and less authentic rather than more. It almost makes the art look clumsy at first, before you get used to it, which was a bit of a turn-off as I was getting into the story and trying to take it seriously.
Not so the incredible scratchboard covers by Scott McKowen. I would certainly buy these covers and display them as art on my wall. They are among the most distinctive and beautiful graphic novel art I have ever seen and probably will ever see.