Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Andy Kubert
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Neil Gaiman makes his triumphant return to the comic book industry, and his first offering is nothing short of brilliant. 1602 is a watershed moment in comic book history that will be mentioned in the same breath as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
Those are the lines that everyone who knows anything about this project has been expecting to read since Marvel announced it, but sadly that’s just not the case. Is 1602 good? Yes, it’s damn good. Is it revolutionary or even ground breaking? No. Sorry, but I can’t go so far as to call a glorified What If? series anything more than what it is; a well done re-imagination of the Marvel Universe. This series is a victim of its own hype in that, even though the first issue is quite good, there’s no way it could live up to the LeBron James level of expectations surrounding it.
Predictably, this issue is devoted to setting up the story to come and Gaiman steps off on the right foot. There are several things going on at once, Nick Fury trying to protect an object of great power, Dr. Strange trying to help him, and mutants known as “witchbreed” being burned at the stake, and Gaiman is able to allot enough time to each that none of the various plot points feel short changed. His updates (or is it downdates?) of the classic Marvel characters are interesting even though poor Peter Parker is getting the short end of the stick, but I found his take on the X-Men particularly remarkable.
The flip side of all these plots is that, even though Gaiman gives them adequate panel time, there’s no way to give them enough to satisfy readers. Daredevil fans will want to see more of him, and X-fans are going to want entire issues dedicated to their favorites instead of the more even handed approach Gaiman has taken. Aside from the characters, the somewhat lax security around the aforementioned powerful device doesn’t quite ring true for Nick Fury. Given how competent Gaiman writes him, you’d think he’d have arranged a bit more protection for the old man transporting the mysterious thing.
This seems to be a series written for fans of the Marvel Universe as a whole, and I like the idea that Gaiman didn’t take the easy way out and specialize the book. He’s drawing on years of characterization and continuity, but at the same time there’s a newness to the characters that wouldn’t exist were Gaiman a less skilled writer. I could recognize every character (well almost, who the hell is the Virginia Maid?) and they each keep the distinct voices they‘ve developed throughout their 40+ years of existence. Gaiman gets to use Marvel as his playground, and that should make for a fascinating read as long as he respects other people’s toys. Based on this issue, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.
Richard Isanove digital paints over Andy Kubert’s pencils make for some beautiful scenes. I found the images of X-Man Angel trussed up in chains and of the ghosts of people previously burned at the stake to be haunting while the appearance of the X-Men was able to reverse those feelings with a few optic blasts from Cyclops. For those of you who suffered through Origin, the art in this book will be nothing new as it’s the same team while those who missed out should be pleasantly surprised.
Overall, this issue marks a solid opening chapter to what should be a good series. Neil Gaiman knows how to write comics (let’s not talk about his novels), and the proof is in these ages. Overlook the hype and you’ll enjoy this book; listen to all of it and you’ll be sorely disappointed.
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