Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: Andy Kubert
Publisher: Marvel Comics
As Sir Nicholas Fury pays a visit to Master Carolus Javier's school for Witchbreeds to deliver a warning that future events may endanger his students, we see Fury's ward Peter is busy bringing Virgina (the first child born in the New Colonies) to the Queen. However, the evil plotting of Dr. Doom and the Grand Inquisitor look to be placing our heroes in grave danger, and the issue ends with a bold assassination attempt/kidnapping.
Neil Gaiman looks to be taking his time introducing us to his fairly large cast of characters, and I trust that the action will pick up when he's finished establishing this new environment and the characters that occupy it. As it stands this issue held my interest straight through as seeing the new roles that have been fashioned for these characters are a great deal of fun, from the Beast's opening speech to Sir Nicholas Fury, to the amusing little scene where Peter deals with Virgina's overly protective bodyguard. In fact the scenes between Peter and Virgina had me thinking that Neil Gaiman was trying to evoke memories of the ill-fated romance with Gwen Stacy, but the surprise transformation on the final page put the kibosh on that notion. Now the idea that this miniseries is set within continuity does have me searching for some clue as to how Neil Gaiman is going to draw this world back into the fold, but it's a little early in the show to be looking that far down the road, and I'm rather enjoying the way that he's setting up familiar feeling roles for these characters within this new environment. There's also a couple fairly significant villains lurking about the edges of the story, as Dr. Doom and Magneto look to be hatching plans that will impact the lives of our heroes. In the end though, this book is taking a bit longer to get going than I expected it to.
As for the art, I'm still not sold on the digital paints over uninked pencils style that this miniseries is offering up, as there are scenes in the book that I feel lack definition, and have an almost washed out quality to them. Than again there's also moments in the issue where the art is surprisingly effective, such as panel where Dr. Doom delivers the big finish to this villainous rant, or when Peter and company row their way into a meeting with the Queen. I do have to say that the final page is a bit confusing when it comes to expressing the idea of the transformation, but than perhaps the writing wanted this scene to be somewhat unclear. I also loved the cover to this issue, even if it doesn't seem related to the story inside, beyond the obvious symbolism of Virgina being the prize at the center of the maze.
This continues to be a fairly solid display of Neil Gaiman's ability the craft an interesting story, as I've been treated to literally dozens of alternate "Elseworlds" and "What If" environments, but I'm finding this one to be quite fascinating. Essentially he's transferred the entire Marvel Universe into the year 1602, though it would appear that he's using the 1960ís template, as the characters are more innocent, while the villains would seem to be quite fond of their villainous ranting. Now this issue introduces us to the idea of a school for Witchbreeds, and we see the evil Grand Inquisitor is busy plotting his vengeance upon Carolus Javier, in a scenario that should feel very familiar to X-Men fans. There's also an equally engaging exchange between Matt and Natasha, and young Peter is quickly emerging as my favorite character in this book, as he is clearly based upon the younger, decidedly more eager Peter Parker that Ultimate Spider-Man fans will probably recognize. All in all it's a very entertaining, if somewhat slow moving reading experience.
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