“Part Four: In Which Much is Explained and Things Do Not Always Work Out for the Best.”
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Andy Kubert, Richard Isanove
Neil Gaiman continues to spin a tale of intrigue in a Marvel Universe lost in time. The plot thickens as the Queen's death brings a new order to England, Sir Nicholas Fury is ordered by the new king to attack the Witchbreed school, a traitor is revealed and we learn of the fate of the crew of the Fantastick in the bowels of the castle of Count Otto Von Doom...
Now that the novelty value of Marvel characters transported back in time is beginning to wear off, it is becoming easier to review 1602 on its own merits. The plot continues to be winding and mysterious, but drops subtle hints and peels back layers of the story, revealing just enough to continue to be interesting. Gaiman is also becoming freer to use what we think we know about the characters to throw in some interesting and unexpected twists which certainly serve to set characters apart from their Marvel Universe counterparts. Having got used to the way 1602 works, it is the challange of unravelling the oblique story that is now the main draw to this series - a story that, thankfully, continues to be entertaining and imaginative enough to hold our attention.
Andy Kubert's computer-coloured pencil art are proving a good match to the tone of this series, coming down half-way bewteen high levels of realism and traditional four-colour comic book sensibilities. The result oozes atmosphere, reminding us that we are dealing in a fantasy world, lbeit one which is firmly rooted in historical detail and a sense of the real world of the middle ages. Notable in this issue is the rendering of the descent into Count Otto von Doom's catacombs to give us our first glance at 1602's Fantastic Four, a sequence in which lighting, colour and texture combine admirably to give a real sense of the eerie subterranean nature of the FF's prison.
However, 1602 contains elements which are less than inspiring: the story of Virginia Dare (which until now I assumed was the analogue for the Hulk - an argument which may have been proved wrong by the appearance of a Master Banner in the new king's entourage) and her importance here continues to be frustratingly vague, and whilst this issue provides some interesting backstory for both her and Rojhaz we are still no closer to discovering her significance in this world. As a foreign element to the regular MU she will likely play a major role in this series, but her current presence only serves to draw attention away from the more interesting escapades of Matthew Murdock's mysterious quest in Europe, and the worsening prospects for Carlos Javier's school of Witchbreed.
The title of this issue may be misleading: much is certainly explained, but further questions continue to be raised. At this half-way point, 1602 is exciting and confusing in equal measure: it will undoubtedly be easier to evaluate once all is explained. A lot of faith will therefore have to be placed in Gaiman that he can provide a satisfactory solution to these many dangling plot strands. Currently, he still receives the benefit of the doubt, providing a story that is interesting enough without coming close to revealing what it is all about in the greater context of the Marvel Universe.
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