Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Andy Kubert
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For me - personally - it's neck and neck between this and Mark Millar's The Ultimates for the best Marvel story of all time. Or to be precise: best cross-over Marvel story: i.e. one where all the heroes get together and have a big epic-type adventure (so you know - that excludes all the stories where it's just Spider-Man by himself or whatever).
But - yes - Marvel 1602 (or - as it was known when it was first published: "1602") is a rip-roaring, bodice-ripping extravaganza that transplants (nearly) all of the Marvel pantheon all the way back to the Elizabethan era - so instead of Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. there's Sir Nicholas Fury spymaster general and instead of Dr Strange Sorcerer Supreme we get Dr. Stephen Strange - Court Magician and so on. I'll admit now that a big part of the pleasure of this series is discovering all the ways the various Marvel characters have been "historicized" and which parts of their personalities have remained intact and which parts have been suitably altered. And - as it's from Neil Gaiman's bustling storytelling brain - you don't have to fret about it becoming an empty intellectual exercise - it's not just about changing the background and putting everyone into period dress - it's taking all the best elements of the Marvel Universe and making them feel - oh the irony - fresh and new and vital again.
For those of you expecting (hoping) for anything like The Sandman in terms of deep-thinking/complexity stuff - change your expectations. Neil Gaiman put it best saying that 1602 was a comic: "for summer, to be read under a porch or in a treehouse." Not so much a chess game - more a jumping around in the fields kinda thing.
If you're not up to date on your Marvel superheroes and don't know the difference between your Daredevils and your X-Men: I would strongly advise you initiate yourself with some general reading before dipping in (goodness only knows how much of it would make sense otherwise - or (more importantly) how many of the jokes you'll get) and - trust me: it's not going to be any fun if you have to look it all up on Wikipedia. The one thing I will say tho - seeing how I wish that someone had told me: Virginia Dare is not (as I guessed) an obscure Marvel character - but an actual historical figure - who is famous for being the first child born in the Americas to English parents and who disappeared in mysterious circumstances (I guess readers in the USA would know that anyway - but I had no idea).
Links: The M0vie Blog Review, Bookslut Review, History for Kids Neil Gaiman Interview, Powells Review, Incommensurable Ontologies and the Return of the Witness in Neil Gaiman's 1602, Jess Nevins Annotations #1 / #2 / #3.
Further reading:S.H.I.E.L.D., The Ultimates, The Sandman, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Marvel 1985, Marvel Zombies.
Profiles: Neil Gaiman.
All comments welcome.