1602 by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert
I received this last Monday, an unexpected gift from Mabs, who knows he was naughty, and who also knows my taste in books very well. For instance, he knows I go a great big wobbly over hardcovers, and this is a very nice hardcover. Faux leather, gold embossing, and lovely lovely lovely glossy pages. Seksay book.
(I also know how much it cost. Augh!)
Normally, I don't find the superhero lines particularly interesting. I don't have anything against them, and the collections I have read I've often got quite a kick out of. It is simply that on a base level they don't have that natural appeal to me. But apparently, shifting superheroes back several centuries makes them interesting, and having Neil Gaiman at the helm makes them irresitible.
For that's what 1602 does. Well-known characters from the Marvel universe have been planted in the seventeeth century, playing similar roles to their usual, and responding to the politics of the time as such. Although I can't claim any familiarity with the Marvel universe, it was fun picking out all the known characters and cameos, and snorting at the name alterations.
Although it the story has its roots in London, with Queen Lizzie looking spectacularly bad in her old age, it is, as said in the introduction, a story about the New World. The world is in danger (when is it NOT in danger?), and all confliction factions must eventually come together to save it, and come together on the shores of America. "On the surface 1602 is about Britain in the 17th century. In reality, 1602 is a remarkable work about America, and it is about now." True words, but the bitter Southern Hemispherian in me cried "There's more to the world thank Britain and America! When the ice comes and the Northern Hemisphere is nothing but white, Australia will rule the world and then you'll know about it!" Quite the tangent, but it does get under my skin how little attention or respect the rest of the world is given. (But then, the entire population of Australia is that of Los Angeles. Tangent over.)
While it was quite a satisfying read, I didn't feel much when it came to the relationships between characters. It is blatantly shoved down our throats that Angel likes Grey, and Scotius is a jealous prig, but I never felt any sort of bond between Grey and Scotius, or Angel and Grey for that matter. Fury and Peter shared the same panels because that is what the story dictated, but their parting and future betrayal twanged no heart strings. That said, I did enjoy the interactions between Virginia and her noble savage body guard.
The art was very nice, although it felt still. There didn't seem to be any movement to the images. The colouring was beautiful, and I appreciated that a pattern of two by three panels per page was followed. Design is all very well, but I've come across too many comics that were damn obscure to read.
Sadly, the writing was not invisible. Perhaps it was that Gaiman hasn't written comics for so long, perhaps I am that much more prose-sensitive since Clarion, but there were plenty of instances where I sighed, and thought to myself, "Exposition." Perhaps it is the medium; comics are more inclined that way, but I don't believe it. That said, I doubt many others would bat an eyelid at the same bumps. The story holds together well, and when it came time to close the book, I was content. (If only to see Peter finally bitten. Yes!)
That said...what are the dinosaurs abouts?
Verdict: Very pretty, good solid story, fun game of pick the cameo. A worthwhile addition to anyone's collection.