Consider Marvel 1602, by Neil Gaiman
It has been mentioned, on here, that Marvel and DC are to comic books what Republicans and Democrats are to American politics. They dominate things, and they like you to choose one side or the other. In the interest of walking the line and avoiding partisanship, it is time to consider a Marvel title, as last week we considered Scalped, a DC title.
Marvel 1602 is only one volume, consisting of eight issues. This what we we talk about when we talk about graphic novels. It’s a few hundred pages, with story arcs that are more-or-less resolved within the one book. This means that, yes, it’s less of a commitment to read this. You get your hands on it, and you can read the whole thing in two or three sittings.
Here is the part that could alienate you, and so I want to get it out in the open right away: Marvel 1602 is about a parallel universe. Specifically, it’s about a parallel universe where the year is 1602 and a bunch of Marvel superheroes exist in The New World and England. What superheroes, you ask? Well, it’s a few you have probably heard of, because they have been showing up in a lot of movies over the last ten years: Spiderman, Magneto, Professor X, Nick Fury, just to name a few. I won’t tell you all of them, but I will tell you that there are a few good surprises, and it’s worth reading just to see what they’re doing in this different universe (Nick Fury works for the Queen and Magneto works the Spanish Inquisition).
While this could be the worst idea or the best idea, the reason it’s the best idea is because Neil Gaiman is the person writing it, and he pulls it off magnificently. The reason I recommend it to you is that it’s a good way to get introduced to a) the Marvel superheroes. They’re not all here, but a lot of them are b) Neil Gaiman’s writing. He’s a great writer, and it’s a really good example of the kind of writing he does, and c) comic books in general. It’s easy to read, and it’s fun, and it’s a good example of how innovative and interesting comic books can be.
Accessibility: Medium-to-high. If you have not ever encountered a single Marvel movie (we’re talking Spiderman, The Avengers, X-Men, Iron Man, etc), you could be a little bit confused and alienated. At the same time, it could be a very good way to learn who a bunch of these people are, if you approach it with an open mind.
Rating if would have it it were a movie: PG-13. The violence is light and it’s not full of profanity or nudity, like some graphic novels are.
Potential to be adapted into a movie or television show: Very low. While the characters are all showing up in movies left-and-right, I don’t see the studios deciding that it’s worth risking an adaptation in which Samuel L. Jackson and friends are speaking in British accents and sailing on ships.
Intense or light reading: Relatively light.
What About the Art?: Good. It’s not going to get framed on the wall, but yeah, it’s good.
Publisher: Marvel, as explained above.
Portrayals of Minorities and Women: Well, it’s set in 1602, so take that into consideration. But it’s also Neil Gaiman, who probably writes women and minorities more fairly than almost any other contemporary author I can think of.
Television: Marvel 1602 is a reversal of a current trend in television. Shows like Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Elementary, Sherlock, and Sleepy Hollow take classic, familiar (and general domain) stories and characters from the past and update them into contemporary times. (Fables, a Vertigo series, also does this, which I will discuss in a future post). Marvel 1602 takes contemporary, copyrighted characters from present day and sends them into the past. As far as I know, no television show has taken this approach yet. Of course, another obvious pairing is the upcoming Agents of SHIELD.
Film: X-Men: First Class is probably the closest parallel, in terms of idea, in that it’s a superhero movie that is not set in the present day. Generally speaking, The Avengers and almost all the other Marvel superhero movies are good pairings with Marvel 1602, in terms of mood, theme, characters, etc.
Books: Harry Turtledove’s works are one of the closest examples to this work. This could be tenuously placed in the general genre of “alternate history fiction.” Phillip K. Dick and a few author science fiction authors fall into this category from time to time as well.
Read this one, for the great storytelling at the very least. You can never go wrong with Neil Gaiman and, if you find yourself enjoying the characters, know that there are thousands of more stories featuring this crowd.
Did you enjoy this? Check out Consider Scalped.