Someone at Marvel overindulged in mead and thought what if the whole Marvel Universe were set in Elizabethan times and what if we got Neil Gaiman to write it? Wouldn’t that be great? Oh fine, that’s not what happened. The whole idea came to Gaiman while he was wandering around Venice.
It’s an interesting curiosity with some good stuff and at least one hugely problematic thing.
It is 1602. Queen Elizabeth is near the end of her reign, the Inquisition is active in Spain, James is in Scotland waiting to take the English throne, and the weather is very strange. Sir Nicholas Fury is the English spymaster, and Dr. Stephen Strange is the Queen’s physician. As the world unfolds, we begin to identify Elizabethan characters with their modern counterparts. My favorite was the blind Irish troubadour, Mathew Murdoch. He and King James seemed to be the only characters with a sense of humor. This series needed more humor.
The best thing about 1602 is the art. It is gorgeous. It’s also very white, lots of blue eyed blonds. The art gives 1602 a sense of time and place more than the olde fashioned names, archaic language, or costumes.
In the picture above, you can see the biggest problem – the blonde Indian. That character is Rojhaz, Virginia Dare’s protector. I refer to him as an Indian rather than a Native American for a couple of reasons. He behaves like a stereotype. He is not a Native American, he is Steve Rodgers, sent back in time. Sound out the name Rojhaz. Yep, it sounds like Rogers. Even before I worked that out, I was cringing at Gaiman’s inclusion of a character that is essentially a cigar store Indian – feathers in hair, stoic face, broken English and arms crossed in front of his chest. It only gets worse when Rogers reveals himself. His English is fine and he gives an impassioned speech about protecting America and democracy. Buuuuut…all of the actions he is shown to take make it clear that the Americans he is interested in protecting are the white European settlers. I realize this was written by a Brit in 2003, but it was still pretty gross. I was going to say that the Brit in question should know better as he wrote American Gods, but then I remembered the gods in question were mostly immigrant gods.
The cover art by Scott McKowen is extraordinary. I wish the series had been as good.