The first time I read this I wasn’t very well-versed in comics, in the Marvel universe in particular, or in Gaiman’s work. There was barely an MCU in 2011. The First Avenger would be released three months later. 1602 was an okay read for me at the time, but I remembered almost nothing about it before picking it up again. I definitely liked it more this time, and got more out of it, but there was some stuff that was sort of perplexing and things that bothered me.
The basic premise here is: What if Marvel Superheroes, but in late Elizabethan England? Nick Fury is the Queen’s spymaster, and Peter Parquah (un-superpowered) his errand boy. Stephen Strange is a magician, and the Queen relies on him for advice and other various magical tasks. We’ve also got the Inquisition running around, and familiar faces using it as a cover, as well as Carlos Javier and his school for select gentleman aka mutants, in hiding from the Inquisition. James I of Scotland is heir to the throne, and all mutants (called witchbreed, here) are in serious trouble if the Queen dies. The Fantastic Four are lost to legend, presumed dead, and Victor von Doom conspires to take power.
It’s a time of transition, and on her way from the New World accompanied by her blonde Native American servant, Rojhaz (the colonists assume one of the Vikings left some of his genes behind with the indigenous people), is Virginia Dare. In this world, the lost colony of Roanoke survived, but her father has sent her to petition the queen for more colonists and resources, lest the new world and its dangers (which include dinosaurs) consume them.
Gaiman has a real thing about America. He as a British man seems to be obsessed with the very concept, going by really, well, all of his fiction. It’s kind of fun to see a British perspective on the idea of America (which as we are learning, if we didn’t know before, is very flawed). Most of the superheroes by the end flee across the Atlantic for varying reasons, but mostly for sanctuary from Britain and James I.
This comic was entertaining and compelling, with a pretty huge flaw at its center. I wasn’t super happy about the way it portrayed Black Widow (as an opportunistic betrayer), but the real concern is SPOILERS Steve Rogers, who has been masquerading as “Rojhaz,” Virginia Dare’s protector. Steve Rogers as an American Indian speaking broken English and wearing native garb, uhhhhh this does not age well. The concept of Steve Rogers being stranded in the past and taken in by a native tribe is not inherently bad (tribe never named! come on, Gaiman, at least tell us if they were Roanoke, Algonquin, Hatteras, or some other local tribe–it was very easy to Google all that, imagine the details I could have had with actual research!). But it is definitely not executed well or with consideration. For a story so focused on the New World, the only “indigenous” character we get is Steve Rogers (Brooklyn born!). There is a huuuuuge missed opportunity here, in regards to saying something about oppression and indigenous rights. For that matter, the storyline does Steve Rogers himself dirty. Maybe Gaiman doesn’t love the character as much as I do, but his desire to protect Virginia at the cost of the universe made him look foolish, and we never even find out what happened to him or his alternate universe, after all the fuss of him being the Forerunner END SPOILERS.
All in all, glad I revisited this, but it’s not one of Gaiman’s best works. It’s interesting, but very flawed.