Many moons ago (and one of my favourite imprints) Marvel Comics introduced a series of specials entitled “What If…” and which posed a particular question, usually turning the existing canon on its head in some way. They were quite fun and involved all the major Marvel characters, from the Fantastic Four to the X-Men via lesser known characters, such as Punisher and Ghost Rider. Examples include – What if Spiderman’s Uncle Ben had lived? or What if Loki had found Thor’s Hammer (and presumably was able to lift it)? Admittedly some of them are a little bit – well, NICHE… if you hadn’t read the comics, you wouldn’t have understood at all.
Now I’m not suggesting that Neil Gaiman enjoyed What If… but being a writer, I don’t doubt for a second it’s a question he’s asked himself once or twice. But to come up with the idea of Elizabethan era superheroes in Marvel: 1602 was, frankly, a stroke of genius. Dr Strange is an equivalent to Dr Dee at the Elizabethan Court, Sir Nicholas Fury is the Queen’s Chief of Security, and while Grand Inquisitor Enrique continues his rivalry with Carlos Javier (if you say it, you’ll get that joke quick enough) we find Captain America is a Native American called Rohjaz – now why didn’t I think of that? It’s epic stuff, and very well done indeed. In fact, every time I read it, I find something I hadn’t seen before that just makes me chuckle.
Gaiman was careful, however, when populating his new universe to only use characters that existed during the early years of Marvel, so many well-loved characters like Black Widow and Wolverine don’t appear. I can just imagine Jim Logan the immortal pirate and the mysterious Bohemian assassin…
If you get a chance to pick this up, do. As a history lesson as a hoot, but as a graphic novel, it’s a masterclass in clever storytelling.