I found this one at my used book store. I had never heard of it before but I thought it sounded cool. As you know I like stories where writers take well established characters and put a new spin on them, so this was right up my alley. I thought it would be beyond cool to see my favorite heroes set back in the 1600’s, plus Neil Gaiman was the writer on this one so I felt this was a no brainer.
Everyone knows who Neil Gaiman is and if you don’t then I am not really sure what to tell you. He is arguable one of the most famous writers out there right now, but I also think he is kind of an underground writer. The best way I can explain it is if you know who he is you know how famous he is but if you don’t know him I doubt you would realize what he has written. Like Martin Scorsese I know he is a very famous director, but I would be hard-pressed to name a lot of his movies other than Departed, which was awesome. Sandman is the most famous work by Gaiman, not to mention one, if not the, most famous comic of all time. He has also written quite a few books including The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I read and you can read the review here. Gaiman and I have an odd relationship, I admire his creativity and his success, but at times I feel some of his stories wonder aimlessly and don’t have much of a plot. I will also say that I am fairly certain that I am in the minority on this matter. With that being said the more I think about it I really liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I know my review of it at the time was not great, the story has grown on me. He has basically written pretty much everything, comics, novels, television, and movie scripts. He is also credited with creating the now Marvel character Angela, which I did not know. He is beyond talented and if you run in the comics world you would have surely heard of him and should have read at least one of his stories.
This story takes place in 1602 as the title states. It includes most of the famous superheroes including Dr. Doom, the Fantastic Four, Nicholas Furry, Peter Parker, Matt Murdoch, Black Widow, Magneto, and his two children in the Marvel Universe. There are more but you get the idea. The story deals with Dr Strange and his gifts see that the world is coming to an end. Later he uses his powers to finally get some answers as to why the world is ending, answer that only Wautu the Watcher can give him. The Wacher tells him that there is someone out of time that is messing with the time stream and threatens to destroy everything, not just that reality but everything. From there there is a race against time to save the planet and along with it the multiverse.
This one was a very interesting ride to say the least. As I mentioned above I knew nothing about this story, mainly because this one does have some age on it. It was first released way back in 2004. Still it was interesting and fun to see different adaptations of all the famous characters and how they are all mixed together.
There are quite a few things I did like about this one. I like history so it was neat to see all the superheroes thrown into some of histories big events. It was also interesting how Gaiman placed some of the characters in to some infamous positions and nestled them right into the story. Pretty cool stuff. There was a perfect melding of history and fantasy which I very much like.
However, I do have a few problems with this one. First off it is way too wordy, again in Frank Miler fashion Gaiman tries to squeeze as many words as he can into some very small frames. While at times it does help build the story I felt it was more of a hindrance. The story dragged on, it felt like, there was so much to read, so many words that said very little and progressed the story at a snail’s pace. But I will say you get your monies worth as it is 8 issues long and each one is longer than a regular issue, about 40 pages. So the actual page count is longer but the fact that it is so wordy makes it still that much longer, and believe me it felt longer.
I also felt the story was lacking somewhat. It never really took off for me, but there were times where I found myself really wanting to see what was going to happen next, although there was nothing crazy or that exciting taking place. In all honesty, it was kind of an odd story. At about ch 4 I found myself really wondering where the plot was going as more and more characters were still being introduced, this is over half way thought the story mind you. It was not till about half way through chapter 6 that the reader, or I did at least, started to put together what was going on and really see how where things were going. As I mentioned before as with much of Gaiman’s works they seem to wonder aimlessly, this one is no exception.
With that being said I did like how Gaiman worked in the time frame with the superheroes along with the many social undertakings and taboo issues of the time. Witches were burned, beasts were thought to roam the countryside, what could not be explained was the work of the devil. I found it fascinating that the author used the paranoia of the time to drive portions of the story. It was a reminder of how far we have come but how far we still have to go.
The artwork in the book was ok in my opinion. The problem I have is I think the artwork itself is fine and from the extra stuff at the end of the book it looks fantastic, but it seems to be covered up by the color technique. The issue seems to be the way it was colored. For the bigger scenes the artwork and the color technique seem to work pretty well together. But as I mentioned above there are so many tiny scenes where too much dialogue is shoved into them and you can hardly see how good the artwork is. Basically the small scenes did not do the artist or the colorist any favors. I am left wondering if a different style would have worked better because of the small scenes. I would have loved to see what the artwork would have looked like with a different color technique, perhaps something to make it look like it was an old time etching. That, in my opinion, would have been really cool, but once again what do I know. I also think a black and white comic would have been neat to add to the story. I am not saying the colorist did a bad job I am just saying that I do not think this style fit the story. Something similar to the sketchs Andy Kubert drew I think would have made for a way better reading experience. I also thought the cover art was really cool and if the whole book was done like those that would have been something really special. The page layouts were below average in my opinion. Too many small scenes and very few full page splashes to show off the artwork. All in all I think the effort was there to deliver a home run, but Marvel swung for the fences but ultimately settled for a double with the artwork in this one.
There are some neat extras with this one. At the beginning there is a cool forward that is worth the read, as well as a nice afterword by Gaiman himself. I also liked how there are a few pages that show some of the character creations along with some of the research Gaiman and Andy Kubert did for the book. And yes that is the son of Joe Kubert, who the famous art school is named after.
At the end of the day this one is an average read. It does have a lot of faults, but it is a really neat idea that looking back could have been done a little different and possibly better. Still I recommend this one, especially if you are looking for a change up from the normal smash ‘em up Marvel comic. Read this one if you want a little culture.