Wednesday, May 13

A Universe of Stories

Finished reading Marvel 1602, the 8-part series in which Neil Gaiman reimagines the Marvel Universe. But it's really not just a reimagining or a simple what if (think DC's Other Worlds), but something that will still fit in the current Marvel universe.

The premise: it is the last days of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The ides of March bring inclement weather, and not just the umbrella-requiring kind--lizards and fire--enough to make people think of the Apocalypse. There's threat from James VI of Scotland in the north. The Spanish Inquisition seeks "witchbreeds," people and creatures with suprapowers, and burn them at the stakes. There is a "school for the sons of gentlefolk" run by a Spaniard called Carolus Javier, who is bald, has no use of his legs, and has a page named John Grey. And oh, there's also Peter Parquah who's forever having close encounters with spiders but never bitten. It's 1602, but the Age of Heroes has started 400 years early. Something called a "Forerunner" came from the future and caused all this to happen out of sync with time and space. It has to be stopped--or returned where it came from--so that the universe will exist as it should.

I like how the story is peopled by recognizable characters from the Marvel pantheon--which Gaiman says come from no later than the 1969 catalogue, as there are many Marvel heroes. The same things happen in 1602 as they happened 400 years later. It doesn't feel too forced, and it only shows that the dilemmas felt in present times can somehow still fit in that past where science and magic live side by side.

The panel excerpt comes from issue # 7, and the witchbreeds are on their to the New World. Richard Reed was thankful for the time he spent in Otto Von Doom's dungeons. There were no "distractions" and he "was able to reduce many things to their fundamental principles." The others thought that he had discovered how to turn lead into gold. But Reed says it is the principles of stories which he had discovered, as stories give him hope. They live in a universe where they are given a chance to exist. The Flame Man contradicts him--stories end, all tales end, and it is how they will also end. But the Thing is curious about the transmutations. He wants his humanity to be restored, as he has been "a monster too long." Reed, in all his wisdom replies, that yes, a cure is possible in the natural sciences. "But the laws of story would suggest that no cure can last for very long. For in the end, alas, [you] are so much more interesting and satisfying as you are."

For me that captures the rationale for the entire series, as with the immediate sequel "1602: New World." It is possible to "treat" this monstrosity, these witchbreeds in the past and make "corrections" on the mistakes we now know as history. But then again, perhaps it won't be as interesting.

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