1602 is a much-anticipated story from Neil Gaiman, of Sandman fame. Set in Elizabethan times, staged throughout Britan, Europe and the middle East, it folds together a dark tale of magic, and of beings with unearlthy powers that seem strangely familar.
Dark times have come to pass. The skies are darkened, and strange storms brew, which echo lightening, but which give no rain. It may perhaps be the end of all days. The Queen meets her councils, her medico, Doctor Stephen Strange, and her Intelligencer, Sir Nicholas.
Strange tells that there is one thing which can perhaps aid them in these worrying times. An unidentified item of great power, which has been kept in Jerusalem by the remnants of the once-powerful Knights Templar. Sir Nicholas dispatches his agent, a blind bard named Matthew, to help protect the Old Man who is bringing the object to England.
Sir Nicholas is aided by his servant, a young boy named Peter, who posesses a strange infatuation with spiders. Strange is assisted by the lovely Clea. But their enemies are many... the King of Spain, and his inquisitors, the Tsar, and countless others who would destroy their plans and steal the item for their own selfish gain.
Meanwhile, who is the young man with angel wings who is to be burnt at the stake by his Spanish captors? And who are his would-be rescuers who shoot fire and project burning ice?
Let's be honest here. These grand projects of "Strange and unusual Marvel universes" can be really good... or they can be really terrible. The "strangely-familiar historical European setting" thing has become a well-mined area in the past few years. This could easily have turned out quite stink.
Except, that this is Gaiman we're talking about... a hugely talented man who does nothing, except if he can do it superbly. He's backed up by Andy Kubert's art, with Richard Isanove adding the most delicious digital painting.
The result is true masterpiece on many levels. Firstly, it's a visual feast. Secondly, it's a dark and intriguing tale which plenty of depth. Last but not least, it melds in well-loved Marvel characters in a way which gives a sneaky thrill of recognition, without seeming trite or contrived.
Full marks, Mister Gaiman. Now, let's hope this title doesn't go the same was as that other "dark historical tale" which I collected - Joe Kelly's Steampunk - which those buggers at Wildstorm cancelled with only six issues left to go in the story!