writer: Neil Gaiman
artists: Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove
Neil Gaiman swears that somehow, this is all actually going
to fit into regular Marvel continuity. For right now, though,
it looks suspiciously like an Elseworlds - excuse me, "What
If -- ?" tale. Not a diversion from established stories but
a wild flight of fancy, on par with the classic What If
-- ? #14, "What if World War II had been fought in outer
Yeah, I bought that one. It had something to do with Leonardo
DaVinci actually building his designs, leading to Nick Fury
and His Howling Commandos taking on The Badoon about a thousand
years early - it was goofy but it rocked when I was eleven.
Comics fans are older and perhaps (no promises here) wiser,
and demand something a little more sophisticated. And despite
the somewhat ludicrous question "What if the Marvel Universe
appeared in Europe in Elizabethan times?" Gaiman is one of
the very few writers who can make us want to read the answer.
Aided by Kubert and Isanove in the same lush digital inking
over pencil style they used for Origin, Gaiman delves
into a politically uncertain time. The "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth
I has less than a year to live (she doesn't know that - it's
history). Spain and France plot against England, under the
aegis of religious reasons.
It's clear, though, that within the Catholic halls of The
Inquisition, all may be forgiven even if the Protestant James
of Scotland ascends the British throne. Unlike Elizabeth,
James has no tolerance for magicks and witchcraft, a predilection
that makes court physician Dr. Stephen Strange more than a
Strange and head of the Secret Service Sir Nicholas Fury,
the times are about to get more troubled. A mysterious and
terrible weapon is on its way from Jerusalem, and it must
not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. I'm guessing
it's some sort of Renaissance Cosmic Cube, but that seems
almost too mundane for Gaiman.
And therein lies the strength and the weakness of this issue.
We have to trust that the grand design of this book will boggle
our minds, but right now, it's little more than a highly literate
game of "Where's Waldo?" with Marvel Universe characters standing
in for the bespectacled happy idiot.
It's clever and not without its charms, especially when
it goes without comment. Kubert, for instance, throws in a
cutpurse assassin that looks like The Vulture, but we'll never
know for sure. Maybe it's just his attacking Peter Parquagh
that draws the association.
For total comics nerds like myself, this sort of game works.
However, if you've wandered into this book just to see what
all the hype is about, it may leave you confused. Unless you're
an Elizabethan scholar (I know you're out there, and reading
Fanboy Planet), then you may be fascinated by the immense
detail Gaiman gets right before leaping off into the world
of the Witchbreed, this century's version of mutants.
Stick around through your confusion. Gaiman deserves every
bit of hype he gets, and the reality of a first issue is that
it's just a small piece of a larger tapestry. Give the man
time to deliver the whole picture.