Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Marvel Unbound - Marvel 1602: New World / Fantastick Four

Marvel 1602, Neil Gaiman’s epic reimaging of the Marvel Universe in colonial times, was a clever, well-thought-out eight-issue saga. There was clear potential for further tales to be told. Thankfully, although Gaiman has decided not to return to that sandbox, others are having a pretty good time in it.

Greg Pak’s 1602: New World runs with the original concepts and delves further into the world of these characters, introducing a few new ones along the way. After both gained powers at the end of the original series, this first sequel focuses on Peter Parquagh and David Banner, 1602’s Spider-Man and Hulk analogs.

Peter and Virginia Dare deal with attacking dinosaurs (really!), and much of the rest of the story revolves around Peter working though his new powers. There is plenty of espionage and subterfuge mingled throughou
t the main plot, including deception between the English and the Colonists, between the Native Americans and the Colonists, between the “suprapowered” and those not.

Although originally published in 2005, it’s interesting to read New World for the first
time as “Dark Reign” is coming to a close in the mainstream Marvel Universe. It’s clear that regardless of the time period, Norman Osborne’s a prick. One of the main plots unfolding over these five issues concerns a deceitful Osborne (is that redundant?) trying to trick the Native Americans into revealing where “the Source” that gave Banner his Hulk ability during the first book is located, and ends with Osborne hinting he knows Peter is “The Spider.”

Like Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Hulk: Gray, the Banner/Hulk thread in New World is an extraordinary tale. The storyline here is a nice twist on the kind of tale that makes the Hulk such a compelling character. All of the greatest Hulk stories are an exploration of mind and heart, the struggles between the reasoning Banner and brutish Hulk. New World offers a similar journey for the characters, but this time it’s the Hulk who is the clear hero and Banner, by virtue of his history and allegiances, is the villain. For all the brutish force that the Hulk possesses, the character shines in this sort of subtle, nuanced storytelling.

Although not as clever as in Gaiman’s book, New World does offer a few new Earth-616 analogs. Spanish free-lance weapons inventor Lord Iron (Iron Man) and his helper Rhodes (War Machine) play key roles in the plot. Lord Iron’s ship to the New World is helmed by Admiral Ross (General “Thunderbolt” Ross), and
head of police in the Roanoke colony is Dougan (Dum Dum Dugan).

Historically, Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the Americas. In this continuity (both in Gaiman’s original and continued here), the character of Dare has shape-shifting abilities, and serves as a deus ex machina to end New World’s climactic battle between all sides. And that was probably the weakest point in the book.

Whereas New World is set primarily in America, Fantastick Four takes place almost entirely at sea, which makes perfect sense considering the nature of so many of the modern era Fantastic Four’s adventures. Sailing the ocean was the great unknown in colonial times, akin to blasting off into space in the ’60s.

The characters are nicely woven together in this second sequel by Peter David. Along with the Fantastic Four, we get colonial versions of the Frightful Four, Doctor Doom, Black Widow, Namor, Namorita, and the Watcher. Count Otto Von Doom kidnaps William Shakespeare to record his exploits as he employs the Four
Who Are Frightful to take him to the End of the World, where he believes there lays a city in which he can find a cure for his badly scarred face.

The Four of the Fantastick (the “Fantastick” being the name of their ship), pursue Doom in an attempt to rescue Shakespeare. Ending up in battle with Doom and his cohorts, they are all sent over the edge of the world and into Bensaylum, Numenor’s kingdom. Playing off the classic tenuous alliances between modern day Doom and Namor, their 1602 counterparts strike a deal that goes south during the inevitable power struggle between Doom, Numenor, and Wizard.

Throughout the five issues there are some good character moments with Medusa and Wizard (both of the Four Who Are Frightful), and between Numenor’s cousin Rita and John Storm.

Greg Tocchini and Pascal Alixe’s art is fitting and appealing. Visually, both stories collected here are beautiful and unique while still feeling perfectly aligned with the tone Scott McKowen set on the original series.

It's good to at least have these two sequel stories in a single volume, but extras consist of a lone page of character sketches from New World’s Tocchini and one page from Fantastick Four’s Alixe. Very disappointing for such a nicely packaged book with so much potential.

I had originally read Marvel 1602 in hardcover from the library, and I’ve seen the individual trade paperback printings of the two sequels. While it’s nice that they have collected New World and Fantastick Four in this single hardcover volume, it would be even better to see a 1602 Omnibus collecting all three of these stories, along with the recent Spider-Man: 1602 mini and the “Son of the Dragon” 1602 Hulk story in Broken Worlds, and pile on the extras under one cover.

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