All is not well in the Marvel Universe in this stellar graphic novel from Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert. Strange weather haunts the earth, and the people whisper rumors of the end of the world. Queen Elizabeth is nearing the end of her reign, while James of Scotland waits impatiently in the wings to take her throne and Doom The Handsome of Latveria dreams of world conquest, his dungeons holding four very interesting explorers hostage for his own purposes. Sir Nicholas Fury, the Queen’s spymaster, has his hands full foiling enemy plots. His page, the young Peter Parquah, has his hands full running errands for Fury. Stephen Strange, the Queen’s physician, grows increasingly concerned about the strange phenomena that increase every day. Virginia Dare and her bodyguard Rojhaz, a burly blonde Native American, are freshly arrived from the New World seeking royal aid for the colony of Roanoke. In Europe Fury’s agents, blind Irish minstrel Matthew Murdoch and femme fatale Natasha Romanova seek to safeguard a powerful weapon on its way from Jerusalem to London for safekeeping. In Spain the Inquisition rages on, seeking and burning any Witchbreed it can find, these foul creatures being born into a new age with strange physical deformities or other odd and unnatural abilities–wings of an angel, the speed to run across continents in moments, the ability to read mens’ minds or even master steel. The only safe haven for such as these is the school of Carlos Javier, but if James takes the throne even that port will be denied them.
Neil Gaiman is one of those writers that comes along every so often, where you read one of their works then visit Wikipedia to get a list of everything they have ever written. I had read this before, way back when it first came out, but reading it again was still a wonderful experience. Gaiman takes all of these characters that we know so well and sets them in an entirely different world, one that is truly fascinating. Some comic book fans may be dissatisfied with this, as it doesn’t really provide the sweeping action sequences Marvel is known for and does so well, but the story and character work more than make up for this. If I have any complaint with this book it is that certain characters get so little done with them as we know them–Peter Parquah gets bit by a spider on the very last page, and Banner’s transformation is left for the epilogue as well. Gaiman is here creating a whole new Marvel Universe (technically this all starts in the 616, but that gets complicated) and not a self-contained story. That would be great, if he had continued to write the sequels, but he left that to others. I haven’t read them yet, but I can’t imagine they match Neil Gaiman’s storytelling…..
UPDATE: I read the sequels. Not as good across the board, but worth the read if you got engrossed by this. I really liked the closer to the series, Spider-Man 1602. Anyway, read the reviews for those here.
There’s not much to say, content-wise. There’s some violence, not too gruesome aside from a subplot featuring a character’s severed head. It’s been preserved in brandy and certainly doesn’t look pleasant, but this isn’t an R-rated comic so its not too bad. There’s a little mild language, again, nothing major. Brief suggestion of sex, but again nothing even remotely explicit. However, this is Neil Gaiman. His writing is nuanced and subtle, and a younger reader may not fully understand all that is happening–I know I didn’t when I first read it.