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590-1I avoided 1602 for years for no good reason. One of my biggest problems with the big serial mess of the superhero genre today is the “in crowd” exclusivity it seems to revel in, making for a literature of fandom rather than one of universal questions and challenges. Gaiman’s purpose to writing 1602 seemed, at first glance, to be nothing more than this; a “wouldn’t it be cool if” scenario where he gets to put familiar superhero characters in the unfamiliar setting of Elizabethan England and thereby allow himself to reference two of his favorite geeknesses: 1960s low art and 1600s high art. So I passed.

My prejudice wasn’t completely meritless. The first couple chapters are full of groaners, especially with the name-plays. See, in 1602 his name is Peter Parquagh – get it? It’s like Parker but archaic! And why does this boy have such an odd fascination with . . . spiders?! Hooo, I get that reference! Then there’s the muscled-up stranger from the New World who’s an unusually blonde and white captain-like Native American named Rogers . . . oops, I mean “Rohjaz.”

The rest of the set-up pages follow suit as we’re introduced to the cast and settings. Nick Fury is instead Sir Nicholas, and instead of a techy super spy he’s the Queen’s most trusted intelligence aide and protector. Dr. Strange, who normally lives in New York’s Greenwich Village, awkwardly states that he lives in “the village of Greenwich” to someone who already knows where he lives. The Fantastic Four are still a band of friends led by a scientist who gain powers in a freak accident, but here they travel to the New World in a ship called The Fantastick and are never heard from again except in legends of super-powered transformations and do-goodery. The “a-ha!” and “oh yeah!” moments are many and frequently grating.

But then I surprisingly found myself buried knee-deep in the middle of the book without pausing to take a note or breathe or eat a sandwich and I realized that the story is good despite itself. Or is it actually just good despite my knee-jerk presumptions of hokeyness?

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