Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Special: 1602

Today is Thanksgiving, so it seemed like an appropriate time to take a short look at Marvel's own series about the colonization of the New World, 1602. We were going to instead bring you a list of our favorite Thanksgiving themed comic book covers, but we discovered that someone else has already done that. So feel free to check out their list of covers, then come back here for a look at 1602 (with spoilers, by the way).

Back? Okay, cool. As we said, this will be a fairly brief look, because we have a couple pies to put away before the night is done and we're sure you're about ready to fall into another tryptophan coma anyway. For those who don't know what 1602 is, though, you're in for a treat that will likely rank somewhere above the Detroit Lions and only barely below a well-basted drumstick, because 1602 is one of the coolest alternate universe stories ever printed.

It's also just about the only series ever drawn by Andy Kubert that I can look at without the use of massive sedatives, because normally both he and his brother Adam make me grind my teeth into powder in irritation. But for whatever reason, it works here, as does, of course, the story by Neil Gaiman. Basically, in this universe, the "Marvel Age" of superpowered beings didn't begin during World War II, but instead in 1587, when England sent their first settlers over to America to try and colonize it.

As we eventually discover in the final issue of the series, this historical distortion was caused by a time-displaced Captain America, apparently from the regular Marvel Universe; with most of his memory missing due to the trauma of time travel, Cap, called here by his new Native American tribal name of Rojaz, spends his time working to protect both his young charge Virginia (a girl, not the state) and the new American frontier itself (okay, so the state too; the name is symbolic, all right?). He is aided and opposed by other counterparts from the Marvel Universe who have been re-imagined by the damaged time-stream, including Nick Fury (here the head of Queen Elizabeth's spy network), Magneto (a Catholic inquisitor sent to destroy the superpowered "witchbreed" who instead decides to take the church down instead) and the Fantastic Four (legendary adventurers who vanished on their ship Fantastik while exploring new lands).

In the end, Fury manages to prevent the destruction of all reality by returning a reluctant Captain America to his correct timeline; for his part, Cap wants to stay, in part because in the past he is basically the same as he is in the present: the spirit of America, which takes on a whole new significance when the whole idea of America is literally just forming. Fans of comics are given a real treat with the skewed but somehow spot-on characterizations of such favorites as Dr. Doom and Daredevil, while history buffs get a fun look at the past through the lens of superheroes. It may not be Shakespeare, but it does feature Shakespeare as a character (at least, in the sequel mini-series 1602: Fantastik Four).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect for today's fans is the (still viable) possibility that 1602 will end up tying into the current Captain America: Reborn event going on. For those not following that series, Captain America was shot to death at the end of Civil War, but it was later discovered that the Red Skull used a special "time gun" to do the deed, trapping Cap at the moment of his death; for the past few issues, Cap's spirit has been bouncing around the time-stream, until the end of #4, where the Red Skull kicked Cap out completely and apparently took over Cap's body. The question now is, where did Cap's soul go at that point? We'll likely find out in Captain America: Reborn #5, which comes out on December 9, but one possibility is that his soul got sent to 1602. The method of Cap's death, after all, is eerily similar to Rojaz's fractured memories of his death in 1602: he told Fury that, as best he could remember, the government cracked down on heroes and arrested him. Then, they strapped him to a table and shot him in the head and the next thing he knew, he was in 1587. In Civil War, of course, the government did crack down on heroes and arrest them, and Cap, while not strapped to a table, was shot a close range by a brainwashed Sharon Carter, who was holding him down at the time. Based on how confused the semi-amnesiac Rojaz was, and how we have seen in Captain America: Reborn that the time-jumping has been causing Cap to begin to lose touch with reality, it's altogether possible that he ends up in 1602 and the discrepancies are simply due to the strain of the time jump.

If they do tie Reborn to 1602, it would not only make sense from a storytelling point of view, it would also be one of the coolest crossovers ever, tying together dangling plot thread from the entire decade into one company-wide mega-epic. And, of course, it would bring back the real Captain America to the world of the living.

And that's something we can all be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving.

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1602 is great; it's so imaginative. The Scarlet Witch as a nun, complete with wimple--what could be more fitting?