"We live in a time of miracles and wonders and I cannot say that it pleases me."
— Queen Elizabeth
It is the year 1602, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First and all is not well in Merry Olde England. Strange storms have rocked the continent, the sky has been cast in haunting tones, rumour on the street speaks of the end-times and only one man might discover the truth behind these unusual occurrences. He is Doctor Stephen Strange, The Queen's Physician.Marvel 1602 was an Elseworld miniseries written by Neil Gaiman, transporting the Marvel Universe into the Elizabethan Era. It took heroes such as Nick Fury, The X-Men, Daredevil, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man and found a way to make them work in the period and tell an original tale centering upon them.The original mini-series has had several follow-ups by other writers, focusing on particular (sets of) characters. 1602: A New World by Greg Pak, which introduces Lord Iron, Fantastick Four 1602 by Peter David, and Spider-Man 1602 by Jeff Parker.
This work provides examples of:
Alien Space Bats: The universe was normal until superheroes started appearing in it four hundred years too early. Yes, the dinosaurs are "normal". Dinos and prehistoric beasts really DID roam the lands a little before the colonists arrived in official Earth-616 canon. In fact, the Savage Land still has dinosaurs.
Alternate History: Due to the superheroes showing up early, King James becomes King of England one year early, Roanoke becomes an independent colony, and it's implied that Ireland remains independent from Britain.
Ambiguously Gay: James keeps calling Brother Petros "pretty", as well as saying the Inquisitor must've been pretty as a young man. This is Foreshadowing the fact that the latter is the father of the former. It also has some basis in reality, being a popular theory on James of Scotland held by many historians.
Big Bad Ensemble: Count Doom, the Inquisitor and King James are all major, separate antagonists, though they eventually take a backseat to the threat of armageddon.
Bigger Bad: The Purple Man is responsible for the dimensional rip that endangers the multiverse, but caused it by accident and never affects the story directly.
Deconstructed Trope: This story includes a notable deconstruction of All Myths Are True (which the Marvel Universe has always used rather liberally) in its portrayal of Thor. In this universe, the Church apparently goes to great lengths to hide any evidence of the Asgardians' existence, realizing that it would invalidate the First Commandment ("You shall have no gods before me") and discredit the Church's authority. For this reason, Thor's hammer is considered so dangerous that it ends up becoming this universe's Templar treasure.
Doing In the Scientist/A Wizard Did It: In this universe, practically all of the superheroes' scientific origins are replaced by magical ones, which apparently spring from some kind of vaguely-defined mystical energy emanating from tears in the space-time continuum. The Fantastic Four, for example, get their powers after wandering into a magical storm that turns them into physical avatars of the four elements; David Banner becomes the Incredible Hulk after being hit by a blast of energy from the dimensional rip; Peter Parquah gets his spider-based abilities after being bit by a spider that's affected by the same blast of energy.
Hidden in Plain Sight: The Templar treasure. That heavy wooden crate in the cart, which Murdoch goes to such great lengths to protect, is just a decoy. The treasure is actually the Old Pilgrim's walking stick...which is a disguised Mjolnir.
Knight Templar: The Grand Inquisitor, charged with ferreting out Witchbreed. Actually one himself, as he's this world's Magneto.
Leaning on the Fourth Wall/Medium Awareness: At one point, Reed says that he believes that the fundamental particles of the Universe are stories, and that they are in a universe that favors them. He posits that stories can never truly end. Ben Grimm asks if it would be possible to restore his humanity, and Reed responds that the "laws of story" would prevent any cure from lasting long. This has happened several times in mainstream Marvel.
Reed: For in the end, alas, you are much more interesting and satisfying as you are.
One can almost picture Neil Gaiman smiling his smile as he wrote those lines.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Not only is Rojhaz perfectly capable of talking like a normal man, and having expressions other than a scowl, he's also, quite literally, a man ahead of his time.
Older Than He Looks: In addition to being from the future, it's heavily implied that Steve Rogers is actually much older than he looks when he appears in this story. He claims that in the Bad Future that he comes from, he ended up as one of the world's last active superheroes because the others got too old to continue fighting crime, while the Super Soldier serum in his blood somehow prevented him from aging.
Pet the Dog: Banner, after being an all-around Jerkass for most of the story, and verbally berating Peter Parquagh constantly, shields Peter with his own body when the time explosion goes off.
President Evil: According to Captain America, The Purple Man becomes this.
Pretentious Latin Motto: The mottos for Carlos Javier's school, "Omnia Mutantur, nos et Mutamur in illis"note "All things change, and we are changing with them". Notable for doubling as a subtle Mythology Gag, since the motto inspires Javier to dub his students "Mutantur" for lack of a more precise term.
Real Life Writes the Plot: In his afterword in the hardcover edition, Gaiman claims that he got the idea for the story around September 2001, when he was still trying to come to terms with the shock of the 9/11 attacks. He said that at that moment, he knew that he wanted his next big comic book to be set in a simpler time, when people didn't have to deal with the chaos caused by terrorism and modern technology. Hence, he gave us a story about Marvel superheroes in the Elizabethan Era.
We're led to believe that Virginia, with her strange unexplained (and unpredictable) powers, is somehow tied to the strange disturbances in space-time. A vision from Strange, which shows her about to arrive in Europe, seems to confirm it. It turns out that his vision was actually trying to show him Rojhaz. Rojhaz, who's really Steve Rogers sent back in time 400 years, is the real source of all the Alternate Universe weirdness.
Also a good one involving the true nature of the Templar treasure. That important-looking wooden crate in the back of the Old Pilgrim's wagon? That's not the treasure. The Pilgrim's walking stick is the treasure. The Pilgrim (whose real name is "Donal") is this universe's Donald Blake, and the walking stick is Thor's hammer. The hammer was hidden by the Templars because it's conclusive evidence that the First Commandment ("You shall have no Gods but me") is false, and could bring about the downfall of the Church if it was revealed.
The Reveal: "Rojhaz" is actually a time-displaced Steve Rogers, who was hurled back in time to get rid of him when he tried to organize a resistance against America's despotic new president, the Purple Man, in the future. His presence is actually what's causing the space-time disturbances and leading to the appearance of familiar superheroes 400 years too early.
This Is My Name on Foreign: As a big chunk of the characters are English, this doesn't get played with as much as you'd think. There are some notable examples, though, like Carlos Javier (Charles Xavier), Enrique (Erik Lensherr/Magneto), Roberto Trefusis (Bobby Drake), and Scottius Summerisle (Scott Summers).
Roberto Trefusis as Bobby Drake deserves special mention: Roberto claims to be a nephew of naval commander Sir Francis Drake; the real Sir Francis had family by marriage named Trefusis. Someone's Showing Their Work.
A Wizard Did It: People keep asking Strange how he does various magical acts. his response is usually along the lines of "I am a wizard." This is something of an open secret. He is later executed. No, not for magic, for being a traitor.
Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: Played with. Since the story takes place in the Elizabethan era, Thor's normal Flowery Elizabethan English speech patterns have been pushed further back and taken on elements of Old English. Gaiman theorizes that humans always hear Asgardian speech in their own language, just in a somewhat antiquated form of it.
Zero Approval Gambit: The heroes, being fugitives at the time, don't want Roanoke's citizens to get in trouble with King James for helping them. Sp they pretend that they have taken control of the colony and declared it independent.
Dropped A Bridge On Her: Natasha, a major character from the original miniseries, questions Doom about his plans... and he pushes her off his flying ship to her death.
And poor Virginia Dare, who qualifies as Die for Our Ship, as her death makes way for Peter to get together with actress Mary Jane Watson.
I Have Your Wife: Baron Octavius keeps Henri Le Pym working for him by continually reminding him that if he doesn't comply with demands, his lady, Janette, will be fed to Conners, who is almost fully dinosaur in this world.
Jekyll & Hyde: Hulk is the good persona, Banner is a sadistic bastard who was one of the best torture agents in England.
Mad Scientist: Octavius (squid), Conners (dinosaur), and eventually Osbourne (also dinosaur?) are all lab-table mutates, the prior two by their own doing. Octavius' mutation was accidental, though, which was the original reason he'd used a hostage to press-gang Pym into creating a cure. Then, as part of a Kick the Dog moment, he reveals to Pym that he'd been experimenting on Janette while she was in his keep, mutating her into an insect hybrid.
Pirate: Kingpin (Captain Wilson Fiske, the King's Pin) and Bullseye (The Bull's Eye) are pirates in this continuity.
Plague Doctor: In Spider-Man 1602, Baron Octavius (who is dying of the Black Death, and willing to go to any means to cure it) makes his first appearance flanked by plague doctors.
Put on a Bus: At the end of the first series the characters talk of making the colony a safe haven for people with unusual abilities. At the beginning of 1602: New World there is a vague mention of the Witchbreed leaving, and they have not been seen or mentioned anywhere else in the follow-up series since.
Except Hal McCoy (Beast), who ends up as a test subject for Octavius, and mutated to his familiar blue, ape-like form.
Redemption Equals Death: Deciding to become a good man, Banner goes to subject himself to execution. Possibly subverted, however, in that it was likely a ploy to get close to King James as he was shown Hulking Out
Revenge Before Reason: Arguably Lord Iron, who doesn't particularly give a damn about either side of the fight, but sides with King James because it means getting to kill Banner.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Once McCoy is released from captivity, he rips his way through the military guards in an attempt to find Octavius, not knowing he's already fled.
It's also possibly implied that history eventually corrected itself to the point that World War II starts off as normal. Meaning that everything Rojhaz has done to prevent his world from coming to be was all for nothing.
Tin Tyrant: Do you even need to be told it's Doom?
Walk the Plank: The crew on Captain Stacy's ship are just about to kill Peter for being Witchbreed when he saves his life by saving their asses from the pirate ship The King's Pin.
Historical In-Joke: The woman Johnny Storm kidnapped ended up writing most of Shakespeare's plays.
Series Continuity Error: Shakespeare first becomes interested in a certain character as a writing partner when she uses the "damned be he who first cries 'hold enow'" line which would end up in Macbeth, which starts him looking for a pen, even though that line is the first one he says in the series.
Shout-Out: The 1602 version of Namor is called "Númenor" after J. R. R. Tolkien's Atlantis, while his kingdom is called Bensaylum after Francis Bacon's New Atlantis.
Sufficiently Advanced Alien: Near the end of 1602: Fantastick Four, the main characters catch a glimpse of the giant form of The Watcher looking down upon them. Everybody is convinced they saw the face of God, causing agnostic/atheist Richard Reed to have a massive crisis of faith.