January 08, 2006

Comic Relief

I read a lot of really crappy comic books growing up. I mean really crappy. If it had Betty or Veronica on the cover, I gravitated towards it like a moth to a, um, really crappy flame. I wanted to be the skateboarding, cool-headed Betty Cooper like nobody's business, while still envying Veronica Lodge's wardrobe.

Then I hit fourteen or fifteen and discovered Neil Gaiman and The Sandman comics—a modern, gritty fantasy with excellent artwork and writing. That series opened my eyes to the idea that comics could be more than just kid stuff or superheroes, because the amount of imagination that went into it was above average, too.

Probably about a year ago, while doing nerdy shopping in a comic store, I caught sight of an issue of something called Marvel 1602, also written by Neil Gaiman. I hadn't heard anything about it, but the woodcut-style artwork on the cover looked intriguing. So when I happened to see Marvel 1602 in the local library last month in complete graphic novel form, I jumped on it.

It turned out to be an alternate-history version of the Marvel universe—what would happen if an array of the classic Marvel superheroes, like the Fantastic Four and the Daredevil, to name a few of the better-known ones, inhabited the late Elizabethan time period rather than modern days? This is a fun, imaginative romp with a plotline that is, in some ways, classic superhero, and in other ways, classic Neil Gaiman.

Pair that with above-average artwork in a style very fitting to the storyline and time period—dark interior moods, occasional judicious use of Old English calligraphy—and you've got a very enjoyable way to get in your comic book fix. Although the plot does wrap up rather neatly and quickly, and it's got its fair share of deus ex machina to make everything work out just so, in superhero comics that's both expected and relatively forgivable. I know vacation's almost over, but it's a good vacation read. Betty Cooper has been officially replaced as my idol by Susan Storm, or maybe Virginia Dare. You'll have to read it to find out why.

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