by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, and Scott McKowen; and
Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson
I bought these books for my sister last year. Somehow they made their way back to my house, giving me the chance to read them and craft the magnificent online review you see before you.
The place is England. The year is 1602. The weather is weird, perhaps supernaturally so. England’s rise as a global superpower is interrupted when Europe comes to be aware of the “witchbreed” among them, some with biographies or abilities that might be familiar to Marvel fans: Carlos Javier runs a school and refuge, Fury and Murdoch run errands for Queen Elizabeth, and Peter Parquagh … well, he doesn’t do much of anything yet, but I’m sure that he’s somehow tangled up in this mess as well. As the Inquisition spreads hatred across the continent, bringing along with it a sense of impending and immediate doom, a young girl and her native bodyguard Rojhaz arrive from the New World to beg Elizabeth to help the struggling colony at Roanoke. The storm breaks with the Queen’s assassination, and the witchbreed soon find themselves on the run from England, to Latveria, and eventually to America.
God Loves, Man Kills
This is a more standard mutant tale, with the X-Men antagonized not by the Spanish Inquisition, but by garden variety right-wing American bigots.The X-Men, led by Professor Charles Xavier, have to defend themselves physically from the paramilitary Purifiers, who murder suspected mutants while the government stands aside. At the same time, they must contend with the growing political and social influence of Reverend William Stryker, who secretly controls the Purifiers. Meanwhile, Magneto hopes to deal with things his own way. Which is exactly the way you expect.
As with Red Son, I found myself drawn to Marvel 1602‘s use of familiar characters in new ways. While the book tethers itself to Elizabethan England, it pretty much abandons any pretense of historical accuracy and lets the characters run wild. Ostensibly centering around real-world events, particularly the passing of Queen Elizabeth and the European invasion of the New World, the actual story revolves around the appearance of mutants hundreds of years early, and Stephen Strange’s conclusion that their arrival portends the imminent destruction of the universe.
The real fun, though, is meeting each character and trying to figure out how familiar heroes and villains fit into this new setting. Strange shows up as a mystical court physician; Bruce Banner a loyal servant to Scotland’s King James. Four explorers from the ship Fantastick are imprisoned by Count Otto von Doom, and the mysterious Natasha escorts a Templar treasure to England. As ever-shifting as comic book loyalties can be, Marvel 1602 adds another layer of confusion; we might know who the good guys and bad guys are under normal circumstances, but 400 years ago in an alternate universe? All bets are off.
While quite a bit shorter, and much more traditional, I actually found God Loves, Man Kills to be more enjoyable. Created in 1982, it forcefully argues that the alliance between right-wing nationalism, militarism, and religious fanaticism is the greatest threat to liberty in America. The book is dripping with ’80s-era anxieties, such as the decline of the American city, the emergence of previously-hidden minority groups, and the general sense that our social fabric is fraying, and successfully conveys the fear and paranoia that marginalized groups may have felt during that era. For a book so established in its own time, from the social climate down to the art style, God Loves, Man Kills seems no less relevant today. Deadpool might call the X-Men a “dated metaphor for racism in the ’60s,” but a comic book opening with the lynching of two black children and explicitly linking the violence to a popular evangelical preacher still strikes me as relevant, in 1982 or 2019.
Both books were enjoyable, if a bit light. Marvel 1602 doesn’t seem to have a lot to say, other than the vague notion that America’s travails can be traced to European colonization, which isn’t necessarily ground-breaking. God Loves, Man Kills, however, virtually transports the reader to the 1980s–a decade I wasn’t really around for–and uses its setting to show how a normal society can appear dystopian when seen from the eyes of a minority. Maybe both books, taken together, just go to show that in America, some things never change.