“Part Eight: In Which We Discover The Way Of The World ”
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Andy Kubert, Richard Isanove
With four different boats of heroes and villains en route to the new world colony of Roanoke, and the revelation that Captain America - in his guise of Rojhaz - is the time-travelling forerunner, the stage is set for the grand finale of 1602. What will become of Virginia Dare? How will our heroes escape king James and Magneto's villainous witchbreed? And how on earth does this universe tie up with the Marvel Universe of today?
A lot has been building up to this climactic final issue of a series which has provided a host of inventive ideas, new takes on old and established characters and some breathtakingly beautiful visuals. Happily these elements are all still present and correct, but the story also has to face the challenge of tying up all the loose plot elements and explaining the mystery of the last seven issues. And as with many great finales, the conclusions are ambiguous.
The issue opens with a brief delve into how and why Steve Rodgers found himself trapped in the past, a section which presents his flashbacks in a classic four-colour style and which almost reads like "Captain America: The End". The section subtly ties back into the earlier events of the series (note the centrepiece of the machine which sends Cap back through time - it's made an appearance in these pages before) but the contrast with the normal artistic stylings of 1602 is so contrasting as to detach it slightly from the main body of the story. As an explanation for the drive of the whole series, it leaves much to be desired - but at least it provides something. The rest of the tale feels much closer to superheroics-by-numbers than much of the series thus far, as the Marvel heroes of the past try and discover the way back to the past. Alliances are forged which mirror the relationships we know and love of the regular Marvel Universe and some other characters who have been hitherto unseen are finally introduced.
A saving grace throughout this series has been Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove's artwork: even if the story had been a complete washout, the book would still be worth buying for the beautiful coloured pencils alone. Many beautiful character moments are served up this time: the aftermath of Nick Fury's cold killing spree; Matt Murdoch's devilish appearance to the king; Captain America's familiar warpaint; the colour draining out of the 1602 world; the white deer, dead in the snow; and the universe healing itself. All of these moments would be standout in any other book - here, they serve to maintain the very high standard that has been apparent throughout.
The main problem with this final issue is a lack of focus on the key elements that have made this series so appealing. New, unnecessary elements are introduced (the nature and theological implications of Thor's power?) in an issue which should be all about closure on the series. Too much time is spent on wrapping up character moments that have little bearing on the overall picture (do we really need a page and a half on Cyclops and Archangel?). And much that we have been led to believe is important (the weather disturbances? The dinosaurs?) is not explained. As such, the pacing is affected, not coming close to the sense of excitement that pervaded last issue. However, as a conclusion it attempts to offer up something more than a simple, neat solution that is satisfying to a degree - but which fails to capitalise on the full potential promised by this series.
If the fun of a great mystery is in its creation, its telling, the game between the writer and the reader - then 1602 - as a whole - has succeeded. Despite lacking the subtleties of storytelling and post-modernism that were so satisfyingly evident last issue, the writing on display here is a cut above much that the comics world has to offer. If, however, you like your mysteries to end conclusively with all questions answered and the solution delivered to you on a plate - then you may feel disappointed with the final issue of this fun and inventive miniseries.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!