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Marvel 1602 is an eight-issue comic book limited series published in 2003 by Marvel Comics. The limited series was written by Neil Gaiman, penciled by Andy Kubert, and digitally painted by Richard Isanove; Scott McKowen illustrated the distinctive scratchboard covers. The eight-part series takes place in a timeline where Marvel superheroes have been transplanted to the Elizabethan era; faced with the destruction of their world by a mysterious force, the heroes must fight to save their universe. Many of the early Marvel superheroes— Captain America, Nick Fury, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four— as well as villains such as Doctor Doom and Magneto appear in various roles.
Neil Gaiman had always been a fan of Marvel, and editor Joe Quesada approached Gaiman to work on a project which eventually evolved into 1602. Upon release, the work was well-received, although some critics pointed out the Gaiman's work was a significant departure from his work The Sandman and with such high expectations the result was ultimately disappointing. Regardless, the success of the novel led to two sequels, entitled 1602: New World and Marvel 1602: Fantastick Four.
The story takes place in the year 1602 in the Marvel Universe, where, for an unknown reason, superheroes have appeared about 400 years early, though they were born and bred in this era and some hold important positions in high places. When the characters come to realize that something is wrong with the universe, the heroes must solve the mystery behind their own existence, while dealing with intrigue at the courts of Elizabeth and James.
All over Europe, strange weather is provoking panic. Many believe the unnatural occurrences are the beginning of the Apocalypse. Dr. Stephen Strange, the court magician of Queen Elizabeth I, senses that there are unnatural forces at work. He also comes to learn that the secret treasure of the Knights Templar is being moved from Jerusalem to England; Elizabeth tells her head of intelligence, Sir Nicholas Fury, to bring the weapon to England safely. Fury in turn contracts Matthew Murdoch to rendezvous with the Templar guard and secure the weapon. On the road, Fury and his assistant, Peter Parquagh, are attacked by an assassin, whom Fury disables and locks in the Tower of London. Meanwhile, the ship Virginia Maid arrives in England from the New World, carrying the young Virginia Dare, the first child born in Roanoke colony, as well as her hulking Native American bodyguard Rojhaz. When a flying assassin tries to snatch Dare, Rojhaz quickly disables the killer, but Virginia has transformed into a white gryphon. Rojhaz subdues Virginia, and Strange bespells her to human form before Fury sees her transformed. She has strange shapeshifting powers, and Strange suspects she is the cause of the disastrous weather. Fury interrogates one of the assassins to learn who sent him; Fury learns that Otto von Doom, ruler of Latveria, is behind the attempted killings, but is too late to stop one of Doom's machines from killing Elizabeth.
James VI of Scotland lusts after the Queen's throne, and with Elizabeth's death will rule both England and Scotland. James is distrustful of "witchbreed" and collaborates with Spanish High Inquisitor Enrique to blame the witchbreed of England, headed by Carlos Javier, for Elizabeth's death. Fury, though unwilling to capture Carlos and his students, is forced to take the witchbreed to the Tower. Strange, Javier, and Fury meet in the Tower and discuss how to save the world- which will almost surely lead to them being branded traitors by James. Strange has learned that the treasure of the Templars and its keeper, Donal, and Murdoch, have been betrayed and are now in the hands of Doom. Strange also learns that Doom has been holding captive four heroes from the ship Fantastick, including Fury's friend Sir Richard Reed. Knowing that James will never give him an army to march on Latveria, he conspires with the witchbreed, taking a ship levitated by Javier and his page John Grey across the continent. Strange is confronted by the Watcher, who tells him that the strange events are due to an anomaly he calls the "Forerunner". The Forerunner is from the future and his presence in the past has disrupted reality to the point of impending annihilation of not only Strange's world but all other universes as well. The Watcher forces Stephen to enter a pact that will not allow him to repeat what he has learned for as long as he lives.
Fury, Javier and his witchbreed launch a successful attack on Count Doom's fortress. The Fantastick Four are freed, and Doom is horribly scarred by what he believes is the Templar's treasure; in fact, Donal's walking stick is the true treasure, and using it Donal becomes the Norse god Thor. Having nowhere else to go, the ship of fugitives heads for the New World. In Spain, Enrique is betrayed as witchbreed himself and is to be burned at the stake with his young acolytes, Petros and Sister Wanda. Enrique breaks their bonds and the witchbreed escape on a ship of their own, which seems bound for America as well.
Sir Stephen Strange is executed by James, and his head put on a pike. With his magic, his spirit can still communicate in a telepathic way. His wife Clea takes his head from the pike and sets off for America with Virginia and Rojhaz. Clea believes that Strange's suspicions were wrong: Virginia is not the Forerunner, it is her blond-haired, blue-eyed "Native American" companion Rojhaz.
Rojhaz is in fact Steve Rogers, the future costumed crime fighter known as Captain America. After fighting against a future fascist government of the 21st century, Rogers was captured and placed into a machine which should have killed him but instead sent him into the present timeline. His presence has not only brought about a rift that will destroy the universe, but it also caused the heroes of the twentieth century to appear centuries earlier to counter the Forerunner's negative effects.
Fury and company arrive at the Roanoke colony, where they discover the rift that is tearing their universe apart. Javier, realizing that his enemy Enrique may be the key to manipulating the rift and thus saving the universe, traps him and his followers in their ship. However, it is the former inquisitor who dictates terms.
James sends his advisor David Banner and Peter Parquagh to America with orders to kill Fury. When it arrives in America, Fury single-handedly kills all its members aside from Banner and Peter. In spite of this, Fury has almost lost the will to live: he failed to protect his Queen, he has been made a traitor to his country and all his wealth and property has been seized and taken over by James and his favourites.
Donal meanwhile turns to alcohol, devastated at the fact that he has brought about a god who, according to Donal's religion, should not even exist. However, the final component needed to deal with the rift is lightning and Donal is pushed into turning into the Viking god once more.
Rojhaz, looking more and more like the Cap of old, refuses to go back through the rift: he hopes to build a better America from the beginning. Fury tricks Rojhaz by playing on the trust that Rogers had for the Nick Fury of his own time, knocks him unconscious and carries the body back through the rift, thus going into the future himself.
The rift and the universe restore themselves, meaning the destruction of the alternate timeline; however, Uatu the Watcher is granted a "pocket universe" by his colleagues in which the 1602 timeline remains intact, and where the powered fugitives decide to settle in the Roanoke colony, declaring it a free place for all. Intrigued by the continuing events, Uatu continues to watch the new universe.