Recently I was at the library and a book caught my eye: “Marvel: 1602”. I went over and looked at the back cover. It looked fantastic! It was a story set in a re-imagined version of the Marvel universe set in 1602 Europe and America. How cool is that? And it was written by Neil Gaiman who, hey, is known to be a pretty excellent comic book writer at least, right?
So of course I picked it up.
The book was awesome! It was everything I could have hoped for. The story was interesting. The 1602 “updates” of the characters were clever. Gaiman didn’t just use the setting as a backdrop but actually made it an integral part of the comic. It was great!
I particularly liked Gaiman’s version of Daredevil, always a favorite of mine. Normally I would have been annoyed at how different this version of the character was from his current incarnation, but after learning about Daredevil’s original pre-noir personality I realized that Gaiman’s Daredevil was actually a really entertaining version of that character, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Much like with “Stardust”, Gaiman simply can’t seem to help messing up otherwise excellent stories with moments that slap you across the face like a dead fish.
Throughout the book young Jean Grey, a powerful mutant (called Witchbreed in Marvel: 1602), is disguised as a boy and is used to help power a ship through the water and air. One character (I wasn’t even sure who he was an update of…the obvious choice is Wolverine but he appeared to already be a part of the story in another form) seems to have taken a liking to Jean…but he didn’t realize Jean was actually a girl.
Near the end of the book – I will spoil this, because it made me REALLY mad – Jean dies. Not the bad part.
The bad part is that later, Cyclops, who was in love with Jean, apologizes to the aforementioned character; he thought he had a crush on Jean, and didn’t realize that he still believed she was a boy the whole time.
…And then he reveals that he DID have a crush on Jean. Jean as a boy. He was gay.
And, for absolutely no reason, when he is offered an out, a way to keep it hidden, he tells Cyclops this.
Cyclops, who he knows already didn’t like him because of his crush on Jean.
And he tells Cyclops this in the year 1602, you know, that most progressive of time periods, where outing yourself as a homosexual to somebody who doesn’t like you was certainly a wise thing to do and would lead to no negative consequences at all, right?
And the worst part? There was no reason for it. It added nothing – nothing – to the story. Why can’t he have known Jean was a girl and had a crush on her, but was too shy to tell her? Or too afraid that Cyclops would be angry at him? Or simply been upset because Jean was his friend?
Or even, if you are really, really incapable of not virtue signaling, if it’s truly so very important to you that people know you’re Totally Not Homophobic, why on earth would you have this character tell Cyclops he’s gay?
It was stupid, it was pointless, and it was insulting that Gaiman decided to make his story worse in order to tell the world that he was Totally Cool With Being Gay. It was a way of telling the reader that he cared less about them than about making himself look good to the right people.
And it’s such a shame, because it’s such a great story otherwise! It was creative, it was fun, it was interesting.
But Gaiman just can’t seem to help himself from delivering that wet fish slap at least once.
And people are getting tired of it.