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Strange things are stirring in renaissance England...
on 9 October 2006
The skies are in upheaval; there are whispers of a growing storm ferocious enough to end the world. Strange creatures (the witchbreed) are stalking the woods and hillsides, and a young girl and her burly native protector are undertaking the long and dangerous voyage from the american colonies back to england, bringing strange, awesome powers and warnings of a terrible fate back to the dying Queen Elizabeth. Against this background, the brilliant, twisted Count Otto Von Doom and the puritanical, mysterious Inquisition pursue their own terrible agendas...
Sound exciting? It is. I really love this book. It's a huge, wonderful "What if..?" story, but one like i'd never read before. The transposition of Marvel Comics' colourful cast of superheroes to Elizabethan england is a crazy, inpired notion that could only have come from Gaiman. The art is beautiful, though Andy Kubert (despite his daddy) is very much of the Jim Lee school of superhero drawing, so it is as limited and gorgeous as that heritage implies.
Why only three stars? It's undeniably flawed. There's far too much in it, so there's a panicky rush to resolution in the last half of the book that leaves several significant characters quite short changed in story terms. It reads magnificently for three-quarters of the page count, and just when you begin to think "there's no way he can resolve this in the space he has left..." certain important plot threads fall away, major characters abruptly take their leave or worse, just disappear into the background not to retake the spotlight again. In a time when comics find themselves stretching stories out beyond their natural or advised lengths, this is one story, at least, that could have stood to be half as long again as it turned out to be.
Anyway, i forgive it those cons on the basis of its wonderful list of pros. The conversation between Dr Strange and The Watcher is wonderful and bizzarre and beautiful; Peter Parker's place is surprising but fulfilling; The Invisible Woman's measured, rational debate with Donal over the merits of his summoning of a pagan god, is funny, heartbreaking and masterfully written. That's just a handful of the many things that make me love this book... It's flawed, but wonderfully readable.