io9 reports that Marvel has picked Doctor Strange as the next superhero slated for a movie franchise—or at least a movie. If they’re going to do that, Marvel should just make an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 1602, the eight-issue story he wrote in 2003 that transplanted the Marvel pantheon back to Queen Elizabeth’s court.
It wouldn’t be as farfetched as it sounds. 1602 is an independent continuity, sure, and it’s an elaborate period piece. But the two best superhero movies of the summer were reasonably elaborate period pieces. And because Doctor Strange’s powers are openly acknowledged to be magical and mystic, instead of merely a kind of science so sophisticated and futuristic that it seems like magic, in a way he’s a much better fit for a world where magic vied equally with science for predominance. I’ve always been sort of entertained by the idea that Doctor Strange ended up in Greenwich Village in the 1970s—San Francisco or Portland might have been a better option, but I do appreciate the effort to find a magician a place where he might plausibly feel at home in the twentieth century.
And it’s not just that Stephen Strange fits better in an earlier century. 1602 is a nice little experiment in exactly how many circumstances superhero concepts can be resonant in. For the X-Men, the struggle between Professor Xavier and Magneto is as applicable to the inquisition as it is to black liberation or gay rights; men like Nick Fury will find hire in any generation; it’s got one of the most distinct and thoughtful Thor stories on record; and the power of the American idea doesn’t acquire its magic with the Shot Heard Round the World. That last point is particularly important: I’m not sure Gaiman has a distinct American idea in America Gods, but he manages to conjure up something akin to an originary American blessing and tragedy in 1602, a sense of chosenness for the land. And now that we’ve met all of these characters, or at least, most of them, you could just tell the story without worrying about spending a lot of time on origins. It would even redeem the Fantastic Four, and force folks to start over given that Chris Evans is Captain America now.
It’ll never happen, of course. It’s too weird. It doesn’t lend itself to an ongoing storyline because it has a central, resolvable mystery. It would be confusing for audiences who don’t follow comic books and aren’t used to juggling between multiple continuities at once. But Marvel has these people signed for nine-movie contracts. If it’s going to wring every last drop of potential profit out of them, it’d be fun if towards the end, they did something weird and brilliant, and more intensely engaged with the American idea as a whole than most of the stories it’s putting on-screen now.