I was floored when I saw Gaiman's name on a Marvel comic several months ago. I don't really know that much about the comics industry, but I knew that every comic I ever read by Gaiman was in the alternate universe of DC. The author's afterword reveals that it was Marvel's new editor-in-chief that requested him specifically. That Gaiman took on some of Marvel's most popular characters, known more for dynamic action than existentialist angst, says a lot about the kind of thematic challenges he likes to create for himself. It would have been easier to find an obscure, internally-conflicted superhero to drag through a metaphorically-rich narrative, but instead he decided to take well-known 20th-century characters 400 years into the past in order to explore themes of mythology around them.
I just want to mention that I'm not a comics geek. Someone more involved with marvel comics would appreciate more about the characters than I did, since I'm not as familiar with all of them. I come to this book as a fan of Gaiman, of Sandman, and his novels, but I didn't read many other DC comics. I did really enjoy the book, and I'm glad I waited for the bound book. I'm not sure I could have waited a so long for the next month's issue. Plus, I first saw the book at issue 2 and I couldn't find the first one.
Gaiman mixes historical figures like Queen Elizabeth in to the plot, as well as mixing in historical events with the fiction. In a way, this is giving readers several things to identify with be it history or superheros. Shifting alliances, blurred lines between good and evil, and supernatural influences are some of the plot elements that are common to 1602, Sandman, and several novels. I would also argue that he uses a Deus Ex Machina, but then I could have just missed the foreshadowing. The book covers themes of sacrifice, duty, honor, predjudice, greed, and corruption. I'd probably have to do a re-read to really get the full depth out of the characters, who have so many layers, a series of books would be necessary to fully explore them, and, recalling the ending, it would seem to me that Gaiman might just be interested in doing that.
I'd recommend this book for fans of X-Men, Sandman, manga, or even Tolkein. You don't have to know the characters to understand the plot, but if you do, its a lot of fun to see the historical versions of them. With this and last year's Sandman book, I'm glad to see Gaiman back in the genre, and hope he continues to work in both the DC and marvel comic universes.
UPDATE: I read a blog with an interesting review of 1602 that was a bit more critical than I was, check it out on the intermittent