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 — Nick Fury, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man — as well as villains such as Doctor Doom and Magneto appear in various roles.
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 has also been asked to watch over the secret treasure of the Knights Templar which is being brought over from Jerusalem. Elizabeth tells her head of intelligence, Sir Nicholas Fury, to bring the weapon to England safely. Fury in turn contracts blind minstrel and agent Matthew Murdoch to rendezvous with the Templar guard somewhere in Europe and secure the weapon. Later that evening, 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, fair-skinned, blond Native American bodyguard Rojhaz. They are taken to meet the Queen only for a flying assassin to snatch Virginia. Rojhaz quickly disables the attacker, 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. He is told that it is Otto von Doom, ruler of Latveria, but Fury is too late to stop one of Doom's machines from killing Elizabeth with a poison gas released by dropping a pill into aqua regia.
With Elizabeth's death, James VI of Scotland becomes ruler of both England and Scotland. James is distrustful of "witchbreed" (people born with magical powers, "mutants") and collaborates with Spanish High Inquisitor Enrique to blame the witchbreed of England, headed by Carlos Javier, for Elizabeth's death. Fury, a friend of Carlos and his students, is forced to take the witchbreed to the Tower. Strange, Javier, and Fury meet there and discuss how to save the world — an act 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 meanwhile finds himself on the moon where he meets 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. Explaining his theory that the emergence of various superhumans on Stephen's Earth is the result of the universe trying to save itself, 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, the Inquisitor who has killed so many witchbreed, is exposed as a witchbreed himself and sentenced to be burned at the stake with his young acolytes, Petros and Sister Wanda. Enrique breaks their bonds and they escape on a ship of their own, also bound for America.
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, allowing him to explain the warning that he received from Uatu now that he is dead and no longer bound by Uatu's original compulsion. 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 is in fact Steve Rogers, the future costumed superhero known as Captain America. After fighting against a future fascist government of the 21st century run by the President-For-Life, Rogers was captured and placed into a machine which should have killed him but instead sent him into the present timeline, the President wanting to dispose of Rogers so completely that not even his ashes would remain to inspire future rebellion. 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 they arrive in America, Fury single-handedly kills all the members of their ship 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, Reed's analysis leads him to believe that the final component needed to deal with the rift is lightning and Donal is pushed into turning into the Viking god once more.
Back in England, having just been crowned King, James feels that everything is going his way, but then Murdoch breaks into his chamber and warns him in no uncertain terms of the consequences should anything happen to Fury, or Murdoch's native Ireland.
Rojhaz, looking more like the Captain America of old (or of the future, as the case may be), 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 Captain America 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 (later designated Earth-311).