Tony Black reviews Archangel #1…
Science Fiction Superstar William Gibson comes to comics! The U.S. political leaders of 2016 abandon the radioactive planet they’ve destroyed and harness the power of humanity’s last hope: The Splitter, a colossal machine designed to manufacture a bright new reality for them to infiltrate and corrupt.
It’s always quite exciting when a creative switches gears into different formats, especially a creative as talented as William Gibson, the great cyberpunk novelist. Archangel is a limited run-series collaboration with Michael St. John Smith, drawn by Bruce Guice, which takes a high concept and runs with it in classy form, almost immediately; in a dystopian 2016, a world we have utterly messed up, loathsome Vice-President Junior Henderson alters his appearance to look like his grandfather and uses secret technology to travel back in time to 1945, on the eve of winning World War Two, so he can kill and assume the identity of his grandfather and change history, and not necessarily for the better. It’s a tantalising story for any fan of time-travel, and one which instantly throws you into a story which is by degrees mysterious, exciting and dark.
The first issue introduces the set up and makes you work a little to connect the dots, with Gibson’s writing immediately leaping off the page; indeed certain aspects don’t become clear until the excellent character descriptions alongside early artwork sketches of all the players involved, which are a handy way of tying up story pieces. The piece effectively revolves around a small group of characters – the villainous Junior; Naomi Givens, a British intelligence operative working in occupied Berlin who becomes entangled in the seemingly UFO-related crash of pilots over enemy territory, alongside her ex-lover, US military operative Captain Vince Matthews, torn between protecting his country’s interests and helping the woman he still loves piece together the mystery, which involves an unnamed Pilot of a strange aircraft, a Hispanic man covered in gang tattoos, who it appears is from that dark future.
He’s connected to Major Torres, one of the few people in 2016 it seems determined to stop Henderson from corrupting time using the ‘Splitter’, a physics-based device which seems capable of creating alternate timelines. All of these characters swirl around in a a Terminator-esque story of predestination, paradox and espionage, with a hint of the supernatural, which nonetheless keeps one foot firmly on the ground as the other dips its toe in speculative science fiction. It’s no coincidence Guice draws Astonishing Tales at one point! Come the end, you not only get an enticing cliffhanger, you get extra drawings from Guice of the comic in progress, and a verbose afterword from Gibson talking some of his creative process.
Overall, even if certain plots beats and character moments lack a certain context at first, Archangel is grown up, curious and thrilling graphic work, written strongly by Gibson & St. John and etched with a beguiling harshness by Guice which neatly complements the dystopic future with post-dystopic past. A really interesting start to what could end up a comic crying out for a TV or movie adaptation down the line…
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.