William Gibson is an undoubted superstar of science fiction prose and will go down in history for the cultural impact of Neuromancer (1984). Can he cut it with his first attempt at comics? The credits of Archangel – published by IDW – state that it was created by Gibson and Michael St John Smith (of whom I know nothing), and that the script is by Gibson. The art is by Butch Guice (The Flash, Ruse) with colours by Diego Rodriguez (Back to the Future). Issue #2 has a glorious cover by the ever brilliant Tula Lotay (Supreme Blue Rose).
A military pilot from a radioactive, alternate future has arrived in Berlin 1945, and the corrupt officials from his world want him stopped. Though he won’t reveal the details of his mission, he’s made one thing clear: our entire reality is at stake.
So what has come forth from the mind of William Gibson? The story thus far concerns parallel worlds. In the first issue, we learn that an earth has suffered a catastrophe. The US Vice President, Junior Henderson, goes back in time to meet his grandfather using a doodad called the Splitter. Killing his grandfather and taking his place seems to be a plan to change the future. However, there are rebels in 2016 who don’t agree with this plan; led by Major Torres, who is nominally in charge of the Splitter. In 1945, Henderson’s destination, a so-called Icarus event occurs and RAF Officer, Agent Naomi Givens is tasked with the investigation of a crashed craft in Berlin. We join the story as one of the pilots is held in captivity, and another has apparently lost his head.
The captive pilot is talking to some type of robotic bug and orders some tech, which appears through a purple crackling and fizzing lightshow. He puts on a suit that has arrived and promptly disappears. Meanwhile, Junior has figured out Givens knows something – which she does – and tracks her to a warehouse. She is investigating a piece of anachronistic plastic. Back in 2016, the rebel Torres is monitoring events in the alternative past, as the pilot escapes his pursuers. To be frank, not a whole lot happens in issue #2 of Archangel. The set-up is promising. However, due to only 19 pages of story – many of which have only 3 or 4 panels, the plot doesn’t move on much from the pilot’s initial escape. Gibson’s dialogue is a little perfunctory and to my mind, the script seems to be stretching the point. There are a couple of pages, both at different times, that depict the invisible pilot running through puddles while evading his enemies. A highlight in the story appears to concern cheese and cigarettes.
What saves Archangel isn’t Gibson’s ‘name’ but the art from Guice and Rodriguez. The characters are brilliantly drawn although somewhat clichéd. Givens is the very model of a British RAF officer and there’s even a German called Fritz (Givens’ driver and black market expert – fortunately) who looks like Wolf Kahler’s Colonel Dietrich in the 1981 classic film Raiders of the Lost Ark. The backgrounds and shadows simply work beautifully and are perfect for the adventure-feel of the 1945 timeline. The alternative present is all monotone – pale blue disturbed only by the green shirt of Torres. The panelling in Archangel is a little unimaginative too – mostly rectangular and neatly ordered across pages, with occasional full page-width for a wide-screen effect.
I’m not sure if Gibson is deliberately trying to write a fairly standard comic here. I suppose if it were too wacky or experimental, with weird characters and odd art, critics might say he is trying too hard. However, the danger is that he is playing it safe. The premise is intriguing enough – not trying to change the present by altering the past but instead creating a new parallel world to inhabit. Ordinary artwork and a no-name author would, I suspect, lead to Archangel raising only an occasional eye-brown of interest. However, the superb artwork saves the day. Gibson hasn’t – at least so far – created a classic comic, but it’s definitely a decent effort with enough potential to keep the reader interested.
You can check out a preview here: https://issuu.com/idwpublishing/docs/archangel_02-pr
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson